Court of Appeals 09.29.09

One unpublished case in our area, an appeal of a criminal case dismissal out of Maplewood.  Maplewood’s building officials red-tagged a building following a fire, but soon suspected that the building tenants were occupying the building.  Maplewood got an administrative warrant and went in to investigate.  Resulting charges for occupancy without an approved COO were thrown out, though, apparently upon revelation that the building’s existing COO hadn’t been revoked and no argument could be made why a new COO was necessary for this business.  The district court found that the failure to mention the existing COO invalidated the search.  When the City re-charged the business owner, they left out any building code offenses – though it seems like violation of the red-tag order (which didn’t seem to need the search evidence to be viable) could have stood up.  Then again, it seems that few metro-area criminal courts take code enforcement charges all that seriously, and there were more traditional charges available.  

During the warrant inspection, four uniformed police officers accompanied the inspector.  The business owner, taking offense to the inspeciton, chose to fight with the police officers.  Following dismissal of the building-code charges (an obstruction of legal process charge stood), the city came back with assault and disorderly-conduct charges in addition to the OLP.  Eight days before trial, the district court rendered its decision about evidence from the search, but for good measure decided to dismiss all the charges, too.  As befits a decision based largely on sympathy for the defendant, the technical grounds for dismissal were weak to nonexistent, and the Court of Appeals has little trouble reversing those decisions (the defendant allegedly did kick a police officer, after all, bad search or no).  However, the Court devotes a full page of the opinion to blasting the prosecution for not just amending the complaint and sparing everyone the pain of an appeal.  Words to live by.

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Supreme Court 09.24.09

The Court grants review of the cartway petition case decided by the Court of Appeals in June.  The Township involved sought the review.  The Court of Appeals overturned a legislative decision, which requires a high standard of “they blew it” evidence, so the legal terms are favorable to the Township at the next level (also, the old saw that the Court grants review in order to reverse comes to mind).  On the other hand, if the lower court accurately described the cartway route the Township granted, it’s a well-documented lunacy that the appellate court was right to strike down.

The Trocoderos case was denied review in today’s round of orders.

Court of Appeals 09.22.09

All quiet, save for a special-release opinion setting down a property owner’s effort to get out of a settlement agreement with the City.  There’s not much to analyze or take away: the court held that the agreement meant what it said, and that parties are well advised to read things before they sign them.  No government law wrinkles here, just generally applicable contract and arbitraiton law.

Court of Appeals 09.15.09

The Court renders a decision in a Minnetonka employment-discrimination suit that does not break new legal ground but is an object lesson in always following your personnel procedures.  Minnetonka got the entire complaint dismissed at the distirct court level.  On appeal, the Court affirmed the dismissal on claims where the city had followed its procedures – conducting a thorough investigation into hostile-environment claims and applying a medical-leave policy.  The city is headed back to court, though, on a claim related to the promotion of a comparable employee done outside the normal competitive-application process, with no apparent explanation. 

The Court also rejects the appeal of a landlord who self-filed his challenges to a pair of St. Paul demolition orders in district court.  Unfortunately, challenges of “quasi-judicial” decisions, like a city’s nuisance abatement order, must proceed directly to the Court of Appeals, so the district court lacks jurisdiction.  Of course, by the time the claimant gets this opinion, it’s far too late to file the claims properly.  It’d be nice to know if someone tried to steer the guy in the right direction, or maybe that the complaints came in far too late to be done the right way.  I doubt that unpublished opinions are highly read items, but episodes that make it appear that government lawyers hide the ball and blithely toy with citizens’ concerns are terrible for the profession and bad for governance in general.  More context, please.

Supreme Court 09.10.09

Via the Pioneer Press, the Court has requested supplemental briefs and additional argument in the Lakeland/DNR variance approval case (previous posts here and here).  The argument is set for October 12.   The issues noted in the article indicate that the Supreme Court is struggling to determine whether the DNR Commissioner has any decision authority at all once the agency approves a local regulation.  If that’s found lacking, then it probably follows that the local ordinance controls any decision once approved by DNR, regardless of the appearance of a conflict with DNR rules.

The Court issues an opinion vacating all prior actions on the St Paul Port Authority’s 876 Bonds, finding that the lower courts improperly extended a 1993 statute amendment to the bonds, which were all issued prior to 1991.  The short version is that development authority bonds issued since 1993 can be treated as a trust, even if no trust was specifically created, and the authority as trustee can attempt to fix problems (like running out of money, as the 876 Fund did) by petitioning the district court.  Development authority bonds issued before 1993 cannot take advantage of this mechanism, unless a trust was specifically created when the bonds were issued.  A wrinkle to watch going forward is the Court’s decision to remand the issue of the Authority’s 2002 and 2004 petitions to the district court.  Having found that the lower court had no jurisdiction over the bonds and should not have approved the Dutch auctions that took place, the question remains: is the motion to vacate those orders made within a reasonable time?  Translated: since the auctions have already happened and bondholders were paid (without objection at the time), what good is it to vacate the order that let that happen?  The district court gets that issue back for fact-finding and decision.

Court of Appeals 09.01.09

The Court orders Chisago County to issue a CUP for a compost site, finding its rejection of the application arbitrary.  The key factor here is the generally positive staff reaction to the proposal.  The standard (at least here, anyway) isn’t so much whether the governing body states lucid reasons for denial, but whether it could have approved the permit with the facts on record.  In this light, favorable staff reports and a decision not to require an EAW guarantee reversal of any Board findings that the project is environmentally harmful.  The governing body will be boxed in by the record handed to it.