This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A03-1052

 

Stephen D. Farrell, d/b/a Farrell Properties,

Appellant,

 

vs.

 

City of Minneapolis,

Respondent.

 

Filed April 27, 2004

Affirmed in part, Reversed in part, and Remanded

Kalitowski, Judge

 

Hennepin County District Court

File No. AP 03-3297

 

Larry M. Jennings, 1925 Taylor Street Northeast, Minneapolis, MN 55418 (for appellant)

 

Jay M. Heffern, Minneapolis City Attorney, Timothy S. Skarda, Assistant City Attorney, 333 South Seventh Street, Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55402-2453 (for respondent)

 

            Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Minge, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

KALITOWSKI, Judge

            Appellant sought district court review of respondent city’s decision to revoke his rental dwelling license.  The district court granted respondent’s motion to dismiss concluding that because respondent’s quasi-judicial decisions can only be reviewed by writ of certiorari to this court, it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear appellant’s claims, including his claim that the ordinance at issue was unconstitutional. On appeal, appellant claims the district court erred in dismissing his complaint because the actions of the Rental Dwelling License Board of Appeals (Board) were not quasi-judicial, and the city ordinances deprived him of rights and privileges without due process of law and denied him equal protection of the laws.  We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

D E C I S I O N

            Subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law which this court reviews de novo.  Shaw v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Minn., 594 N.W.2d 187, 190 (Minn. App. 1999), review denied (Minn. July 28, 1999).

I.

            Unless otherwise provided by statute or appellate rule, a party must petition this court for a writ of certiorari to obtain review of a quasi-judicial decision.  Micius v. St. Paul City Council, 524 N.W.2d 521, 522 (Minn. App. 1994).  Quasi-judicial acts affect the rights of specific individuals analogous to the way those individuals would be affected by court proceedings, while legislative acts affect the rights of the public generally.  Interstate Power Co. v. Nobles County Bd. of Comm’rs, 617 N.W.2d 566, 574 (Minn. 2000).  The Minnesota Supreme Court has outlined three considerations in determining whether a decision is quasi-judicial:  “(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.”  Minn. Ctr. for Envtl. Advocacy v. Metro. Council, 587 N.W.2d 838, 842 (Minn. 1999). 

            We first consider whether the Board investigated a disputed claim and weighed the evidence.  See id.  Here, the disputed claim is whether appellant’s rental dwelling license should have been revoked.  In August 2002, the Board heard appellant’s appeal.  Minneapolis, Minn., Code of Ordinances (hereinafter M.C.O.) § 244.1960 (2001) provides that the Board will hear all relevant evidence and argument and gives the Board authority to weigh the relevant evidence.  The record indicates that the Board complied with the requirements of M.C.O. § 244.1960 in performing its duties.  After the hearing, the Board issued its findings of fact, conclusions, and recommendation.  Thus, the Board investigated a disputed claim and weighed evidentiary facts in making its recommendation to the city council.  Therefore, we conclude that the first factor is met.

Next, we consider whether the Board applied the facts to a prescribed standard.  Minn. Ctr. for Envtl. Advocacy, 587 N.W.2d at 842.  Appellant argues that the Board’s decision is not quasi-judicial because M.C.O. § 244.2020 (2001) does not constitute a prescribed standard to which facts could be applied.  Specifically, appellant argues that the requirement that the licensee take “appropriate action” is too vague to constitute a prescribed standard.  But M.C.O. § 244.1800 (2001) defines appropriate action as “action which a reasonable license holder would take based upon the facts and circumstances of each case so as to prevent a reoccurrence of a disorderly use.”  And the “reasonable person” standard is a standard that is applied by courts in many different areas of law.  See, e.g., State v. Thunberg, 492 N.W.2d 534 (Minn. 1992) (applying the reasonable person standard in a criminal case).  Moreover, in considering this same statute in Zeman v. City of Minneapolis, this court held that “appropriate measures” was not vague because the actions necessary to avoid future disorderly use may vary depending on the condition and problems associated with a given property.  540 N.W.2d 532, 537 (Minn. App. 1995), rev’d on other grounds, 552 N.W.2d 548 (Minn. 1996).  Therefore, we conclude that “appropriate action” is a prescribed standard and was properly applied by the Board.

Finally, we consider whether there was a binding decision issued in this case.  Minn. Ctr. for Envtl. Advocacy, 587 N.W.2d at 842.  The Board recommended that the city council revoke appellant’s rental dwelling license.  The ultimate decision was left to the city council.  After the city council adopted the Board’s recommendation, the decision became final.  Therefore, we conclude that there was a binding decision issued in this case.

Here, the actions of the Board affected only appellant, analogous to the way he would have been affected by court proceedings; the Board’s actions did not affect the rights of the public in general.  The Board held a hearing at which they considered the evidence, made findings of facts, applied those facts to a prescribed standard, and made a recommendation, which after approval, created a binding decision.  Thus, we conclude the actions of the Board are quasi-judicial.  Because a writ of certiorari from this court is the only method of judicial review, the district court correctly concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to review the Board’s decision.

II.

            Appellant’s complaint also sought damages.  Where an appellant seeks to bring claims that require inquiry into the facts surrounding an agency’s decision, jurisdiction is only by writ of certiorari.  City of Minneapolis v. Meldahl, 607 N.W.2d 168, 172 (Minn. App. 2000).  Here, appellant’s alleged damages arise out of the fact that the Board and city council revoked his rental dwelling license.  Determining whether appellant is entitled to damages necessarily requires an inquiry into whether the Board’s decision was correct and that can only be determined through a writ of certiorari.  Appellant’s damages claim is not separate and distinct from the quasi-judicial decision to revoke his license because an inquiry into the facts surrounding the damages claim would involve an inquiry into the Board and city council’s decision to revoke his license.  Therefore, the district court properly determined that jurisdiction for these claims is by writ of certiorari only.

III.

            Appellant argues that the district court erred in dismissing his request for declaratory relief determining that M.C.O. § 244.2020 is unconstitutional.  We agree.  Although relief from a quasi-judicial decision is generally only by writ of certiorari, declaratory judgment is an appropriate remedy for a controversy regarding legal rights that requires judicial interpretation.  Connor v. Township of Chanhassen, 249 Minn. 205, 209, 81 N.W.2d 789, 794 (1957).  And a constitutional challenge of a statute or ordinance is a controversy that requires judicial interpretation.  Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. Metro. Airports Comm’n, 672 N.W.2d 379, 383 (Minn. App. 2003), review denied (Minn. Feb. 25, 2004).   In Connor, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that appellants did not have to exhaust their administrative remedies by seeking a review by writ of certiorari and allowed them to challenge the constitutionality of an ordinance in a declaratory judgment action.  249 Minn. at 209-10, 81 N.W.2d at 793-94.

            Here, as in Connor, appellant sought to challenge the constitutionality of a city ordinance in a declaratory judgment action without first seeking a writ of certiorari.  Therefore, appellant is not required to exhaust his administrative remedies by seeking a writ of certiorari and may challenge the constitutionality of the city ordinance in a declaratory judgment action before the district court.

            In conclusion, because appellant may only challenge the Board and city council’s quasi-judicial decision and claims arising out of that decision through a writ of certiorari to this court, the district court properly concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear those claims.  But we conclude that the district court erred in determining that it did not have jurisdiction to decide appellant’s declaratory judgment action challenging the constitutionality of M.C.O. § 244.2020.

            Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.