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Clark v. City of Saint Paul

Supreme Court of Minnesota

October 16, 2019

Bruce Clark, et al., Respondents,
v.
City of Saint Paul, et al., Appellants.

          Ramsey County Office of Appellate Courts

          Gregory J. Joseph, Halper & Joseph, PLLC, Waconia, Minnesota, for respondents.

          Lyndsey M. Olson, City Attorney, Megan D. Hafner, Assistant City Attorney, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and

          Mark R. Bradford, David E. Camarotto, and Kerri J. Nelson, Bassford Remele, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellants.

          Susan L. Naughton, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for amicus curiae League of Minnesota Cities.

         SYLLABUS

         1. A referendum on a Saint Paul ordinance that establishes organized waste collection services does not conflict with the requirements in Minn. Stat. §§ 115A.94-.941 (2018), that municipalities ensure that residents have waste collection services including through appropriate local controls, because ordinances that are not subject to the referendum fulfill those requirements and the Legislature intended that municipalities have broad authority in the process for establishing organized waste collection.

         2. A referendum on an ordinance that establishes organized waste collection services in the City does not impair the City's contract obligations under the Contract Clauses of the United States and Minnesota Constitutions.

         Affirmed.

          OPINION

          GILDEA, CHIEF JUSTICE

         We must decide whether the district court erred in directing the City of Saint Paul to put a referendum question, regarding the City's ordinance that established organized waste collection in the City, on the ballot for the next municipal election. The district court concluded that doing so would not conflict with state law regarding the process for organized waste collection and would not unconstitutionally impair the City's contract with the haulers that provide that service. In an order filed on August 22, 2019, we affirmed the district court and stated that our opinion on the legal questions presented in this appeal would follow. Because we conclude that holding a referendum on the City's organized waste collection ordinance does not conflict with state law and will not unconstitutionally impair the City's contract with the haulers, we affirm.

         FACTS

         Saint Paul is a home rule charter city. See Minn. Const. art. XII, § 4 (permitting "[a]ny local government unit . . . [to] adopt a home rule charter for its government"); Minn. Stat. § 410.04 (2018) (authorizing "[a]ny city in the state" to "frame a city charter for its own government in the manner" prescribed by chapter 410). The Saint Paul City Charter confers on City residents "every power which the people of the city might lawfully confer upon themselves." Saint Paul, Minn., City Charter § 1.03. The Saint Paul City Council exercises legislative power and takes actions by ordinance and resolutions. Id. §§ 1.04, 4.01, 6.01 ("The council shall exercise the legislative powers," and stating, "All acts of the council shall be by ordinance or resolution . . . ."). The City Charter also confers on residents "the right . . . to require ordinances to be submitted to a vote," which is known as "referendum." Id. § 8.01; see also Minn. Stat. § 410.20 (2018) (stating that a municipal charter may provide for "repeal of ordinances"). A referendum can be required by a petition signed by at least eight percent of those who voted in the last election for mayor, if the petition is filed within 45 days after an ordinance is published. Saint Paul, Minn., City Charter §§ 8.02(1), 8.05.

         The facts of this case, which are undisputed, center on the City's decision to implement organized waste collection services for City residents. See Jennissen v. City of Bloomington, 913 N.W.2d 456, 458 (Minn. 2018) (describing organized collection as based on a municipal contract for collection within a defined area). By law, municipalities must ensure that residents have solid waste collection services. See Minn. Stat. § 115A.941 (2018). Section 115A.941 authorizes municipalities to use organized collection, city-provided collection, or private collection. Until October 1, 2018, the City used private, also called "open," waste collection for its residents. See Jennissen, 913 N.W.2d at 458 (describing open collection as allowing residents to contract individually with collectors "of their choice").

         In July 2016, after the City's Public Works Department provided recommended goals and objectives for an organized waste collection system, the Saint Paul City Council embarked on the statutory steps for implementing organized waste collection. See Minn. Stat. § 115A.94, subd. 3 (2018) (allowing municipalities to "organize collection as a municipal service or by ordinance, franchise, license, negotiated or bidded contract, or other means"); Jennissen, 913 N.W.2d at 460 (explaining that Minn. Stat. § 115A.94 "outlines certain procedures related to the process of implementing organized collection of solid waste"). The City entered into a negotiation period with existing licensed collectors to develop a proposal under which interested collectors would provide organized collection services in the City. See Minn. Stat. § 115A.94, subd. 4d (2018). Negotiations officially began in August 2016, and were intended to allow the City and the consortium of collectors to work toward a mutually agreeable proposal for services.

         After negotiations were completed, the City Council passed a resolution on July 26, 2017, announcing that it wanted to ensure that organized collection could be implemented in the City as soon as possible. City staff was directed to negotiate a final contract with the consortium of trash haulers. On November 8, 2017, the City Council passed a resolution, on a 5-2 vote, authorizing the execution of the final contract with a consortium of trash haulers known as "St. Paul Haulers, LLC."[1]

         The contract between the City and St. Paul Haulers, which was signed on November 14, 2017, requires St. Paul Haulers to provide all waste collection services to residents, and confers on that entity the sole and exclusive right to provide waste collection services in the City during the 5-year term of the contract. Provisions of the contract establish the form, manner, and terms for organized collection by identifying permitted hours and days for service, types of collection services, special collection issues, and equipment issues. St. Paul Haulers is responsible for billing and customer service. St. Paul Haulers is not considered in default of the contract if its failure to perform is "due to an event of Force Majeure or for any breach by the City," and its performance is excused if prevented by acts or events beyond its "reasonable control," including "legislative, judicial, or executive acts." Based on staff recommendations, the City Council designated October 1, 2018, as the start of organized trash collection in the City.

         Once the contract was signed, the City was required to establish organized collection through "appropriate local controls." Minn. Stat. § 115A.94, subd. 4d. On August 22, 2018, the City Council passed Ordinance No. 18-39, which created chapter 220 of the Legislative Code, to regulate organized collection in the City.[2] The ordinance was effective September 5, 2018.[3] The ordinance requires residents to "deposit all trash" for collection at least once every 2 weeks, and all trash collected in the City must be "pursuant to a written contract with the City" that identifies the requirements for that service. "All previous private contracts between solid waste haulers" and residents were deemed "null and void on October 1, 2018," and no "new private contract[s]" between haulers and residents are valid. Id.

         On October 16, 2018, Saint Paul residents submitted a petition to the Ramsey County Elections Office to authorize a referendum on Ordinance No. 18-39.[4] The elections office certified the petition as containing the minimum number of signatures required by section 8.02 of the City Charter, and on November 14, 2018, the City Council accepted the petition as sufficient to satisfy the signature requirements of the Charter. But, based on the City Attorney's review and legal opinion, the City Council concluded that a referendum on Ordinance No. 18-39 is preempted by state statutes that govern solid waste collection, specifically sections 115A.94 and 443.28 (2018); conflicts with state policy; and would be an unconstitutional interference with the City's contract with St. Paul Haulers. Thus, the City Council directed the City Clerk not to submit the referendum on Ordinance No. 18-39 as a ballot question.

         On February 7, 2019, respondents filed a petition under Minn. Stat. § 204B.44 (2018), with Ramsey County District Court, challenging the City's refusal to put the referendum question on the ballot. Relying on Jennissen v. City of Bloomington, 913 N.W.2d 456 (Minn. 2018), respondents asserted before the district court that residents' charter powers can be exercised to challenge a municipality's waste collection decisions. Respondents also asserted that a referendum vote on the ordinance that establishes organized collection would not impair the City's contract with the haulers, because even if the referendum is successful, the contract would only be terminated, not unconstitutionally impaired.

         The City opposed the petition, asserting that the referendum power under a municipal charter is not without limits, particularly here, where the decision to use organized collection had been made, the contract signed, and the services implemented. Further, the City argued, a successful repeal of the ordinance through the referendum would prevent the City from fulfilling its obligations under a 5-year contract that grants the collectors an exclusive right to provide waste collection services and would thus unconstitutionally impair its contract with St. Paul Haulers.

         The district court granted the petition.[5] The court first concluded that a municipality's decision to implement organized trash collection under section 115A.94 is in addition to authority granted by other law, which includes the referendum power provided by the Saint Paul City Charter. The district court concluded, therefore, that there is no conflict between the statutory procedures that guide a municipality's decision to implement organized waste collection and a referendum on the ordinance that establishes that collection. Then, the district court rejected the City's contract-impairment claim, concluding that the contract's force-majeure clause encompasses a variety of ...


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