Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CV-11-24739.
David L. Shulman, Craig Buske, Law Office of David L. Shulman PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)
Susan L. Segal, Minneapolis City Attorney, Gregory Sautter, Kristin R. Sarff, Assistant City Attorneys, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Hooten, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Stauber, Judge.
In this assessment matter, appellant challenges the district court's grant of summary judgment to respondent city. Appellant argues that (1) the city's assessment appeal procedures are inadequate and the city failed to adequately review the assessments it adopted; (2) two city ordinances are unconstitutionally vague; (3) the city's vacant-building registration (VBR) fee does not reflect the regulatory costs associated with his vacant buildings; (4) the district court erred in ordering reassessments for only one of eight properties for which the parties agreed reassessment was warranted; and (5) the city did not provide proper notice of sidewalk-repair assessments. We affirm.
The material facts are undisputed. Appellant Steven Meldahl owns 85 rental properties located in respondent City of Minneapolis. From approximately 2008 through 2011, the properties accrued delinquent utility (water, sewage, and solid waste) bills, and the city conducted nuisance-abatement work and sidewalk repairs to address uncorrected code violations. Additionally, the city determined that three of Meldahl's properties were subject to a VBR fee.
Meldahl did not challenge the delinquent utility bills or the VBR fees. Meldahl did not make the repairs or corrections ordered by the city and appealed only two of the administrative citations relating to nuisance abatement. Evidentiary hearings were held concerning the two citations (one of which Meldahl attended), and the citations were affirmed.
When Meldahl failed to pay the bills, fees, and citations, the city issued notices of intent to assess. Meldahl challenged many of the assessments, and assessment appeal hearings were held on at least 12 separate dates in 2010 and 2011. Meldahl participated in some of these hearings. Hearing officers reviewed the city's proposed assessments and concluded that they were supported by the evidence, but also reduced some of the amounts. Two properties are illustrative of the varied procedural history:
This property accrued $305.26 in delinquent water and sewer charges from October 2009 through February 2010. It also incurred a $60 snow-removal charge relating to solid-waste removal. Meldahl received notice of the $365.26 unpaid balance. On June 20, 2011, the city sent Meldahl a notice stating that if the unpaid balance was not paid by November 1, 2011, it would be submitted for assessment to the property taxes. A public hearing was held on September 29, 2011, in which Meldahl participated. The hearing officer issued a written decision, determining that the water charges were substantiated but that the snow-removal charge was not. Accordingly, the hearing officer reduced the city's proposed assessment by $60 to $305.26.
On April 14, 2010, the city notified Meldahl by letter that an April 8 inspection of the property revealed a code violation in the form of vehicles parked on the lawn in the backyard. The city ordered correction by April 25, 2010. On April 26, reinspection revealed no correction. The inspector subsequently issued an administrative citation for failure to correct the violation. Meldahl appealed the administrative citation. A hearing was held on July 27, 2010, but Meldahl did not attend. On July 29, 2010, the hearing officer issued a written decision ordering Meldahl to pay a civil penalty of $200. On August 6, 2010, the decision was mailed to Meldahl with a letter that explained how to make payment and noted that, if payment was not made, a penalty would accrue and an unpaid fine may be assessed. The letter also advised Meldahl that he could appeal the administrative-citation decision to this court. Meldahl neither appealed the decision nor paid the fine.
On March 17, 2011, the city sent Meldahl a notice of intent to assess the unpaid fine against the property taxes, noting a public hearing on April 21, 2011. Meldahl appealed the proposed assessment but did not appear at the assessment hearing. The hearing officer issued a written decision, determining that the city had complied with all substantive and procedural requirements, including timely notice, and ordered the assessment of $200 plus a $20 late fee. The notice of decision stated that the city council would adopt the assessment at its November 18, 2011 meeting.
At two separate meetings (October 21, 2011—sidewalk repairs; November 18, 2011—all other assessments), the city council adopted all of the challenged assessments. In all, the city levied 144 special assessments on Meldahl's property taxes (96 utility-bill assessments, 44 nuisance-abatement-related assessments, and 4 sidewalk-repair assessments). Meldahl appealed the determination of the assessments to the district court and moved for summary judgment, arguing that "[a]ll of the assessments should be set aside because the assessment proceedings conducted by the City failed to comply with the most basic notions of due process."
The city also moved for summary judgment, arguing that (1) the utility, nuisance-abatement, and VBR-fee assessments were properly adopted; (2) the appeal of the sidewalk repairs was untimely; and (3) eight of the assessments should be reduced or reassessed in light of notice defects or discrepancies between the hearing officer's decision and the city council's action. The district court ...