Don Huizenga, Nancy Powell, and Jim Bendtsen are residents and taxpayers in Anoka County. They sued a school district and a teachers’ union challenging the union’s leave-and-reimbursement plan, claiming it violates state statute and constitutional provisions. The reimbursement plan allows teachers to take paid union leave to work for Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota (AHEM), the teachers’ collective-bargaining representative. AHEM reimburses the district’s costs for hiring substitute teachers, but not the higher pro rata cost of salaries and benefits for teachers on paid union leave. The federal district court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of standing (right to initiate a lawsuit). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision and ruled that the residents had demonstrated that they have municipal taxpayer standing. The court reasoned that such standing arises from the “peculiar” relationship of taxpayers to their municipality, likening it to one “subsisting between stockholder and private corporation.” The court noted that to claim such standing, “the plaintiff must actually be a taxpayer of the municipality that she wishes to sue” and “the plaintiff must establish that the municipality has spent tax revenues on the allegedly illegal action.”
Huizenga v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 11, 44 F.4th 806 (8th Cir. 2022).
Minnesota Voters Alliance, a non-profit election-integrity organization, along with several individuals who had served as Ramsey County election judges in the 2020 and 2021 general elections, sued the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State, challenging the validity of Minnesota Rule 8210.2450 and claiming that it conflicts with Section 203B.121 of the Minnesota Statutes such that election judges cannot comply with both. The core of the dispute is related to the signatures that are required on the envelope included with every absentee ballot that is sent to a voter who requests one. The plaintiffs claimed that an absentee ballot board’s election judges must rely on all the information in front of them, including signature comparison, to ensure that the absentee voter signed the required envelope certification. The defendant claimed that state statute does not require signature comparison by the election judges who serve on absentee ballot boards unless the ballot has mismatched identification numbers, a unique identifying number connected to each voter. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled against the plaintiffs and held that Minnesota Rule 8210.2450 is valid because it does not conflict with Section 203B.121, concluding that the state statute requires signature comparison “only when there is an identification-number discrepancy.”
Minn. Voters Alliance v. Office of the Minn. Secretary of State, No. A22-0111 (Minn. Ct. App. Aug. 15, 2022) (nonprecedential opinion).
Clean Water Act
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) reissued a water-discharge permit to the City of Osakis that limits the phosphorus discharge from its wastewater-treatment facility. The MPCA also denied the city’s request for a contested-case hearing on factual issues that the city raised regarding the phosphorus limitation in the reissued permit. The city appealed the MPCA’s decision, claiming that it had erred by applying a water-quality standard to a water body that is not impaired, and by failing to support its decision with substantial evidence that the limit was necessary to protect the quality of downstream waters. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in the city’s favor, concluding that the MPCA’s reissuance of the permit and its decision denying a contested-case hearing are not supported by substantial evidence and were based on errors of law in interpreting administrative rules and regulations in state and federal law. The court reversed the MPCA’s decision and sent the case back to the MPCA for reconsideration and for a contested-case hearing regarding the five factual issues that the city had identified.
In the Matter of the Denial of a Contested Case Hearing Request, A21-0986 (Minn. Ct. App. May 2, 2022) (nonprecedential opinion). Note: On July 19, 2022, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied the MPCA’s request to review this decision.
Marketable Title Act
Ross Lundstrom and Jean Pontzer own separate properties on the western shore of Lake Pepin. They sued the Township of Florence under the Marketable Title Act (MTA), claiming that the township’s property interests in two platted but unopened public roads that abutted their private properties had been extinguished since the township had failed to record notices of its property interests in these roads, which the MTA requires. The two roads in question were dedicated to the public by a plat that was recorded in 1857. The MTA provides that no property interest can “be asserted against a claim of title based on a source of title unless the interest is preserved by filing a notice within 40 years of the creation of the interest.” The district court ruled in the township’s favor, reasoning that Lundstrom and Pontzer were not authorized to sue under the MTA because their property deeds did not qualify as a “source of title” under the MTA because they do not contain any reference to the public roads in question. The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s decision, and ruled that a deed or other instrument that conveys a fee simple interest (complete ownership interest) in a lot that abuts a platted road is a “source of title” to the abutting road for purposes of the MTA. The court noted that under longstanding state law there is a general presumption that the fee simple conveyance of a lot abutting a platted road also conveys with the lot a fee simple interest to the center of the road, subject to the public easement. Lundstrom v. Township of Florence, N.W.2d (Minn. Ct. App. 2022). Note: A related appeal — In the Matter of the Application of Timothy D. Moratzka — raises the issue of whether public platted roads are exempt from the MTA. The League of Minnesota Cities is participating as an amicus (friend of the court) in this appeal, which is pending before the Minnesota Supreme Court.
In February 2007, 7-year-old Carter Justice attended a birthday party at Pump it Up, an indoor amusement center with inflatable equipment. Before entering the party, Justice’s mother signed a form agreement that included a waiver releasing the business from “any and all” claims that Justice might have based on his use of the inflatable equipment. During the party, Justice fell off an inflatable obstacle course and hit his head on the floor, causing an injury that required medical treatment. Several years later, when Justice was 18, he sued Marvel, LLC, the business that owns Pump it Up, for negligence. Marvel moved for summary judgment (court-issued judgment without a trial) based on the waiver that Justice’s mother had signed. The district court granted the motion against Justice, ruling that the waiver was valid and enforceable. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed and ruled that a parent is authorized to sign a waiver on behalf of a minor child, which releases a negligence claim against a third party, and that, if the waiver is valid and enforceable, it is binding even after the child becomes an adult. The appeals court also ruled that a court should interpret the waiver as valid and enforceable against claims based on ordinary negligence, and not against claims based on greater amounts of negligence. The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the Minnesota Court of Appeals’ decision and ruled that waivers are subject to strict construction — an interpretation based only on the literal meaning of the words — and that the waiver at issue is not enforceable against a claim for negligence against Marvel because it “does not sufficiently express a clear and unequivocal intent to release the company from the company’s own negligence.” The Minnesota Supreme Court also expressly declined to decide the issue of whether parents are authorized to sign a waiver on behalf of their minor child. Justice v. Marvel, LLC, N.W.2d (Minn. 2022).
Written by Susan Naughton, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: email@example.com or (651) 281-1232.