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Clayton v. Kiffmeyer

October 28, 2004

BONN H. CLAYTON, PETITIONER,
v.
MARY KIFFMEYER, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF STATE, AND MARK LUNDGRRVER COUNTY AUDITOR, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHER COUNTY CHIEF ELECTION OFFICIALS, RESPONDENTS.



Heard, considered and decided by the court en banc.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. The 2002 appointment of David Minge to fill a vacancy on the Minnesota Court of Appeals was properly based on the existing second congressional district, rather than the district as redrawn in the 2002 redistricting order. Judge Minge therefore satisfied the residency requirement at the time of his appointment, and petitioner's arguments that Judge Minge should be removed from the 2004 ballot or should not be designated as the incumbent based on the invalidity of his appointment are rejected.

2. Claims of violation of the Guaranty Clause of the United States Constitution are not justiciable controversies. Accordingly, petitioner's claims based on the Guaranty Clause are without merit.

3. Minnesota Statutes § 480A.02, subd. 3 (2002), does not have a significant impact on petitioner's right to vote because it has limited effect on his choice of candidates. Moreover, to the extent there is any impact, it is not the result of an invidiously discriminatory factor. Because the statute does not impose "severe" restrictions, but rather "reasonable, nondiscriminatory restrictions," the state's "important regulatory interests" are sufficient to justify the restrictions. See Burdick v. Takushi, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Blatz, Chief Justice.

Concurring, Page, J.

Took no part, Anderson, G. Barry, J.

Petition denied.

OPINION

On July 21, 2004, petitioner Bonn Clayton filed a petition under Minn. Stat. § 204B.44 (2002) against respondents Mary Kiffmeyer, in her official capacity as Secretary of State, and Mark Lundgren, Carver County Auditor, individually and on behalf of all other county chief election officials, asking this court to direct respondents to omit from ballots prepared for the 2004 election the name of David Minge as a candidate for the office of Judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals - Second Congressional District (Seat 3) or to provide alternative relief requested in the petition. Petitioner alleges, inter alia, that Judge Minge did not reside in the second congressional district for one year prior to his appointment to the Minnesota Court of Appeals and did not reside in the second congressional district after January 3, 2004, and is therefore not eligible to run as a candidate for the second congressional district seat on the court of appeals. After respondents and the candidates filed responses to the petition and petitioner filed a reply memorandum, oral argument was heard on August 9, 2004. This opinion confirms the order filed on August 13, 2004, denying the petition.

The petition alleges the following:

On March 19, 2002, the Special Redistricting Panel appointed by Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz filed its "Final Order Adopting a Congressional Redistricting Plan" that established new boundaries for the eight Minnesota congressional districts. Zachman v. Kiffmeyer, Case No. C0-01-160 (Minn. Spec. Redist. Panel March 19, 2002). On April 24, 2002, Governor Jesse Ventura appointed David Minge to replace retiring Judge Gary Crippen on the court of appeals, effective May 15, 2002. Judge Crippen had occupied the seat on the court of appeals designated for the second congressional district. At the time of appointment, David Minge was a resident of Chippewa County, which was in the seventh congressional district under the 2002 redistricting plan. Judge Minge did not reside in the redrawn second congressional district at the time of his appointment or for one year prior to his appointment.

On June 4, 2004, the Secretary of State issued a "Notice of Offices to be Filled at the State General Election for which Candidates File with the Secretary of State," designating "seat 3" on the Minnesota Court of Appeals as the office pertaining to the second congressional district. On July 6, 2004, David Minge filed an affidavit of candidacy for the office of court of appeals judge - seat 3, listing his residence as St. Paul, Minnesota, which is in the fourth congressional district. July 20, 2004, the last day for filing, Paul Ross, who resides in the second congressional district, filed an affidavit of candidacy for the office of court of appeals judge - seat 3. The Secretary of State accepted both filings.

On July 20, Mark Wersal, who resides outside the second congressional district, filed an affidavit of candidacy for the office of court of appeals judge - seat 3. Wersal's affidavit of candidacy was rejected by the Secretary of State because he is not a resident of the second congressional district. Petitioner is a qualified voter in the second congressional district. He alleges that if given the choice between Judge Minge and Mark Wersal, he would vote for Wersal for the court of appeals seat.

The errors and omissions alleged concern "Seat 3" on the Minnesota Court of Appeals that is open for election in 2004. Several of the issues raised in the petition involve interpretation and application of Minn. Stat. § 480A.02, subd. 3 (2002), which provides for designation of an individual seat on the court of appeals for each congressional district in the state and establishes eligibility requirements related to those designated seats. Section 480A.02, subdivision 3 provides:

By January 1, 1984, one seat on the court shall be designated for each congressional district. Only persons who have resided in that congressional district for at least one year shall be eligible for election or appointment to that seat. A judge who is elected or appointed to a congressional district seat shall continue to be eligible for that seat without regard to any subsequent change of residence. All other seats shall be without restriction as to residence.

Minn. Stat. § 480A.02, subd. 3 (2002).

The petition asserts five claims. Claim I alleges that Judge Minge has never had a legal residence in the current second congressional district and therefore does not satisfy the requirement in section 480A.02, subdivision 3, that to be eligible for election to a court of appeals seat designated for a congressional district, a person must have resided in that congressional district at least one year. Claim II asserts that because Judge Minge's initial appointment was invalid, the provision in section 480A.02, subdivision 3, that a judge who was appointed to a congressional district seat on the court of appeals continues to be eligible for that seat without regard to any subsequent change of residence does not apply to Judge Minge. The petition asserts that the initial appointment was invalid based on the contention that after the filing of the redistricting panel's congressional redistricting plan on March 19, 2002, the governor could no longer make court of appeals appointments based on the previous congressional districts. Petitioner alleges that because Judge Crippen at the time of his appointment resided in Nobles County, which is in the newly-drawn first congressional district, to satisfy the residency requirement his successor would have to have lived for a year in the first congressional district. According to the petition, because Judge Minge lived at the time in the newly-drawn seventh congressional district, he was not properly appointed in 2002, and therefore the continued-eligibility-despite-change-in-residence clause does not apply to him.

Claim III asserts that because the 2002 appointment was invalid, Judge Minge cannot be a candidate to "succeed again" and is therefore not entitled to the "incumbent" designation on the ballot provided for in Minn. Stat. § 204B.36, subd. 5 (2002).*fn1 Claim IV alleges that by allowing Judge Minge, a nonresident of the second congressional district, to run for the second congressional district seat while prohibiting Mark Wersal from appearing on the ballot because he is not a resident of the second congressional district, Minn. Stat. § 480A.02, subd. 3, denies petitioner the equal protection of the laws. Finally, Claim V alleges that allowing Judge Minge to run for the second congressional district seat even though he never resided in the newly-constituted second congressional district denies petitioner's right to a republican form of government guaranteed under the United States Constitution, art. IV, § 4, and further alleges that requiring nonincumbent challengers to reside in the designated congressional district while allowing voters from throughout the state to cast ballots for the office violates the provisions of article I, section 2, and article VII, section 6, of the Minnesota Constitution.

The petition requests alternate forms of relief. First, Judge Minge should be omitted from the 2004 ballot as a candidate for the second congressional district seat. Second, if the court concludes that Judge Minge was improperly appointed in 2002 but can remain on the ballot, he should not be designated on the ballot as an incumbent. Third, if the court concludes that Judge Minge was improperly appointed in 2002 and the designation of the vacancy was improper, the seat should be omitted from the ballot and the governor should be required to appoint a successor to Judge Crippen from the first congressional district (and apparently, Judge Minge should be removed from office). Fourth, if the court concludes the residency restriction of Minn. Stat. § 480A.02, subd. 3, unconstitutional, anyone who is otherwise qualified to hold office and attempted to timely file an affidavit of candidacy should be placed on the ballot; in this instance, Mark Wersal.

I.

Respondents raise two procedural arguments which they contend warrant dismissal of the petition. These arguments are that the petition should be dismissed, first, because it was brought in bad faith and, second, based on laches.

Respondents argue that the petition was filed in bad faith "for political purposes to manipulate the election process." Factually, respondents allege that petitioner, his attorney Greg Wersal, Wersal's brother Mark Wersal, and Paul Ross, a candidate for the second congressional district seat, are all political associates who conspired in this action. The alleged conspiracy involved having the brother of petitioner's attorney, who was not a resident of the second congressional district, file for the second congressional district seat on the last day of filings knowing that his affidavit of candidacy would be rejected, and having Paul Ross, a resident of the second judicial congressional district, file for the seat minutes later. According to respondents, "[p]petitioner and his attorney launched the present action in an effort to remove Judge Minge's name from the ballot so that Mr. Ross would be the only candidate for Seat 3 on the Court of Appeals." They assert that the petition should be dismissed because of this alleged bad faith, but cite no cases or other authority for such a dismissal.

Petitioner asserts that there could not have been a conspiracy as alleged because he did not speak with Greg Wersal about the issues in this case until July 14, 2004, when he hired Wersal after being turned down by a different attorney.*fn2

Respondents also assert that the petition should be dismissed based on the doctrine of laches. Laches is an equitable doctrine applied to "prevent one who has not been diligent in asserting a known right from recovering at the expense of one who has been prejudiced by the delay." Winters v. Kiffmeyer, 650 N.W.2d 167, 169 (Minn. 2002) (quoting Aronovitch v. Levy, 238 Minn. 237, 242, 56 N.W.2d 570, 574 (1953)). We have acknowledged the particular importance of laches in ballot challenges because of the severe time constraints facing officials in this type of challenge. Id. "[T]he practical question in each case is whether there has been such an unreasonable delay in asserting a known right, resulting in prejudice to others, as would make it inequitable to grant the relief prayed for." Id. at 170 (quoting Fetsch v. Holm, 236 Minn. 158, 163, 52 N.W.2d 113, 115 (1952)).

Respondents argue that the delay here has been unreasonable because a challenge to the validity of Judge Minge's 2002 appointment could have been brought any time in the last two years and because petitioner's attorney was told in February, in a response to his inquiry to the Secretary of State, that Judge Minge would be designated as the incumbent on the 2004 ballot for the second congressional district seat. Respondents argue that the Secretary of State and county auditors will be prejudiced by petitioner's delay because of the deadlines for notification to county auditors of the names that are to appear on ballots, for printing ballots and for preparation of absentee ballots, and the electorate will be prejudiced if relief is granted on the unreasonably delayed claims because the electorate will be deprived of a contested ballot for the second congressional district seat as a result of petitioner's "trickery."

On the facts, petitioner argues that he could not have brought this action earlier because he first learned of Judge Minge's residency outside the second congressional district on July 12, when petitioner returned from out of town after Judge Minge had filed his affidavit of candidacy on July 6. He contends ...


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