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The County of Hennepin by Hennepin County Attorney Freeman v. Colfax Lane

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

January 29, 2018

The County of Hennepin by Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman, Respondent,
v.
Colfax Lane, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Defendant, Sandra Hart, Appellant.

         Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CV-HC-16-5725

          Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Deborah L. Russell, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Jonathan L. R. Drewes, Caitlin Guilford, Drewes Law, PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Considered and decided by Johnson, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Ross, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         The housing-calendar program, also known as the housing court, lacks authority under Minnesota Statutes section 484.013, subdivision 1(a) (2016), to hear and determine any matter unrelated to "residential rental housing."

          OPINION

          ROSS, JUDGE.

         Hennepin County informed Sandra Hart by letter that drug and prostitution activity in or around her Minneapolis home constituted a public nuisance. The county later petitioned the Hennepin County Housing Court to permanently enjoin the offending conduct and prohibit Hart or anyone else from using the property. Thirty minutes into the scheduled hearing on the petition, the housing court found Hart to be in default for failing to appear, and, after she arrived an hour later, the housing court said she was too late to participate in the then-ongoing proceeding. Hart unsuccessfully sought postjudgment relief, and she appeals. Because the statute instituting the housing court specifies that it is established to render "determination[s] of matters related to residential rental housing" and Hart's home is not residential rental housing, the housing court lacked subject-matter authority to hear and determine the county's nuisance petition, and we reverse.

         FACTS

         An attorney representing Hennepin County sent Sandra Hart a notice of nuisance informing her that neighbors reported drug and prostitution activity in or near her Minneapolis home. The letter said that Hart's property constituted a "public nuisance" and warned that she had 30 days to abate. The county later filed a petition in the Hennepin County Housing Court, alleging that Hart failed to end the offending conduct and asking the housing court to order, among other things, that Hart must "evict all tenants" and that neither she nor anyone else could occupy the property for one year. The housing court scheduled a hearing.

         Hart telephoned the housing court about 20 minutes before the hearing was set to begin, saying that she was going to be late. She called again 30 minutes later and said that she was still waiting for a taxi. Thirty minutes after the scheduled commencement, the housing court began the hearing, announced that Hart was in default for failing to appear, and invited the county to present witnesses. About an hour into the hearing as the county attorney was examining the county's ninth witness, Hart arrived. She tried to cross-examine the witness, but the housing-court referee informed her that she was too late and that the court already found her in default. The referee recommended the entry of a default judgment and that Hart must vacate her home for one year, and a district court judge co-signed the recommendation as an order. Hart moved the housing court to vacate the judgment under Minnesota Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02 (2016), and the housing-court referee recommended denying the motion in a document also co-signed by the district court judge as an order. Hart appeals.

         ISSUE

         Did the housing court have the statutory authority to hear and determine the county's petition to enjoin an owner from occupying her home, which ...


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