This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).







State of Minnesota,





Michael Pisansky,




Filed April 1, 2003


Anderson, Judge


Ramsey County District Court

File No. T802602505


Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN  55102; and


Thomas R. Hughes, Hughes & Costello, 1230 Landmark Towers, 345 St. Peter Street, St. Paul, MN  55102 (for respondent)


Michael J. Pisansky, 350 Oakwood Drive, Unit #1, New Brighton, MN  55112 (pro se appellant)


Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Willis, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.


U N P U B L I S H E D  O P I N I O N




            Appellant challenges his conviction of violating a city ordinance prohibiting parking in a designated fire lane.  Appellant argues that the ordinance is unconstitutionally vague and that the evidence admitted at trial was insufficient to support his conviction.  Because we hold that evidence that appellant blocked access to a fire lane is insufficient to support a conviction for parking in a designated fire lane under this particular city ordinance, we reverse.



            On December 22, 2001, pro se appellant Michael J. Pisansky parked his vehicle, a 1998 Chevrolet Venture van, near his condominium complex in New Brighton while he retrieved some items from his home.  Appellant parked the vehicle in the western condominium parking lot, to the east of an area that was marked in yellow as a fire lane.  Appellant’s vehicle was on a concrete sidewalk near the condominium garages.  No part of appellant’s vehicle was in the area designated as a fire lane.

            New Brighton Public Safety Officer Joseph Beissel, responding to a condominium resident’s complaint, ticketed appellant for violating New Brighton City Ordinance § 9-41, which prohibits parking in a fire lane.  At trial, Beissel testified that the entire parking lot to the west of the condominium complex is marked with signs as a fire lane.  In addition, Beissel testified that although appellant’s vehicle was not physically in the fire lane, the placement of the van on the sidewalk would prevent fire trucks from reaching the northwest portion of the complex.  Although Beissel conceded that no signs prohibit parking on the sidewalk, he concluded that appellant was blocking the fire lane because appellant’s vehicle would either limit or prohibit access for emergency vehicles.  The district court convicted appellant of a petty-misdemeanor parking violation, and this appeal followed.


            The issue presented here is the construction of New Brighton City Ordinance § 9-41 and whether the district court’s findings support appellant’s conviction.  Because appellant does not allege that the district court erred in its findings of fact, the only issue presented to this panel is whether the ordinance and resolution prohibit appellant’s conduct.

            New Brighton City Ordinance § 9-41, in pertinent part, states:

(a) Establishment: Where it is determined by the city council * * * that access to buildings in the city by the fire department equipment over public and/or private roads can only be maintained by prohibiting vehicle parking on one or both sides of such public and/or private roads, then such public and/or private roads, or parts thereof, shall, by resolution of the city council, be established and designated as fire lanes.  In such resolution, it shall be stated where vehicle parking shall be prohibited.


New Brighton, Minn., City Ordinance § 9-41.

            Pursuant to this enabling ordinance, the New Brighton city council adopted resolution 87-107, which addresses the parking lot at issue here,

the areas designated by the attached diagram and descriptions are hereby established and designated as fire access roads and that on said fire access roads parking shall be prohibited.


            * * * *


5.  The entire west driveway and garage area, said areas lying to the west of building # 350 Oakwood Drive and to the north of Silver Lane.


New Brighton, Minn., City Resolution No. 87-107 (adopted Oct. 27, 1987).

I.          Vagueness

            Appellant first argues that to construe the ordinance as applying to vehicles parked both in fire lanes and also in areas that might impede access to a fire lane is unconstitutional.  Because the ordinance does not provide sufficient grounds to explain what behavior it prohibits, appellant argues, those affected by the ordinance are left to speculate regarding where parking is prohibited.  Appellant asserts that the legal presumption in favor of finding an ordinance constitutional leads to a strict construction of the ordinance to prohibit parking only in a designated fire lane, not adjacent to it. 

            The constitutionality of an ordinance presents a question of law, which this court reviews de novo.  State v. Castellano, 506 N.W.2d 641, 644 (Minn. App. 1993).  The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits vague ordinances, but every municipal ordinance is presumed to be constitutionally valid.  Hard Times Café, Inc. v. City of Minneapolis, 625 N.W.2d 165, 171 (Minn. App. 2001).

A[n] [ordinance] is void due to vagueness if it defines an act in a manner that encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement, or the law is so indefinite that people must guess at its meaning.


Id. (quotation omitted) (applying statutory constitutionality vagueness standard to an ordinance). 

            Here, because a fundamental right is not involved, appellant’s vagueness challenge must be examined in light of his actual conduct.  Edina v. Dreher, 454 N.W.2d 621, 622 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. June 15, 1990).  Appellant must show that the ordinance “lacks specificity as to his own behavior and not as to some hypothetical situation.”  Id. (quoting State v. Kager, 382 N.W.2d 287, 289 (Minn.Ct.App.1986), review denied (Minn. April 24, 1986)).  Appellant has the burden of proving a constitutional violation beyond a reasonable doubt.  Id.  Thus, the issue here is whether ordinance § 9-41 was too indefinite for appellant to have understood what was prohibited.

            The ordinance language is sufficiently definite to give notice of what type of conduct is prohibited - “vehicles found unattended and parked in areas designated, marked and posted as firelanes.”  New Brighton, Minn., City Ordinance § 9-41.  Because there is a strong presumption against holding an ordinance unconstitutional, and § 9-41 is not so indefinite that appellant was forced to guess at its meaning, the ordinance is not unconstitutionally vague. 

II.         Sufficiency of the evidence

            The district court broadly construed New Brighton City Ordinance § 9-41 and resolution no. 87-107 to prohibit blocking a fire lane, not just parking in a fire lane.  Referring to the location of appellant’s vehicle, the court noted: “[t]here’s no question that that’s a fire lane, and that would constitute both the pavement portion and the sidewalk portion.” 

            Appellant argues that the evidence produced at trial, even when viewed in the light most favorable to respondent, was insufficient to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  He contends that the court should read the ordinance and resolution literally to prohibit only parking vehicles actually in the described fire-lane areas. Appellant also claims that his proposed construction is the only one that would avoid vagueness concerns. 

            Essentially, appellant’s claim is that the evidence presented—that he was on the sidewalk and not in the fire lane—was insufficient to convict him of violating the ordinance.  In considering a claim of insufficient evidence, our review “is limited to a painstaking analysis of the record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the conviction,” sufficiently supports the fact-finder’s verdict. State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989).  Furthermore, “[t]he proper standard of review of a city’s interpretation of an existing ordinance is a question of law for the court.”  State by Minneapolis Park Lovers v. City of Minneapolis, 468 N.W.2d 566, 569 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. Jul. 24, 1991).  When an ordinance is clear and unambiguous, this court is not to look beyond the plain meaning.  Schiff v. Griffin, 639 N.W.2d 56, 61 (Minn. App. 2002).

            We find this court’s holding in State v. Kortkamp, 633 N.W.2d 863 (Minn. App. 2001), to be instructive here.  In Kortkamp, the district court convicted the defendant of obstructing access to a parking space designated for physically disabled persons even though appellant’s vehicle was only “partially covering the yellow striped zone painted on the ground adjacent to the designated parking space.”  Id. at 865.   Because the defendant had not obstructed the actual parking space, we concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support Kortkamp’s conviction.  Id. at 867.  Neither the applicable city ordinance nor the governing statute addressed parking in the yellow striped zone adjacent to the disabled parking spaces.  In addition, we held that because no sign provided that such parking violated Minn. Stat. § 169.346 (2000), the evidence was insufficient to support appellant’s conviction.  Id.

            Here, although the district court read such a requirement into the ordinance and resolution, nothing prohibits “obstructing access” to a fire lane.  Similarly, no applicable ordinance or statute precludes appellant from parking on the sidewalk adjacent to a designated fire lane.  Applying the analysis in Kortkamp, we read ordinance § 9-41 literally to prohibit only parking in the fire lane designated by resolution no. 87-107.  If this ordinance is interpreted otherwise, an individual would be forced to guess at what routes fire personnel may use and avoid parking in those areas, as well as the marked fire lanes. 

            Respondent City of New Brighton argues that the district court justifiably interpreted the ordinance and resolution to achieve the overall purpose of dedicating certain portions of roadways as fire lanes.  To construe the ordinance and resolution as allowing appellant to block access to a fire lane, respondent argues, would defeat the essential function of ensuring that fire trucks have access to all parts of a building. 

            Although respondent’s public-safety arguments have merit, the ordinance does not grant discretion to public-safety officers to ticket vehicles impeding access to fire lanes.  The guesswork involved in determining what constitutes blocking access to a fire lane is evident from the record here.  Beisell testified that appellant’s vehicle blocked access to fire lane areas that might be needed for an emergency in the northwest area of the condominium units.  But he conceded that he was not sure of the width of a normal fire truck, the width of the garage area, the length of appellant’s Chevrolet Venture van, or where the nearest fire hydrants were located.  Although our holding leads to the conclusion that this testimony is irrelevant to determining whether appellant parked in a designated fire lane, it does establish that a public-safety officer is not likely to be the proper person to judge whether a particular vehicle is blocking the access of fire equipment to a fire lane. 

            The district court erred in extending ordinance § 9-41 and resolution 87-107 to encompass parking outside of the fire lane.  Because a literal reading of the ordinance and resolution here prohibits only parking in designated fire lanes, there is insufficient evidence to support appellant’s conviction.