This opinion will
be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Filed May 22, 2007
Reversed and remanded
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 06046385
Lori Swanson, Attorney General,
1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134; and
Jay M. Heffern, Minneapolis City
Attorney, Gretchen A. G. Zettler, Assistant City Attorney, 333 South Seventh
Street, Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55402
Derek A. Patrin, Ethan P. Meaney,
Meaney & Patrin, P.A., 6225
Ginger Drive, Eden Prairie, MN 55346 (for respondent)
and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Klaphake, Judge; and Shumaker, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
The state appeals from the district
court’s pretrial ruling suppressing evidence on the ground that Minneapolis
police officers lacked the reasonable, articulable suspicion necessary to stop
respondent’s vehicle because respondent did not violate a Minneapolis ordinance
that prohibits the needless obstruction of traffic. Because we conclude that the officers had a
reasonable, articulable suspicion that respondent violated the ordinance, we
reverse and remand.
On July 8, 2006, Minneapolis
police officers Roderic Weber and Timothy Merkel were driving eastbound on Laurel Avenue in
Traffic was very heavy that night because
the “Basilica Block Party” had recently ended. Although the traffic light at Laurel Avenue and Hennepin Avenue was
green for Laurel Avenue
traffic, traffic was blocked by a vehicle in the middle of the intersection. Officer Weber sounded the squad car’s horn,
but the driver of the vehicle did not respond. As the light for traffic on Laurel Avenue was turning red, the
vehicle moved into another lane on Hennepin
Avenue and cleared the intersection, although it
was then too late for traffic on Laurel
Avenue to proceed through the intersection. The officers stopped the vehicle, identified the
driver as respondent Donnel Thompson, and ultimately administered a preliminary
breath test, which Thompson failed.
was charged with driving while impaired, in violation of Minn. Stat.
§ 169A.20 (2004). He moved to
dismiss the complaint, arguing that the stop was unconstitutional because the
officers lacked a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity. After a hearing, the district court granted
Thompson’s motion. The district court
found that Thompson had entered the intersection on a green light but that he
was unable to clear the intersection because traffic was stopped in front of
him; because traffic remained stopped as the light turned red for the traffic
moving in Thompson’s direction, Thompson’s vehicle obstructed traffic on Laurel
Avenue, which, consequently, could not enter the intersection.
district court then turned to the Minneapolis
ordinance that prohibits operating a vehicle in such a manner as to
“needlessly, unnecessarily, and unwarrantedly block, obstruct or interfere with
the orderly flow of traffic.” The
district court determined that the qualifiers “needlessly, unnecessarily, and
unwarrantedly” indicate that the state must establish something more than the
fact that traffic was obstructed to prove that the ordinance was violated. Because Thompson entered the intersection
lawfully, the district court reasoned, there was nothing more than mere
obstruction here. Noting that a mistaken
interpretation of the law cannot provide the reasonable, articulable suspicion
necessary to justify a traffic stop, the district court suppressed all evidence
obtained as a result of the stop. This
D E C I
S I O N
state argues that the officers had a reasonable, articulable suspicion
justifying the stop of Thompson’s vehicle. On appeal from a pretrial ruling, the state
must establish both that the district court erred and that the error had a
“critical impact” on the state’s case. State v. Scott, 584 N.W.2d 412, 416 (Minn. 1998). Whether an officer had a reasonable,
articulable suspicion to make a traffic stop is a question of law. State v.
Syhavong, 661 N.W.2d 278, 281 (Minn.
App. 2003). But the district court’s factual
findings are entitled to deference and will not be overturned unless clearly
erroneous. State v. Bourke, 718 N.W.2d 922, 927 (Minn. 2006). Here, the district court suppressed all
evidence obtained as the result of the traffic stop and dismissed the
complaint; the “critical impact” requirement is therefore established. See
Scott, 584 N.W.2d at 416.
A limited investigatory stop of a
vehicle is permissible if the police have a reasonable, articulable suspicion
of criminal activity, which is a suspicion grounded in a particularized and
objective basis. State v. Pike, 551 N.W.2d 919, 921 (Minn. 1996). But a reasonable, articulable suspicion is something
more than a mere hunch, and the facts giving rise to an officer’s suspicion are
evaluated in the aggregate. State v. Martinson, 581 N.W.2d 846, 850,
state argues that Thompson violated a Minneapolis
ordinance when he entered an intersection even though he could not clear the
intersection because the traffic ahead of him was stopped. A
violation of a traffic law, however insignificant, objectively justifies a
limited investigatory stop. State v. George, 557 N.W.2d 575, 578 (Minn. 1997). But an officer’s good-faith, although
mistaken, interpretation of the law is not a “particularized and objective
basis for suspecting criminal activity necessary to justify a traffic stop.” State v.
Anderson, 683 N.W.2d 818, 823-24 (Minn. 2004).
ordinance at issue reads in full:
It shall be
unlawful for any person to so drive and operate or park a vehicle upon the
streets or highways in the city as to needlessly, unnecessarily and
unwarrantedly block, obstruct or interfere with the orderly flow of traffic on
said streets. Proof that such traffic
was blocked, obstructed or interfered with shall be prima facie evidence that
such blocking, obstructing and interference was needless, unnecessary and
Code of Ordinances § 466.230 (1991). The construction of an ordinance is a question
of law, which this court reviews de novo. Frank’s
Nursery Sales, Inc. v. City of Roseville, 295 N.W.2d 604, 608 (Minn. 1980). The rules that govern the construction of
statutes apply to the construction of ordinances. Smith v.
Barry, 219 Minn.
182, 187, 17 N.W.2d 324, 327 (1944). Thus,
we must first determine if the ordinance is ambiguous on its face, that is, whether
the ordinance is reasonably subject to more than one interpretation. See Am.
Family Ins. Group v. Schroedl, 616 N.W.2d 273, 277 (Minn. 2000). If the plain text of the ordinance is not
ambiguous, then we must apply that text. See State v. Anderson,
683 N.W.2d 818, 821 (Minn.
The district court determined that
because Thompson entered the intersection legally, he did not needlessly,
unnecessarily, or unwarrantedly obstruct traffic. We disagree. Regardless of whether Thompson entered the
intersection on a green light, it is uncontested that his vehicle obstructed
traffic on Laurel Avenue.
The text of the ordinance is not
ambiguous: the ordinance is not limited to circumstances in which traffic is obstructed
because the driver committed an illegal act separate from a violation of the
ordinance itself; rather, the ordinance applies in all circumstances in which a
vehicle obstructs traffic needlessly. Indeed,
the ordinance would be superfluous if a driver were required to commit some
other illegal act to satisfy the ordinance’s requirement that the obstruction
of traffic be needless, unnecessary, or unwarranted.
We note that the ordinance provides that
evidence that traffic was obstructed “shall be prima facie evidence that such
blocking, obstructing and interference was needless, unnecessary and
unwarranted.” Minneapolis, Minn.,
Code of Ordinances § 466.230. Prima
facie evidence that the ordinance was violated is a “particularized and
objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal
activity.” See Pike, 551 N.W.2d at 921 (quotation omitted). Thus, we conclude that the uncontested fact
that Thompson’s vehicle obstructed traffic on Laurel Avenue was alone a sufficient
basis for the officers to have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that Thompson
violated the ordinance.
But Thompson argues that the
officers did not have a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity
to justify the stop because he did not in fact violate the ordinance. Thompson argues that the ordinance refers to
Minn. Stat. § 169.15 (2006), which prohibits operating a vehicle “at such
a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of
traffic,” and claims that the ordinance, therefore, must be read to prohibit
only what section 169.15 prohibits, namely, driving a vehicle too slowly. Thompson argues further that reading the
ordinance in conjunction with section 169.15 is necessary to prevent the
ordinance from conflicting with state law, which would render the ordinance
void. See Minn. Stat. § 169.022 (2006) (providing that local
governments may enact ordinances to govern traffic that are not in conflict
with state law).
an initial matter, although the ordinance does refer to section 169.15, that
reference is only a comment to the ordinance that section 169.15 is a
“[s]imilar provision.” Further, an
ordinance is not in conflict with state law if it is complementary to those
laws. See State v. Kuhlman, 729
N.W.2d 577, 580 (Minn.
2007). The parties have not identified a
that specifically prohibits obstructing traffic needlessly, and we have found
none. But in addition to the prohibition
in section 169.15, Minn. Stat. § 169.34(a)(3) (2006) generally prohibits stopping
a vehicle in an intersection. The
ordinance and those statutes, therefore, all prohibit operating a motor vehicle
in a manner that needlessly impedes the flow of traffic through an intersection. Thus, when the ordinance is read in
conjunction with sections 169.15 and 169.34(a)(3), it is complementary to those
statutes, and it is therefore not in conflict with state law.
The ordinance prohibits obstructing
traffic needlessly. Minneapolis,
Minn., Code of Ordinances
§ 466.230. It is uncontested that Thompson
obstructed traffic on Laurel
Avenue by entering the intersection when he could
not clear it. Thus, Thompson’s
obstruction of traffic was needless, unnecessary, and unwarranted, and, therefore,
in violation of the ordinance.
conclude that the officers had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that
Thompson violated the ordinance, and we reverse and remand for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.