This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Hennepin County District Court
File No. MC 03-9557
John Remington Graham, 180 Haut de la Paroisse, St-Agapit, Comté de Lotbinière, Quebec G0S 1Z0 Canada; and
Mark A. Olson, 2605 East Cliff Road, Burnsville, MN 55337; and
Thomas B. James, 40 North Broadway Avenue, Cokato, MN 55321 (for appellants)
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, John S. Garry, Assistant Attorney General, Suite 1100, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2128 (for respondent commissioner)
Beverly Balos, University of Minnesota Law Clinics, 190 Walter F. Mondale Hall, 229 19th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55455 (for respondents Domestic Abuse Project, et al.)
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Parker, Judge.
Appellants challenge the district court’s dismissal of their action, in which they allege that Minn. Stat. §§ 611A.31-.375 (2002), which provide for grants of appropriated funds to local programs that offer services for victims of domestic abuse, are unconstitutional on equal-protection grounds and discriminate on the basis of sex. The district court dismissed the suit, holding that appellants lacked standing to bring the claim and that the complaint failed to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We affirm.
Appellants challenge the constitutionality of Minn. Stat. §§ 611A.31-.375 (2002). They claim the statutes violate the federal and state equal-protection clauses because the statutes provide no funding or services for male victims of domestic abuse and therefore discriminate against men on the basis of sex. The challenged statutes establish grants of appropriated funds to local programs to provide services for victims of domestic abuse.
Appellants assert standing to sue based upon their status as resident citizens and taxpayers of the state of Minnesota. None of the appellants claim that they have sought shelter or services due to domestic violence or been denied those services based on their gender. Nor do they claim to know of any person who has been denied domestic-abuse shelter or services on the basis of gender.
Appellants’ suit was dismissed for lack of standing by the district court. When a party does not have standing, a court does not have jurisdiction to hear the matter. Annandale Advocate v. City of Annandale, 435 N.W.2d 24, 27 (Minn. 1989) (stating standing is essential to court’s exercise of jurisdiction). “Standing goes to the existence of a cause of action and, when the facts are not disputed, is a legal issue that this court may determine.” Joel v. Wellman, 551 N.W.2d 729, 730 (Minn. App. 1996), review denied (Minn. Oct. 29, 1996).
“Standing is the requirement that a party has a sufficient stake in a justiciable controversy to seek relief from a court.” State ex rel. Humphrey v. Philip Morris Inc., 551 N.W.2d 490, 493 (Minn. 1996). To have standing to seek a declaratory judgment regarding the constitutionality of a state statute, a party must have a direct interest in the validity of that statute, which is different in character from the interest of the citizenry in general. Arens v. Village of Rogers, 240 Minn. 386, 390, 61 N.W.2d 508, 512 (1953). A citizen must have sustained or be in immediate danger of sustaining some direct injury from the enforcement of the challenged statute and not in some indefinite way in common with people generally. Lott v. Davidson, 261 Minn. 130, 143, 109 N.W.2d 336, 345 (1961).
Minnesota courts have previously determined that an individual’s status as a taxpayer can be a sufficient basis for standing to sue in certain instances. But allowing standing on the basis of an individual’s status as a taxpayer alone has always required an “injury in fact.” This requirement has been interpreted broadly but is not without limits. See, e.g., In re Sandy Pappas Senate Comm., 488 N.W.2d 795, 798 (Minn. 1992) (rejecting assertion of state taxpayer standing because challenged state action did not involve unlawful expenditure of funds); Mankato Aglime & Rock Co. v. City of Mankato, 434 N.W.2d 490, 493 (Minn. App. 1989) (denying claim of standing to seek judicial review of agency decision because taxpayer was not aggrieved by decision).
Appellants rely on McKee v. Likins, 261 N.W.2d 566 (Minn. 1977), as authority for their argument that their status as Minnesota taxpayers is a sufficient basis to establish standing to bring this action. Appellants allege this case stands for the proposition that a state taxpayer has standing in state courts to challenge and restrain state spending from a source of public revenue to which he has contributed. McKee was a county taxpayer contesting the use of his real estate tax payments by the county welfare department for expenditures for abortions. Id. at 568. McKee’s tax payments went into a general fund, which was used to compensate physicians and health care institutions providing medical assistance to eligible individuals, including elective nontherapeutic abortions. Id. McKee alleged he was injured by the use of his tax monies to fund the practice of abortion, which offended his religious and moral convictions. Id.
The court in McKee held that a taxpayer had standing to challenge the expenditure of tax monies for welfare payments under an agency rule that the taxpayer alleged was unlawfully adopted. Id. at 571. In order to find standing, the court first established the necessity of a determination that the expenditures complained of constituted an “‘injury in fact’ within the meaning of the Minnesota Administrative Procedure Act.” Id. at 570. Appellants in this case have alleged no such injury. They do not allege to have been denied anything by the statute, nor do they allege to know anyone who has.
Further, the standing question presented in the case currently before the panel is significantly different than the issue in McKee. While McKee addressed a taxpayer’s assertion that the regulations at issue were not promulgated in accordance with the Minnesota Administrative Practices Act because they were not issued pursuant to the act’s public notice and hearing requirements, this case attempts to establish that a taxpayer has standing to challenge spending of tax money by the state legislature on constitutional grounds, specifically under the equal-protection clause. The McKee decision dealt with a taxpayer’s challenge to administrative rulemaking, not a challenge to state legislation under the equal-protection clause, and is not controlling in the current matter.
Prior to filing this suit in state court, appellants attempted to bring their claim in the Federal District Court for the District of Minnesota. That court dismissed the case for lack of standing. Booth v. Hvass, No. 00-1672 MJD/JGL (D. Minn. Aug. 13, 2001). On appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the dismissal, holding that there was no standing to sue on an equal-protection claim because a taxpayer suffers no injury under the federal equal-protection clause unless and until an expenditure results in discrimination. Booth v. Hvass, 302 F.3d 849, 854 (8thCir. 2002), cert denied, 537 U.S. 1108 (2003). Appellants acknowledge that the Booth opinion effectively denied them standing to sue in federal court, but argue that the same principle does not deny them standing in the state courts because they are granted “rights of standing under the unequivocal language of McKee v. Lik[i]ns.” But, as we have already determined, the McKee case does not offer an open door to taxpayer standing on any issue. In fact, no court in Minnesota has held that taxpayer standing for an equal-protection claim exists under the circumstances presented by appellants’ complaint.
Appellants request that this court remove any restrictions on taxpayer standing for constitutional claims brought in Minnesota’s state courts. This would allow any individual taxpayer to challenge any Minnesota statute providing for the expenditure of state funds, without showing that any person has been injured, or that the taxpayer’s interest is different than that of citizens generally. We decline to do so because this would constitute an unwarranted intrusion on the authority of the legislature.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.