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Eich v. City of Burnsville

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

January 8, 2018

Kathryn Eich, Respondent,
City of Burnsville, Appellant, Ted Oakland, et al., Defendants.

         Dakota County District Court File No. 19HA-CV-15-2668

          Kay Nord Hunt, Lommen Abdo, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Valerie Sims, Heley, Duncan & Melander, PLLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Jeffer Ali, Carlson, Caspers, Vandenburgh, Lindquist & Schuman, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Paul D. Reuvers, Jason J. Kuboushek, Nathan C. Midolo, Iverson Reuvers Condon, Bloomington, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Susan L. Naughton, League of Minnesota Cities, St. Paul, Minnesota (for Amicus Curiae League of Minnesota Cities)

          Considered and decided by Connolly, Presiding Judge; Jesson, Judge; and Florey, Judge.


         Neither Minnesota law nor the National Manufactured Housing Construction and Safety Standards Act of 1974, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5401-5426 (2012) preempts a local or municipal authority from enforcing zoning, subdivision, architectural, or aesthetic codes applicable to manufactured home parks, provided that they do not involve construction or safety standards related to manufactured housing.



         Appellant City of Burnsville challenges the district court's order granting a permanent injunction against the city's enforcement of its city code within a manufactured home park where respondent Kathryn Eich resides. The city argues that the district court erred in enjoining enforcement of its codes because the city is expressly authorized by state law to enforce its codes within manufactured home parks when the codes are not inconsistent with federal or state laws. The city also argues that respondent's as-applied state constitutional claims for injunctive relief are moot. Because neither federal nor state laws preempt the city codes within the manufactured home park and because respondent's state constitutional claims are moot with respect to injunctive relief, we reverse.


         Among other sections, the Burnsville city code includes the city's zoning code and property maintenance code, and it adopts the state building code, which includes the state's Manufactured Home Building Code (MHBC). Before 2013, the city enforced its city code on a complaint basis, whereby the city building official would inspect a property and its neighboring properties after a citizen filed a complaint. Effective January 2013, the city adopted a proactive policy, whereby the city established the Licensing and Code Enforcement Department to enforce the city code and a schedule for conducting inspections.

         This policy stated that it was adopted under the city's authority to administer the implementation of city ordinances, subdivision regulations, and the Minnesota State Building and Fire Codes. If the city observed a violation, it would send the property owner a first-notice letter identifying the nature of the violation, providing the applicable ordinance information, itemizing the necessary actions to correct, and setting a compliance deadline of ten days. After a follow-up inspection, the property owner would not be charged if the property had been in compliance, but if the violation had not been corrected, the city would send the property owner a second-notice letter, giving seven more days to correct the violation and charging a $110 reinspection fee. After another inspection, if the violation still had not been corrected, the city would mail the property owner a citation reviewed and approved by the city's licensing and code enforcement coordinator, and the property owner would be charged a $50 citation filing fee and another $110 reinspection fee. If the violation remained uncorrected after the citation, the city would initiate a criminal complaint charging the property owner with the violation.

         Rambush Estates is the manufactured home park in which respondent Kathryn Eich rents her home lot. Rambush Estates is licensed by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), which has the authority to prescribe rules regarding the operation and maintenance of manufactured home parks to safeguard the health and safety of manufactured home park residents. Minn. Stat. § 327.20, subd. 2 (2016). Manufactured home parks are owned and operated by entities that lease space to residents, while park residents own their manufactured homes and related accessories. These rental relationships are governed by Minn. Stat. §§ 327C.01-.15 (2016 & Supp. 2017). Rental agreements must include "the rights, duties and obligations of the parties, and all rules applicable to the resident." Minn. Stat. § 327C.02, subd. 1(3). A resident may be evicted for violating park rules. Minn. Stat. § 327C.09, subd. 4. In accordance with Minn. Stat. § 327C.02, respondent is subject to the Rambush Estates park owners' rules and regulations. Pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 327.20, subd. 2 and Minn. R. 4630.2210 (2017), the MDH annually inspects Rambush Estates in accordance with its promulgated rules in Minn. R. 4630.0200-.2210 (2017), and it found no violations in its 2015 inspection.

         Before the city conducted its first scheduled inspection in Rambush Estates, it invited park residents, including respondent, to the Burnsville City Hall for a presentation on the city's proactive property-maintenance program. At this presentation, the city stated that there were problems with manufactured home parks because owners were not enforcing rules and multiple authorities were causing inconsistent enforcement, which led to fire and safety issues. At the meeting, the city stated that carports and exterior storage were prohibited and awnings could not be attached to manufactured homes. The city also sent respondent a letter warning about specific issues for which the city was looking, including trash receptacle screening, setbacks for accessory buildings, and self-supported awnings.

         In May 2015, the city code inspector inspected Rambush Estates and issued first-notice letters to 160 of the 223 home lots. The violations were primarily related to structure setbacks, carports, and awnings that the city deemed nonconforming. The city also identified lots that had exterior storage and trash containers in view. In July 2015, the city sent respondent a second-notice letter and an invoice for the $110 inspection fee. No criminal charges were brought against the residents of Rambush Estates.

         The lots that had carports received notices that demanded removal, but failed to state the reason that a carport was nonconforming or whether it could be made conforming. The carport notices cited a provision in the city's property maintenance code, which has since been repealed and replaced, but this provision did not address why carports were not permitted.[1] See Burnsville, Minn., City Code (BCC) § 4-8-3-2(G) (2015) (providing that "[a]ll accessory structures, including detached garages, fences and retaining walls, shall be maintained structurally sound and in good repair, and the garage exterior shall be the same color as the principal structure.").

         The setback-violation notices also stated requirements that were inconsistent with the city code. These notices did not cite to any city code provision, but the relevant zoning-code language, which has since been repealed and replaced, required that "[n]o accessory building or structure, unless an integral part of the principal building, shall be erected, altered, or moved within five feet (5') of the principal building." BCC § 10-7-4(I) (2015). However, the city's notices stated that accessory buildings must be five feet from the principal building or ten feet from a neighboring structure.

         The notices for trash violations required that trash be screened from view by at least 80% opaqueness. However, the city code provision cited, BCC § 4-8-3-5(C) (2015), which has since been repealed and replaced, required that garbage be screened pursuant to BCC § 10-7-18 (2015 & 2017), which requires that screens be at least six feet tall and provide 100% obstruction of the view from adjacent properties and the right-of-way. The notices cited the 80% opaqueness requirement from a prior city code provision, which a district court had found unconstitutionally vague in 2013.

         The residents of lots that had objects outside the home were notified that exterior storage is generally prohibited under BCC § 10-7-21 (2017). However, pursuant to BCC § 10-7-21(A), exterior storage is not prohibited; rather, like garbage, it is required to be screened in accordance with BCC § 10-7-18. Additionally, BCC § 10-7-18(F)(3) (2017) requires objects that have "existing uses" to comply with screening rules within 30 days' notice. The city's notices did not provide such an exception for objects in use, such as the wheelbarrow for which Kathryn Eich was cited.

         The notices for awning violations demanded the awnings be detached, citing BCC § 4-8-3-3 (2015), which has since been repealed and replaced. However, BCC § 4-8-3-3(I) and (K) did not require that awnings and other attached appurtenances be "detached" from manufactured homes. They required proper anchorage. In his deposition, the city inspector admitted that the city code provisions cited in the notices did not require that awnings be detached and that individuals who received awning-related notices would not understand why they were being ordered to remove their awnings.

         In June 2015, the city sent another letter regarding carports and awnings within Rambush Estates, explaining that the structures must comply with the state building code. This letter outlined the state's variance application process.

         The city's first-violation notices stated that respondent had the right to appeal a compliance order, to the city manager, in writing, accompanied by a filing fee, and within five days of the compliance order's service. However, this appeals language was taken from the city code's business regulations section, which applies to business rental license holders. BCC § 3-28-9(F) (2017). The notices also stated that any unpaid fee would be assessed against the property in accordance with Minnesota law, but did not identify the assessment statute or assessment appeals process. The district court found that Minn. R. 1350.5900 (2017) may have adequately governed the appeals process because it allows an aggrieved person to appeal to the commissioner of labor and industry any grievance regarding Minn. R. 1350.3900-.5700 (2017), which are the state rules governing Minn. Stat. §§ 327.31-.36 (2016), the state's MHBC. However, the district court ultimately found that respondent was neither notified of an applicable appeals process nor notified that the city was enforcing these state rules. Instead, respondent was notified that she violated provisions of the city's property-maintenance and zoning codes and was informed about an inapplicable appeals process with the city.

         Respondent commenced this proposed class action seeking damages and injunctive relief and alleging that the city's enforcement within Rambush Estates was preempted by federal and state law and violated her due process rights under the Minnesota Constitution. The district court granted class certification and temporary injunctive relief, enjoining the city from (1) communicating with respondent, (2) collecting or assessing fees from respondent, (3) notifying respondent of violations, (4) ...

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