This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment
Bureau of Mediation
Judith A. Rost,
Bureau of Mediation
Filed October 10, 2006
Ramsey County District Court
File No. CX-04-11127
Patricia Y. Beety, League of Minnesota Cities,
University Avenue West, St.
Paul, Minnesota 55103 (for Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment
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,
55415 (for Judith
Jon K. Iverson, Jeff M. Zalasky,
Iverson Reuvers, 9321 Ensign
Avenue South, Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
(for Clay County);
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
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
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
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
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
terminated the employment of respondent Betty Windom-Kirsch, director of the Clay County Health Department,
after a Loudermill hearing in April
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.
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
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.
D E C I S I O N
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).
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.
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.
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
appellat[e] review.” Cross,606 N.W.2d at 735.
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,
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).
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.
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.
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).