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Clark v. City of Saint Paul

Supreme Court of Minnesota

October 16, 2019

Bruce CLARK, et al., Respondents,
CITY OF SAINT PAUL, et al., Appellants.

Page 335


         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.

Page 336

          Ramsey County

          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.


         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

Page 337

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.


         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

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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, ...

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