In September 2008, Anthony Ostlund client Elizabeth Howell received a notice from the City of Minneapolis informing her that the retaining wall running along West 48th Street near Drew Avenue South was in need of repair. According to the City, Ms. Howell was in violation of the Minneapolis Code of City Ordinances § 244.1590, which states, “Every fence and retaining wall on or adjacent to residential property shall be kept well mended and in good repair, consistent with the design thereof.” Ms. Howell could not understand why the City had decided to attribute repair of the massive concrete retaining wall to her. Ms. Howell did not build the wall, which was located in the City’s exclusive right-of-way next to the public sidewalk. To make matters worse, estimates revealed that the cost to repair the wall would be nearly $100,000.
For over three years, Ms. Howell attempted to resolve her dispute with the City independently, asking the City to provide legal authority demonstrating that it was her responsibility to repair the wall. Ms. Howell came to Anthony Ostlund because she needed this issue resolved with finality. She wanted peace of mind, the ability to sell the property in the future, and a better understanding of what her financial obligations were for the wall, if any.
The Anthony Ostlund Approach
Anthony Ostlund commenced a lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis and pursued several legal theories on Ms. Howell’s behalf, the primary theory being that the City was responsible for the repair or replacement of the retaining wall, not Ms. Howell.
Anthony Ostlund understood that this was a unique case requiring a creative approach. We poured over century-old City records to establish why and how the wall got there. We used expert analysis to help the jury understand the issues, and we took the jury on a field trip so that they could see the retaining wall in person. At trial, we used witness testimony to explain our analysis clearly and concisely to the jury.
The district court initially dismissed Ms. Howell’s case. We appealed, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed with us and sent the case back to the district court for a jury trial.
Our hard work paid off. The jury understood our reading of City records and after hearing all of the evidence and viewing the wall, it found that the City had created the need for the retaining wall when it graded West 48th Street and installed the sidewalk in the public right-of-way back in the 1920’s.
After trial, the district court entered a number of judicial declarations in our client’s favor: 1) our client is not responsible for repair or replacement of the retaining wall; 2) our client need not repair or replace the retaining wall; 3) the city must repair or replace the retaining wall; and 4) the city cannot charge our client for the repair or replacement of the retaining wall.
In the end, Anthony Ostlund’s persistent and aggressive representation allowed our client to avoid nearly $100,000 in liability for the repair or replacement of the retaining wall.
Elizabeth Howell v. City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County District Court