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McCaughtry v. City of Red Wing

May 31, 2013



1. A facial challenge to the constitutionality of a rental property inspection ordinance on the ground that the ordinance authorizes inspections without individualized suspicion of a housing code violation fails unless it can be shown that the ordinance is unconstitutional in all of its applications.

2. Appellants have failed to show that the rental property inspection ordinance at issue in this case is unconstitutional in all of its applications.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Page, Justice.


This case involves a facial challenge to the constitutionality of respondent City of Red Wing's rental property inspection ordinance. Appellants are nine landlords and two tenants who brought suit seeking a declaration that the City's ordinance violates Article I, Section 10, of the Minnesota Constitution. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the City, concluding that appellants lacked standing and that the state constitutional claim failed on the merits. Agreeing with the district court that appellants lacked standing, the court of appeals affirmed. We reversed, holding that appellants' facial challenge presented a justiciable controversy. McCaughtry v. City of Red Wing, 808 N.W.2d 331 (Minn.2011) ( McCaughtry I ). On remand, the court of appeals again affirmed the district court, this time concluding that the City's ordinance did not violate the Minnesota Constitution. Because appellants have not satisfied their burden in a facial challenge to show that the ordinance operates unconstitutionally in all of its applications, we affirm.

In February 2005, the City enacted a rental inspection and licensing ordinance as part of its Housing Maintenance Code (HMC) and Rental Dwelling Licensing Code (RDLC).*fn1 See Red Wing, Minn., City Code §§ 4.03–.04 (2012). The HMC establishes minimum standards to which all residential buildings (with certain limited exceptions) must conform. See id. § 4.03, subd. 5. The RDLC, in turn, prohibits any person from operating or leasing a rental dwelling unit without first having obtained an operating license from the City, although landlords may obtain temporary permits allowing them to lease property for which an operating license has not yet been issued. Id. § 4.04, subd. 1(A) & 1(A)(1). Operating licenses are valid for 7 years. Id. § 4.04, subd. 1(A)(2). But the City may not issue or renew an operating license unless it determines that the rental property conforms to the HMC. Id. § 4.04, subd. 1(C).

The RDLC grants the City authority to inspect residential property under certain circumstances. First, the City may inspect all residential property, whether rental property or owner-occupied property, "when reason exists to believe that a violation of an applicable subdivision of the HMC exists, has been, or is being committed." Id. § 4.04, subd. 1(C) & 1(C)(3). Second, the City may also inspect rental property (1) "upon receipt of a properly executed application for an operating license," id., § 4.04, subd. 1(C)(2), or (2) "on a scheduled basis," id. § 4.04, subd. 1(C) & 1(C)(1). The ordinance refers to inspections performed on a scheduled basis or upon receipt of an application for an operating license as "Licensing Inspections." Id. § 4.04, subd. 1(C)(2).

When the City conducts a Licensing Inspection, it must first seek consent to inspect from the owner and tenant. Id. § 4.04, subd. 1(C)(8). If consent cannot be obtained, the "City shall seek permission, from a judicial officer through an administrative warrant, for its enforcement officer or his or her agents to conduct an inspection." Id. § 4.04, subd. 1(C)(9). The ordinance does not describe the procedures for seeking a warrant or the conditions under which a warrant should be granted. Rather, the ordinance simply provides that "[n]othing in this Code shall limit or constrain the authority of the judicial officer to condition or limit the scope of the administrative warrant." Id.

After adoption of the rental inspection and licensing ordinance, the City contacted appellants seeking consent to inspect their rental properties. But appellants refused to consent, and the City sought administrative warrants against them in Goodhue County District Court. Appellants opposed the warrant applications and brought two declaratory judgment actions challenging the RDLC on several grounds. In particular, appellants claimed that the RDLC's warrant procedure violated Article I, Section 10, of the Minnesota Constitution because it authorized the City to obtain a search warrant without individualized suspicion of a housing code violation on appellants' property. Appellants acknowledged that, in Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, 87 S.Ct. 1727, 18 L.Ed.2d 930 (1967), the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment does not require that a warrant to conduct a housing code inspection be based on knowledge of the particular dwelling to be inspected. Id. at 538, 87 S.Ct. 1727. But appellants argued that the Minnesota Constitution should be interpreted more broadly than its federal counterpart so as to require individualized suspicion before a court may issue an administrative warrant. Appellants' declaratory judgment actions were consolidated with the City's administrative warrant applications. The City moved for summary judgment, challenging both the merits of appellants' constitutional claim and their standing to assert the claim.

The district court denied the City's warrant applications on federal constitutional grounds not relevant here. But the court granted summary judgment to the City on the declaratory judgment claims. The court concluded that, because appellants had not yet had an administrative warrant issued against them, they had "not suffered an injury that is actual or imminent." The district court also noted that "per the plain language of the RDLC," a judge reviewing an application for an administrative warrant "is specifically authorized to condition or limit the scope of the warrant as appropriate." Thus, the district court concluded that an application for an administrative warrant "might possibly be approved in such a manner" that no constitutional violation occurs. But, in the interest of judicial economy, the district court nonetheless considered the merits of appellants' constitutional claim under Article I, Section 10, and denied that claim on the merits.

Appellants appealed, challenging the district court's ruling on both standing and the merits of their claim under the Minnesota Constitution. The court of appeals affirmed on standing grounds and did not address the merits of the constitutional claim. See McCaughtry v. City of Red Wing, No. A10–0332, 2010 WL 3744638, at *3–4 (Minn.App. Sept. 28, 2010). We granted review and reversed, determining that, because the relevant issue was "when" suit could be brought rather than "who" could bring it, the issue was one of ripeness, not standing. McCaughtry I, 808 N.W.2d at 338. We held that appellants' constitutional claim was ripe because they brought a purely legal, facial challenge to the RDLC that does not depend on the development of a factual record. Id. at 339. We therefore remanded the matter to the court of appeals for consideration of the merits of the constitutional challenge. Id. at 341. On remand, the court of appeals affirmed on the merits. McCaughtry v. City of Red Wing, 816 N.W.2d 636 (Minn.App.2012).

The sole issue in this case is whether, on its face, the RDLC's Licensing Inspections provision violates Article I, Section 10, of the Minnesota Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Constitutional interpretation presents a legal question, which we review de novo. State v. Brooks, 604 N.W.2d 345, 348 (Minn.2000). We exercise our power to declare laws unconstitutional "with extreme caution and only when absolutely necessary." In re Haggerty, 448 N.W.2d 363, 364 (Minn.1989). A city "ordinance [is] presumed constitutional, and the burden of proving that [it is] unconstitutional is on the appellants." Minn. Voters Alliance v. City of Minneapolis, 766 N.W.2d 683, 688 (Minn.2009).

Because an administrative warrant has not yet been issued against them, appellants challenge the City's ordinance on its face, rather than as applied. We have stated that "in a facial challenge to constitutionality, the challenger bears the heavy burden of proving that the legislation is unconstitutional in all applications." Id. at 696; see also United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 745, 107 S.Ct. 2095, 95 L.Ed.2d 697 (1987) (a facial challenge is "the most difficult challenge to mount successfully, since the challenger must establish that no set of circumstances exists under which the Act would be valid"); McCaughtry I, 808 N.W.2d at 339 (stating that a "facial challenge asserts that a law ' always operates unconstitutionally' ") (quoting Black's Law Dictionary 261 (9th ed.2009)). The Supreme Court explained the rationale for this heavy burden:

Facial challenges are disfavored for several reasons. Claims of facial invalidity often rest on speculation. As a consequence, they raise the risk of premature interpretation of statutes on the basis of factually barebones records. Facial challenges also run contrary to the fundamental principle of judicial restraint that courts should neither anticipate a question of constitutional law in advance of the necessity of deciding it nor formulate a rule of constitutional law broader than is required by the precise facts to which it is to be applied. Finally, facial challenges threaten to short circuit the democratic process by preventing laws embodying the will of the people from being implemented in a manner consistent with the Constitution.

Wash. State Grange v. Wash. State Republican Party, 552 U.S. 442, 450–51, 128 S.Ct. 1184, 170 L.Ed.2d 151 (2008) (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, if we identify a single situation in which the RDLC's Licensing Inspection provision might be applied constitutionally, appellants' facial challenge fails. See Minn. Voters Alliance, 766 N.W.2d at 694 (stating that "[i]n a facial challenge, once a constitutional application is identified, it is inappropriate to speculate regarding other hypothetical circumstances that might arise"); Michael C. Dorf, Facial Challenges to State and Federal Statutes, 46 Stan. L.Rev. 235, 241 (1994) ( "Under the 'no set of circumstances' test, the government need only produce an example in which the statute could be applied constitutionally to defeat the facial challenge.").

The crux of appellants' constitutional challenge is that the ordinance allows the City to obtain warrants to conduct Licensing Inspections without any individualized suspicion of a housing code violation. Whether the Minnesota Constitution requires individualized suspicion for housing code searches is an unsettled question. As discussed above, in order for us to resolve that question in the context of a facial challenge, appellants must first show that resolution of the question in their favor would render the ordinance unconstitutional in all of its applications. Stated differently, appellants must demonstrate that every warrant to conduct a Licensing Inspection under the RDLC will be issued without individualized suspicion. If a situation in which individualized suspicion might be required for a Licensing Inspection can be identified, then, even under appellants' interpretation of the constitution, the ordinance would not be unconstitutional in all its applications and their facial challenge would fail.

Appellants argue that we endorsed the use of a facial challenge to the ordinance in our ruling in McCaughtry I. Appellants also argue that they can meet their burden in this case "because the text of the ordinance itself plainly authorizes 'administrative warrants' instead of warrants requiring traditional probable cause." *fn2 The City argues that appellants cannot meet their heavy burden because the RDLC does not preclude a judge from requiring individualized suspicion before issuing a warrant and thus, ...

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