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Nellis v. City of Coon Rapids Board of Adjustment and Appeals

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

September 30, 2013

Scott Nellis, Relator,
v.
City of Coon Rapids Board of Adjustment and Appeals, Respondent.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

City of Coon Rapids Board of Adjustment and Appeals File Nos. 45839-20632, 45839-20633

Timothy H. Baland, Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C., Anoka, Minnesota (for relator)

David J. Brodie, Coon Rapids City Attorney, Douglas L. Johnson, Assistant City Attorney, Coon Rapids, Minnesota (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Connolly, Presiding Judge; Cleary, Judge; and Huspeni, Judge.

Huspeni, Judge[*]

In this certiorari appeal, relator challenges respondent-city's decision affirming a citation for the keeping of non-domestic animals, in violation of Coon Rapids, Minn., City Code (CRCC) § 6-503(1) (2011), and a citation for prohibited home occupation use in violation of CRCC §§ 11-703 (2011) and 11-603(5)(a) (2011). We affirm.

FACTS

Relator Scott Nellis owns residential property in an area of Coon Rapids designated "Low Density Residential-2" (LDR-2). On October 18, 2011, Leya Drabczak, the city housing inspector, received a call from a person known to her who reported that there was a large pile of shavings from animal cages in Nellis's back yard. The caller described a strong and foul smell emanating from the shavings. The caller further stated that during a conversation with Nellis, Nellis said that he bred snakes and possessed about 100 snakes in his house.

The following day, Drabczak visited Nellis's property and found several mounds of shavings in the back yard. She also discovered a pungent odor emanating from the mounds. She could detect the odor from the adjoining property. Drabczak then visited a website for a business that offered snakes for sale. The website identified Nellis by name, stated that he specialized in "California Kingsnakes, Ball Pythons, various boas, and Aussie pythons, " and provided a Coon Rapids post office box. Drabczak consulted with Keith Streff, an investigator with the Animal Humane Society, who concluded that it was likely that Nellis had a significant inventory of snakes in his house.

Based on Drabczak's investigation, the city obtained an administrative search warrant allowing Drabczak, Streff, and "[o]fficers and agents under their direction and control" access to Nellis's house "for the purpose of an inspection to determine violations of the Coon Rapids City Code, Chapter 6-500, Non-Domestic Animals, and Minnesota statutes." Drabczak, Streff, and several Coon Rapids police officers executed the warrant on October 26. As they entered Nellis's house, ammonia in the air burned their eyes and throats. One officer became physically ill after entering the house and remained ill for several days. The remaining officers wore masks for their protection during the remainder of the inspection.

During the inspection, Nellis admitted breeding, raising, and selling reptiles. He said that he owned about 100 snakes, along with other reptiles. He further stated that he raised rodents to feed the snakes. The inspection revealed roughly 300 snakes and 400 mice, along with a cat, lizards, iguanas, cockroaches, rats, and various feed insects in the maggot, pupae, or larvae stage.

After Nellis refused to remove the snakes from his house, the city issued the two citations in question on June 4, 2012. Nellis challenged the citations at a meeting with a city hearing examiner, who affirmed the citations on October 2. Nellis appealed the hearing examiner's determination to the City of Coon Rapids Board of Adjustment and Appeals (the board). The board held a hearing and issued an order on December 6 affirming both citations. The order directed Nellis to remove all prohibited animals, to reduce the total square footage "of his home occupation in the home to be no more than 25% of the habitable square footage, " and to reduce the ammonia level inside the house to less than one part per million and to an undetectable level outside the house. The board also ordered Nellis to pay a civil penalty of $300 to the city. This certiorari appeal follows.

DECISION

On appeal, Nellis challenges the board's decision, arguing that (1) there was not sufficient probable cause to justify the administrative search warrant; (2) the execution of the search warrant was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment; (3) CRCC § 11-603(5)(a) is unconstitutionally vague; (4) CRCC chapter 6-500 is unconstitutional because it does not have a grandfather clause; (5) CRCC chapter 6-500 violates the Equal Protection Clause; (6) the City of Coon Rapids lacked a rational basis for enacting CRCC chapter 6-500; and (7) the board acted arbitrarily and capriciously in affirming the two citations. We address each of Nellis's arguments in turn.

I.

Nellis argues that there was not probable cause to support the administrative search warrant because the affidavit in support of the search warrant "[did] not establish the required nexus between ...


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