This opinion will be unpublished and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
Theresa Jane Green,
Filed September 26, 2000
Patrick J. Larkin, Waite Park City Attorney, Brian P. Farrell, Rajkowski Hansmeier Ltd., 11 Seventh Avenue North, Post Office Box 1433, St. Cloud, MN 56302 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Eileen J. Davis, Assistant Public Defender, 816 West St. Germain Street, Suite 410, St. Cloud, MN 56301 (for appellant)
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant Theresa Jane Green was cited for failing to stop for a school bus that was stopped with its stop signal arm extended and its lights flashing. She moved to dismiss the citation on the grounds that the statute was unconstitutional. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied the motion. The parties agreed to submit the case on stipulated facts, and the district court found Green guilty. We affirm.
Green was driving in the left-hand northbound lane of a four-lane road divided only by double yellow lines. In the right-hand southbound lane, a school bus was stopped with its stop signal arm extended and its lights flashing. Green did not stop for the bus and was pulled over by a police officer. She told the officer she did not think she had to stop "because of the lanes between her and the bus." The officer cited Green for failing to stop for a school bus that was stopped with its signal arm extended and its lights flashing.
Green was convicted of violating Minn. Stat. § 169.444 (1998). Green challenges her conviction on two constitutional grounds, alleging that application of the statute deprives her of equal protection of the law and that the statute is void for vagueness. The constitutionality of a statute is a question of law we review de novo. State v. Stallman, 519 N.W.2d 903, 906 (Minn. App. 1994). Where no fundamental right or suspect class is involved, the challenged statute or ordinance is presumed constitutional, and the challenger must prove it is unconstitutional. Essling v. Markman, 335 N.W.2d 237, 239 (Minn. 1983).
1. The equal protection clauses of both the state and federal constitutions require that people in similar circumstances be similarly treated under the law. Rocco Altobelli, Inc. v. State, Dep't of Commerce, 524 N.W.2d 30, 37 (Minn. App. 1994). When a statute does not involve a suspect classification or a fundamental right, it need only be rationally related to a legitimate governmental purpose in order to satisfy equal protection. Arcadia Dev. Corp. v. City of Bloomington, 552 N.W.2d 281, 288 (Minn. App. 1996), review denied (Minn. Oct. 29, 1996). 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. Id. at 289.
Green notes that the statute provides an exception to the requirement that drivers stop for a bus with its stop signal arm extended: drivers approaching or meeting such a bus on a "separated roadway," defined as "a road that is separated from a parallel road by a safety isle or safety zone," need not stop. Minn. Stat. § 169.444, subd. 4. She states that
the rationale behind this exception is simply that there is no threat posed for the children because the children are not permitted to cross the street when there is a separated roadway.
Citing the testimony of the school bus driver and the company's driver training/safety coordinator, she argues that neither are the students allowed to cross the street when disembarking on a four-lane highway divided by double yellow lines. She therefore contends that she is similarly situated to a driver approaching or meeting a bus with its stop signal arm extended on a "separated roadway."
For equal protection purposes, "the persons claiming disparate treatment must be similarly situated to those to whom they compare themselves." St. Cloud Police Relief Ass'n v. City of St. Cloud, 555 N.W.2d 318, 320 (Minn. App. 1996), review denied (Minn. Jan. 7, 1997). But to withstand such a claim the difference between classes need not be great, and if any reasonable distinction can be found, we will sustain the classification. In re McCannel, 301 N.W.2d 910, 917 (Minn. 1980).
Even though children disembarking on a four-lane highway divided by a double yellow line may not be permitted to cross the street in front of oncoming traffic, the legislature might reasonably assume that children nonetheless will sometimes do so. The legislature might also rationally conclude that a roadway divided by a safety isle or safety zone presents less of a threat to children crossing the road than does a roadway divided only by a double yellow line. The legislature therefore could rationally place drivers on a separated roadway in a different classification than drivers such as Green. Because Green was not similarly situated to drivers meeting a school bus on a "separated roadway," the district court did not err in rejecting Green's argument that Minn. Stat. § 169.444 deprived her of equal protection.
2. Green also contends that the statute is void for vagueness. Courts should exercise extreme caution before declaring a statute void for vagueness. Getter v. Travel Lodge, 260 N.W.2d 177, 180 (Minn. 1977) (citation omitted). A penal statute is unconstitutionally vague if "ordinary people [cannot] understand what conduct is prohibited." State v. Grube, 531 N.W.2d 484, 490 (Minn. 1995) (quotation omitted). A defendant may not successfully challenge a statute as unconstitutionally vague if the statute clearly applies to the defendant's alleged conduct. Id.
Green bases her argument on the statutory terms "safety isle" and "safety zone." According to Green, "[n]owhere are these terms * * * defined." Green is incorrect. The definitional statute for chapter 169 contains a definition of the term "safety zone":
"Safety zone" means the area or space officially set apart within a roadway for the exclusive use of pedestrians and which is protected or is so marked or indicated by adequate signs as to be plainly visible at all times set apart as a safety zone.
Minn. Stat. § 169.01, subd. 38 (1998). Because a roadway divided only by a double yellow line does not satisfy the statutory definition, Green cannot show that the statute is vague as applied to her. See Grube, 531 N.W.2d at 490.
Though the statute does not define the term "safety isle," we construe statutory terms "according to their common and approved usage." Minn. Stat. § 645.08 (1998). An "isle" is "an island, especially a small one." American Heritage Dictionary 955 (3d ed. 1992). Ordinary people would not understand the double yellow lines dividing a roadway to be any kind of island, literal or figurative. Green cannot show that the statute is vague as applied to her on the basis of this term, either. The district court thus did not err in rejecting Green's argument that the statute is void for vagueness.