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Olson v. One 1999 Lexus MN License Plate No. 851LDV VIN: JT6HF10U6X0079461

Supreme Court of Minnesota

March 13, 2019

Megan Ashley Olson, et al., Respondents,
One 1999 Lexus MN License Plate No. 851LDV VIN: JT6HF10U6X0079461, Appellant.

          Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          Ronald Hocevar, Scott County Attorney, Todd P. Zettler, First Assistant County Attorney, Shakopee, Minnesota, for appellant.

          Charles A. Ramsay, Daniel J. Koewler, Ramsay Law Firm, P.L.L.C., Roseville, Minnesota, for respondents.

          Keith Ellison, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota Edwin W. Stockmeyer, Assistant Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Minnesota Attorney General.

          Mahesha P. Subbaraman, Subbaraman PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Americans for Forfeiture Reform.

          Jaimie N. Cavanaugh, Anthony B. Sanders, Lee U. McGrath, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Institute for Justice.


         1. Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976), applies to evaluate claims of procedural due process violations when the urgency of a prompt post-seizure hearing is the paramount question.

         2. The statute that governs vehicle forfeiture for driving while impaired, Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 9(d) (2018), is not constitutionally invalid on its face because the statute provides sufficient procedural due process in some cases. The vehicle forfeiture statute as applied afforded procedural due process to the non-owner driver of the vehicle. The vehicle forfeiture statute as applied deprived the purportedly innocent owner of the vehicle of due process.

         3. The proper remedy is the return of the vehicle to the purportedly innocent owner.

         Affirmed in part, reversed in part.


          THISSEN, Justice.

         In this case, we address the constitutionality of a provision of Minnesota's vehicle forfeiture statute found in Minn. Stat. § 169A.63 (2018). Specifically, we are asked to determine whether Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 9(d)-which sets forth the procedural requirements for judicial hearings related to vehicle forfeiture for a driving-while-impaired (DWI) offense-violates procedural due process rights guaranteed to respondents Helen and Megan Olson under both the United States Constitution and the Minnesota Constitution. The Olsons argue that the statute is unconstitutional on its face and as applied to them. The district court determined the statute is unconstitutional on its face. The court of appeals held that the statute is unconstitutional as applied to the Olsons. We conclude that the statute is constitutional on its face. We further conclude that the statute is constitutional as applied to Megan Olson, who did not own the vehicle, but is unconstitutional as applied to Helen Olson, a purportedly innocent owner. We therefore affirm in part and reverse in part.


         Megan Olson was arrested by the Shakopee Police Department for driving while impaired on August 16, 2015. Megan had three prior DWI convictions within the past 10 years. Generally, under Minn. Stat. § 169A.24, subd. 1(1) (2018), an individual who drives while impaired with three prior DWI incidents in the last decade may be charged with and convicted of a first-degree DWI offense.

         A first-degree DWI offense is a "designated offense" under the DWI vehicle forfeiture statute, Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 1(e), which meant that the vehicle Megan was driving at the time she was arrested-a 1999 Lexus-was subject to forfeiture, see id., subds. 2, 6(a). Consequently, Shakopee Police seized the vehicle incident to Megan's lawful arrest. Megan received notice of the seizure and intent to forfeit at the time of her arrest. Her mother, Helen Olson (the sole registered owner of the vehicle), received notice of the seizure and intent to forfeit shortly after the arrest. See id., subd. 8(b) (requiring the seizing agency to provide the driver and any persons known to have an ownership, possessory, or security interest in the vehicle with "notice of the seizure and intent to forfeit the vehicle").

         The DWI vehicle forfeiture statute, Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, states that when a driver in Minnesota is arrested on suspicion of committing a designated offense, the arresting agency may seize the vehicle used to commit the offense. See id., subds. 2, 6(a). As soon as the seizure occurs, all "right, title, and interest in a vehicle subject to forfeiture . . . vests in" the seizing agency. Id., subd. 3. Independent actions for replevin are prohibited. Id. The seizure results in administrative forfeiture without a judicial hearing, id., subd. 8(a), unless a person with an interest in the vehicle contests the forfeiture by filing a demand for judicial determination of the forfeiture-a civil lawsuit against the vehicle-in the county in which the vehicle was seized, see id., subd. 8(e)-(f).

         Once a demand for a judicial determination of the forfeiture is filed, subdivision 8(g) provides that the ensuing proceedings are governed by Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 9. The statute mandates that the hearing for the "judicial determination . . . must be held at the earliest practicable date, and in any event no later than 180 days following the filing of the demand by the claimant." Id., subd. 9(d). But this deadline is subject to a consequential exception: the hearing "shall not be held until the conclusion of the criminal proceedings" underlying the seizure. Id. In other words, the DWI forfeiture statute bars any judicial hearing on the seizure or forfeiture of a vehicle until the criminal proceedings against the driver have concluded.

         Because a seizure of a vehicle necessarily deprives the owner of the vehicle of her private property, the DWI forfeiture statute contains three provisions intended to alleviate potential hardship. First, subdivision 4 allows an owner to "give security or post bond payable to the [seizing] agency in an amount equal to the retail value of the seized vehicle" in exchange for having the vehicle returned. Id., subd. 4. Notably, however, "the seized vehicle may be returned to the owner only if a disabling device is attached to the vehicle." Id. (emphasis added).

         Second, subdivision 5a provides that any time before entry of a court order disposing of the forfeiture action, "any person who has an interest in forfeited property may file with the prosecuting authority a petition for remission or mitigation of the forfeiture." Id., subd. 5a. The prosecutor alone has complete discretion to grant or deny the request. Id. To grant the petition, the prosecutor must find that the forfeiture was incurred without an intent to violate the law, without willful negligence, or that some other "extenuating circumstances" justify remission or mitigation. Id. But even if the prosecutor determines that one of those circumstances exists, the prosecutor may still deny the request. No provision allows for judicial review of the prosecutor's decision on a petition for remission or mitigation.

         Finally, subdivision 7(d) provides a so-called "innocent owner" defense. See Laase v. 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe, 776 N.W.2d 431, 433 (Minn. 2009). A vehicle can be recovered if a petitioning owner can "demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the petitioning owner did not have actual or constructive knowledge that the vehicle would be used or operated in any manner contrary to law or that the petitioning owner took reasonable steps to prevent use of the vehicle by the offender." Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 7(d).[1] This defense has one key qualification: "If the offender is a family or household member of any of the owners who petition the court and has three or more prior impaired driving convictions, the petitioning owner is presumed to know of any vehicle use by the offender that is contrary to law." Id. (emphasis added). An innocent owner may only obtain judicial review of her defense by filing a demand for judicial determination. See id., subd. 8(f)-(g). But that demand can only be heard after the underlying criminal proceedings are completed. Id., subd. 9(d). The DWI forfeiture statute contains no exception allowing an innocent owner to demand a hearing on her claim before resolution of the underlying criminal proceedings.

         On October 7, 2015, pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 9(d), Megan and Helen Olson filed a timely joint demand for judicial determination of the forfeiture. They raised several defenses and claimed that the statute itself was unconstitutional for, among other things, violating their due process rights. Helen also asserted an innocent-owner defense.

         Following the filing of the Olsons' petition, a hearing date was set for February 11, 2016. However, due to the forfeiture statute's requirement that any hearing be stayed until the conclusion of the criminal proceedings that caused the forfeiture, see id., the hearing was continued several times. On October 12, 2016, just over one year after the Olsons' demand for judicial determination, Megan pleaded guilty to first-degree DWI. She was adjudicated guilty on February 13, 2017. Two days after Megan pleaded guilty, the Olsons moved for summary judgment on the forfeiture matter, arguing that the forfeiture statute violated due process by, among other things, failing to provide prompt review of the seizure itself. The forfeiture hearing was then scheduled for, and occurred on, February 23, 2017. By the time the Olsons received a hearing on the forfeiture of the Lexus, just over 18 months had passed since the vehicle had been seized. Throughout this entire period, the Olsons did not seek to recover the vehicle under the forfeiture statute's remission or mitigation provisions, nor did they post a bond for the vehicle. Additionally, Helen never requested an expedited hearing on her innocent-owner defense.

         Following the hearing on their motion, the district court granted summary judgment to the Olsons and held that the forfeiture statute violated their procedural due process rights. The court ordered the return of the Lexus to the Olsons, but stayed judgment pending appeal.[2] The court of appeals affirmed the district court, concluding that Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 9(d), was constitutional on its face but unconstitutional as applied to each Olson. Olson v. One 1999 Lexus, 910 N.W.2d 72, 77, 80 (Minn.App. 2018). In concluding that the statute is facially constitutional, the court of appeals noted that procedural due process "could be satisfied if the related criminal matter" in a given case "was resolved promptly and a review hearing of the vehicle's seizure . . . was timely held." Id. at 77 (emphasis added). As applied to the Olsons, however, the court of appeals found that the statute was unconstitutional because "the Olsons' forfeiture action was tied to the resolution of Megan's related criminal and implied-consent actions," such that "no hearing was held on the validity of the initial or continued seizure of the Lexus for over 18 months." Id. at 79. The court concluded that an 18-month wait "unconstitutionally denied the Olsons prompt review of the prehearing seizure of the Lexus."[3] Id. We granted the State's request for review.


         This case presents three issues. First, we must determine what constitutional standard applies in evaluating the Olsons' procedural due process claims. Second, we must determine whether Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 9(d), violates procedural due process requirements on its face. Finally, if we conclude that the statute is constitutional on its face, we must determine whether Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 9(d), violates procedural due process requirements as applied to Megan and Helen Olson's unique individual circumstances. We review questions of whether procedural due process has been violated de novo. Gams v. Houghton, 884 N.W.2d 611, 618 (Minn. 2016). When faced with a claim that a statute is unconstitutional, we "presume statutes are constitutional and will exercise our 'power to declare a statute unconstitutional with extreme caution and only when absolutely necessary.'" State v. Rey, 905 N.W.2d 490, 493 (Minn. 2018) (quoting State v. Craig, 826 N.W.2d 789, 791 (Minn. 2013)).


         Both the United States and Minnesota Constitutions provide that the government shall not deprive a person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1; Minn. Const. art. I, § 7. At its core, due process requires that the procedures used by the government before depriving an individual of his or her "protected life, liberty, or property interest" must "provide [that] individual with notice and an opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful way." Sawh v. City of Lino Lakes, 823 N.W.2d 627');">823 N.W.2d 627, 632 (Minn. 2012) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). This legal process is required to "minimize the risk of erroneous decisions," Mackey v. Montrym, 443 U.S. 1, 13 (1979), and "to protect against arbitrary deprivation of property," Fuentes v. Shevin, 407 U.S. 67, 81 (1972). "[W]hen a person has an opportunity to speak up in his own defense, and when the State must listen to what he has to say, substantively unfair and simply mistaken deprivations of property interests can be prevented." Id. Further, "due process, unlike some legal rules, is not a technical conception with a fixed content unrelated to time, place and circumstances." Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 334 (1976) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted) (alteration omitted). Rather, constitutional due process requirements are "flexible and call[] for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands." Id.


         A preliminary issue that we must address is whether we should use the test set forth in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530 (1972), or the framework set forth in Mathews, 424 U.S. at 335, to analyze and resolve the procedural due process claims raised in this case.

         Barker was a Sixth Amendment case that considered whether the right to a speedy trial had been violated by prosecutorial delay. See 407 U.S. at 515-16. The Barker Court identified four factors to be balanced in making that determination: "[l]ength of delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant's assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant." Id. at 530. In United States v. Eight Thousand Eight Hundred & Fifty Dollars ($8, 850) in U.S. Currency, 461 U.S. 555, 564 (1983), the Supreme Court applied the Barker factors when assessing procedural due process violations in a forfeiture case.[4]

         Mathews identified a different set of factors to balance when assessing procedural due process challenges:

First, the private interest that will be affected by the official action; second, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and finally, the Government's interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail.

424 U.S. at 335 (citing Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 263-71 (1970)). Further, when considering the nature of the private interest, we weigh "(1) the duration of the [deprivation of property]; (2) the availability of hardship relief; and (3) the availability of prompt post-revocation review." Heddan v. Dirkswager, 336 N.W.2d 54, 60 (Minn. 1983) (citing Montrym, 443 U.S. at 11-12). The parties dispute which test-the Barker factors or the Mathews framework-should apply.

         To decide whether the Barker factors or the Mathews framework applies, we must first identify the central question in this case. Because the Olsons do not assert that a pre-seizure hearing is required, we are left with the sole question of whether the 18-month delay between the seizure of the Lexus and the first hearing on the Olsons' demand for judicial determination-a delay driven by the mandate in Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 9(d), that no judicial hearing on the demand for judicial determination occur until after the related criminal proceedings are concluded-violates due process. As the Supreme Court has acknowledged, "there is no obvious bright line dictating when a post-seizure hearing must occur," $8, 850, 461 U.S. at 562, but "there is a point at which an unjustified delay in completing a post-deprivation hearing would become a constitutional violation," Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Mallen, 486 U.S. 230, 242 (1988) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). The question of delay raises two related due process inquiries.

         The first inquiry is to determine the urgency of the need for a prompt post-seizure judicial review of the substantive legal basis for the State's seizure of the vehicle. The Mathews framework is well suited to answering this question. The Mathews line of cases instructs us that the urgency of a prompt post-deprivation hearing is greater when the private interest is strong and the pre-deprivation procedures are relatively unreliable measures of whether the seizure is justified. Barry v. Barchi, 443 U.S. 55, 66 (1979); see also Fedziuk v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 696 N.W.2d 340');">696 N.W.2d 340, 342, 346-48 (Minn. 2005) (holding that when a statute fails to provide any requirement of a prompt post-deprivation hearing, the Mathews factors direct that a pre-hearing seizure of property is unconstitutional on its face).

         Once we determine whether a greater or lesser urgency exists, we must assess whether the particular 18-month delay here was excessive in light of the level of urgency. The Barker factors provide a useful focus when we consider whether the particular delay in question is too long: In light of the relative urgency, did the State act diligently and articulate good reasons for any delay? Did those deprived of their property attempt to avoid the delay by asserting their available rights? Were those deprived of their property "hampered . . . in presenting a defense on the merits, through, for example, the loss of witnesses or other important evidence[?]" $8, 850, 461 U.S. at 569.

         The parties dispute the answer to the first inquiry. Accordingly, that inquiry-the urgency of prompt post-seizure review-is paramount here and so we conclude that the Mathews ...

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