NASHWAUK, Minn. – An Iron Range man won't have to pay for the damage he caused when he sawed a neighbor's garage in half in April 2013 because half of the garage was indeed on the man's property.
That is the ruling by State District Judge Lois Lang in Grand Rapids in a civil case filed by Mark Besemann of Iron.
Besemann bought a home in rural Nashwauk Township in April 2013 and found himself in the middle of a family dispute between Roger Weber, of rural Nashwauk, and Weber's sister, who had inherited the house Besemann later purchased.
The house Besemann purchased had been owned and lived in for years by Roger Weber's father, Robert Weber. But after the elder Weber died in 2012, and the home passed to the sister, Roger Weber claimed that half of what had been his father's garage was in fact built on property the younger Weber now owns.
Sometime between April 22 and April 27, 2013, Roger Weber sawed the garage in half and removed the portion he claimed was on his property.
Beseman discovered the damage April 27, just days after closing on the property, and eventually filed a civil suit asking for $20,000 in damages for the ruined garage and another $20,000 in punitive damages from Weber.
A trial in front of Judge Lang was held over the winter. And in a decision dated May 29 and mailed to parties in the suit this week, Lang said Weber had the right to remove the portion of the garage on his property even if the garage was associated with Besemann's house on adjacent land.
"Although the Court is sympathetic to Plaintiff's (Besemann's) plight, and in no way condones the rash actions of Defendant Roger Weber, Plaintiff has not pled claims or established facts in support of those claims that entitle him to relief under the circumstances,'' Lang ruled.
The garage was clearly on the driveway that leads to the house owned by Besemann, but half of it had been on Roger Weber's land all along, Lang ruled. And Roger Weber's father never made any legal effort to claim the garage land was part of his property.
Simply because Besemann believed he had purchased and paid for the entire garage wasn't enough to convince Lang.
"Plaintiff's trespass claim fails because Defendant Roger Weber damaged structures that were located upon his own property; Plaintiff did not prove that he rightfully possessed the land upon which Defendant Roger Weber damaged property," Lang wrote in her decision. "Additionally, even if Plaintiff were able to demonstrate trespass to his land, Plaintiff failed to prove an appropriate measure of damage for such intrusion."
Weber not only doesn't have to pay for the garage, but Lang ruled that Besemann must reimburse Weber $400 in attorney's fees. And Besemann will have to replace the home's septic system, which also was on Roger Weber's side of the property line for decades and has since been disabled.
Weber did not immediately respond to a phone message left at his home or to an email requesting comment Wednesday.
Besemann said Wednesday that he may appeal the judge's ruling. He said he was astonished that Weber prevailed.
"The Itasca County Sheriff's Office, County Attorney's Office, and now the judicial system. They all deemed Mr. Weber's actions were justified. How far does this guy reach? I'm obviously being railroaded by a small group of 'public servants' with their own agendas," Besemann said. Roger Weber "has destroyed my garage and rendered the house unlivable by damaging the septic system. What's next? He now has an open ticket out there to do what he wants so it's anybody's guess. I have no choice but to keep fighting what now appears to be a losing battle."
Lang summed up the case in the first paragraph of her decision.
"This case involves an acrimonious dispute between siblings following their father's death, and the unfortunate consequences that followed when an unrelated third party purchased land from one sibling involved in the dispute, adjacent to land owned by another sibling involved in the dispute," she noted.
Roger Weber was the Republican-endorsed candidate for the Minnesota House District 6A seat in 2014 but lost to incumbent DFLer Carly Melin in the Nov. 4 general election. Weber lost to Melin for the same seat in 2012. He also has run unsuccessfully for the Itasca County Board.
The garage dispute goes back to at least January 2012, when Robert Weber died.
According to court documents filed in the lawsuit, Robert Weber had owned 40 acres along Itasca County Road 8 northwest of Nashwauk since 1953, including a house and the now-infamous garage. In 1978, he transferred the title to 39 acres to his son, Roger Weber, but kept the house, garage and an acre of land.
Roger Weber still owns that 39 acres of undeveloped land, which is a mix of woods and hayfields. He lives just down County Road 8 on a different parcel of land.
When Robert Weber died, the house, garage and 1 acre passed to his daughter, Ann Anderson, who lives in Arizona. The property had, in fact, been in her name since 1996.
After his father's death, Roger Weber said, he told his sister he was going to remove any structures that were on his side of the property line.
Meanwhile, on April 18, 2013, Besemann purchased the home from Anderson. The sale was recorded with the county on April 22.
On April 27, 2013, Besemann returned to the property he had just purchased to find the garage cut in half.
Besemann said he was aware there was some dispute over the exact property line between Anderson's acre and Roger Weber's 39 acres. But he said he assumed the old family dispute could be worked out in neighborly negotiations now that he owned the house.
Roger Weber has said that he assumed the house still belonged to his sister when he sawed the garage in half, removing the half he said was on his side of the property line. And Weber said he clearly told his sister that he would take the garage down.
"He (Besemann) knew what he was getting into," Weber said in a brief phone interview last September.
Weber declined to answer additional questions, saying it was a "private" matter not related to his running for public office. "It's a family thing," Weber said of the garage dispute, before hanging up.