may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Renee Gorham, et al.,
City of Duluth,
Filed August 10, 1999
St. Louis County District Court
File No. C398601673
Tom Allnew, P.O. Box 587, Duluth, MN 55801 (appellant pro se)
William P. Dinan, Duluth City Attorney, M. Alison Lutterman, Assistant City Attorney, 410 City Hall, Duluth, MN 55802 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Crippen, Judge.
Appellants are tenants in a building that the City of Duluth has condemned as unfit for habitation because of various housing and fire code violations. Appellants previously brought a number of federal suits to protect their interests and also attempted to intervene in their landlords' suit against the city. This state suit, in which the trial court found that appellants lacked standing and that their suit was barred by the rule of res judicata, alleges that the city tortiously interfered with appellants' right to contract. We affirm, concluding that the claim is barred.
Appellants live in the San Marco apartments, owned by Roy and Mary Anderson. The Duluth City Housing Code requires all multiple-dwelling apartments to be operated under a three-year license. The Andersons' license expired in December 1994, and they sought to renew it. Numerous housing code violations were discovered during subsequent inspections, leading finally to a Notice of Violations that the Andersons appealed to the Duluth Building Appeal Board. The board recommended that the property be condemned as unfit for habitation and suitable for demolition. The city Building Official adopted the board's recommendation to condemn the property as unfit for habitation and ordered the building to be vacated within 30 days.
The Andersons asked for time extensions to allow the tenants more time to relocate. They were granted an extension until September 1996, by which time the complex needed to be brought to code or vacated. When neither occurred, criminal proceedings were commenced against the Andersons.
The Andersons appealed the condemnation order to the Building Appeal Board. Thereafter, the tenants commenced various federal suits alleging discrimination and attempted to intervene in City of Duluth v. Anderson, No. C4-98-2028 (Minn. App. June 15, 1999) (the landlords' suit challenging condemnation).
Finally, appellants commenced this suit, in which the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the respondents, both because appellants lacked standing and because of the res judicata effect of the prior suits.
"A judgment on the merits constitutes an absolute bar to a second suit for the same cause of action and is conclusive between parties and privies, not only as to every matter which was actually litigated, but also as to every matter which might have been litigated therein." Dollar Travel Agency, Inc. v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 354 N.W.2d 880, 882 (Minn. App. 1984) (quoting Youngstown Mines Corp. v. Prout, 266 Minn. 450, 466, 124 N.W.2d 328, 340 (Minn. 1963)), review denied (Minn. Dec. 21, 1984).
"A lease is both an executory contract and a present conveyance, and creates a privity of contract and a privity of estate between the lessor and the lessee." Davidson v. Minnesota Loan & Trust Co., 158 Minn. 411, 415, 197 N.W. 833, 834 (Minn. 1924).
Here, appellants' landlords, the Andersons, have litigated their claims to finality. Because they are in privity with the tenants, the tenants cannot have an additional, independent cause of action to litigate the same claim. Appellants' cause of action is barred by the principles of res judicata.
Both the federal district court and the state trial court determined that appellants lacked standing to pursue an independent cause of action. The federal magistrate judge reasoned that appellants lacked standing because they had suffered no injury that was fairly traceable to respondents. The trial court noted that "[n]othing in the pleadings herein change[s] the facts upon which [the prior standing] rulings were made." Moreover, the issue of whether the tenants have standing was addressed in the tenants' motion to intervene in Anderson, No. C4-98-2028 (Minn. App. June 15, 1999).
We determine that appellants' assertion of standing is also barred under the rule of res judicata, the issue having been litigated in appellants' prior federal suits and in their motion to intervene in their landlords' state suit.
An abuse of discretion standard is applied to a district court's decision on sanctions under Minn. Stat. § 549.21 (now Minn. Stat. § 549.211 (1998)) and Minn. R. Civ. P. 11. State Bank of Young America v. Fabel, 530 N.W.2d 858, 863 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. June 29, 1995). The trial court found cause for sanctions against appellants and awarded $1,500 attorney fees to respondent. See Minn. Stat. § 549.211 (permitting monetary and other sanctions upon a finding that a party acted in bad faith, asserted a claim that was frivolous, or asserted an unfounded position solely to delay the proceedings); Liedtke v. Fillenworth, 372 N.W.2d 50, 52 (Minn. App. 1985) (observing that courts are "normally reluctant" to grant attorney fees against a pro se party, but will do so in a case of "extreme" conduct), review denied (Minn. Sept. 13, 1985).
Respondents filed a notice of review and argued that monetary sanctions are insufficient to deter appellants' course of vexatious litigation. Respondents request an injunction for five years to prevent further litigation. Although respondent correctly asserts that these numerous lawsuits are inappropriate, the cause for additional sanctions is not sufficiently evident on the record to permit substitution of our judgment for the trial court's exercise of discretion.