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Alliance for Metropolitan Stability v. Metropolitan Council

December 09, 2003


Ramsey County District Court File No. C7-02-007774

Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Halbrooks, Judge.


1. When a state political subdivision's implementation of a policy substantially interferes with an organization's mission and causes the organization to divert resources from activities it would otherwise undertake, making it more difficult to participate in its normal activities, the organization has suffered an injury-in-fact sufficient for standing.

2. When an organization seeks a declaratory judgment as to the interpretation and application of a statute that regulates a state political subdivision, the organization must have an independent, underlying cause of action based on a common law or statutory right; the organization cannot base jurisdiction solely on the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act.

3. When a state political subdivision has discretion with respect to how it fulfills its statutory responsibilities and when it revises its policies relating to those responsibilities in a good faith belief that it is reflecting the legislative intent of new regulating legislation, it has acted neither unreasonably, arbitrarily, nor capriciously.

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

Affirmed in part and reversed in part


Appellants Alliance for Metropolitan Stability (Alliance), Community Stabilization Project (CSP), and Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing (MICAH) challenge the district court's dismissal of their claims based on lack of standing and lack of a right of action, and the grant of respondent's motion for summary judgment. Appellants argue that (1) the district court misapplied Stansell v. City of Northfield, 618 N.W.2d 814 (Minn. App. 2001), review denied (Minn. Jan. 26, 2001), in ruling that appellants lack standing to sue when standing exists under Minnesota caselaw and where the U.S. Supreme Court recognized organizational standing in Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, 455 U.S. 363, 102 S. Ct. 1114 (1982); (2) the district court misunderstood appellants' action to involve an implied right of action, rather than an express right of action under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act and erred in holding both that a declaratory-judgment action requires an underlying cause of action and that appellants lacked a common-law right of action; and (3) the district court erred in granting summary judgment because the respondent acted arbitrarily when it incorporated Livable Communities Act (LCA) goals in its guidelines. Because we conclude that the district court erred in ruling that the appellants lack standing but was correct in its right-of-action and summary-judgment analyses, we affirm in part and reverse in part.


Appellant organizations argue that respondent Metropolitan Council (Council)*fn1 violated the Metropolitan Land Use Planning Act (MLUPA), Minn. Stat. § 473.851–.871 (2002), by providing cities with guidelines for complying with MLUPA that understated cities' planning obligations. Appellants asked for a declaration of rights under the MLUPA through the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, Minn. Stat. ch. 555 (2002). Appellants Alliance,*fn2 CSP,*fn3 and MICAH*fn4 are organizations engaged in educational and advocacy efforts related to affordable housing in metropolitan area communities.

CSP and Alliance claim that the Council's actions have harmed their missions of promoting more affordable housing and required them to divert staff resources to assist members in obtaining housing and to advocate for changes to the Council's MLUPA practices. CSP argues the Council's actions have harmed its members and clients because the shortage of affordable housing directly relates to increased rent. MICAH claims the Council's actions have impaired its ability to carry out its objectives and have required it to redirect funding of approximately $12,000 toward changing the Council's actions.

MLUPA requires each city in the metropolitan area to produce a comprehensive plan that contains "objectives, policies, standards and programs to guide public and private land use, development, redevelopment and preservation for all [local] lands and waters...." Minn. Stat. § 473.859, subd. 1. A local comprehensive plan includes a required land-use plan showing how the city will provide housing opportunities that meet the city's share of current and projected local and regional affordable housing need. Minn. Stat. § 473.859, subd. 2. MLUPA also requires that each city's plan contain a detailed explanation of how it will actually implement the housing element of its plan. Minn. Stat. § 473.859, subd. 4.

The Council is responsible for providing cities with MLUPA guidelines to assist in the cities' planning for their share of the local and regional need for affordable housing. Minn. Stat. §§ 473.854,.867. These guidelines provide direction by assisting cities in assessing housing supplies, analyzing housing needs and goals, and devising implementation plans. After the local governmental unit creates its comprehensive plan, it must submit it to the Council for review. Minn. Stat. § 473.858, subd. 3. The Council may require modifications of the comprehensive plan when the plan does not conform to the Council's "metropolitan system plans." Minn. Stat. § 473.175, subd. 1 (2002). However, housing is not specifically defined as a metropolitan system under the MLUPA.

Although the MLUPA refers to local and regional "needs," the term "needs" is neither defined in the MLUPA or in any other provision of Minn. Stat. ch. 473 (2002), nor is there specification as to how or by whom "local and regional housing needs" should be determined or measured. But following the enactment of the MLUPA, the Council developed formulas to assess the need for low- and moderate-income housing on a regional and local basis. Beginning in the late 1970s, based on that formula, the Council calculated affordable housing needs for each community and issued guidelines for local governments to follow to create affordable housing opportunities. By the early 1980s, cities began producing housing elements as part of their comprehensive plans with designations to meet the targets provided by the Council. During the mid-1980s and 1990s, the Council changed its policy and began to exclude any references to affordable housing in its guidelines. Appellants believe that, as a result of this shift, city development in the 1980s and early 1990s lacked the necessary, designated parcels for affordable housing.

In the 1990s, the Minnesota Legislature entered the debate. In 1993, S.F. 449 was introduced in the Minnesota Senate, which would have both mandated the Council to require local governmental units to modify comprehensive plans "inconsistent" with all adopted plans of the Council and created a private right to sue under the MLUPA. But the bill died in committee. In addition, two amendments were vetoed in 1993 and 1994 that would have required the Council to analyze the need for affordable housing in the area, allocate the need to all metropolitan area cities and towns on a "fair-share basis," and adopt and execute a plan to "facilitate, coordinate, and,... cause the development" of affordable housing wherever the need was not totally satisfied. H.F. 671, 78th Leg., §á1, subd. 3(1), (2) & (7) (Minn. 1993). Then, in 1995, the legislature enacted the LCA, which allows cities to negotiate affordable-housing goals with the Council to become eligible to apply for funding under certain programs. Minn. Stat. §§ 473.25–.255. The negotiated goals under the LCA must be "consistent with and promote the policies of the metropolitan council as provided in the adopted metropolitan development guide." Minn. Stat. § 473.254, subd. 2. The legislature, also in 1995, amended the MLUPA to require all cities to update their comprehensive plans, including housing provisions, by the end of 1998. Minn. Stat. § 473.864, subd. 2.

Appellants contend that the Council failed to comply with the current MLUPA mandate by directing cities to develop land-use plans that provide for far fewer affordable-housing units than are needed. They claim that, in implementing the LCA, the Council defined LCA affordable-housing goals so that they were not based on nor related to the affordable-housing "need" referenced in the MLUPA. Appellants point to the fact that the Council stated in 1999 that 115,000 lower-income households will need affordable housing by 2010, yet the directive created by the Council will create no more than 12,885 units. Appellants further argue that the Council's actions have caused cities to disregard the housing provisions of the MLUPA, resulting in the reduction of the number of acres of land that cities have set aside for affordable housing.

The guidelines at issue are contained in the Council's Local Planning Handbook. The Council contends that there is no conflict between its interpretation of the LCA and the MLUPA requirements. The council believes that it made it clear that, when using the guidelines, the MLUPA requirements have not been ignored:

A community's Housing Action Plan developed under Livable Communities Act criteria may meet the requirements for the housing implementation program required by statute, if it includes adequate programs, fiscal devices and other official controls to meet the community's goals, as ...

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