Anoka County District Court File No. 02-CV-11-2157
Paul P. Sarratori, Mesenbourg & Sarratori Law Offices, P.A., Coon Rapids, Minnesota (for respondent)
Karen K. Kurth, Barna, Guzy & Steffen, Ltd., Coon Rapids, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Ross, Judge.
In a vehicle-forfeiture case, the district court denied the city's motion to vacate a default judgment entered in favor of the vehicle owner. Because the district court erred in its determination that the city failed to make a strong showing regarding excusable neglect or mistake, we reverse and remand.
On March 21, 2011, respondent Kirby Hanson was stopped in his 1950 DeSoto by the St. Francis Police Department, arrested for second-degree driving while impaired (DWI), and served with a notice of seizure and intent to forfeit vehicle. Hanson had two prior DWI convictions within ten years. He timely requested a judicial determination of the forfeiture under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 8(f) (2012), alleging that the vehicle was not used to commit a "designated offense" or a "designated license revocation."
On May 16, 2011, Hanson pleaded guilty to third-degree DWI under Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 1(5) (2010), under the conditions described in Minn. Stat. § 169A.26, subd. 1 (2010). Hanson challenged his March 28, 2011 license revocation in a separate implied-consent proceeding, which was delayed pending the outcome of the "source code" litigation. See In Re Source Code Evidentiary Hearings, 816 N.W.2d 525 (Minn. 2012) (affirming the district court's ruling in statewide challenges to the reliability of Intoxilyzer 5000EN test results based on alleged defects in the Intoxilyzer 5000EN source code).
On October 24, 2011, the city moved for summary judgment on the vehicle forfeiture under the "designated offense" provision of Minn. Stat. § 169A.63 (2012). One week later, we decided Patino v. One 2007 Chevrolet, VIN No. 1GNFC16017J255427, Texas License Plate No. 578VYH, 805 N.W.2d 906 (Minn.App. 2011), concluding that for vehicle forfeitures under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subds. 6, 9(f), it is not sufficient that the driving behavior constituted the commission of a designated offense. Patino, 805 N.W.2d at 909. We held that if a vehicle forfeiture is premised on a designated offense, the forfeited vehicle must be returned if the party is not convicted of a designated offense. Id. Second-degree DWI is a "designated offense" under the statute, but third-degree DWI is not. Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 1(e).
In light of our decision in Patino, the city moved for a continuance until Hanson's implied-consent challenge was resolved. The city argued that although the focus of its summary-judgment motion had been the "designated offense" provision, the "designated license revocation" provision also supported forfeiture. A "designated license revocation" includes a license revocation for test failure within ten years of two or more DWI convictions. Minn. Stat. §§ 169A.63, subd. 1(d), .03, subd. 22 (2012). The district court requested additional briefing on the issue and, on January 4, 2012, continued the forfeiture matter because the implied-consent matter "must be resolved in order for a just adjudication of the present forfeiture matter." The district court's order notes that the city agreed to accept a $12, 500 bond for return of the vehicle.
In late August 2012, the license-revocation matter was still pending, and the next implied-consent hearing was scheduled for October 26. Hanson and the city stipulated to a continuance of the forfeiture case "to a date after October 26, 2012 or until the implied-consent matter has been resolved." The stipulation references the January 4, 2012 order. The August 29 order states that "[u]pon stipulation of the parties, it is hereby ordered that the above-entitled matter be continued until October 29, 2012." The parties agree that counsel jointly requested that the trial be put on the calendar for October 29. But assistant city attorney Karen Kurth denies under oath having received the August 29 order or a September 5 e-mail confirming the October 29 trial date.
On October 26, the implied-consent hearing was continued until December 21. Counsel for the city failed to appear in the forfeiture matter on October 29. On Hanson's request, the district court ordered the return of the vehicle, concluding that Hanson was not convicted of a "designated offense" and noting the city's failure to appear. On November 13, the city moved under Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 and 62.01 to stay enforcement and vacate the judgment. The city argued that (1) it has a reasonable defense on the merits based on a designated license revocation; (2) counsel's failure to appear was reasonable in light of the lack of formal notice; (3) the city acted with due diligence after receiving notice of entry of judgment; and (4) no prejudice would result to Hanson, as the parties had stipulated to continue the matter until resolution of the implied-consent matter. The district court heard the motion on January 3, 2013. Hanson's license revocation was judicially sustained on January 15, 2013. On January 25, the district court ...