STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF
State of Minnesota,
Ronald Joseph Lemmer,
Filed June 20,
remanded; motion denied
County District Court
File No. 70-CR-05-11645
Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
Patrick J. Ciliberto, Scott County Attorney, Michael J.
Groh, Assistant County Attorney, 200 Fourth Avenue West, Shakopee, MN 55379
Jeffrey S. Sheridan, Strandemo, Sheridan & Dulas, P.A.,
320 Eagandale Office Center, 1380 Corporate Center Curve, Eagan, MN 55121 (for
and decided by Lansing,
Presiding Judge; Stoneburner,
Judge; and Collins,
S Y L L A B U S
1. Because the doctrine of collateral
estoppel is substantive law, Minn. Stat. § 169A.53, subd. 3(g) (2004), is
a constitutional abrogation of State v.
Victorsen, 627 N.W.2d 655 (Minn. App. 2001).
2. As a matter of comity, Minn. Stat. §
169A.53, subd. 3(g) (2004), is sustainable.
O P I N I O N
June 4, 2005, while pursuing a DWI suspect who had left the scene of a traffic
accident near Prior
Lake, sheriff’s deputies
learned that he had boarded a boat being operated, as later discovered, by Lemmer. After dropping the DWI suspect off on shore,
Lemmer went on his way in the boat. The
DWI suspect was arrested. In furtherance
of their investigation, deputies launched their own boat to pursue, stop,
identify, and interview Lemmer. While
speaking with Lemmer, the deputies noted typical indicia of intoxication,
arrested him, and took him to the county jail.
There, Lemmer submitted to an Intoxilyzer 500 test that indicated an
alcohol concentration of .12. A review
of Lemmer’s driving record revealed a prior impaired-driving incident in
2000. The Commissioner of Public Safety
revoked Lemmer’s driver’s license, and the state subsequently charged him with
two alternative counts of third-degree DWI.
the stop of his boat was illegal, Lemmer challenged the revocation of his
driver’s license. An implied-consent
hearing was scheduled for August 1, 2005.
The state was given notice but, relying on Minn. Stat. § 169A.53, subd.
3(g) (2004), did not attend. Following the
implied-consent hearing, the district court rescinded the commissioner’s order
revoking Lemmer’s driver’s license, stating that the deputies “had no ‘particularized
and objective basis’ for pursuing and stopping [Lemmer] in his boat.”
next moved for dismissal of the criminal charges. He initially sought relief on the ground that
Minn. Stat. § 169A.53, subd. 3(g) (2004), is unconstitutional. During an omnibus hearing
on November 17, the district court was made aware of a November 8, 2005 Goodhue
County district court order declaring section 169A.53, subd. 3(g), unconstitutional. Relying on that order, Lemmer contended that
the state was estopped from re-litigating the issue of the legality of the stop
because the state had notice of his implied-consent hearing and did not appear. And because the state could not re-litigate
that issue, Lemmer argued that the district court must suppress all evidence obtained
following the stop, which, in this case, required dismissal of the complaint.
December 2, 2005, the district court ordered dismissal of the charges
“[p]ursuant to the reasoning set forth in [the Goodhue
County district court order],” and,
without independent analysis, the district court simply “adopt[ed] and
incorporate[d]” the Goodhue
County district court’s
reasoning into its order. The state
the district court clearly err by finding and declaring Minn. Stat. § 169A.53,
subd. 3(g) (2004), unconstitutional?
the state appeals from a pretrial suppression order, it “must ‘clearly’ and
unequivocally show both that the trial court’s order will have a ‘critical
impact’ on the state’s ability to prosecute the defendant successfully and that
the order constituted error.” State v. Scott, 584 N.W.2d 412, 416 (Minn. 1998) (citing State
v. Zanter, 535 N.W.2d 624, 630 (Minn.
1995)). “[T]he critical impact of the
suppression must be first determined before deciding whether the suppression
order was made in error.” Id.
the district court, adopting the Goodhue County district court’s finding and declaration
that Minn. Stat. § 169A.53, subd. 3(g) (2004), is unconstitutional, dismissed
the charges. At his implied-consent
hearing, Lemmer successfully litigated the legality of the stop that resulted
in detection of his intoxication and his subsequent arrest. The Goodhue County
district court had effectively ruled, by finding and declaring the statute
unconstitutional, that when the state does not contest an issue at an implied-consent
hearing of which it had notice, it cannot re-litigate the issue during the
criminal prosecution. The Goodhue County district court also purportedly
enjoined the state and its various subdivisions from attempting to enforce
Minn. Stat. § 169A.53, subd. 3(g). Thus,
the district court here suppressed the evidence that derived from the stop and
dismissed the complaint. The critical
impact of the suppression in this case is obvious.
moved to strike the major portion of the state’s brief, alleging that the state’s
argument constituted an improper collateral attack on an injunction. But the district court in this case adopted
the Goodhue County district court’s reasoning and
incorporated its memorandum into the order dismissing the charges against
Lemmer. Therefore, it is not the Goodhue County injunction that is the subject of
attack; rather, the state challenges the district court’s order that is here
supported solely by adoption and incorporation of the purported
injunction. Because the injunction is
included in the record by reference, it is properly before us, and we will
consider the state’s arguments as presented.
We presume that Minnesota statutes are
constitutional, and “our powers to declare a [statute] unconstitutional should
be exercised with extreme caution and only when absolutely necessary.” Associated
Builders & Contractors v. Ventura, 610
N.W.2d 293, 308 (Minn.
2000) (quotation omitted). “Evaluating a
statute’s constitutionality is a question of law.” Hamilton v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 600 N.W.2d
720, 722 (Minn.
1999). Accordingly, our review is de
novo and we are “not bound by the [district] court’s decision.” Id. Further, “[t]he party challenging a statute
has the burden of demonstrating beyond a reasonable doubt a violation of some
provision of the Minnesota Constitution.”
In re Haggerty, 448 N.W.2d
363, 364 (Minn. 1989); see also Miller Brewing Co. v. State, 284 N.W.2d 353, 356 (Minn. 1979) (holding that
person challenging constitutionality of a statute must “demonstrate beyond a
reasonable doubt that the statute violates some constitutional provision”).
The district court
ruled that Minn. Stat. § 169A.53, subd. 3(g), was unconstitutional because it
violated the separation-of-powers doctrine.
Supporting this ruling, the district court “adopt[ed] and
incorporat[ed]” a Goodhue
County district court’s
memorandum outlining its rationale for a similar ruling. The Goodhue County
district court stated that the legislature could not enact a statute to counter
a judicial decision on a procedural matter.
This court, in State v. Victorsen, held that an issue
litigated during an implied-consent hearing could not be re-litigated during a
criminal prosecution for driving while intoxicated, so long as the prosecuting
attorney had notice of the implied-consent hearing and an opportunity to be
heard. 627 N.W.2d 655, 660-64 (Minn. App. 2001). During the next regular legislative session
following Victorsen, the legislature
enacted Minn. Stat. § 169A.53, subd. 3(g), which states: “The civil
hearing under this section shall not give rise to an estoppel on any issues
arising from the same set of circumstances in any criminal prosecution.” That section became effective August 1,
2002. See 2002 Laws of Minn.
ch. 314, § 1. It is apparent that the
legislature acted purposefully to abrogate the holding in Victorsen.
This court had
occasion to comment on the statute’s enactment only once previously. State v.
Hassemer, No. C5-02-1623, 2003 WL 1488737, at *3 n.1 (Minn. App. Mar. 25,
2003). The offense in Hassemer occurred after Victorsen was decided but before the
effective date of Minn. Stat. § 169A.53, subd. 3(g). Id. at
*1. This court observed that “Victorsen may apply in only a small
number of cases because the legislature amended the statute in 2002,” thus implicitly
accepting that Victorsen had been
abrogated by the statute. Id.
at *3 n.1.
On the premise
that the doctrine of collateral estoppel is a rule of procedure and not
substantive law, the district court, adopting the reasoning of the Goodhue County district court, determined that
the legislature’s attempt to overrule Victorsen
was an unconstitutional violation of the separation-of-powers doctrine.
The distinction between
whether a law is substantive or procedural is important because
[t]he legislature has the power to
declare what acts are criminal and to establish the punishment for those acts
as part of the substantive law. In
contrast, the court regulates the method by which the guilt or innocence of one
who is accused of violating a criminal statute is determined.
v. Lindsey, 632 N.W.2d 652, 658 (Minn.
2001) (citations omitted). The supreme
court has noted that “[a] statute is procedural when it neither creates a new
cause of action nor deprives defendant of any defense on the merits.” State
v. Johnson, 514 N.W.2d 551, 555 (Minn.
1994) (quotation omitted). “[U]nder the
separation of powers doctrine the legislature has no constitutional authority
in their enabling acts or otherwise to reserve a right to modify or enact
statutes that will govern over court rules [of procedure] already in
at 553-54 (alteration in original) (quotation omitted).
courts have long grappled with the issue of whether a concept is procedural or
substantive, notably in the area of diversity jurisdiction. See theprogeny of Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S.
64, 58 S. Ct. 817 (1938), including Guar.
Trust Co. of New York v. York, 326 U.S. 99, 65 S. Ct. 1464 (1945) and Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 85 S. Ct.
1136 (1965). The United States Supreme
Court articulated the outcome-determinative test for deciding whether a law is
procedural or substantive: “[D]oes it significantly affect the result of a
litigation for a federal court to disregard a law of a State that would be
controlling in an action upon the same claim by the same parties in a State
court?” Guar. Trust Co. of New York, 326 U.S. at 109, 65 S. Ct.
at 1470. Simply put, if the law is
outcome determinative—if it will influence the outcome of the case—then it is
substantive and not merely procedural. Hanna, 380 U.S.
at 465-69, 85 S. Ct. at 1141-42.
federal courts, including the Eighth Circuit, have arrived at near unanimity
over whether the doctrine of collateral estoppel is procedural or substantive,
concluding that it is substantive. See Austin
v. Super Valu Stores, Inc., 31 F.3d 615, 617 (8th Cir. 1994) (stating that
“cases from [this circuit] have consistently concluded that collateral estoppel
in a diversity action is a question of substantive law”) (quotation omitted); Held v. Mitsubishi Aircraft Int’l, Inc.,
672 F. Supp. 369, 386 (D. Minn. 1987) (stating that “[i]n federal diversity
actions collateral estoppel is generally an issue of the forum state’s
substantive law”). Based on this federal
caselaw, we likewise conclude that the doctrine of collateral estoppel is
substantive law, not a rule of procedure.
the line between substantive and procedural can, at times, be blurry, “when a specific measure can reasonably be
viewed as either substantive or procedural, it should be resolved in favor of its
substantive character.” Maynard E.
Pirsig & Randall M. Tietjen, Court
Procedure and the Separation of Powers in Minnesota, 15 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 141,
187 (1989). “Due respect for the coequal
branches of government requires the court to exercise great restraint before
striking down a statute as unconstitutional, particularly when it involves a
determination of what is a legislative and what is a judicial function.” State
v. Willis, 332 N.W.2d 180, 184 (Minn.
1983). Thus, a statute is constitutional
when it, “in no way[,] interferes with the judiciary’s function of ascertaining
facts and applying the law to the facts established.” Id.
The statute here
is substantive because the decision whether to apply collateral estoppel is not
merely “regulat[ing] the method by which the guilt or innocence” of a defendant
is decided. Lindsey, 632 N.W.2d at 658.
Under the federal caselaw analysis, application of collateral estoppel
in this case is clearly outcome determinative because it resulted in dismissal
of the charges. Thus, we are satisfied
that the legislature is entitled to enact a statute regulating the application
of collateral estoppel without violating the separation-of-powers doctrine, and
we conclude that the district court clearly erred by finding and declaring Minn.
Stat. § 169A.53, subd. 3(g), unconstitutional.
when collateral estoppel is available, the decision whether to apply the
doctrine is discretionary with the district court. Pope County Bd.
of Comm’rs v. Pryzmus, 682 N.W.2d 666, 669 (Minn.
App. 2004), review denied (Minn. Sept. 29, 2004)
(quotation omitted); see AFSCME Council
96 v. Arrowhead Reg’l Corrs. Bd., 356 N.W.2d 295, 299 (Minn. 1984) (stating
that collateral estoppel is not rigidly applied and “is qualified or rejected
when [its] application would contravene an overriding public policy”) (quoting Tipler v. E.I. duPont deNemours & Co.,
443 F.2d 125, 128 (6th Cir. 1971)); see
also Falgren, 545 N.W.2d 901, 905 (Minn. 1996) (noting that “collateral
estoppel is not rigidly applied” and stating that “[a]s a flexible doctrine,
the focus is on whether its application would work an injustice on the party
against whom estoppel is urged”) (quoting Johnson
v. Consol. Freightways, Inc., 420 N.W.2d 608, 613 (Minn. 1988)).
Neither the district
court, nor the Goodhue
County district court in
the prior case, gave any indication of awareness that, even if the prerequisites
for collateral estoppel were satisfied, it had discretion to not apply the
doctrine. Particularly under the
circumstances of this case—when the implied-consent hearing pre-dated the Goodhue County district court order; no constitutional
challenge to section 169A.53, subd. 3(g), had otherwise been decided; the
question of collateral estoppel as substantive or procedural had not been
settled in Minnesota
law; and, the state relied on section 169A.53, subd. 3(g), in declining to
appear and participate at the implied-consent hearing—we think that the application
of the doctrine of collateral estoppel worked an injustice on the state. The district court erroneously failed to
consider these circumstances before rigidly applying collateral estoppel.
we consider whether Minn. Stat. § 169A.53, subd. 3(g), should stand as a matter
of comity. “Comity is not a rule of law
but a principle [that] has been described as a ‘blend of courtesy and
expediency.’” Minnesota Mut. Life Ins. v. Anderson, 410 N.W.2d
80, 82 (Minn. App. 1987) (quoting Medtronic,
Inc. v. Catalyst Research Corp., 518 F. Supp. 946, 955 (D. Minn. 1981), aff’d 664 F.2d 660 (8th Cir. 1981)). When the court allows a statute to stand
under comity, it “respects and acknowledges the actions of the legislative
branch[, ] . . . illustrat[ing] the inevitable fact that the legislature will
continue to enact statutes which to some extent deal with court
procedure.” Pirsig & Tietjen, supra at 185.
The supreme court
has allowed certain statutes to stand under this principle, despite the fact
that the statute may conflict with a particular court rule. Id. at 182
(stating that the supreme court has permitted statutes regulating attorneys to
stand, so long as they did not contravene the court’s control over the legal profession). By allowing a statute to stand under the
principle of comity, the court is not saying that its enactment was born of
proper legislative authority, but merely that the court, out of respect, will
permit it. See State v. Breaux, 620
N.W.2d 326, 332 (Minn. App. 2001) (stating that a statute was constitutional
and properly used despite the fact that it clearly conflicted with a
then-existing rule of procedure); see
also State v. Wolf, 605 N.W.2d 381, 387 (Minn. 2000) (same).
believe that the district court should have accorded comity and allowed section
169A.53, subd. 3 (g) to stand, despite its contradiction to Victorsen. Because it was unsettled in Minnesota law whether the doctrine of
collateral estoppel is substantive or procedural, and inasmuch as the holding
in Victorsen was not a rule of
procedure promulgated by the supreme court, the district court should have deferred
to the act of the legislature. The
district court should have also taken guidance from this court’s note
reflecting the view that the legislature had effectively abrogated Victorsen. See Hassemer,
No. C5-02-1623, 2003 WL 1488737, at *3 n.1.
Therefore, under a reasonable application of the principle of comity, we
conclude that the district court clearly erred by finding and declaring Minn.
Stat. § 169A.53, subd. 3(g), unconstitutional.
D E C I S I O N