Minnesota Cities Magazine

From the Bench: Keeping the Peace (and Quiet)

NOISE ORDINANCE
Car music
After a police officer heard music coming from McElroy’s vehicle from over 150 feet away, McElroy was charged with violating a city ordinance restricting the volume of amplified JUL13FTBCarMusicsounds from vehicles. The ordinance prohibits operation of any electronic device used for the amplification of music or other entertainment that is located within a motor vehicle being operated on a public street or alley, or in commercial or residential parking facilities, making the music or sound audible by any person from a distance of 50 feet or more from the vehicle. A jury found McElroy guilty of violating the ordinance. He appealed, claiming that the ordinance was unconstitutional because it was vague and overbroad. The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the ordinance, reasoning that it provides fair warning of the conduct that is prohibited and provides an objective guideline of distance to eliminate arbitrary enforcement. The Court of Appeals also reasoned that the ordinance was a content-neutral method of achieving the city’s legitimate governmental interest of controlling the noise level on streets to protect the peace and quiet of other persons using the sidewalks and streets. State v. McElroy, N.W.2d (Minn. Ct. App. 2013).

UNIFORM MUNICIPAL CONTRACT LAW
Attorney fees
After unsuccessfully bidding on a city construction project, Rochon Corp. sued under the Uniform Municipal Contract Law (UMCL), claiming that the city had allowed the successful bidder to make a material modification of its bid in violation of the competitive bidding laws. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in Rochon’s favor and declared that the resulting contract with the successful bidder was void. As authorized by UMCL, Rochon was awarded the costs of preparing its unsuccessful bid. Rochon then moved for an award of litigation costs, including attorney fees. The city argued that the UMCL prohibits the award of attorney fees. Rochon claimed that Minnesota’s private attorney general statute authorized the award. The district court and the Court of Appeals ruled in the city’s favor. The Court of Appeals held that a prospective contractor for a city project that successfully challenges a bid submission process and recovers under the UMCL cannot circumvent the UMCL’s prohibition of attorney fees by claiming it is entitled to attorney fees under Minnesota’s private attorney general statute. Rochon Corp. v. City of St. Paul, N.W.2d (Minn. Ct. App. 2013).

FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT
Class actions
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) authorizes employees to sue on their own behalf and on behalf of “other employees similarly situated.” Symczyk, a registered nurse, brought a collective action against her former employers, claiming they violated the FLSA by deducting 30 minutes in unpaid meal break from each shift even if the employee worked during that time. Symczyk’s former employers offered her $7,500 for alleged unpaid wages and reasonable attorney fees, costs, and expenses. When Symczyk failed to respond to the offer, her former employers moved to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, arguing that their offer of complete relief made the FLSA claim moot. Noting that no other employees had joined the suit, the district court agreed that the case was moot and granted the motion to dismiss. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case back to the district court. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the 3rd Circuit’s decision and held that a collective action under the FLSA cannot proceed when the lone plaintiff’s individual claim becomes moot. Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 133 S. Ct. 1523 (2013).

EMINENT DOMAIN
Minimum Compensation Statute
Yermolenko, LLC (YLLC) is a limited liability company. YLLC owns Capitol Car Company, which operates an automotive repair and sales business. YLLC owned property at 321 Como Ave. and leased it to Capitol Car. YLLC sold the property at 321 Como and purchased property at 388 Como Ave., planning to redevelop it and lease it to Capitol Car. Before YLLC could finish redeveloping the property at 388 Como Ave., the city acquired it through eminent domain. YLLC was awarded $1.75 million for the property’s fair market value. YLLC appealed, arguing that it was entitled to damages under the Minimum Compensation Statute in an amount of approximately $3.6 million, which was based on the amount needed to purchase and adapt a comparable property. The Minimum Compensation Statute provides that when an owner of property is forced to relocate because of an eminent domain proceeding, the amount of damages paid “at a minimum, must be sufficient for an owner to purchase a comparable property in the community.” The city moved for summary judgment, claiming YLLC was not entitled damages under the Minimum Compensation Statute because it was not forced to relocate. The district court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in the city’s favor. The Court of Appeals reasoned that the Minimum Compensation Statute is confined to owners who must relocate, and YLLC was not forced to relocate because it did not physically occupy the property at the time of the taking. City of St. Paul v. Yermolenko, LLC, No. A12-1398 (Minn. Ct. App. Apr. 1, 2013) (unpublished opinion).

GOVERNMENTAL IMMUNITY
Official immunity
Dulka, a certified emergency medical technician (EMT), was dispatched to transport a patient from Red Lake Falls to a hospital in Grand Forks. Dulka was informed that the patient had “cut his hand severely on a table saw” and that she had to transport him to a hand surgeon “as quickly as [she] could.” Dulka was driving faster than the posted speed limit with the ambulance’s emergency flashing lights and sirens activated when she approached an intersection controlled by traffic lights. Dulka stated that the traffic light’s emergency flasher was not operating as she entered the intersection on a red light. Another vehicle entered the intersection traveling the opposite direction and crashed into the ambulance. The driver of the other vehicle died. The deceased’s insurance company started a no-fault arbitration proceeding seeking to recover amounts it had paid to the deceased’s estate. The city’s insurer filed an action in district court to stay arbitration, and moved for summary judgment, claiming Dulka and the city are immune from suit. The district court granted the city’s motion, holding that Dulka and the city are entitled to official immunity and statutory immunity. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that because Dulka exercised her judgment and discretion in deciding to treat the transport of a patient with a “limb-threatening” injury as an emergency and in responding to the emergency, her conduct is protected by official immunity. League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust v. Owners Insurance Co., No. A12-1326 (Minn. Ct. App. Mar. 25, 2013) (unpublished opinion).

LICENSING LAW
Liquor license
Linn applied for an off-sale intoxicating liquor license. The city’s code allows up to five off-sale intoxicating liquor licenses and only two had been issued at the time of Linn’s application. The City Council discussed the application at a meeting during which members ofJUL13FTBLiquor the community, including the owners of a liquor store located about 400 feet from Linn’s intended location, commented. Following the discussion, the City Council voted to deny the application. The City Council adopted a resolution setting forth its reasons for denying the application about two months later. Linn sued, claiming the City Council abused its discretion, violated his right to equal protection, and failed to issue written findings contemporaneous to and consistent with the application’s denial. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in the city’s favor, concluding that the City Council made its decision out of concern for the city’s welfare. The court also concluded that Linn’s equal protection rights were not violated because promotion of city welfare is a legitimate governmental objective, and limiting the number of liquor stores in a particular area of a city is rationally related to achieving that objective. Finally, the court concluded that the reasons in the resolution were consistent with the reasons stated during the earlier discussion and that there was a reasonable explanation for the delay in adopting the resolution. Linn v. City of Newport, No. A12-1446 (Minn. Ct. App. Apr. 22, 2013) (unpublished opinion). Note: LMCIT represented the city.

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


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