Minnesota Cities Magazine
More from May-Jun 2018 issue

From the Bench: Court Upholds City Authority to Enforce Codes in Manufactured Home Park

Photo of a housePRE-EMPTION
Manufactured home parks
Kathryn Eich and some other residents of the Rambush Estates Manufactured Home Park challenged the City of Burnsville’s authority to enforce the State Building Code and its local city code in Rambush Estates, claiming that federal and state law pre-empt such local regulatory authority in manufactured home parks. The district court agreed with the residents and issued two orders prohibiting the city from any code enforcement in Rambush Estates, holding that the federal National Manufactured Housing Construction and Safety Standards Act of 1974 completely pre-empts cities’ local regulatory authority.

The city appealed, claiming that federal and state law only prohibit cities from enforcing local regulations that address construction or safety standards for manufactured housing. The Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed with the city and reversed the district court, holding that neither state nor federal law preempts a city from enforcing its local zoning, subdivision, architectural, or aesthetic codes applicable to manufactured home parks, provided that the local requirements do not involve construction or safety standards for manufactured housing. The Court of Appeals also held that cities are authorized to enforce the State Building Code in manufactured home parks, if that enforcement is related to a structure other than a manufactured home or its “accessory structures.” Eich v. City of Burnsville, N.W.2d (Minn. Ct. App. 2018). Note: The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust represented the city, and the League of Minnesota Cities filed an amicus brief in the city’s support.

Appeal requirements
The City of Vadnais Heights imposed a special assessment of $158,211.46 against McCullough and Sons, Inc.’s property to help pay for street improvements. At the assessment hearing, Jim McCullough, the company’s vice president, testified that the assessment was high, the company’s property “is a headache,” and he is “stuck with it” because the company has been unable to sell or even “give it away” due to the high cost of development. The company later appealed the assessment in district court. The city moved for summary judgment, arguing that state statute prohibited the appeal because the company did not comply with the appeal requirements by failing to file or present a written and signed objection either before or at the assessment hearing, as required under Minnesota Statutes, section 429.061. The company claimed in response that Section 429.081 of the Minnesota Statutes is the exclusive state statute governing special assessment appeals, and it does not require a property owner to file or present a written and signed objection to preserve its right to appeal. The company also argued that Section 429.061 is unconstitutional.

The district court ruled in the city’s favor. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, ruling that when Section 429.081 is read in conjunction with Section 429.061, the unambiguous statutory language provides that a property owner is prohibited from appealing the assessment in district court if the owner, without reasonable cause, fails to sign a written objection to an assessment and to either: (1) file the objection with the city clerk before the assessment hearing, or (2) present the objection to the presiding officer at the assessment hearing. The Court of Appeals remanded the constitutional claim, however, noting that the district court had failed to rule on it. McCullough and Sons, Inc. v. City of Vadnais Heights, 905 N.W.2d 878 (Minn. Ct. App. 2017).

Orderly annexation
The City of Carver and Dahlgren Township entered into an orderly annexation agreement setting out the conditions for the city to annex township land. The agreement provides that the city will not annex any parcel of property within a designated area “until such time as the township has received reimbursement for the loss of such taxable property in the amount of $500 for each acre described in the city resolution to be annexed to the city.” The agreement does not specify who must pay the reimbursement. Diedrich and Jeanette Lenzen submitted a petition asking the city to annex their property. The city told the Lenzens that a fee of $500 per acre must be paid to the township to process the petition. As a result, the Community Asset Development Group, a company seeking to develop the Lenzens’ property, gave the township a check for $2,165. The city then passed an annexation resolution, and submitted it to the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), seeking an annexation order.

The OAH ultimately issued orders that did two things: (1) limited the amount of tax reimbursement to which the parties could agree, and (2) assessed the OAH’s costs in processing the annexation to the city and the township. The city and township appealed, and the district court reversed the OAH on both issues. The OAH appealed, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the district court decision, ruling that, when parties to an orderly annexation agreement agree to a tax-reimbursement payment, state statute does not restrict its amount. The Court of Appeals also ruled that the OAH did not have statutory authority to assess its costs to the city and the township, reasoning that state statute provides authority for such assessment when the OAH conducts arbitrations, mediations, and hearings, and that none of those proceedings had occurred here. In re the Matter of Dahlgren Township, N.W.2d (Minn. Ct. App. 2017).

Qualified immunity
Theodore Wesby attended a party in Washington, D.C. Neighbors called the police to complain about loud music and illegal activities, and said that the house where the party was taking place should have been vacant. When police entered the house, which was in a disorganized state, they observed strippers in the living room, alcohol being consumed, and individuals engaging in sexual activity upstairs. After failing to find “Peaches,” the alleged party host, the police arrested the partygoers for trespassing, and charged them with disorderly conduct. Those charges were later dropped, but Wesby and 15 other partygoers filed their own lawsuit for false arrest, claiming that the police had lacked probable cause to arrest them because the officers didn’t have any reason to believe that the partygoers knew they weren’t supposed to be at the house.

The lower courts agreed with the partygoers, holding that the police had violated their Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable seizures, and ordered the police officers to pay the partygoers nearly $1 million in damages and attorney’s fees. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed, holding that, when all the facts were viewed as a whole, the officers had probable cause to arrest the partygoers and that, even if probable cause did not exist, the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because there is no well-established law to support the partygoers’ claim that they have a right to be present at a house if they have a good-faith belief that the homeowner has granted them permission to be there. District of Columbia v. Wesby, 138 S. Ct. 577 (2018).

Photo of a speaker at a podium Free speech rights
After Donald Morgan ran unsuccessfully in a primary election against his boss, Michael Robinson, who was the incumbent sheriff, Robinson terminated Morgan’s employment as a deputy with the Washington County, Nebraska, Sheriff ’s Office for statements Morgan made during the campaign. Robinson claimed that Morgan’s statements violated the department’s rules of conduct. The statements at issue concerned the operations of the Sheriff ’s Department and Morgan’s plans to improve them. Morgan sued, claiming he was retaliated against in violation of his First Amendment free speech rights. Robinson moved for summary judgment, claiming he was entitled to qualified immunity.

The federal district court denied summary judgment, and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals noted that Morgan’s speech was protected by the First Amendment under the two-part test that applies to a public employee’s exercise of his First Amendment free speech rights because: (1) Morgan’s speech was made as a citizen on matters of public concern, and (2) Robinson did not show an adequate justification for the termination because he had not provided any concrete evidence demonstrating that Morgan’s speech had caused an actual or potential for disruption in the Sheriff ’s Office. In denying Robinson’s claim of qualified immunity, the Court of Appeals held that public officials have been on notice since 1968 “that a public employee cannot be terminated for making protected statements during a campaign for public office where that speech has no demonstrated impact on the efficiency of office operations.” Morgan v. Robinson, 881 F.3d 646 (8th Cir. 2018).

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

Read the May-Jun 2018 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

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