• August 10, 2016

Cloud_to_ground_lightning_strikes_south-west_of_Wagga_WaggaNorthern States Power (“NSP”) has an easement to run power lines over property owned by Chanhassen residents, Jarvis Jones and Laura Kaplan (“Jones/Kaplan”). In October 2014, NSP asked for permission to come onto the Jones/Kaplan property to prune an oak tree to clear it from a powerline, a right that NSP held as part of its easement.

Jones/Kaplan objected. Following the objection, NSP had additional survey work performed after which NSP concluded that it, in fact, did have the right to trim the tree. And, after the additional work, NSP concluded that it had to take down the whole tree, rather than just pruning it.

Jones/Kaplan took NSP to court, in essence arguing that NSP decided to chop down the whole tree as “pay-back” for Jones/Kaplan’s resistance to NSP’s initial request to come on the property to prune the tree. Before the district court, NSP argued and persuaded the district court that its decision to chop down the tree was reasonable – that it was based on legitimate safety concerns. As we all know, trees and power-lines do not play well together.

But the district court did not address whether NSP’s actual motive was “pay-back” for the property owners’ costly tree-hugging objections to the original pruning plan.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s position, holding that Jones/Kaplan are “entitled to present … competing evidence bearing on whether NSP actually developed and relied on its alleged opinion that the tree will interfere with the transmission line if not removed” or whether NSP’s true motives were otherwise.

Time will tell whether Jones/Kaplan will ultimately prevail or whether they are unsuccessfully spending a surprising amount of money to spare the life of their tree. (After all, money does not grow on trees.)

Could it really be that decision-makers at NSP have the authority and use their authority to punish property owners who object to the pruning of their trees by condemning the trees to death? Assuming that some NSP bureaucrats wield their puny pruning power abusively, do you really think folks like Jones/Kaplan and their lawyers would ever be able to prove such illegitimate motives?

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