This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).






Education Minnesota, et al.,





Cheri Pierson Yecke, Commissioner,

Minnesota Department of Education, et al.,



Filed June 7, 2005


Kalitowski, Judge


Ramsey County District Court

File No. C0-03-10879


Harley M. Ogata, Education Minnesota, 41 Sherburne Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55103 (for appellants)


Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Steven B. Liss, Scott R. Goings, Assistant Attorneys General, 1200 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2130 (for respondents)


            Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Huspeni, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellants, Education Minnesota, the Burnsville and Hopkins school districts, and two taxpayers, challenge by declaratory judgment and writ of quo warranto the Department of Education Commissioner’s certification of an on-line learning program in the Houston school district.  Because the commissioner’s certification was a quasi-judicial action from which review by writ of certiorari was available, we affirm the district court’s dismissal of appellants’ challenge on the ground that it should have been brought by writ of certiorari to this court.




            Writ of certiorari review in the court of appeals is generally the exclusive method by which to obtain review of a quasi-judicial action:

            Unless otherwise provided by statute or appellate rule, to obtain judicial review of an administrative agency’s quasi-judicial decision, a party must petition the court of appeals for a writ of certiorari.  If no statute or rule expressly vests judicial review in the district court, this court has exclusive certiorari jurisdiction.


Micius v. St. Paul City Council, 524 N.W.2d 521, 522-23 (Minn. App. 1994) (citation omitted).  Absent an established method of review or other clear legal remedy, judicial review of the quasi-judicial decisions of administrative bodies must be invoked by writ of certiorari.  Dietz v. Dodge County, 487 N.W.2d 237, 239 (Minn. 1992).

            If a certiorari appeal is available, a declaratory judgment action will not be considered.  See Dokmo v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 11, 459 N.W.2d 671, 677-78 (Minn. 1990) (concluding that where writ of certiorari is the appropriate method to obtain review, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to decide a declaratory judgment action).  And certiorari is generally the only way to challenge the actions of municipalities, school districts, and other executive bodies.  See id. at 676; Dietz, 487 N.W.2d at 239 n.3.

            The supreme court has emphasized that de novo review of agency actions is incompatible with constitutional principles of separate governmental powers.  Dokmo, 459 N.W.2d at 674.  “We have consistently viewed with disfavor statutes which specify trials de novo and which attempt to confer original jurisdiction on trial courts over policy matters which are the responsibility of the legislative and executive branches.”  Id.(quoting Reserve Mining Co. v. Herbst, 256 N.W.2d 808, 824 (Minn. 1977)).  Allowing a party to maintain a declaratory judgment action to challenge the finality of a decision reviewable by certiorari would thwart the policy underlying the requirement for certiorari review for such cases.  Mowry v. Young, 565 N.W.2d 717, 720 (Minn. App. 1997), review denied (Minn. Sept. 18, 1997).

            In the past, Minnesota appellate courts have reviewed Department of Education actions by writ of certiorari.  See Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 276 v. Dep’t of Educ., 256 N.W.2d 619, 628 (Minn. 1977) (holding that upon the Department of Education’s directive, the school district was required to provide tuition assistance to a child with learning disabilities in the school district who attended a private school with a specialized curriculum); Voettiner v. Comm’r of Educ., 376 N.W.2d 444, 447 (Minn. App. 1985) (holding that the court of appeals has jurisdiction to hear writs of certiorari from all agencies).

            Here, Minn. Stat. § 124D.095 does not provide for judicial review of the commissioner’s decisions.  As noted in Voettiner, quasi-judicial actions may be reviewed by certiorari when there is no appeal or other adequate remedy.  Voettiner, 376 N.W.2d at 447.

            The three indicia of a quasi-judicial action are:  “(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).  Failure to meet any of the three indicia is fatal to a claim that the proceedings were quasi-judicial. 844.  Certiorari is not available to review quasi-legislative administrative actions. 842.

            Here, the Minnesota Department of Education established a review team of its employees and outside reviewers to consider applications to certify on-line program providers under Minn. Stat. § 124D.095, subd. 7 (2004).  The On-Line Learning Option Act establishes criteria for certification including that the program aligns with state academic standards, contributes to grade progression, and has equivalent standards for instruction, curriculum, and assessment requirements as other courses offered to enrolled students.  Minn. Stat. § 124D.095, subd. 7.

            Eighteen applicants applied for certification.  The review team recommended to an assistant commissioner of education that 15 of the 18 applicants be certified as on-line learning providers.  The assistant commissioner forwarded the recommendations to the deputy commissioner and then to the commissioner who certified the 15 programs including that of the Houston school district (Houston).  Because (1) Houston’s application was offered to support a legal claim; and (2) the review team members made recommendations based on the criteria for the application and professional judgment, we conclude that the first prong of quasi-judicial action was met.

            The second and third prongs for quasi-judicial action were also met.  The second prong requires application of facts to a prescribed standard.  Minn. Ctr. for Envtl. Advocacy,587 N.W.2d at 842.  The review team judged Houston’s application according to set criteria that were also applied to the other applications.  The third prong requires a binding decision.  Id.  And Minn. Stat. § 124D.095, subd. 7, provides the only manner by which applicants may be certified as on-line learning providers; the review team’s recommendations, once certified by the commissioner, were binding.  Therefore, we conclude that the procedure in Minn. Stat. § 124D.095 establishes a quasi-judicial action from which review must be taken by writ of certiorari.  Because appellants seek review of a quasi-judicial action and no remedy for appeal is provided by statute, appellants should have sought review by certiorari.  Thus, the district court did not have jurisdiction to review the commissioner’s decision in a declaratory judgment action. 

            Appellants argue further that even if Education Minnesota was required to seek a writ of certiorari as a party to the commissioner of education’s decision, the other appellants, who were not parties to the decision, lacked standing to seek a writ and therefore could bring a declaratory judgment.  We disagree.  Appellants cite no authority for the proposition that alleged lack of standing to seek a writ creates jurisdiction to bring a declaratory judgment action where a writ of certiorari is the exclusive avenue for review.  And as cited above, our caselaw makes clear that review of a quasi-judicial decision of an administrative body can only be obtained by petitioning this court for a writ of certiorari.

            Appellants also attempt to challenge by writ of quo warranto the commissioner’s interpretation of terms in the statute which, they allege, permitted the commissioner to improperly certify the Houston on-line learning program.  But, because we hold that appellants’ exclusive remedy for review of the commissioner’s certification was by writ of certiorari, and because appellants were required to challenge the commissioner’s interpretation under Minn. Stat. § 14.63 (2004) as “person[s] aggrieved” by a final agency decision, a writ of quo warranto is not an appropriate action here.

            Finally, because this matter was not properly before the district court, we do not address the district court’s alternative decision denying appellants relief on the merits.  Rather, we affirm the district court’s dismissal of appellants’ challenge on the ground that the action should have been brought by writ of certiorari to this court.


*  Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.