• February 17, 2009

The Middle-Snake-Tamarac Rivers Watershed District ordered the establishment of a flood-control project, private owners objected to the compensation offered for their property, protracted litigation ensued, and the parties entered into a settlement agreement resolving the litigation.

Minnesota law provides a procedure to avoid or minimize the risk of strategic lawsuits against public participation (an “anti-SLAPP statute, Minn. Stat. 554.01-02 (2008)).

The District settlement provided for the dismissal of the case and claims but expressly carved out, provided for, and permitted the adversary landowners’ ongoing involvement in the project.

A year later, the District brought an action saying that a landowner breached the settlement agreement. Landowner brought a summary judgment motion, arguing that his conduct was immune from liability under the anti-SLAPP statute. The Minnesota Court of Appeals held that the district court erred in holding that the statute did not apply to actions to enforce settlement agreements.

Such a holding, the Court of Appeals held, fails to apply the anti-SLAPP statute’s plain meaning. Also, the district court failed to apply the proper standard of proof — the district court was required to weigh the evidence that the moving party (here the landowner) is not immune to suit and determine whether that evidence is “clear and convincing.” Minn. Stat. 554.03.

Whenever parties to “protracted litigation” are forced by circumstances to continue to interact, disputes over perhaps subtle contract terms are all too common.

Middle-Snake-Tamarac Rivers Watershed District v. Stengrim, Court File No. A08-0825 (Minn. Ct. App., Feb. 17, 2009).

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