Court sides with OPH in rate dispute

            Oak Park Heights will not have to refund Washington County what county officials said were excess water and sewer charges after the state Supreme Court ruled in the city’s favor earlier this week.

In an opinion written by Justice Christopher J. Dietzen and released Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed a state Court of Appeals decision that said the 10th Judicial District Court had jurisdiction to hear the county’s claim. The high court ruled the county should have brought the dispute to the appellate court.

“The City Council’s decision to deny the County’s overcharge claim was quasi-judicial in nature, and no statute or appellate rule provided the County with a right to review of that decision in district court,” wrote Dietzen in his opinion.

He added that because the county failed to take their claim to the appellate court, “the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the County’s unjust enrichment claim.

Dietzen writes that because the Oak Park Heights City Council handled the county’s complaint in a “quasi-judicial” manner, the county should have appealed as if the council were a judicial body and argued that the decision was not based on law.

Instead, Dietzen adds in his opinion, the county sued, claiming the council “wrongly” kept the county’s money by “unjust means.”

The dispute between Oak Park Heights and the county began in 2009, when the county sued the city to recover money the county paid for water and sewer service to the County Law Enforcement Center.

Dietzen notes in his opinion that county employees monitored LEC water use through a readings of combination of seven meters. The county investigated Oak Park Heights’ water and sewer charges following a state Department of Revenue sales tax audit and concluded “that numerous errors in its employees’ reading of the meters, as well as discrepancies in reporting the meter readings, had resulted in the City overcharging the County for water and sewer services.”

County officials claimed the county was due a $114,700 refund from the overcharges from 2004 to 2008. Dietzen writes that after the Oak Park Heights Finance and Utility Department denied the county’s refund request, the matter was appealed to the city council.

“The City Council concluded that ‘the County has not supplied the City with reasonable documented evidence that indicates in any regard that the meter readings implemented by County staff were in error, or precipitated an error in billing when reported to City Staff,” writes Dietzen.

The justice adds that the district court ruled in the county’s favor, saying because Oak Park Heights acted “in the capacity of a private corporation, not a government entity,” the district court had jurisdiction.

Oak Park Heights appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeal, which affirmed the district court’s ruling on jurisdiction.

The high court’s ruling concludes the case because the deadline for the county to file a writ of certiorari has passed, according to a county official.