A contentious legal dispute between the city of Golden Valley and a former homeowner surrounding a 2007 construction project has dragged on as the vacant property falls into disrepair, blighting an otherwise idyllic neighborhood.
Steven and Andrea Dargi sued Golden Valley on Sept. 25, 2008, claiming that the construction of a culvert on Bassett Creek behind their home at 2241 Legend Dr. triggered a slow landslide that rendered the home unsafe and ruined the entertainment business Steven operated out of the home.
“[Golden Valley city engineer] Jeff Oliver did not follow his code of ethics and purposefully and willfully destroyed my property,” said Dargi, who covered his home in red stenciled graffiti to bring attention to his case against the city. “[City attorney] Allen Barnard, unfortunately, is an elderly gentleman who has made assumptions and slanderous claims he cannot back up with fact. ... Barnard made this personal.”
Barnard says no landslide ever occurred at the Dargi residence and that the city probably will fix the damages caused by Dargi’s neglect and sell the property after the court proceedings are over.
Before the Dargis sued, they hired Robert Eric Zimmerman to document the slow destruction of their home. Zimmerman has run an independent engineering consulting firm out of St. Paul since 2007 after decades working as an engineer in Illinois. From April 2008 to October 2011, he made more than 90 site visits and took more than 14,000 photos at the Dargi home, documented in the 17 reports Zimmerman wrote detailing the “slow earth flow landslide” at the residence.
His voluminous testimony proved instrumental in Dargi’s victory in court over the city on Jan. 24, 2012. Hennepin County District Judge Bruce Peterson declared that “the extensive observations and data about changes to the house, described in detail by Zimmerman ... show that the residence was damaged beyond repair” and that the city “engaged in physical government activity that caused the damage.”
Northwest Asphalt, named as a co-defendant as the company contracted by the city to perform the construction, was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Barnard vehemently disagreed with the decision and pointed to testimony from American Engineering Testing Inc., Wenck Associates Inc., Braun Intertec and Encompass Inc., all of which found that the damage to Dargi’s home was not caused by a landslide. Furthermore, a report by Encompass stated that it was “obvious” that a “pry bar and/or hammer had been utilized” to damage the west wall of the home.
Judge Peterson disagreed, saying he did not believe Dargi destroyed his own home. Dargi subsequently filed complaints with the state against every expert that testified for Golden Valley and Northwest Asphalt.
“Dr. Zimmerman is the most thorough man I have ever met ... he wiped the floor with [the city’s experts] because he had facts,” said Dargi.
After the trial ended, Zimmerman had racked up $511,455.41 in billings, while only being paid $6,500 by Dargi, according to court documents. Dargi also accumulated another $620,857.50 in billings from the four law firms he employed to build his case. After much legal finagling, Golden Valley was ordered to pay $299,026.55 to Dargi for Zimmerman and the law firms; the rest of the billings were deemed inessential to the trial.
The city lost again on appeal because it failed to serve Citizens Independent Bank as an involuntary co-plaintiff after the bank had been made an indispensable party in a prior ruling. The city appealed one more time to the state Supreme Court, but was denied. “I’ve been practicing law for 45 years and this case defies logic, in my view,” said Barnard.
The case is now awaiting a condemnation hearing, where a panel of three real estate experts will decide what Golden Valley will have to pay Dargi for his property.
The city recently had the home’s value assessed at $360,000. That number was reduced to $322,000 after subtracting $38,000 in damages the city says Dargi caused through neglect. Dargi bought the home for $299,000 in 2001. For 2013, Hennepin County valued it at $303,000.
Dargi, however, says he is entitled to millions from the city. He said any appraisal Golden Valley does won’t take into account the millions he spent specializing his home to accommodate his wife’s health concerns and his business, Black on Black Publishing.
He says it contained antimicrobial, antistatic carpet, specialized paint and windows, fake walls and a pneumatic bookcase, a $600,000 mixing console, 80 computers, 200 terabytes of solid state drive, Cat 6 Ethernet wiring and commercial-grade electrical wiring, all of which were ruined when his house shifted as a result of the landslide.
Dargi, 51, said he helped redesign the sound system at the State Theatre in Minneapolis and worked on the fountains at the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas in addition to other high-profile projects. But he would not name any business associates or elaborate further.
“I get work because I am stealth,” he said. “What I do is not about being famous, I don’t go on stage, I don’t play in bars. I’m a very private person.”
Dan Biersdorf, the attorney Dargi hired for the condemnation case, said he would not be able to ballpark the amount of damages they will seek until Cameron vs. Dakota County is ruled on by the state Supreme Court. That case, argued by Biersdorf last November, deals with the vague terminology in the Minnesota Minimum Compensation Statute, which articulates what compensation is necessary for the government to provide to displaced business owners. He added that he doubts that the condemnation trial will proceed for at least another year, maybe two years, due to all of the legal issues that still need to be addressed.
“The feeling in the neighborhood is that [the former Dargi residence] is an eyesore, and neighbors want something to be done,” said Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris. About a year and a half ago Harris and other members of City Council held a meeting at a nearby home to discuss the Dargi case.
“People want to know what’s being done, and when, and how soon can it be remedied, so for the last year and a half I’ve been in office, we’ve increased our communication with the neighborhood to keep them up-to-date,” Harris said.
Dargi has been involved in a number of lawsuits in the past, and neighbors contacted for this story declined to go on the record, citing his history of frequent litigation.