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Lhotka v. United States

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 21327
Nos. 96-3299, 114 F.3d 751/(8th Cir., 05/30/1997)

The court holds that landowners presented a prima facie case of trespass and nuisance against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for exceeding the scope of a wetlands easement over their property when FWS constructed a series of dikes that caused flooding. The court first holds that there was a disputed material issue of fact regarding whether the landowners' claim was time barred. The district court could not determine whether the landowners knew, or should have known, that an injury caused by FWS existed on the day FWS completed its work. The landowners' lack of expertise to assess latent conditions on the land, combined with the lack of rainfall until the following year, should have prevented the district court from granting summary judgment. Next, the court holds that the landowners stated a prima facie case of trespass and nuisance. The district court construed the landowners' claims too narrowly because trespass and nuisance encompass more than simply wrongful entry. When the district court focused solely on whether FWS' entry was lawful, it ignored the landowners' argument that the excess surface water constituted trespass and nuisance. Under Minnesota law, the unwanted presence of water on a plaintiff's property constitutes a nuisance. Likewise, the Minnesota courts have also viewed the direct intrusion of surface water onto a plaintiff's land as a trespass. Therefore, the court reverses and remands the district court's judgment.

Counsel for Appellants
Zenas Baer
Zenas Baer & Associates
331 6th St., Hawley MN 56549
(218) 483-3372

Counsel for Appellees
Lonnie Bryan, Ass't U.S. Attorney
U.S. Attorney's Office
234 U.S. Cthse.
110 S. 4th St., Minneapolis MN 55401
(612) 348-1500

Before MAGILL,1 MURPHY, Circuit Judges, and GOLDBERG,2 Judge.