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
R. Bradford, David E. Camarotto, and Kerri J. Nelson,
Bassford Remele, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for
L. Naughton, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for amicus curiae League
of Minnesota Cities.
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.
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.
GILDEA, CHIEF JUSTICE
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.
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 §§
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").
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.
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."
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.
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. The ordinance was
effective September 5, 2018. 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.
October 16, 2018, Saint Paul residents submitted a petition
to the Ramsey County Elections Office to authorize a
referendum on Ordinance No. 18-39. 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.
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.
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.
district court granted the petition. 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 ...