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Podruch v. State

February 10, 2004

MARILYNN PODRUCH, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF MINNESOTA, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



Hennepin County District Court File No. MC 02-014576

Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge; Klaphake, Judge; and Anderson, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

The Department of Public Safety Commissioner's discretionary act of charging a fee for disability parking certificates was legally reasonable, conferring official and vicarious official immunity on the commissioner and state.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Toussaint, Chief Judge

Affirmed

OPINION

This lawsuit challenges the fee charged by the respondent Commissioner of Public Safety for parking privileges for the physically disabled under Minn. Stat. § 169.345, subd. 3 (2000). Appellant alleges that the fee is an unfair discriminatory practice under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), specifically Minn. Stat. § 363.03, subd. 3 (2000). In two separate orders, the district court ruled that (a) the fee violated the MHRA but no injunction was necessary because the state had ceased to charge the fee; and (b) the state and the commissioner were not liable because they were protected by official and vicarious official immunity. Because we conclude that inposition of the fee was a discretionary act and legally reasonable, we affirm the district court's decision to dismiss the action on the basis of official and vicarious official immunity.

FACTS

Appellant Marilynn Podruch brought this action on August 2, 2002, alleging that the fee charged for a disability parking certificate for permanently disabled individuals violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), specifically Minn. Stat. § 363.03, subd. 3 (2000), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 (2002). Podruch later withdrew the ADA claim, leaving only the MHRA claim, and stated to the district court that the case could be decided "solely on state law."

Podruch originally paid five dollars for a six-year permanent disability parking certificate in October 1993. By displaying the certificate, Podruch could park in designated parking spaces for disabled persons and in certain metered and non-metered parking spaces without the obligation to pay the meter fee and, in some cases, without time restrictions. See Minn. Stat. § 169.345, subd. 1 (2000). Twice Podruch paid five dollars for a replacement certificates, once in 1997 and once in 2001.

The five dollar fee was initially imposed by the Director of Driver and Vehicle Services of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety in 1987. See 1987 Minn. Laws ch. 355, § 7. The Minnesota State Council for the Handicapped, now known as the Minnesota Disability Council, sponsored the legislation allowing for imposition of the fee for the purpose of strengthening the state's preferential parking program for persons with a disability by imposing a six-year expiration date on the certificates. Effective February 1, 2002, respondent Commissioner of Public Safety discontinued charging a fee for certificates and replacement certificates issued to persons with permanent disabilities.

On the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court ordered summary judgment for Podruch on her claim that the disability parking certificate fee violated the MHRA, but denied her request for injunctive relief because respondents had already ceased to charge the fee. Subsequently, the court determined Podruch's motion for class certification was moot, denied her motion for sanctions, and granted respondents's motion to dismiss on the basis of official and vicarious official immunity. The district court denied Podruch's motion to reconsider. Podruch appealed, and respondents filed a notice of review.

ISSUES

Did the district court correctly conclude that the Commissioner of Public Safety and the State of Minnesota were protected from the Minnesota Human Rights Act claim based ...


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