Minnesota Cities Magazine
More from Jan-Feb 2016 issue

From the Bench: Conditional Use Permit Denied for Noisy Target-Shooting Events

A woman riding a horse shoots a gun at a targetLAND USE
Conditional Use Permit
August applied for a conditional use permit (CUP) to use his property in the township for mounted shooting events where contestants would ride on horseback while shooting at targets with .45 caliber blanks. The township board recommended denial of the CUP due to the negative impact from “noise based on the PA system and approximately 2,000 rounds [fired] per day.” The county planning commission held a public hearing. Zoning staff prepared a report advising that the noise at the property “does not exceed, or even approach, the [Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA)] decibel limit.” But the report also advised that “steady gunfire over the daylight hours of many weekends would rise to the level of significant annoyance for neighboring landowners.”

The county board denied the CUP based on its conflict with its zoning ordinance, which requires any impact from a proposed use to have a low impact on the neighborhood “by intrusion of noise, glare, odor, or other adverse effects.” August appealed, claiming the county board’s decision was unreasonable and lacked a factual basis in the record because the noise from the proposed use does not exceed MPCA standards. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the county board could consider the effects of the noise even if it did not exceed MPCA standards, and that the county board had permissibly relied on the non-expert testimony of neighbors. August v. Chisago County Bd. of Comm’rs, 868 N.W.2d 741 (Minn. Ct. App. 2015).

A red coach busMINNESOTA GOVERNMENT DATA PRACTICES ACT
Bus video
Two Metro Transit bus drivers were involved in separate incidents while driving a bus. In each instance, transit officials investigated, and downloaded portions of bus video recordings to decide whether the bus drivers should be disciplined. Transit officials determined that neither incident warranted discipline. KSTP-TV requested copies of the video recordings. The Metropolitan Council denied the request, claiming the data is private “personnel data” under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA). KSTP-TV filed a data practices complaint with the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings. An administrative law judge determined that the Metropolitan Council had violated the MGDPA by failing to provide the video recordings to KSTP-TV.

The Metropolitan Council appealed, claiming that the bus drivers are the subjects of the video recordings and that when it downloaded and maintained the video recordings specifically to evaluate the conduct of the bus drivers, the video recordings became private “personnel data” because neither bus driver was disciplined. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the administrative law judge’s decision and ruled in KSTP-TV’s favor, reasoning that the video recordings were public data because they were maintained for several reasons, including service and safety reasons, and not solely because the bus drivers were government employees. In the Matter of: KSTP-TV v. Metro Transit, 868 N.W.2d 920 (Minn. 2015).

PUBLIC CONTRACTS
Best value contracting
Rochester City Lines, Co. (RCL) sued, making several claims challenging the city’s award of a public contract to First Transit, Inc. for bus services. The city used a best value contracting process authorized by Federal Transit Administration regulations. The district court granted summary judgment in the city’s favor, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed. The Minnesota Supreme Court held that the appropriate standard of review for a city’s best value bidding process is the Over-the-shoulder image of a man in a suit reviewing a document.unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious standard from Griswold v. Ramsey County, a Minnesota Supreme Court decision from 1954.

The Supreme Court upheld the grant of summary judgment on the majority of the claims against the city, but remanded the case for trial on one claim alleging that the cumulative irregularities in the city’s contracting process made its contract award unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious. In describing the level of deference required in applying the Griswold standard, the Supreme Court noted that its application “requires courts to examine the bidding procedures to ensure that they provide a fair process and incorporate sufficient controls to safeguard against abuses … but does not allow courts to substitute their judgments for those of public officials.” The Supreme Court also held that the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to consider the quasi-judicial claim challenging the city attorney’s decision denying RCL’s bid-protest filings. Rochester City Lines, Co. v. City of Rochester, 868 N.W.2d 655 (Minn. 2015).

RIGHT-OF-WAY ASSESSMENT
Regulatory service fee
Two churches in the city’s downtown sued, challenging right-of-way (ROW) assessments that the city had levied against their properties as authorized by the city’s home rule charter. The city levies ROW assessments to recoup costs related to: street maintenance, including sweeping, patching, and sealing streets and alleys; patching unimproved rights-of-way; overlaying streets; snow Text box that says, plowing, sanding, and salting; tree trimming; streetlight and traffic sign repair; litter pickup; enforcement of ordinances; and emergency maintenance services. The amount of a ROW assessment depends on the property’s location, size, and street material, and on the specific services the city provides. The city assesses tax-exempt properties in the downtown at a higher rate than tax-exempt properties located outside the downtown.

The churches claimed that the ROW assessments imposed against their properties were invalid because they: (1) are a tax; (2) do not meet the special-benefit standard; (3) are improperly based on estimated costs; (4) fail to comply with the city’s charter and policies; and (5) are arbitrary and capricious. The district court granted summary judgment in the city’s favor, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the ROW assessments are not subject to the special-benefit standard because they are a regulatory fee for services imposed under the city’s police power, and that the churches failed to demonstrate that the amount of the assessments was unreasonable. The Court of Appeals reasoned that a regulatory service fee is reasonable if the record demonstrates that the assessment amount is proportional to the cost of the services provided, and noted that the city’s total assessment only covered 83 percent of the annual cost of services citywide. First Baptist Church of St. Paul v. City of St. Paul, No. A15-0015 (Minn. Ct. App. Aug. 31, 2015) (unpublished opinion).

PUBLIC CONTRACTS
Best value contracting
Rochester City Lines, Co. (RCL) sued, making several claims challenging the city’s award of a public contract to First Transit, Inc. for bus services. The city used a best value contracting process authorized by Federal Transit Administration regulations. The district court granted summary judgment in the city’s favor, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed. The Minnesota Supreme Court held that the appropriate standard of review for a city’s best value bidding process is the unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious standard from Griswold v. Ramsey County, a Minnesota Supreme Court decision from 1954.

The Supreme Court upheld the grant of summary judgment on the majority of the claims against the city, but remanded the case for trial on one claim alleging that the cumulative irregularities in the city’s contracting process made its contract award unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious. In describing the level of deference required in applying the Griswold standard, the Supreme Court noted that its application “requires courts to examine the bidding procedures to ensure that they provide a fair process and incorporate sufficient controls to safeguard against abuses … but does not allow courts to substitute their judgments for those of public officials.” The Supreme Court also held that the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to consider the quasi-judicial claim challenging the city attorney’s decision denying RCL’s bid-protest filings. Rochester City Lines, Co. v. City of Rochester, 868 N.W.2d 655 (Minn. 2015).

PUBLIC CONTRACTS
Legal publications
The county board issued a public request for bids forText box that says, seven legal publication contracts. In the bidding instructions, the county board reserved the “right to award in whole or in part, by item, group of items, or by section where such action serves the county’s best interests.” The bidding instructions also provided that each bidder must specify unit prices, but may submit a bid on one or multiple sections, and stated that the “bid award will be made to the lowest responsible, responsive vendor meeting all terms, conditions, and specifications of the bid documents.” For each publication contract on which a bidder chose to bid, the bidding form required specification of a unit price.

Anoka County Record, LLC (Record), submitted a flat-rate $32,500 bid for five publications, which the county board rejected as nonconforming. The Record then submitted a second set of bids containing unit prices for four publications, but stating in an attachment that the bids were submitted “as a package offer” and “will not apply to any less than an award of these four sections.” The Record’s bids for three publications were the low bids, but another bidder submitted the low bid for a fourth publication on which the Record had bid. The county board awarded the four contracts to another vendor because the Record was not the low bidder on the fourth publication and because it had made its bids an all-or-nothing proposition. The Record sued, seeking to void the county’s contracts and seeking reimbursement for its bid-preparation expenses.

The district court granted summary judgment in the county’s favor. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the county board did not abuse its discretion in the method it used to analyze the bids, and reasoning that to allow the Record to enjoy the benefit of a flat-rate bid while other bidders complied with the requirement to submit only unit-price bids would give the Record a benefit not enjoyed by other bidders. The Court of Appeals also noted that once the county elected to use a competitive bidding process, it was required to use a process reasonably designed to accomplish the purpose of giving all contractors an equal opportunity to bid and of assuring the taxpayers the best bargain for the least money. Anoka County Record, LLC v. Anoka County Bd. of Comm’rs, No. A15-0219 (Minn. Ct. App. Aug. 31, 2015) (unpublished opinion).

Written by Susan Naughton, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: snaughto@lmc.org or (651) 281-1232.

Read the January-February 2016 issue of Minnesota Cities Magazine

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