This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
COURT OF APPEALS
Ivan Merlin Johnson,
Minnesota Department of Public Safety,
Filed December 24, 2007
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C5-06-5238
W. Harvey Skees, Gerald Miller & Associates, P.A., 2915 Wayzata Boulevard, Minneapolis, MN 55405 (for appellant)
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Kyle R. Gustafson, Assistant Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Harten, Judge.*
Appellant Ivan Merlin Johnson brought a civil complaint in district court, seeking a declaratory judgment that Minn. Stat. § 171.04 (2004) and Minn. R. 7503.1300 (2003) are unconstitutional because the statute and rule violate appellant’s due-process rights and are vague and overbroad. Appellant sought reinstatement of his driver’s license and injunctive relief, prohibiting the state from enforcing Minn. Stat. § 171.04 and from applying Minn. R. 7503.1300. Respondent Minnesota Department of Public Safety moved to dismiss appellant’s complaint on the ground that the review procedure, including the 180-day limitation in Minn. Stat. § 171.19 (2004), is the exclusive remedy for review of appellant’s driving privileges and that a declaratory-judgment action is inappropriate. The district court granted respondent’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the 180-day limitation bars appellant’s claim, that revocation of appellant’s license is proper, and that section 171.04 and rule 7503.1300 are constitutional. We affirm.
The facts of this case are undisputed. Between 1970 and 1979, appellant was convicted of driving while impaired (DWI) four times, and his driving privileges were revoked and cancelled and denied as “inimical to public safety.” Appellant’s driving privileges were reinstated on July 16, 1980, after he completed the required rehabilitation, with the condition that he totally abstain from alcohol and controlled substances.
Appellant’s driving privileges were revoked again in January 1987, after appellant failed to submit to testing under the implied-consent law. The department also cancelled and denied his driving privileges as “inimical to public safety.” After successfully finishing a second rehabilitation, appellant’s driving privileges were reinstated on January 15, 1991. On October 24, 2004, appellant submitted to a chemical test pursuant to the implied-consent law that he failed with an alcohol concentration of .16. He then pleaded guilty to DWI. His driving privileges were again revoked under the implied-consent law and cancelled and denied as “inimical to public safety” for six years and until he completes rehabilitation. The notice and cancellation order informed appellant of his right to obtain administrative and judicial review of the cancellation and denial of his driving privileges. Appellant did not seek judicial review of the cancellation and denial pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 171.19 (2004).
On October 12, 2005, appellant sought partial reinstatement of his driving privileges for work purposes. The driver evaluator informed appellant that his driving privileges could not be reinstated until at least January 2011. Appellant sought administrative review of the evaluator’s determination and requested that he be exempted from cancellation of his driving privileges in order to allow him to travel between his home in Tracy and his workplace in St. Paul. The administrative-review officer upheld the driving evaluator’s determination. Appellant filed a complaint in April 2006, seeking a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. The district court granted respondent’s subsequent motion to dismiss. This appeal follows.
“Whenever it appears by suggestion of the parties or otherwise that the court lacks jurisdiction of the subject matter, the court shall dismiss the action.” Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.08(c). Questions of subject-matter jurisdiction are reviewed de novo by this court. Johnson v. Murray, 648 N.W.2d 664, 670 (Minn. 2002).
The Minnesota Declaratory Judgment Act gives courts the “power to declare rights, status, and other legal relations whether or not further relief is or could be claimed.” Minn. Stat. § 555.01 (2006). In Minnesota, a court has jurisdiction to issue a declaratory judgment only if there is a justiciable controversy. Minn. Ass’n of Pub. Sch. v. Hanson, 287 Minn. 415, 419-20, 178 N.W.2d 846, 850 (1970). A controversy is justiciable only when it involves definite and concrete assertions of right. Id. at 420, 178 N.W.2d at 850.
A declaratory-judgment action has a justiciable controversy if it: (a) involves definite and concrete assertions of right that emanate from a legal source; (b) involves a genuine conflict in tangible interests between parties with adverse interests; and (c) is capable of specific resolution by judgment rather than presenting hypothetical facts that would form an advisory opinion. State ex rel. Smith v. Haveland, 223 Minn. 89, 92, 25 N.W.2d 474, 477 (1946); Seiz v. Citizens Pure Ice Co., 207 Minn. 277, 281, 290 N.W. 802, 804 (1940); Graham v. Crow Wing County Bd. of Comm’rs, 515 N.W.2d 81, 84 (Minn. App. 1994), review denied (Minn. June 2, 1994). Although appellant need not possess a cause of action as a basis for obtaining declaratory relief, he must, at a minimum, possess a bona fide legal interest that has been or is about to be affected in a prejudicial manner. Kennedy v. Carlson, 544 N.W.2d 1, 6 (Minn. 1996).
Here, the second and third requirements for a justiciable controversy are satisfied. Respondent concedes that both parties have a tangible conflict of interests. Appellant wants his revocation reversed, while respondent asserts the public-safety interest of keeping appellant from driving. A declaratory judgment would result in a resolution regarding the constitutionality of the challenged rule and determine if appellant’s license was legally revoked. We therefore examine whether appellant can satisfy the first requirement.
Appellant asserts that the right that emanates from a legal source is the right to review and apply the law being challenged. Appellant had a right to seek judicial review after cancellation and denial and to petition for reinstatement of his driving privileges under Minn. Stat. § 171.19 (2004). But this challenge had to be brought within 180 days of the effective date of the order of cancellation and denial. Minn. Stat. § 171.19. Appellant is attempting to avoid his failure to challenge his license cancellation and denial within the 180-day limitation for an appeal by claiming that he seeks inquiry into the “law” that is the basis for the cancellation of his driving privileges. Merely attacking the constitutionality of a statute is not sufficient to establish a justiciable controversy. See Kennedy, 544 N.W.2d at 5-8 (discussing that a challenge to a statute which potentially deprives indigent defendants of effective assistance of counsel is insufficient to establish a justiciable controversy).
Minn. Stat. § 171.04, subd. 1(10) (2004), allows the commissioner to deny a license to anyone the commissioner has “good cause to believe that the operation of a motor vehicle on the highways . . . would be inimical to public safety or welfare.” Appellant argues that Minn. Stat. § 171.04 (2004) and Minn. R. 7503.1300 (2003) have no explicit mechanism to challenge the “good cause” language in section 171.04. Appellant’s statement is correct, but the proper challenge for denial of a license as inimical to public safety or welfare is found in Minn. Stat. § 171.19. Section 171.19 provides a legal remedy of judicial review within 180 days, a legal remedy that appellant failed to exercise.
Because appellant lacks a legal interest in challenging the determination, he lacks the justiciable controversy required for a declaratory judgment. Accordingly, we conclude that the district court’s dismissal of appellant’s declaratory-judgment action was proper. Because appellant lacks the justiciable controversy necessary for a declaratory-judgment action, we do not reach the merits of his constitutional challenge.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.