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Thornes v. City of Waldorf

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

September 29, 2014

GEOFFORY O. THORNES, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF WALDORF, ROBERT S. OGELSANG, ALAN K. FLEMMING, KEVIN R. LINES, FRED D. GRUHLKE, THOMAS J. TRAYNOR, SR., GARY BURMEISTER, BRUCE URBATCH, JUDITH M. KOHOUT, and CURTIS C. COLLINS, Defendants.

Geoffory O. Thornes, 121 Railroad Street, Post Office Box 418, St. Clair, MN 56080, pro se.

Andrea B. Smith and Paul D. Reuvers, IVERSON REUVERS CONDON, 9321 Ensign Avenue South, Bloomington, MN 55438, for defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

JOHN R. TUNHEIM, District Judge.

In 2010, Plaintiff Geoffory O. Thornes acquired the J.A. Tyrholm Building in downtown Waldorf, Minnesota. Part of the roof had collapsed, but Thornes intended to make the necessary repairs and ultimately preserve it as a historical building. The City of Waldorf ("the City"), however, was concerned about the building's structural problems and the dangers they posed to pedestrians. In January 2011, the City gave Thornes until July 1, 2011 to make all of the necessary repairs. This was the beginning of several years of back and forth between Thornes and the City, which ultimately led the City to pass a resolution for the demolition of the building and to seek an order from a Minnesota state district court to enforce the resolution. In the midst of the state court proceeding, Thornes brought this action against the City and various individual city officials (collectively, "Defendants"), in which he alleges, among other things, that Defendants violated his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. Defendants move for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that Thornes' claims are barred by res judicata and collateral estoppel because the state court already determined that the building was hazardous and authorized the City to demolish it. The Court concludes that res judicata bars Thornes' claims because he could have fully and fairly litigated them in the state court proceeding. The Court will therefore dismiss the action with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Geoffory O. Thornes purchased the "Historic J.A. Tyrholm Building" (the "Tyrholm Building") in downtown Waldorf on November 9, 2010 for one dollar. (Am. Compl. ¶ 3, Aug. 14, 2013, Docket No. 31.) The building was substantially damaged when Thornes bought the property: "the gable roof section had fallen onto the loft floor due to weak trusses and heavy snow load." ( Id. ¶ 2.)

I. ONGOING DISPUTE WITH CITY COUNCIL

On January 11, 2011, the City sent Thornes a letter stating that the City Council voted at its January 10, 2011 meeting that Thornes had until July 1, 2011 to have the "building completely repaired so as not to cause any safety issues for the residents of the community if they wish to walk by." ( Id., Ex. C.) The letter also stated that the City Council wanted to "view the building and have you explain what exactly it is you are planning to do and the timeframe you are looking at." ( Id., Ex. C.) Thornes replied to the City Clerk, Defendant Judith Kohout, in a letter dated February 10, 2011. ( Id., Ex. E.) He explained the precautions he had taken to keep pedestrians safe, and that because the "roof, thankfully, has collapsed inward... to my knowledge, no exterior walls are tending outward in direction and should pose no danger to the public." ( Id., Ex. E (emphasis in original).) He also stated that "[o]f course, July 1, 2011 is quite unreasonable as a goal to have this building completely repaired' depending on what that means, " and that "[t]o date, I have no clear target date for completion of the new roof." ( Id., Ex. E.)

Meanwhile, Thornes declared a historical restoration of the building and underwent efforts to develop community support, ideas, and funding for the project. ( Id. ¶ 7-8.) This involved posting a notice on four bulletin boards along Main Street in Waldorf, which Thornes alleges that the City Clerk has admitted to removing soon after he posted them. ( Id. ¶ 8.) He also placed an "Idea/Guest Book" in the City library, which he alleges the City Clerk removed and has not returned. ( Id. )

On June 16, 2011, the City sent a letter requesting an update on repair efforts. ( Id. Ex. H.) The letter summarized Thornes' and the City Council's past interactions regarding the building going back to October 2010, when the City Council inquired about a timeframe and contractors for repairs, which the letter asserted Thornes had still not supplied to the Council. ( Id., Ex. H.) The letter stated that at the June 13, 2011 Council meeting, Thornes was "asked again to come back to our next meeting on July 11, 2011 and be prepared with a timetable or status reports on your progress" and reiterated the Council's request "to know how many hours you anticipate putting in this summer." ( Id., Ex. H.) On July 11, 2011 - after the City's proposed July 1 deadline - Thornes responded to the City's June 16 letter. ( Id., Ex. I.) He requested copies of all conversations the City claimed to have had with him and asserted his right to know if he was being recorded at City Council meetings. ( Id., Ex. I.) He also stated that the City Clerk had informed him that she had taken down fliers he had posted about the building and questioned the propriety of that, observing also that "[t]he intimidating nature of some questions and comments at the June meeting did not allow for an explanation." ( Id., Ex. I (emphasis in original).) He also provided a "status report, " suggesting that he would not be hiring contractors because of the cost and instead would do the repairs himself, but that progress was slower than anticipated because of his job "situation" and because his son was not helping him over the summer as he anticipated. ( Id., Ex. I.)

Thornes alleges that, "throughout the spring and summer months of 2011, " he "performed substantial restoration and cleanup work" on the building, including a "major improvement [which] was to shore up and brace the upper storefront wall, thereby alleviating any public safety issues for the residents of the community." ( Id. ¶ 13.) He also alleges that he "re-claimed approximately 16, 000 lbs.... of quality lumber during the warmer months of 2010 and 2011 from dismantled buildings, " and that he stacked the lumber in three locations within the building for future restoration work. ( Id. ¶ 14.)

On March 5, 2012 the City sent Thornes a letter informing him that, "pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 463.15, the Waldorf City Council intends to discuss at its City Council meeting on April 9, 2012... the hazardous and substandard nature of your building.... The ultimate passage of a resolution ordering you to make specific repairs to your property will be discussed." ( Id., Ex. L.) The letter warned that "[i]f such repairs [we]re not made, the City of Waldorf w[ould] seek a court order to demolish and raze the structure." ( Id., Ex. L.) The City sent Thornes another letter on March 20, 2012, inviting Thornes to a "Public Hearing regarding the building you own in Waldorf" on April 9, 2012, which would be "to discuss the options the City has, based on Minnesota Statutes, to deal with the hazardous conditions of your building and the fact that it has been without a roof since the Winter of 2009/2010." ( Id., Ex. M.) The letter further stated that "[w]e have discussed this situation, in person and in writing, with you on numerous occasions and nothing much has been accomplished" and that the "Council will make a decision" at the April 9, 2012 meeting and that "[a] resolution regarding their decision will be voted on at that time." ( Id., Ex. M.)

Thornes responded to the City's letters on April 4, 2012, stating that, until he received the March letters, he "had assumed work completed thus far was adequate, " again raising issues about the recording of City Council meetings, and asserting that "[t]here is no basis for the April 9, 2012 Public Hearing'" and listing several reasons. ( Id., Ex. N.) His reasons centered around both his assertions about the structural integrity of the building's roof and the historic nature of the building and community support for preserving it for historic purposes. ( See id., Ex. N.) Finally, he asked that the City "[p]lease immediately advise the Council to CANCEL the April 9th Public Hearing' as it does not conform to Minnesota statute and is a private property issue of harassment." ( Id., Ex. N (emphasis in original).)

The City nevertheless proceeded with the public hearing on April 9 during which it adopted Resolution Number 81 ("Resolution 81"), in which the City Council declared the building "to be a hazardous building." ( Id., Ex. P.) The resolution listed nine reasons for the designation as hazardous, including (1) the lack of roof, (2) the boarded up front of the building, (3) black mold in the interior, (4) the fact that progress toward restoration had been "mostly cosmetic rather than structural, " (5) the danger the building posed to children, (6) the fact that Thornes had been given two deadlines, (7) the fact that the windows lacked glass, (8) lumber and debris inside the building, (9) the possibility of rodents in the vacant building. ( Id., Ex. P.) The resolution also stated that "a motion for summary enforcement of the order will be ...


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