STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Filed June 29, 1999
Nobles County District Court
File Nos. T5974039, T3974038
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul,
MN 55101; and
Kenneth J. Kohler, Nobles County Attorney, Kathleen A. Kusz, Assistant Nobles County Attorney, 912 Third Avenue, P.O. Box 607, Worthington, MN 56187 (for respondent)
David R. Von Holtum, Von Holtum, Malters & Shepherd, 607 Tenth Street, P.O. Box 517, Worthington, MN 56187 (for appellants)
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Short, Judge, and Shumaker, Judge.
Bruce Lane Kingery and Charles James Loosbrock were charged with conspiracy to commit the installation of a drain tile without a proper permit in violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 160.20, subd. 4(b) (1996), 609.05, subd. 3 (1996). The trial court found Kingery/Loosbrock guilty and fined them each $130. On appeal from their convictions, Kingery/Loosbrock argue Minn. Stat. § 160.20, subd. 4(b) is unconstitutionally vague. We affirm.
A statute's constitutionality presents a question of law, which we review de novo. Estate of Jones by Blume v. Kvamme, 529 N.W.2d 335, 337 (Minn. 1995). We will uphold a statute unless the challenging party demonstrates a constitutional infirmity beyond a reasonable doubt. Id.; see In re Haggerty, 448 N.W.2d 363, 364 (Minn. 1989) (noting appellate court must exercise power to declare statute unconstitutional with extreme caution).
Minn. Stat. § 160.20, subd. 4(b) provides:
A person who installs a drain tile along or across a highway right-of-way without obtaining a permit as provided in this section is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Because the statute provides no definition for "along," Kingery/Loosbrock argue individuals have to guess at the distance required between a drain tile and a highway right-of-way to necessitate a permit. But a statute is void due to vagueness only if it fails to define a criminal offense "with sufficient definiteness that ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited and in a manner that does not encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement." Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U.S. 352, 357, 103 S. Ct. 1855, 1858 (1983); see also Baggett v. Bullitt, 377 U.S. 360, 367, 84 S. Ct. 1316, 1320 (1964) (defining void for vagueness); State v. Newstrom, 371 N.W.2d 525, 528 (Minn. 1985) (discussing void for vagueness doctrine). An undefined word renders a statute constitutionally infirm when the meaning of that word is neither commonly understood nor established by judicial construction. See Minn. Stat. § 645.08(1) (1998) (stating words should be construed according to common use or defined special meaning); State v. Murphy, 545 N.W.2d 909, 916 (Minn. 1996) (interpreting statute according to traditional rules of statutory interpretation); Humenansky v. Minnesota Bd. of Med. Exam'rs, 525 N.W.2d 559, 564-65 (Minn. App. 1994) (noting undefined word does not render statute infirm if meaning can be commonly established), review denied (Minn. Feb. 14, 1995).
"Along" is commonly understood as "parallel" or "beside." Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary 42 (1989). According to this definition, Minn. Stat. § 160.20, subd. 4(b) clearly prohibits the installation without a permit of any drain tiles that run next and in close proximity to a highway right-of-way. See Murphy, 545 N.W.2d at 916 (noting that, if statute can be interpreted logically, this interpretation must be followed). This broad interpretation supports the statute's purpose of allowing road authorities to prevent the possibility of water damage by monitoring all drain tiles installed near a public highway. See Minn. Stat. § 160.20, subds. 1, 3 (1992) (indicating purpose of statute by dictating that "highway shall be left in as good condition in every respect as it was before" connection or installation of drain, ditch or drain tile); Lenz v. Coon Creek Watershed Dist., 278 Minn. 1, 11-12, 153 N.W.2d 209, 217 (1967) (noting statute may be read in entirety to determine its meaning).
Appellants installed a drain tile that runs parallel to a highway right-of-way and ends in a forced outlet approximately three feet from the right-of-way's ditch. Given these facts, appellants should have been on notice that their project required a permit under Minn. Stat. § 160.20, subd. 4(b). See State v. Becker, 351 N.W.2d 923, 925 (Minn. 1984) (recognizing court must analyze vagueness challenge in light of defendant's actual conduct). Under these circumstances, we conclude Minn. Stat. § 160.20, subd. 4(b) is constitutionally definite and the trial court properly found Kingery/Loosbrock in violation of the statute.