Posted by: Patricia Salkin | February 13, 2019

MN Appeals Court Holds Plaintiffs Failed to Join Necessary Parties in Dispute Over Variance

This post was authored by Touro Law student Thomas Brown ‘20

In the Township of Duluth, property owners applied for a zoning variance so that they could build a home on a piece of land that was too small under existing codes to build on. The Township granted the variance, and neighboring landowners sought judicial review. The zoning applicants incurred construction expenses soon after their variance application was approved.

Plaintiffs served the Township, and the Township argued that the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure, R. 19, required plaintiffs to join the original zoning-variance applicants in the suit as well, even though this was not required by statute. The District Court agreed and dismissed the suit.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Minnesota quoted from Rule 19.01 of the Minn. Rules of Civ. Proc., which states, in part, that:

A person who is subject to service of process shall be joined as a party in the action if…the person claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and is so situated that the disposition of the action in the person’s absence may … as a practical matter impair or impede the person’s ability to protect that interest.

Because the outcome of the lawsuit would determine whether the variance applicants would be allowed to continue their home-construction project, the Court of Appeals decided they had a clear financial interest in the suit. The Court therefore agreed with the District Court that the applicants were a necessary and indispensable party and affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of the suit.

The Court noted that “at least four” other states had also considered variance applicants to be necessary parties in similar cases.

Schulz v. Town of Duluth, 2019 WL 510023 (Minn. Ct. App. Feb. 11, 2019)

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