Quinlivan & Hughes Attorney Obtains Crucial Minnesota Supreme Court Reversal of Decision that Threatened to Close Minnesota Roads and Lake Accesses — In Re: Matter of Application of Moratzka
Quinlivan & Hughes attorney Kenneth Bayliss convinced the Minnesota Supreme Court to reverse a decision of the Minnesota Court of Appeals that limited the ability of cities, counties, and townships to retain control of roads designated on plats if those roads have not been developed or formally opened. The decision in the case of In Re: Matter of Application of Moratzka related to an often-ignored statute, the Marketable Title Act (MTA), and has broad implications for Minnesota citizens who use lake accesses and roads within platted areas.
Many if not most Minnesota roads are found on recorded plats. Both the trial court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals had ruled that when a road is dedicated to the public forever in a plat, the road, with one primary exception, is nevertheless extinguished if the city, county, or township involved does not file a special MTA preservation notice within 40 years of the dedication of the property. Nobody had ever thought that the MTA applied to platted roads, but both the trial court and the Court of Appeals held that the MTA did apply. Because no preservation notice relating to the disputed road and lake access had been filed, the trial court and the Court of Appeals held that the road at issue in the case was no longer a valid public interest in the property and could not be used by the public for access to the lake.
Itasca County appealed and, with the help of several allied amicus curiae, convinced the Minnesota Supreme Court that the Court of Appeals decision announced an important rule and justified further review. The County was joined by the State of Minnesota’s DNR, which also appealed the Court of Appeals decision.
The County argued before the Minnesota Supreme Court that the MTA was never intended to apply to platted roads because the MTA was enacted solely to protect parties from being surprised by “ancient documents” in the real estate record. Because the plat at issue had been duly recorded and was not an “ancient document” but the primary real estate document that buyers and sellers consulted when transferring property, the MTA should not apply. The Court agreed that plats were never intended to be “instruments” within the meaning of the MTA and held that the MTA simply does not apply to platted roads.
The decision has significance for all Minnesotans. First, it means that most lake accesses that occur across roads in plats continue to provide public access to lakes. While litigating this case, for instance, Itasca County determined that the ruling below could have extinguished 108 of Itasca’s 118 platted lake accesses. While the exact percentage would be very difficult to determine, it could be that the Supreme Court’s decision preserved a majority of Minnesota’s platted lake accesses statewide. Second, anyone owning property in a plat more than 40 years old risked not having a platted road that provided access to their property. Given that nobody filed preservation notices for platted roads, roads in plats more than 40 years old would be extinguished. Residents would still be able to argue that the road existed under a narrow exception in the MTA or on under other theories, but the obvious access provided by the platted road would disappear had the decision of the Court of Appeals not been reversed. The Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision preserves lake accesses and platted roads throughout the state.