Minnesota Supreme Court Upholds Reasonableness of “Buy-the-Farm” Election.

Minn. Stat. §216E.12 subd. 4, called the “buy-the-farm” election, allows owners of Minnesota farmland and other qualified property to require a utility company seeking to condemn a high–voltage transmission line easement to acquire fee title to the owner’s entire contiguous parcel, rather than just the smaller easement. A Minnesota couple owning farmland opted under this provision to require the appellants, several public utility companies, to purchase a 218.85-acre tract of their land instead of taking only the 8.86-acre easement necessary for a powerline project. The district court granted summary judgment to the owners, but the utility companies argued that the district court erred in not properly considering the reasonableness of the buy-the-farm election, as required under Coop. Power Assn v. Aasand, 288 N.W.2d 697 (Minn. 1980). In affirming, the appellate court ruled that Aasand was concerned with the commercial viability of the parcel, not a size differential. Aasand itself affirmed a buy-the-farm election resulting in the condemnation of 149 acres where the proposed easement was 13 acres. The court of appeals held that the district court did not err in determining that the owner’s election was reasonable.  On further review, the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed.  The Court held that the statute did not allow a court to consider outside factors when ruling on an election to compel a purchase.  The statute was unambiguous.  Great River Energy v. Swedzinski, No. A13-1474, 2015 Minn. LEXIS 108 (Mar. 4, 2015), aff'g., 2014 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 255 (Minn. Ct. App. Mar. 31, 2014).

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