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Appeal of Krenik

Supreme Court of Minnesota

November 1, 2017

Appeal of John Krenik to a Vehicle Abatement Order at 1270 Cleveland Avenue

          Michael C. McCarthy, Julian C. Zebot, Maslon LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant.

          Samuel J. Clark, Saint Paul City Attorney, Virginia D. Palmer, Assistant City Attorney, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for respondents.

         SYLLABUS

         1. Minnesota Statutes § 168.10, subd. 1e (2016), unambiguously states that an owner of a collector vehicle must completely screen the vehicle and its outdoor storage area from ordinary public view.

         2. The Saint Paul City Council's decision that an owner of collector vehicles violated Minn. Stat. § 168.10, subd. 1e, was not unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious.

         Affirmed.

          OPINION

          STRAS, Justice.

         The City of Saint Paul issued an abatement order requiring appellant John Krenik to comply with Minn. Stat. § 168.10, subd. 1e (2016), which requires collector vehicles to be "screened from ordinary public view." Krenik had covered his collector vehicles with tarps and later constructed a portable fence across the front of the area where he parked the tarped vehicles, but the vehicles were still partially visible from public areas. The Saint Paul City Council upheld the abatement order, concluding that the tarps and fence did not satisfy the screened-from-ordinary-public-view requirement. The court of appeals affirmed. Because we conclude that Krenik's portable fence and tarps do not screen the collector vehicles from ordinary public view, and that the City Council's decision was not unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious, we affirm.

         FACTS

         Krenik owns two licensed and registered collector vehicles, which he stores on his property. See Minn. Stat. § 168.10, subd. 1c (2016) (providing for registration and licensing of collector vehicles). In 2015, an inspector with the City of Saint Paul Department of Safety and Inspections, acting in response to a complaint from a neighbor, inspected Krenik's property, where he found two collector vehicles parked in the driveway. The inspector issued an abatement order requiring Krenik to store the vehicles in compliance with Minn. Stat. § 168.10, subd. 1e, the collector-vehicle-storage statute, which specifies in part that collector vehicles must be "screened from ordinary public view by means of a fence, shrubbery, rapidly growing trees or other appropriate means." Krenik initially covered the vehicles with tarps and called the inspector, who told him that there would be no further action against him in the absence of another complaint. The submission of a new complaint led the inspector to issue a new abatement order, which once again ordered Krenik to comply with the requirements of the collector-vehicle-storage statute.

         Krenik appealed the second abatement order to a Legislative Hearing Officer, who upheld the inspector's decision. While the appeal was pending, Krenik constructed a portable fence across his driveway in a further attempt to comply with the screening requirement. Krenik claims, without contradiction from the City, that he built the fence as high as Saint Paul ordinances allow. Although the fence partially obscured the tarped vehicles, it did not do so completely. From the front, onlookers could still partially view the vehicles, both above the fence and through a gap between the ground and the bottom of the fence. The tarped vehicles were also completely visible from each side because the fence covered the vehicles only from the front.

         Krenik appealed the Hearing Officer's decision to the Saint Paul City Council. During a hearing, the City Council reviewed various photographs of Krenik's property, including those showing the tarps and the fence, and heard testimony from the Hearing Officer and one of Krenik's neighbors. Based on the evidence, the City Council agreed with the Hearing Officer that Krenik had violated the collector-vehicle-storage statute by failing to sufficiently screen the vehicles from ordinary public view.

         Krenik filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the court of appeals, which affirmed the City Council's decision. In re Krenik, 884 N.W.2d 913, 914 (Minn.App. 2016). In doing so, the court interpreted the collector-vehicle-storage statute to require complete screening of collector vehicles. Id. at 915-16. Applying its complete-screening interpretation, the court held that the tarps and portable fence did not satisfy the screened- from-ordinary-public-view requirement because onlookers could still partially view the vehicles from the street. Id. at 916. The court also rejected Krenik's argument that the City Council's decision was unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious, concluding that the reasons provided at the hearing were sufficient even in the absence of a written decision. Id. at 917.

         ANALYSIS

         At issue in this case is the inspector's second abatement order, which ordered Krenik to comply with the requirements of the collector-vehicle-storage statute. Krenik argues that the abatement order is invalid for two reasons. First, he maintains that the City Council, in upholding the inspector's decision, proceeded on the erroneous assumption that the collector-vehicle-storage statute requires complete screening of collector vehicles, when in fact all the statute requires is partial screening to obscure the vehicles' aesthetic qualities. Second, even if the collector-vehicle-storage statute requires complete screening, Krenik argues that the City Council's decision was unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious because it lacked an adequate explanation and reflected the City Council's will rather than its judgment. Neither of Krenik's arguments has merit.

         I.

         We begin with the interpretive question posed by this case, which is whether the collector-vehicle-storage statute requires complete or partial screening of collector vehicles from ordinary public view. Answering this question requires us to address an issue of statutory interpretation that we review de novo. Berglund v. Comm'r of Revenue, 877 N.W.2d 780, 783 (Minn. 2016). "The first step in statutory interpretation is to 'determine whether the statute's language, on its face, is ambiguous.' " Larson v. State, 790 N.W.2d 700, 703 (Minn. 2010) (quoting Am. Tower, ...


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