Firm News

Hellmuth & Johnson leads lawsuit that seeks to recover nearly $2 billion on behalf of North Dakota taxpayers

  • Nearly $2 billion in state resources are set to be transferred from North Dakota taxpayers to a select group of private parties.
  • The lawsuit challenges a 2017 law that violates the North Dakota Constitution by giving away valuable mineral rights that belong to North Dakota taxpayers.
  • Edina-based law firm Hellmuth & Johnson represents the plaintiffs, who seek to recover $1.96 billion for North Dakota taxpayers. It comes at an important time for North Dakota citizens since the state’s property tax buy-down program was terminated in order to help fund the unprecedented giveaway.

EDINA, MN – January 10, 2018 – Today, Hellmuth & Johnson filed a lawsuit against the State of North Dakota seeking to prevent the state from moving forward with an unprecedented gift of $205 million in cash and $1.76 billion of Lake Sakakawea mineral rights from the taxpayers of North Dakota to a select group of private parties. The lawsuit asserts this gift violates the North Dakota Constitution.

Historically, North Dakota law has retained for the benefit of all state citizens the substantial value of mineral rights below the Ordinary High Water Mark of navigable waters – including Lake Sakakawea, which is the largest man-made lake in the state and the third largest in the nation. The state has asserted and retained these mineral rights, until recently.

A new law, passed after testimony from some of those who will receive the illegal giveaway, attempts to override taxpayer interests by redrawing the Ordinary High Water Mark of Lake Sakakawea to where it is was thought to have been in 1953. The result is that hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties and perpetual mineral rights above the historic Missouri River channel are being given away to a small group of private parties, with no compensation for North Dakota taxpayers. In relinquishing these rights, the law expressly violates North Dakota’s Constitution, according to North Dakota State Representative Marvin Nelson, among several other plaintiffs named in the suit.

“This illegal law harms North Dakota taxpayers for the benefit of a small group of private parties,” said Representative Nelson. “The effects of this unprecedented giveaway will be felt immediately and over the long term. I’m proud to be standing up for North Dakota taxpayers on this issue.”

Nelson, Paul Sorum and the other plaintiffs named in the complaint seek an injunction to stop this unlawful giveaway and preserve nearly $2 billion in state resources on behalf of North Dakota citizens.

Hellmuth & Johnson Partner Terrance W. Moore is the lead attorney for the case. Moore is licensed to practice in North Dakota and is actively involved in a variety of matters in the state.

More information about the complaint that was filed today is available on the Frequently Asked Questions page.

About Hellmuth & Johnson
Hellmuth & Johnson, a Top 20 Minnesota law firm, represents clients ranging from individuals and emerging start-ups to multinational Fortune 500 companies. Focusing on transactional law, litigation and appeals, Hellmuth & Johnson attorneys are leaders in their fields. Founded in 1994, Hellmuth & Johnson has become one of Minnesota’s fastest growing law firms. Learn more at

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