This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).


Law Enforcement Labor Services, Inc., Local 64, et al.,


City of Bloomington,

Filed February 8, 2000
Peterson, Judge

Hennepin County District Court
File No. MC991761

Ronald L. Whitehead, Whitehead Law Office, 2500 West County Road 42, Suite 100, Burnsville, MN 55337 (for appellants)

David Ornstein, Sandra Johnson, Greg Brooker, 2215 West Old Shakopee Road, Bloomington, MN 55431 (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


In this appeal from a judgment of dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, appellants Law Enforcement Labor Services, Inc., Local 64, and Bloomington Police Supervisor’s Association argue that the district court erred in concluding that filing a certiorari appeal in this court was the exclusive method for appellants to obtain review of the Bloomington Merit Board’s determination of an employment grievance. We affirm.


Appellants are the exclusive representatives of police officers, sergeants, and lieutenants employed by respondent City of Bloomington. In 1996, the city conducted a promotional examination and established a list of police officers, ranked according to education, experience, and test scores, eligible to be promoted to sergeant. Between October 1996 and April 1998, the first four officers on the list were promoted to sergeant.

On April 11, 1998, the city promoted to sergeant the officer ranked sixth of the eight officers remaining on the list. Appellants filed a grievance with the police chief, contending that the promotion violated Minn. Stat. § 44.06 (1998). After the police chief denied the grievance, appellants appealed to the city manager, who also denied the grievance.

After the city manager denied their grievance, appellants appealed to the Bloomington Merit Board. The merit board was created in 1960 under Bloomington’s home rule charter and is composed of three of the city’s registered voters, who are appointed for three-year terms by the Bloomington City Council. Under the city’s home rule charter, the merit board promulgates employment rules and is the final city authority in deciding employment grievances.

The merit board addressed appellants’ grievance at five meetings during the summer and fall of 1998. The minutes of the board meetings indicate that the board members recognized a possible conflict between the city’s employment rules, which provided for an employee to initiate and pursue a grievance, and collective bargaining agreements, which authorized unions to represent employees. To aid in resolving the issue, the merit board directed appellants and the city attorney to submit briefs addressing whether appellants were proper parties to pursue an employee grievance under the city’s employment rules. Both parties submitted briefs citing case law, statutes, and employment rules. The board also retained outside counsel to assess the case, recommend a disposition, and help draft a decision. The merit board concluded that the definition of employee, as used in the city’s employment rules, did not include unions or exclusive representatives and that, therefore, appellants were not proper parties to pursue a grievance on behalf of an employee under the city’s employment rules. Having determined that appellants were not proper parties to pursue the grievance, the merit board did not reach the merits of the grievance.

Appellants then brought an action in the district court seeking a declaratory judgment that appellants had standing to challenge the promotion and that the promotion violated Minn. Stat. § 44.06 and was, therefore, void. The district court granted the city’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the ground that filing a certiorari appeal in this court was the exclusive method for appellants to obtain review of the merit board’s decision.


1. Jurisdiction

The district court’s authority to decide an appeal from an administrative body’s quasi-judicial decision is a jurisdictional matter. This court reviews jurisdictional issues de novo. Judicial review of an administrative body’s quasi-judicial decision must be invoked by writ of certiorari when no other right of review is authorized by statute or appellate rule.

Mowry v. Young, 565 N.W.2d 717, 719 (Minn. App. 1997) (citation and quotations omitted), review denied (Minn. Sep. 18, 1997).

Unless a statute expressly vests judicial review of an agency action in the district court, the court of appeals has exclusive jurisdiction over writs of certiorari. * * * Issuance of the writ within 60 days is a jurisdictional prerequisite to judicial review.

Id. (quotations omitted).

Recently, the supreme court summarized the indicia of quasi-judicial conduct as follows:

(1) investigation into a disputed claim and weighing of evidentiary facts; (2) application of those facts to a prescribed standard; and (3) a binding decision regarding the disputed claim.

Minnesota Ctr. for Envtl. Advocacy v. Metropolitan Council, 587 N.W.2d 838, 842 (Minn. 1999); see also Naegele Outdoor Adver., Inc. v. Minneapolis Community Dev. Agency, 551 N.W.2d 235, 236 (Minn. App. 1996) ("quasi-judicial decision requires the performance of a discretionary act, which depends on the ascertainment, consideration, and determination of evidentiary facts"). "Certiorari is not available to review legislative or purely ministerial acts of administrative agencies or officers." Press v. City of Minneapolis, 553 N.W.2d 80, 83-84 (Minn. App. 1996) (citing Mahnerd v. Canfield, 297 Minn. 148, 152, 211 N.W.2d 177, 179 (1973)).

Appellants argue that the merit board’s determination of their grievance was not a quasi-judicial decision. We disagree. The merit board’s determination of appellants’ grievance met the first two indicia of quasi-judicial conduct stated in Metropolitan Council. To resolve appellants’ grievance, the merit board interpreted the employment rule authorizing an employee to initiate and pursue a grievance. The board then concluded that appellants did not qualify as employees under the rule. To reach that conclusion required the board to make a factual determination (the identity of the parties asserting the grievance) and apply that factual determination against a prescribed standard (the employment rule governing grievances). The lack of a dispute regarding appellants’ identity and whether appellants were individual employees does not change the nature of the board’s determination from quasi-judicial to ministerial conduct. The board’s determination also met the third indicator of quasi-judicial conduct stated in Metropolitan Council because the city’s employment rules authorized the merit board to make binding decisions on employment grievances.

Appellants argue that they are not seeking review of the merit board’s decision but rather are starting anew with a declaratory judgment action and seeking a determination of their grievance by the district court that is independent of the merit board’s decision. Appellants, however, are seeking the same relief in the declaratory judgment action that they sought in their grievance, specifically, a determination that the April 11, 1998, promotion of the sixth-ranked individual on the promotion list violated Minn. Stat. § 44.06 (1998), and, therefore, was invalid. Even if appellants initially could have challenged the promotion by bringing a declaratory judgment action, having elected to challenge the promotion under the city’s grievance procedure and pursue the grievance to a determinative conclusion, they cannot avoid application of the rule that certiorari is the exclusive method to obtain review of an administrative body’s quasi-judicial decision by now bringing a declaratory judgment action in the district court. See Harford v. University of Minn., 494 N.W.2d 903, 906 (Minn. App. 1993) (Minnesota Supreme Court has consistently held that res judicata applies to administrative decisions when the agency acted in a quasi-judicial capacity), review denied (Minn. Mar. 30, 1993), implied overruling on other grounds recognized by Shaw v. Board of Regents, 594 N.W.2d 187 (Minn. App. 1999), review denied (Minn. July 28, 1999).

Appellants argue that the employment rule authorizing only individual employees to pursue a grievance deprived appellants of the "opportunity to have their day in court." Appellants, however, could have challenged the validity of the rule in the proceeding before the merit board and then sought judicial review of the merit board’s decision. Cf. Hirsch v. Bartley-Lindsay Co., 537 N.W.2d 480, 485 n.5 (Minn. 1995) (when insurer seeks enforcement of workers’ compensation rules in workers’ compensation proceeding, "the employee may properly resist enforcement on the ground of invalidity of the rule").

The district court did not err in determining that it lacked jurisdiction to decide appellants’ declaratory judgment action.

2. Equitable Estoppel

Appellants argue that the city should be equitably estopped from challenging the district court’s jurisdiction over their declaratory judgment action.

To establish a claim of equitable estoppel against the government, [appellant] must prove: (a) the government made a misrepresentation of a material fact; (b) the government knew the representation was false; (c) the government intended that its representation be acted upon; (d) the providers did not know the facts; and (e) the providers relied upon the government's misrepresentation to their detriment.

Appellant must show the government engaged in affirmative misconduct, rather than simple inadvertence, mistake or imperfect conduct. Courts must weigh the public interest frustrated by the estoppel against the equities of the case.

Shetka v. Aitkin County, 541 N.W.2d 349, 353 (Minn. App. 1995) (citations omitted), review denied (Minn. Feb. 27, 1996).

In Shetka, a shoreland management ordinance authorized a party to appeal a planning commission decision to the county board and to appeal a county board decision to the district court. Id. at 351. When appellant appealed to the district court from a county board decision, the county argued that certiorari was the exclusive method for appellant to obtain review of the board decision and that the district court lacked jurisdiction to decide the case. Id. This court held that the county was equitably estopped from objecting to the district court’s jurisdiction. Id. at 353. This court noted that if appellant had attempted to appeal the conditional use permit denial by writ of certiorari to this court, he would have risked dismissal for his failure to exhaust the remedies mandated by the shoreland management ordinance. Id. In this case, appellants were not caught in such a dilemma. No city rule or authority directed them to appeal the merit board’s decision to the district court, and no city rule or authority prohibited them from filing a certiorari appeal in this court. The city is not equitably estopped from challenging the district court’s jurisdiction to decide the declaratory judgment action.