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COURTS: Judge's pending decision may dismiss second Bemidji annexation case

WALKER -- It's now up to a judge in Cass County whether to dismiss or continue the second lawsuit between the city of Bemidji and Bemidji Township over annexation.

The township filed a second lawsuit in April for claims that allegedly arose after a May 31, 2013 settlement agreement that temporarily resolved the first lawsuit, filed in 2012. The first lawsuit was dismissed in March but the township appealed.

In a Monday hearing presided over by Ninth District Court Judge Jana M. Austad, the two sides argued the case while Austad considered whether to approve the defendants' motions to dismiss. The case was switched between four different judges before finally being transferred to Austad. Her decision is due within 90 days from the hearing date.

The arguments centered around whether a legal precept called "res judicata" had been satisfied by the first annexation lawsuit, meaning the legal question between the two sides had already been decided and couldn't be tried again in the second lawsuit. James Thomson, Jason Kaboushek and George Hoff, attorneys representing the city of Bemidji, Northern Township and the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board respectively, argued it had been satisfied.

"There is not one claim in this second lawsuit that could not have been brought in the first lawsuit," Thomson said.

Attorney John Steffenhagen, representing Bemidji Township, argued it had not been.

"They are new claims," he said of the claims in the second lawsuit.

After both sides had given their arguments, Austad appeared skeptical of Steffenhagen's reasoning. If the township's appeal in the first lawsuit is successful, she said, there might be two lawsuits pending that deal with essentially the same thing.

"How does the lawsuit ever end?" she asked Steffenhagen.

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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