This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Pawn America Minnesota, L.L.C.,
City of Minneapolis,
Filed April 4, 2000
Hennepin County District Court
File No. AP9814187
Carolyn V. Wolski, Christopher M. McGlincey, Leonard, Street and Deinard, 150 South Fifth Street, Suite 2300, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant)
Jay M. Heffern, Minneapolis City Attorney, William C. Dunning, Assistant City Attorney, 333 South Seventh Street, Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55402-2453 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant Pawn America Minnesota, L.L.C. applied for a conditional use permit necessary to operate a pawnshop. The Minneapolis Planning Commission approved the application, but a citizen filed a timely appeal, and the city council eventually granted the appeal and denied the application. Pawn America sued, seeking declaratory relief, a writ of mandamus, and damages. The district court granted respondent City of Minneapolis summary judgment. We affirm.
On January 30, 1998, Pawn America applied for a conditional use permit (CUP) to operate a pawnshop in the 8th Ward at 720 East Lake Street. At the time, a Minneapolis city ordinance required pawnshops to be separated from other pawnshops and certain other restricted uses by at least 1,000 feet. After twice driving through the area, planning department staff concluded that there were no prohibited uses within 1,000 feet of the proposed site.
In connection with the application, planning commission staff required Pawn America to present its proposal to relevant neighborhood groups before a public hearing would be held. Pawn America contends that the commission deviated from normal practice and delayed Pawn America's public hearing by making Pawn America present its proposal to numerous neighborhood groups, and by requiring those meetings to be completed, rather than merely scheduled, before the requisite advance notice of the public hearing was mailed to the community.
About the same time, an applicant had requested a CUP to open a pawnshop in the 9th Ward, while another applicant wanted a CUP to open a currency exchange across the street from the proposed 9th Ward pawnshop location. On March 6, 1998, 9th Ward Councilmember Kathy Thurber proposed an amendment to the zoning ordinances ("the Text Amendment") increasing the separation distance from 1,000 to 1,500 feet and adding currency exchanges to the list of restricted uses. After several amendments, including one that returned the spacing requirement to 1,000 feet, the Text Amendment was passed on April 24 and took effect on May 2, 1998.
Meanwhile, Pawn America's CUP application proceeded. At the April 6, 1998 planning commission meeting, Pawn America's CUP application was listed before the Text Amendment on the agenda, but before the meeting the items were reordered, placing the Text Amendment before Pawn America's application. The minutes of the meeting say that the chair "had to leave" after the vote on the Text Amendment, depriving the commission of a quorum to consider Pawn America's application. At its April 20 meeting, however, the planning commission approved Pawn America's application, with certain conditions.
The Minneapolis Code of Ordinances provides that an "affected person" may appeal a planning commission decision to the city council within 10 days. Minneapolis, Minn., Code of Ordinances (MCO) § 525.180 (2000). On April 28, David Franze, who lives less than one-half mile from the proposed Pawn America location, filed an appeal of the planning commission's decision. On April 30, Franze faxed the city a document titled "Terms of Appeal on CUP Granted to 720 E. Lake Street." In the document, Franze alleged that if the new Text Amendment were applied to Pawn America's application, a currency exchange on East Lake Street would prevent Pawn America from obtaining a CUP.
The City Council's Zoning and Planning Committee heard Franze's appeal on May 12, 1998. Although counsel for Pawn America argued that it was improper to reverse the planning commission's decision based on an ordinance that was not effective until after the appeal period had expired, the committee voted to recommend that the appeal be granted and the decision to grant the CUP be reversed. On May 22, the full city council considered the committee's recommendation, and by a 9-2 vote, granted the Franze appeal and denied Pawn America a CUP.
On an appeal from summary judgment, we ask whether there are any genuine issues of material fact in dispute, and whether the trial court erred in its application of the law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). We review de novo the district court's interpretation of the law. Sorenson v. St. Paul Ramsey Med. Ctr., 457 N.W.2d 188, 190 (Minn. 1990). We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom summary judgment was granted and accept as true that party’s factual allegations. Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993).
Pawn America first argues that the Text Amendment is invalid because it is not rationally related to the public health, safety, or welfare. To determine whether a zoning ordinance has a rational basis, we identify a legitimate governmental purpose, then ask whether a rational basis exists for the governmental body to believe that the legislation would further the purpose. Graham v. Itasca County Planning Comm'n, 601 N.W.2d 461, 465 (Minn. App. 1999) (citations omitted). The burden of proof is on the opponent of the ordinance. See Honn v. City of Coon Rapids, 313 N.W.2d 409, 414-15 (Minn. 1981).
The city explained that one of its reasons for adopting the Text Amendment was to prevent urban blight and resulting economic disinvestment. It is well established that preventing urban blight, for both economic and aesthetic reasons, is a legitimate governmental objective. See City of Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc., 475 U.S. 41, 48, 106 S. Ct. 925, 929 (1986); Members of City Council of Los Angeles v. Taxpayers for Vincent, 466 U.S. 789, 805, 104 S. Ct. 2118, 2129 (1984).
Under the rational basis test, the challenged legislation need only be supported by any set of facts either known or that could reasonably be assumed. Arcadia Dev. Corp. v. City of Bloomington, 552 N.W.2d 281, 289 (Minn. App. 1996), review denied (Minn. Oct. 29, 1996). From the information available to it, the city could reasonably assume that the concentration of businesses such as pawnshops and currency exchanges presented the danger of urban blight. As such, the city had a rational basis to believe that separating such businesses by a reasonable distance would decrease that danger. Because the Text Amendment is reasonably designed to address a valid governmental concern, it passes the rational basis test and is valid.
Pawn America also alleges that the city's reasons for passing the Text Amendment were pretextual, and argues that even if we find the ordinance valid we should remand for an evidentiary hearing on the city's "true motives." But "the motives of the legislative body in enacting any particular legislation are not the proper subject of judicial inquiry." Starkweather v. Blair, 245 Minn. 371, 379-80, 71 N.W.2d 869, 875-76 (1955). We therefore may not probe the City Council's motives.
Pawn America next argues that
the Franze appeal was invalid when filed, because it was based on an ordinance that did not exist until after the appeal period had expired.
But Minneapolis Code of Ordinances § 525.180, which controls appeals of planning commission decisions, neither specifies on what grounds appeals may be brought nor requires a person filing an appeal to state any grounds. Because a person can file an appeal of a planning commission decision without specifying any grounds at all, Pawn America may not rely on Franze's unnecessary explanation of the grounds for his appeal to contend that his appeal was "invalid when filed."
Pawn America also contends that the city erred in granting the Franze appeal, because by doing so it improperly applied the Text Amendment retroactively. Central to Pawn America's argument is its contention that the planning commission's decision to approve Pawn America's application was "final," and could therefore not be legitimately altered by subsequent legislation. But Section 525.180 provides that the decision of the planning commission is "final subject to appeal to the city council and the right of subsequent judicial review," and also provides that "[t]imely filing of an appeal shall stay the decision by the planning commission * * * until a decision is made by the city council."
Because Franze's appeal stayed the planning commission's action until the city council acted on the appeal, the planning commission's approval of Pawn America's application had no legal effect until the city council acted on the appeal. And because the approval had yet had no legal effect, applying the Text Amendment to Pawn America's application did not give "a previous transaction some different legal effect from that which it had under the law when it occurred." Cooper v. Watson, 290 Minn. 362, 369, 187 N.W.2d 689, 693 (1971) (quotation omitted). Pawn America's application was not "a previous transaction," it was an ongoing one. As such, the city council properly applied the law that was in effect at the time it heard Franze's appeal, including the Text Amendment. Rose Cliff Landscape Nursery, Inc. v. City of Rosemount, 467 N.W.2d 641, 643-44 (Minn. App. 1991) (when zoning ordinance was amended during application process, city properly applied version of ordinance in effect at time of decision). Because Pawn America did not qualify for a CUP under the spacing requirements of the Text Amendment, the city council properly granted Franze's appeal and denied the CUP.
Pawn America also argues that the city is estopped from denying its application for a CUP. A city may be estopped from exercising its zoning powers if a property owner detrimentally relies in good faith on some governmental act or omission. Ridgewood Development Co. v. State, 294 N.W.2d 288, 292 (Minn. 1980) (citation and quotation omitted). To show estoppel against a governmental entity, Pawn America must carry a "heavy burden of proof." Id. Pawn America cannot meet that burden. Pawn America did not change its position as a result of any of the "wrongful" actions about which it now complains. Pawn America suffered delay as a result of some of these actions, but it did not make any substantial change in position as a result. Without proof of detrimental reliance, Pawn America's estoppel claim fails.
Pawn America argues that the city's actions violated its substantive due process rights. To show such a violation, Pawn America must show that it suffered a deprivation of a protectible property interest attributable to an abuse of governmental power sufficient to state a constitutional violation. Northpointe Plaza v. City of Rochester, 465 N.W.2d 686, 689 (Minn. 1991). Because the Text Amendment was valid and validly applied to Pawn America, Pawn America had no right to the CUP and therefore no protectible property interest. Pawn America thus cannot show a substantive due process violation.
 MCO § 525.170, the ordinance in effect at the time of the appeal, was recodified as MCO § 525.180 on March 9, 2000.