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State v. Arkell

March 14, 2003

STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT,
v.
JOHN ARKELL, APPELLANT,
CARRIAGE HOMES, INC., DEFENDANT.



Willis, Judge Mower County District Court File No. T4012827

Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Willis, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. Minn. Stat. § 16B.69 (2000), which imposes misdemeanor liability for a violation of the State Building Code, is a public-welfare statute.

2. Minn. Stat. § 16B.69 is a strict-liability statute.

3. Under the responsible-corporate-officer doctrine, criminal liability may be imposed on a corporate officer for a corporation's violation of a strict-liability public-welfare statute.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Willis, Judge

Affirmed

OPINION

John Arkell seeks reversal of his conviction of violating the State Building Code. He argues that the district court erred by (1) determining that Minn. Stat. § 16B.69 (2000) is a public-welfare statute; (2) concluding that Minn. Stat. § 16B.69 imposes strict liability; and (3) applying the responsible-corporate-officer doctrine. Because we find no error, we affirm.

FACTS

Carriage Homes, Inc. was a general contractor and Minnesota corporation engaged in multi-family residential and land-development projects. At all relevant times, appellant John Arkell was Carriage Homes' chief executive officer, president, and sole shareholder.

In 1997, the Austin City Council approved Carriage Homes' development plan for Southwinds, a condominium development of 38 residential units. Carriage Homes engaged subcontractors to perform the labor to construct the development, but it directly employed project managers to handle day-to-day operations and to supervise the subcontractors. The development was substantially completed in 1998.

The foundation elevations of some of the Southwinds units were lower than permitted under the State Building Code, causing storm water to pool in the units' driveways and garages. Austin's Development Director sent Arkell a series of seven letters in 1999 and 2001 concerning the elevation problems, and Arkell gave the letters to the project managers, who failed to resolve the problems.

The City of Austin has incorporated the State Building Code*fn1 into its ordinances, Austin, Minn., City Code § 4.01 (1999), and Minn. Stat. § 16B.69 (2000) makes a violation of the State Building Code a misdemeanor. On May 30, 2001, the state charged Carriage Homes and Arkell with three misdemeanor counts each, alleging a violation of the Uniform Building Code (UBC) and thereby both an ordinance violation and a violation of Minn. Stat. § 16B.69.

The district court dismissed two of the counts against both Carriage Homes and Arkell. On the remaining count, a charge of violating UBC § 1806.5.5 (1997) by providing the units with inadequate foundation elevations, Carriage Homes pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a $1,000 fine. But UBCArkell pleaded not guilty, asserting that he could not be held criminally responsible for the violation. After a bench trial, the district court found Arkell guilty under the responsible-corporate-officer doctrine of violating UBC § 1806.5.5 and thereby Minn. Stat. § 16B.69. He was sentenced to pay a fine, to pay ...


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