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Erik Burgess, Published December 25 2012

Fight over $46 service fee to lead to $5,000 settlement in Richland County

FINGAL, N.D. – Dennis Roehrich was out to prove a point.

The 61-year-old from this small rural town of less than 100 people admits he’s been hard on police for years, penning numerous letters to the editor critical of law enforcement, one from 2005 stating simply: “I don’t trust them.”

He recently took his qualms to court, suing the Richland County Sheriff’s Office for $750,000, claiming an “abuse of power” after he was charged the $46 fee for serving a man he was suing in small claims court even though deputies didn’t serve the individual.

Roehrich and the sheriff’s office are in the process of settling the matter for $5,000, but Roehrich told The Forum it’s bittersweet. With the settlement, he lost an opportunity to expose what he sees as law enforcement’s flaws.

“It really wasn’t about the money. It was principle,” he said. “Everybody’s telling me I already won even though I don’t feel like I won, because I thought I had a point to prove, and I didn’t get to prove it.”

The winding legal yarn all started in September 2010.

According to Cass County District Court documents, Roehrich wanted to serve a small claims lawsuit on someone but was uncertain where the person lived.

He contacted the sheriff’s departments in both Cass and Richland counties, and both told Roehrich that the man lived in Richland County. Roehrich sent his lawsuit to the Richland County Sheriff’s Office, along with a check for $46 to pay for the service, but the papers were soon returned to sender.

Court documents state:

“In bizarre fashion that address apparently was for a home that was located within the boundaries of Richland County. (The man) apparently built a new home directly across the street and presumably was not required to surrender his address despite the physical change in location of the home.”

Following the move, the home was actually in Cass County, so Richland officials could not serve him. When Roehrich found out, he fumed and canceled his check. The Richland County Sheriff’s Office countered with a small claims lawsuit seeking the $46.

“(They) told me that if I didn’t pay that $46, they’re gonna put a warrant out for my arrest,” Roehrich said. “And I said, ‘Go ahead; do it.’ ”

Then Roehrich raised the bar even higher. Claiming emotional distress, he had the case moved to District Court, countersuing the sheriff’s office for “abuse of power,” arguing they deceived him.

“They gave me the wrong information, and they tried to tell me that didn’t make a difference,” he said. “If you can’t call law enforcement to find out what county somebody lives in, who are you gonna call?”

Corey Quinton, attorney for the sheriff’s office, said Roehrich acknowledged he understood he would be charged whether or not the service was completed.

“Nobody had misrepresented anything to him,” Quinton said. “It just happened that somebody had moved, and that is a common occurrence” when serving someone.

Quinton said it is the responsibility of the person bringing the lawsuit to know the address of the person that is to be served, adding that the $750,000 lawsuit amount was “completely extraordinary and unwarranted.” In court documents, Roehrich admitted he basically plucked the number out of thin air.

“You throw a number out there. Isn’t that what usually goes on?” Roehrich said in a deposition.

Quinton said Roehrich had no proof of any damages, but they offered him a settlement, hoping to resolve the matter quickly.

“It was just more cost- effective to settle with him for $5,000, frankly, than to pay me whatever it is to try this case,” Quinton said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518

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