Minnesota Cities Magazine
More from Jul-Aug 2018 issue

From the Bench: Court Rules in Favor of Driver in DWI Forfeiture Case

FORFEITURE LAW
Due process
Megan Olson was arrested for driving while impaired (DWI) on Aug. 16, 2015. Because of past DWI convictions, she was charged with first-degree DWI, which is a “designated offense” under Minnesota Statutes, section 169A.63, a statute authorizing the civil forfeiture of vehicles used in certain criminal offenses. Forfeiture laws generally give the state the right to seize property associated with certain crimes and assume its ownership. Police seized the vehicle Megan was driving. Megan was the vehicle’s primary driver, but her mother, Helen Olson, is its registered owner. The state notified both Megan and Helen of its intent to forfeit the vehicle.

On Oct. 7, 2015, the Olsons filed a timely demand for a judicial determination of the proposed forfeiture. The forfeiture trial date was rescheduled six times, pending the outcome of Megan’s related criminal matter. The statute provides that a judicial determination must be held “at the earliest practicable date, and in any event no later than 180 days following the filing of the demand by the claimant.” But it also provides that, if “a related criminal proceeding is pending, the hearing shall not be held until the conclusion of the criminal proceedings.” On Oct. 12, 2016, Megan pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree DWI. On Oct. 14, 2016, the Olsons made a motion for summary judgment in the forfeiture action, claiming a violation of their constitutional right to procedural due process under the U.S. and Minnesota Constitutions. A forfeiture hearing took place on Feb. 23, 2017.

The district court granted summary judgment in the Olsons’ favor, concluding that the statute did not provide for meaningful review after a prehearing vehicle seizure and, therefore, violates the constitutional right to procedural due process. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed, ruling that the statute was unconstitutional, as applied in this situation, because the Olsons were denied prompt, post-deprivation judicial review for more than 18 months. But the Court of Appeals noted that the Olsons had not demonstrated that the statute could never be applied in a way that would satisfy procedural due process. The Court of Appeals declined, however, to decide what would qualify as a constitutionally sufficient, prompt, and meaningful review of the initial seizure. Olson v. One 1999 Lexus, N.W.2d (Minn. Ct. App. 2018).

EMPLOYMENT LAW
Arbitration award
The City of Richfield sought to vacate (void) an arbitration award that overturned its decision to terminate police officer Nathan Kinsey after he was involved in an incident with some young Somali males at a city park. During the incident, Kinsey threatened, shoved, and slapped 19-year-old Kamal Gelle in the head after citing him for careless driving, and then failed to report his use of force, even though the city had repeatedly counseled, disciplined, and trained Kinsey on use of force and report writing. The incident was captured on a video that went viral on the internet.

The district court upheld the arbitration award, ordering Kinsey’s unconditional reinstatement, subject only to a three-day unpaid suspension. Generally, an arbitration award will be upheld if the award provided was within the arbitrator’s powers. But there is a narrow exception that authorizes a court to vacate an arbitration award if it is contrary to public policy. This exception must involve a public policy that is well-defined and dominant, and that is discovered by reference to laws and legal precedents, not from general consideration of supposed public interests.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals unanimously held that the arbitration award reinstating Kinsey violates the clear public policy requiring transparency and proper reporting of the use of police force. The Court of Appeals concluded that to “prohibit excessive force on the part of police officers, police departments must be able to monitor occasions when police officers use force.” The Court of Appeals reasoned such monitoring cannot occur unless police departments can require police officers to comply with their use-of-force reporting requirements. City of Richfield v. Law Enforcement Labor Services, Inc., N.W.2d (Minn. Ct. App. 2018). Note: The League of Minnesota Cities filed an amicus curiae brief in the city’s support.

FORFEITURE LAW
Insurance proceeds
City of Savage police officers arrested Russell Briles’ intoxicated son after he crashed Briles’ vehicle. The Police Department seized the vehicle and notified Briles of its intent to forfeit the vehicle under the impaired-driving forfeiture statute. Briles did not intend to recover the totaled vehicle; instead, he planned to recover insurance proceeds. The Police Department’s attorney told Briles’ insurer to hold any insurance proceeds, implying the department had the right to them. Briles discovered this after the end of the deadline for filing a complaint to challenge the forfeiture through a judicial determination. Briles filed a demand for a judicial determination anyway, arguing that the vehicle had been improperly seized and that insurance proceeds are not forfeitable under the statute. The district court rejected his filing as untimely. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the district court in part and reversed in part, holding that Briles had forfeited his claim because it was untimely. But the Court of Appeals also held that the city did not have any right to the insurance proceeds. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed, ruling that a complaint for judicial determination under the statute is time-barred if it is filed more than 60 days after receipt of the forfeiture notice. The Supreme Court also held that the statute does not authorize the forfeiture of insurance proceeds because they are not a part of the “right, title, and interest” in the vehicle. Briles v. 2013 GMC Terrain, 907 N.W.2d 628 (Minn. 2018).

DATA PRACTICES ACT
Term-search demand
Tony Webster sought administrative remedies against Hennepin County for alleged violations of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA). Webster initially demanded that the county conduct a computer-aided search of all its employees’ email accounts for a two-and-a-half-year period and produce only those containing 20 separate search terms relating to biometrics and facial recognition. The county claimed this term-search demand is not a valid request under the MGDPA and that, even if it is valid, it is unduly burdensome. The administrative law judge (ALJ) ruled against the county, finding it had violated the MGDPA in several ways, by failing: (1) to establish procedures to ensure appropriate and prompt compliance with data requests; (2) to keep records containing government data in an arrangement and condition to make them easily accessible for convenient use; and (3) to provide access to requested public government data.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the ALJ’s decision in part and reversed it in part. The Court of Appeals concluded that the county’s procedures and records arrangement did not violate the MGDPA, but affirmed the ALJ’s ruling that the county failed to provide access to requested public government data. The Court of Appeals noted that the MGDPA does not authorize a requester to dictate how a government entity gathers requested data. Therefore, the Court of Appeals concluded that the county is not required to perform a computer-aided search of its employees’ email accounts if it can locate the requested data on the county’s use of mobile biometric technology without doing so. The Court of Appeals also noted that the MGDPA does not contain an express exception from compliance with broad, complex, or otherwise burdensome data requests, and that the decision whether to adopt such an exception is a policy decision for the Legislature or the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision in part and reversed it in part. The Supreme Court held that there was substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s conclusion that the county failed to establish procedures to ensure appropriate and prompt compliance with data requests, but also concluded that there was not substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s conclusion that the county failed to keep its records in an arrangement and condition to make them easily accessible for convenient use. (The county did not appeal the ALJ’s third determination that it had failed to provide access to requested public government data.) Finally, the Supreme Court concluded that it did not have “appellate jurisdiction” to consider the issues of whether the term-search demand was valid or whether the county may refuse to comply with a request it deems unduly burdensome because the county did not file the required appellate pleading to preserve its right to raise these issues before the Supreme Court. Webster v. Hennepin County, N.W.2d (Minn. 2018). Note: The League filed an amicus curiae brief in the county’s support.

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

Read the July-Aug 2018 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

* By posting you are agreeing to the LMC Comment Policy.