« Home

John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Hagen Homes v. Minnetrista

The word on the street (hat tip to RC for passing along the news) is that the Minnesota Supreme Court has just overturned the appellate court on Hans Hagen Homes Inc. v. City of Minnetrista.

What does this have to do with Maplewood? It bears directly on the lawsuit against Maplewood by CoPar, the developer who had plans for south Maplewood around Fish Creek. Last year the city refused CoPar's plans, and then established the current development moratorium for a study of land use south of Carver Avenue.

CoPar has filed a motion for summary judgment in the suit (you can read CoPar's memorandum on Maplewood Voices). Basically, Minnesota law says that when a governmental body such as the city council denies a zoning or land use application like CoPar's, they have to provide a written denial, including reasons, within 60 days after the application. If they don't, the application is automatically approved. CoPar asserted that the court can issue a summary judgment, since the facts are not in dispute, just the interpretation of the law.

The city of Maplewood admitted that "it did not fully satisfy all of the literal duties" of the statute. However, the city contends that it "complied with both the spirit and the intent," since the matter was decided within the necessary time frame, representatives at CoPar were present at the meeting where the decision was made and reasons were provided, the minutes of the council meeting in which the decision was made are available on the city's website, etc. In other words, the matter was decided expeditiously, and the decision was obviously communicated to the applicants in a timely fashion, even if not in the precise manner laid out by the statute.

CoPar's memo cites numerous appellate court decisions that upheld a very strict reading of this law, including for example a case (Veit Company v. Lake County) where a written denial was provided -- but it did not state reasons for the denial, so the court granted automatic approval anyway. Looking at the way cases like this have been decided over the past decade, CoPar's argument for summary judgment on the basis of this technicality appeared to be very strong.

There was one really big wrinkle, however: the case in Minnetrista, which the Minnesota Supreme Court last year agreed to review. Responding to the summary judgment memo, Maplewood's lawyers wrote (again you can read the city's whole 18-page memo in the Maplewood Voices archives), "The court should either deny the motion or defer its ruling to await the Supreme Court's forthcoming decision in Hans Hagen Homes Inc. v. City of Minnetrista, argued January 10, 2007."

The lower courts in the Hagen/Minnetrista case had gone with the previous tradition of a very strict reading that granted automatic approvals. By overturning the lower courts, the Supreme Court has set a new precedent that automatic approval won't always result from a failure of local government to provide a written statement of reasons for denying an application.

I don't understand all the details of the CoPar suit (nor, for that matter, the details of the Supreme Court's Minnetrista ruling and whether it has any particulars that may affect how it applies to Maplewood's situation), and I'm sure this case is far from over, but the Supreme Court decision is in any case a very significant development. It looks to me like it makes it very unlikely that the court will grant CoPar the summary judgment they seek.

Update, 3/16, 10:27 AM: I found the Supreme Court's opinion posted on its website.


Post a Comment

Newer Posts Older Posts

Posts by Date

Powered by Blogger & Blogger Templates. Customized by Michelle Nephew.
Contact me at