This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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







Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority,





Bureau of Mediation Services,



Judith A. Rost,





Clay County,





Bureau of Mediation Services,



Betty Windom-Kirsch,




Filed October 10, 2006


Hudson, Judge


Ramsey County District Court

File No. CX-04-11127


Patricia Y. Beety, League of Minnesota Cities, 145 University Avenue West, St. Paul, Minnesota 55103 (for Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority);


Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Jennifer A. Service, Assistant Attorney General, 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1100, St. Paul, Minnesota 55101-2128 (for Bureau of Mediation Services);


Richard T. Wylie, 701 Fourth Avenue South, Suite 500, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55415 (for Judith Rost);


Jon K. Iverson, Jeff M. Zalasky, Iverson Reuvers, 9321 Ensign Avenue South, Bloomington, Minnesota 55438 (for Clay County);


Randolph E. Stefanson, Stefanson Law, 403 Center Avenue, Suite 302, P.O. Box 1287, Moorhead, Minnesota 56560 (for Betty Windom-Kirsch);


Joseph E. Flynn, Peter A. Martin, Knutson, Flynn & Deans, P.A., 1155 Centre Pointe Drive, Suite 10, Mendota Heights, Minnesota 55120 (for amicus curiae Minnesota School Boards Association);


Terrence J. Foy, Ann R. Goering, Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, P.A., 300 U.S. Trust Building, 730 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55402 (for amicus curiae Association of Minnesota Counties)


            Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Parker, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


Appellants Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority and Clay County appeal the district court’s dismissal of their declaratory-judgment action for lack of jurisdiction.  Appellants had sought a determination that respondent Bureau of Mediation Services, which ordered the parties to submit to binding arbitration, lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to determine the claims of former employees Judith Rost and Betty Windom-Kirsch and that the employees were required to proceed instead by petitioning this court for a writ of certiorari.  Appellants argue that (a) the district court erred in determining that it lacked original jurisdiction to consider the scope and constitutionality of the independent-review statute, Minn. Stat. § 179A.25 (2004), as applied to the employment grievances; (b) Minn. Stat. § 179A.25 does not provide the Bureau of Mediation Services an independent right to review quasi-judicial employment decisions by public employers; and (c) requiring a public entity to submit a quasi-judicial decision regarding public employment to binding arbitration under the independent-review statute violates Minn. Const. art. III, § 1.  Because the district court did not err in determining that it lacked jurisdiction to review appellants’ claims, we affirm. 


Respondent Judith Rost resigned her position as executive director of appellant Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority in March 2004 after that agency conducted hearings and determined that she had committed employment misconduct.  Appellant Clay County terminated the employment of respondent Betty Windom-Kirsch,  director of the Clay County Health Department, after a Loudermill hearing in April 2004.[1] 

Rost and Windom-Kirsch filed petitions seeking independent review of their termination decisions with respondent Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) under the independent-review provision of the Public Employees’ Labor Relations Act, Minn. Stat. § 179A.25 (2002).  Alexandria HRA and Clay County answered the petitions but moved to dismiss, alleging that BMS lacked jurisdiction to conduct the reviews.  Clay County asserted that Windom-Kirsch had failed to use the county’s peer-grievance procedure and denied that BMS had jurisdiction to conduct an independent review.  Alexandria HRA alleged that Rost’s right to review of her employment grievance was limited to filing a petition for a writ of certiorari in this court and that Minn. Stat. § 179A.25 was unconstitutional as applied to public-employment relationships not governed by a collective-bargaining agreement or other agreement in which the public employer had specifically agreed to BMS jurisdiction.  BMS denied both motions to dismiss, determining that because the public-employers’ grievance procedures did not provide for review by a disinterested party or agency and the employees had no other process for independent review, the petitions fell within the jurisdiction of BMS.

The public employers each filed declaratory-judgment actions in district court, seeking declarations that the former employees’ only right to review of the public-employers’ quasi-judicial decisions was by writ of certiorari in this court, rather than the BMS independent-review process; that the district court had jurisdiction to consider the constitutionality of Minn. Stat. § 179A.25; and that Minn. Stat. § 179A.25 was unconstitutional as applied to these employment terminations.

The public employers moved for summary judgment; BMS and the former employees moved to dismiss.  After consolidating the actions, the district court granted the motion to dismiss, determining that the question of BMS jurisdiction fell within the exclusive jurisdiction of this court on appeal by writ of certiorari, that the dispute was not ripe because BMS had not yet rendered a final decision on the merits, and that the district court lacked jurisdiction to determine the constitutionality of Minn. Stat. §179A.25.  This appeal follows. 


            On appeal from dismissal of an action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, this court conducts an independent review of the legal issues presented to the district court.  Ferrell v. Cross, 543 N.W.2d 111, 114 (Minn. App. 1996), aff’d, 557 N.W.2d 560 (Minn. 1997).  Statutory interpretation is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo.  Brookfield Trade Ctr., Inc. v. County of Ramsey, 584 N.W.2d 390, 393 (Minn. 1998). 

The independent-review statute, which is part of the Public Employees’ Labor Relations Act (PELRA), states, as public policy, “that every public employee should be provided with the right of independent review, by a disinterested person or agency, of any grievance arising out of the interpretation of or adherence to terms and conditions of employment.”  Minn. Stat. § 179A.25 (2004).  The statute further provides that if “such review is not provided under statutory, charter, or ordinance provisions for a civil service or merit system, the governmental agency may provide for such review consistent with the provisions of law or charter.”  Id.  But “ [i]f no other procedure exists for . . . independent review . . ., the employee may present the grievance to the commissioner under procedures established by the commissioner.”  Id.  Procedures for BMS review are also governed by a bureau policy that allows delegation of the authority to resolve the grievance to an arbitrator.  See Minn. Bureau of Mediation Servs., Bureau Policy VII, Independent Review, VI (b) (1996) (cited in Cross v. County of Beltrami, 606 N.W.2d 732, 735 (Minn. App. 2000)). 

The district court dismissed the declaratory-judgment action, determining that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the dispute because the public employers are required to proceed in this court by seeking review of a final BMS decision.  The public employers argue that the district court erred in this determination.    

The independent-review process prescribed under Minn. Stat. § 179A.25 is a quasi-judicial process, which is used by administrative agencies to resolve disputed claims.  See Minn. Ctr. For Envtl. Advocacy v. Metro. Council, 587 N.W.2d 838, 842 (Minn. 1999) (stating indicia of quasi-judicial decision are (1) investigating disputed claim and weighing evidentiary facts, (2) applying those facts to prescribed standard, and (3) making binding decision on disputed claim).  It is “well-settled law” that absent another avenue prescribed for review of a quasi-judicial agency decision, “an aggrieved party has the common law right to petition for a writ of certiorari pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 120 and Minn. Stat. § 606.01.” In re Haymes, 444 N.W.2d 257, 259 (Minn. 1989).  Minnesota appellate courts have repeatedly held that the right to proceed by writ of certiorari is the exclusive avenue of appeal for those challenging agency decisions, especially when the decisions relate to public employment.  See Dietz v. Dodge County, 487 N.W.2d 237, 239 (Minn. 1992) (stating that absent method of review or legal remedy, judicial review of “quasi-judicial decisions of administrative bodies, if available, must be invoked by writ of certiorari”); Willis v. County of Sherburne, 555 N.W.2d 277, 282 (Minn. 1996) (holding that when the county, which did not have statewide jurisdiction, allegedly breached employment contract by terminating governmental employee, “the claimant [could] contest the employer’s action by certiorari alone, absent statutory authority for a different process”); Dokmo v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 11, 459 N.W.2d 671, 678 (Minn. 1990) (holding that challenge to school district’s termination or reinstatement decision must proceed by writ of certiorari under Minn. Stat. § 606.01).  Specifically, this court has stated, in considering the review process from a BMS decision, that a public authority “[has] no right to review the independent review decision, except in its own quest for appella[]t[e] review.”  Cross,606 N.W.2d at 735.   

The public employers maintain that this court’s certiorari requirement applies only to cases involving the review of substantive determinations, rather than jurisdictional issues. But this distinction lacks merit.  The Minnesota Supreme Court has long held that certiorari appeals permit appellate consideration of a public authority’s jurisdiction to act.  See State ex rel. Ging v. Bd. of Educ. of Duluth, 213 Minn. 550, 570–71, 7 N.W.2d 544, 556 (Minn. 1942) (certiorari appeal applies to “questions affecting . . . jurisdiction of . . . the [school] board” to determine proceedings for teacher termination), overruled on other grounds, Foesch v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 646, 300 Minn. 478, 223 N.W.2d 371 (1974).  In addition, this court has frequently considered the extent of an agency’s jurisdiction in the context of certiorari appeals.  See, e.g., In re Investigation of Comm’n Jurisdiction into Hutchinsons Intrastate Natural Gas Pipeline, 707 N.W.2d 223, 226 (Minn. App. 2005) (reviewing issue, on certiorari, of whether Minnesota Public Utilities Commission exceeded its statutory authority by exercising jurisdiction over municipal utility’s natural-gas pipeline).    

The public employers argue by implication that under principles stated in Dietz and Willis, the district court retains certiorari jurisdiction to determine the issue of BMS authority to hear the public-employment grievance.  But the Minnesota Supreme Court has stated directly, in a teacher-termination case, that after the creation of the court of appeals, statutory and rule amendments “substituted that court for the district court in those areas in which the latter court acted in an appellate capacity.”  Strand v. Special Sch. Dist. No. 1, 392 N.W.2d 881, 883 (Minn. 1986); cf. White Bear Rod & Gun Club v. City of Hugo, 388 N.W.2d 739, 742 (Minn. 1986) (upholding concurrent certiorari jurisdiction in district court and court of appeals for certain land-use decisions).  We have held, for instance, that a district court lacked jurisdiction to determine the parties’ rights in a declaratory-judgment action following an administrative body’s termination of a police-reserve-unit member.  Mowry v. Young, 565 N.W.2d 717, 721 (Minn. App. 1997), review denied (Minn. Sept. 18, 1997).  In Mowry, we stated that as a policy matter, “[a]llowing [a party] to maintain a declaratory judgment action to challenge the finality of” a public-employer decision reviewable by certiorari “would thwart the policy underlying the requirement of certiorari review” for those cases.  Id. at 720.  And the public employers have cited no authority that would allow a local public employer to challenge the decision of BMS, an agency with statewide jurisdiction, in district court. 

To challenge BMS review of the employment decisions, the public employers are required to file a certiorari appeal to this court from a final BMS decision, rather than seeking interlocutory “appellate” review by way of a declaratory-judgment action in the district court.  The writ of certiorari must be issued by this court within 60 days after the aggrieved party is notified of the decision to be reviewed.  Minn. Stat. § 606.01 (2004).  Because the public employers improperly sought to challenge a threshold determination by BMS in district court, rather than by a timely certiorari appeal to this court from a final agency decision, the district court correctly determined that it lacked jurisdiction to hear their claims.  Following a final decision after BMS review, the public employers retain the remedy of certiorari appeal to this court. 

The public employers argue that they are unable to submit to BMS jurisdiction in order to receive a final, appealable decision on jurisdiction because this court in Cross determined that a public employer waived jurisdictional arguments by submitting to binding arbitration under section 179A.25, even though the employer attempted to reserve jurisdictional objections.  See Cross, 606 N.W.2d at 734–35.  But Cross applied an election-of-remedies analysis in the distinguishable context of determining whether a particular employee was entitled to independent review, based on the nature of the employee’s contract with the employer.  Id.  (citing  Boe v. Polk County Library Bd., 299 Minn. 226, 227, 217 N.W.2d 208, 209 (1974) (finding no right of review because employee lacked contract or comparable tenure right)).  In contrast, the public employers in this case challenge the general requirement of independent review under Minn. Stat. § 179A.25, and the Cross decision does not affect their ability to contest jurisdiction on appeal to this court after a final BMS determination on the merits.

            The public employers assert additional substantive arguments.  First, they maintain that the independent-review statute must be interpreted to reflect a legislative intent that public employees are also limited to certiorari appeals from public-employers’ adverse employment decisions, without BMS review.  In the alternative, they contend that the independent-review statute is an unconstitutional delegation of judicial authority to a legislative agency.  But the district court did not determine these issues because it correctly ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to consider them.  Similarly, the Minnesota Supreme Court has also limited this court’s consideration of the merits of a challenge, if not raised in the context of a timely certiorari appeal.  See Haymes, 444 N.W.2d at 259 (vacating this court’s discretionary consideration of party’s arguments, in light of party’s failure to proceed by certiorari).  


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

[1] We note that the appendix to Windom-Kirsch’s respondent’s brief contains the transcript of the Loudermill hearing.  Because this information was not presented to the district court, we have disregarded it in reaching our decision.  See  Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 110.01 (defining the record on appeal as “[t]he papers filed in the trial court, the exhibits, and the transcript of the proceedings”).