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In re Appeal of the Exclusion of Molnar

September 5, 2006

IN THE MATTER OF THE APPEAL OF THE EXCLUSION OF EDWARD MOLNAR FROM CANTERBURY PARK.


Minnesota Racing Commission.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

I. The conduct of a privately owned, state-regulated business may constitute state action for Fourteenth Amendment purposes if the nexus between the challenged conduct and the state is so close that it can fairly be said that the state is responsible for the conduct.

II. Under Minn. Stat. § 240.27, subds. 2, 5 (2004), a Minnesota Racing Commission licensee is not required to give a patron notice and a hearing before excluding the patron from its premises.

III. The vagueness doctrine applies only to legislative enactments and cannot be successfully invoked when a reasonable person would know that his or her actions risk violation of a private entity's rules of conduct.

IV. Minn. Stat. § 240.30, subd. 7(c) (2004), does not restrict a Minnesota Racing Commission licensee's authority to exclude patrons from its premises.

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

Affirmed

Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Willis, Judge.

OPINION

Edward Molnar appeals from an order of the Minnesota Racing Commission, upholding Canterbury Park's decision to exclude him permanently from its card club. Molnar argues that Canterbury Park violated his constitutional and statutory right to due process in its temporary-exclusion decision and that the racing commission abused its discretion on evidentiary issues and by upholding Canterbury Park's permanent-exclusion decision. Molnar also maintains that the commission exceeded its authority by affirming his permanent exclusion rather than imposing a fine. Because we conclude that Canterbury Park did not violate Molnar's due process rights and that the Minnesota Racing Commission did not err or abuse its discretion, we affirm.

FACTS

Canterbury Park is a privately owned corporation licensed by the Minnesota Racing Commission to conduct live racing. The commission has also authorized Canterbury Park to operate a card club on its premises. Edward Molnar has been a regular patron of the card club since it opened in 2000. He also races and houses quarter horses at Canterbury Park.

The Card Club

The operation of the card club is regulated by the racing commission. To obtain authorization to operate the card club, Canterbury Park formulated a plan of operation that provides the "necessary details for conducting card playing activities." Minn. Stat. § 240.30, subd. 6 (2004). Section VIII of this plan states Canterbury Park's intention to offer patrons a "clean, friendly and pleasant place to play cards" and reserves Canterbury Park's right to exclude from the card club any person who engages in "[t]alk or action demeaning of other players or employees."

Canterbury Park also requires all patrons to follow the "California Games House Rules," which prohibit, among other things, "[o]ffensive or abusive language." The commission's rules additionally require patrons to comply with a security officer's orders and not to interfere in the performance of their official duties. Minn. R. 7897.0100, subp. 7 (2005). And Canterbury Park is authorized by statute to exclude from the card club any person who violates "any state law or commission rule or order or who is a threat to racing integrity or the public safety." Id. § 240.27, subd. 5 (2004).

Molnar's First Exclusion

In August 2003, Canterbury Park excluded Molnar from the card club for nine months, based on allegations that he had inappropriately touched female employees. An employee reported that Molnar came up behind her, put his arm around her neck and whispered into and licked her ear. A card dealer also reported that Molnar had come up behind her and grabbed her around the waist. In response to these reports, a pit manager told Molnar that touching female employees was inappropriate and that Canterbury Park had a responsibility to take harassment accusations seriously.

A short time later, another card dealer reported that Molnar came up behind her and poked her in the side. She also reported a previous contact in which Molnar had come up behind her and rubbed her shoulders. Following this report, the pit manager told Molnar that he had received another complaint of inappropriate touching and asked him to leave.

In response to these reports, Canterbury Park appointed an exclusionary committee to review the allegations against Molnar and decide on an appropriate course of action. The committee investigated the reports and decided to exclude Molnar from the card club for nine months. The exclusion notice sent to Molnar indicated that Molnar could seek review of the committee's decision by writing to the security department. It also indicated that further inappropriate behavior would not be tolerated and would result in permanent exclusion. Molnar did not appeal to the security department or to the Minnesota Racing Commission, but instead inquired by phone, e-mail, and regular mail about the reason for his exclusion. In response to Molnar's inquiry, Canterbury Park sent Molnar a letter on December 30, 2003, stating that their "investigation gave [them] reasonable cause to believe that [Molnar] violated the rights of one of [Canterbury Park's] employees by touching her inappropriately." But Canterbury Park did not respond to Molnar's repeated requests for more specific information about the incident that led to his exclusion.

Molnar's Second Exclusion

Molnar returned to the club in May 2004. In December, several employees complained that Molnar was making lewd comments, using profanity, making obscene gestures for hit signals, and covering his bets while giving the stay signal. The floor person and the assistant pit manager asked Molnar to stop this behavior. But when the assistant pit manager made this request, Molnar became orally combative. He was similarly combative when the assistant food-and-beverage manager took away his drink and told him that he would not be served more alcohol. And, when asked to leave the card club, Molnar refused to comply with a security officer's request to confirm his identification.

Canterbury Park convened its exclusionary committee again, and the committee determined to exclude Molnar permanently from the card club. This time, Molnar appealed the committee's decision to the racing commission. The commission designated an Exclusion Appeal Panel to hear the appeal.

In June 2005 the appeal panel, which consisted of three commission members, held an evidentiary hearing. The panel continued the hearing after Molnar requested an opportunity to view Canterbury Park's surveillance videotapes and more time to prepare his case. When the hearing reconvened, both parties ...


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