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State v. Vasko

Supreme Court of Minnesota

January 18, 2017

State of Minnesota, Appellant,
v.
Renee Anita Vasko, Respondent.

         Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Jody Winters, Lester Prairie City Attorney, Amber R. Donley, Assistant City Attorney, Glencoe, Minnesota, for appellant.

          Ted Sampsell-Jones, Mitchell Hamline School of Law, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for respondent.

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Michael Everson, Assistant Attorney General, for amicus curiae The Minnesota Attorney General.

          Aaron Van Oort, Faegre Baker Daniels, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae The Appellate Practice Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

          Chutich, J. Took no part, Hudson, J.

         SYLLABUS

         1. To determine whether a respondent's conviction is supported by sufficient evidence, an appellate court must first determine the meaning of the ordinance under which the respondent was convicted.

         2. The plain language of Lester Prairie Municipal Code section 5.5.1.2 (2014) prohibits a person from keeping a junked or abandoned vehicle or other scrap metal on her property for longer than 30 days without a special use permit.

         3. The State presented sufficient evidence to prove that respondent violated Lester Prairie Municipal Code section 5.5.1.2 because she kept an abandoned vehicle on her property for longer than 30 days without a special use permit.

         Reversed and remanded.

          OPINION

          CHUTICH, Justice.

         Respondent Renee Anita Vasko was convicted of a petty misdemeanor for violating Lester Prairie Municipal Code ("LPMC") section 5.5.1.2 (2014), which prohibits keeping certain causes of blight on a person's property. A divided panel of the court of appeals reversed. State v. Vasko, No. 15-1172, 2016 WL 1551666, at *2 (Minn.App. Apr. 18, 2016). The court of appeals held that the Lester Prairie ordinance was ambiguous and resolved the ambiguity in favor of Vasko. Under its interpretation of the ordinance, the court of appeals concluded that the State did not present sufficient evidence to prove Vasko's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

         For the reasons that follow, we hold that Lester Prairie Municipal Code section 5.5.1.2 is not ambiguous. Based on its plain language, it prohibits a person from keeping a junked or abandoned vehicle or other scrap metal on her property for longer than 30 days without a special use permit. We further hold that the State presented sufficient evidence to prove that Vasko violated section 5.5.1.2 by keeping an abandoned vehicle on her property for longer than 30 days without a special use permit. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the court of appeals and remand to the court of appeals for consideration of Vasko's remaining arguments on appeal.

         I.

         Vasko owns property in the city of Lester Prairie. Lester Prairie's municipal code prohibits certain blight conditions on residents' property, including the open storage of unregistered or inoperative motor vehicles. See LPMC §§ 5.5.1.2, 5.5.1.3 (2014). During a routine blight inspection on September 5, 2014, Lester Prairie Chief of Police Robert Carlson saw a maroon Oldsmobile parked in Vasko's front yard. The car's registration tabs had expired in 2012. Chief Carlson determined that the car violated the Lester Prairie blight ordinance.

         Chief Carlson attempted to contact Vasko. He knocked on the door of the house, but no one answered. He sent a notice regarding an ordinance violation through the regular mail but received no reply. On September 11, he sent a notice by certified mail, but it was returned undelivered. Finally, on September 29, Chief Carlson posted a notice on the door of Vasko's house.

         The notice stated that the car was in violation of the blight ordinance, instructed Vasko to remedy the condition within 10 days, and informed her that the city would tow the car if it remained in her yard "after thirty (30) days of service." It made no representations as to whether Vasko ...


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