Connor v. Chanhassen Tp., 36953

Citation249 Minn. 205,81 N.W.2d 789
Decision Date08 March 1957
Docket NumberNo. 36953,36953
CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
PartiesDwight E. CONNOR and Gladys Z. Connor, Respondents, v. TOWNSHIP OF CHANHASSEN, Appellant.

Syllabus by the Court

1. Where plaintiffs are in apparent violation of provision of ordinance which imposes fine for each day of alleged violation by use of premises in nonconforming use, justiciable controversy is presented in declaratory judgment action to test validity of such ordinance.

2. Where the order dismissing action did not specify that it was with or without prejudice, it was, under Rule 41.01(2) of Rules of Civil Procedure, dismissal without prejudice and not a dismissal on the merits.

3. Under M.S.A. § 366.10 the township government may adopt zoning ordinance in the interest of public welfare; and even though reasonableness of such ordinance is debatable, it is not the function of the courts to interfere with the discretion of the legislative authority on such matters; if the regulation is not clearly unreasonable and arbitrary and if it operates uniformly on all persons similarly situated in the district which was not itself selected arbitrarily, it will be upheld.

4. The term 'comprehensive plan,' as used in § 366.14, is a general plan to control and direct the use and development of property in a township or municipality, or a large part thereof, by dividing it into districts according to the present and potential use of the properties. The term does not necessarily require provision for the accommodation of commercial and professional services in a given district; it comprehends that its provisions shall include and take the place of the numerous ordinances formerly enacted independently and covering such subjects as 'Sanitary Codes,' 'Fire Zone' provisions, parts of 'Building Codes,' and other types of regulations relating to restriction of buildings and lot areas.

5. The fortuitous exercise of the sovereign right of eminent domain may not give effect to the prohibitions of a zoning ordinance so as to deprive a person of his vested interest in the remaining portion of the condemned property for the purpose of carrying on an established business. Insofar as prohibitions of ordinance would deny the plaintiffs the right to continue the operation of their business, it constitutes an unreasonable police regulation restricting the right of use of the plaintiffs' property for business purposes contrary to the provisions of U.S.Const. Amend. XIV, and Minn.Const. art. 1, § 7.

6. Each case where the validity of a zoning ordinance is called into question must be determined on its own particular facts. Where condemnation by the state results in the taking of a part of a small tract of land, which part includes a building used in a business which was a nonconforming use under local ordinance, such intervening event of taking does not give effect to prohibition of the ordinance so as to deprive the owners of the right to continue the operation of such business on the remaining portion of the tract.

Reversed and modified.

Bowen & Bowen, Minneapolis, for appellant.

John A. Fahey, Chaska, for respondents.

MURPHY, Justice.

This is an appeal from a declaratory judgment action in which the plaintiffs, Dwight E. Connor and his wife, Gladys Z. Connor, sought to have the Zoning Ordinance for the Township of Chanhassen declared unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs own certain land in the township of Chanhassen upon which Mr. Connor operates a shop for sharpening lawn mowers and other types of general repair work. In 1952, the plaintiffs had to destroy their building pursuant to condemnation proceedings commenced by the State of Minnesota to acquire a highway right-of-way. The zoning ordinance was passed in March 1952, and according to its terms, Mr. Connor's shop constituted a nonconforming use of the land. However, any lawful use of the land at the time the ordinance was adopted could be continued, even though it was a nonconforming use, as long as it was not extended to occupy a greater area of land, was not moved to another part of the land, or was not rebuilt after being 50 percent or more destroyed. M.S.A. § 366.18. Mr. Connor petitioned the town board to rezone his premises as a business district. This petition was not granted but the board indicated that it would permit him to rebuild his shop and continue to operate it in the same manner as he had in the past. Mr. Connor did rebuild his shop and has been operating it ever since.

The zoning ordinance provided for the division of the township of Chanhassen into six districts, but the whole township was originally designated as a farm-residence district. After an amendment, this designation meant that land and buildings in the community could be used for (1) general farming or gardening; (2) commercial greenhouses and nurseries; (3) stands for the sale of agricultural products produced on the premises; (4) stockraising and dairying; (5) golf courses; (6) airports, cemeteries, and gun clubs; (7) one or two family dwellings; (8) public parks; (9) churches and schools; (10) colleges, libraries, or community buildings; and (11) offices of professional persons when located in the dwelling. After a later amendment, three sections of the township were zoned for industrial purposes. Business establishments could of course be built in the industrial zone.

Even though the plaintiffs have not been interfered with in the continuing of their business in the rebuilt shop, they are technically violating the ordinance and thus subjecting themselves to the possibility of being fined $100 a day while the violation continues. It was to eliminate this possible liability and to improve the marketability of the property that the plaintiffs brought this action to have the zoning ordinance declared invalid and unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs commenced their first action in September 1953, but it was dismissed in September 1954, upon their own motion. They then commenced the present action for the same cause the following day. The trial court found for the plaintiffs, holding that the zoning ordinance is an unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious exercise of the police power, and that therefore the ordinance is unconstitutional. The trial court placed special emphasis on the facts that the plaintiffs' business was inoffensive and not a nuisance and that this is a rural rather than an urban community.

1. The first issue in this case is whether there is a justiciable controversy between the parties here so as to permit the bringing of a declaratory judgment action. It is clear from the record that the respondents are violating the terms of the ordinance. Mr. Connor destroyed his old shop and rebuilt it on a different portion of his land. Section 11(a) of the ordinance reads in part as follows:

'* * * nor shall any such nonconforming use be extended to occupy a greater area of land than that occupied by such use at the time of the adoption of this plan; * * *.'

Section 11(f) provides that the owner of the building or land in or upon which a violaton of the regulations has been committed is subject to a $100 fine for each day that the violation continues. The plaintiffs claim that the ordinance is wholly unconstitutional and invalid. They are entitled to know whether they are subject to this considerable fine, regardless of the fact that the town board told them that they could continue operating their rebuilt shop. State ex rel. Smith v. Haveland, 223 Minn. 89, 25 N.W.2d 474, 174 A.L.R. 544.

The township asserts that a declaratory judgment action was an incorrect method to raise the question brought up on this appeal. The claim is that the plaintiffs should have exhausted their administrative remedies by seeking a review by writ of certiorari of the town board's action in failing to grant a petition to rezone the plaintiffs' property. M.S.A. § 555.01 provides in part:

'Courts of record within their respective jurisdictions shall have power to declare rights, status, and other legal relations whether or not further relief is or could be claimed.'

Section 555.02 provides:

'Any person * * * whose rights, status, or other legal relations are affected by a * * * municipal ordinance, * * * may have determined any question of construction or validity arising under the * * * ordinance, * * * and obtain a declaration of rights, status, or other legal relations thereunder.'

In Montgomery v. Minneapolis Fire Dept. Relief Ass'n, 218 Minn. 27, 15 N.W.2d 122, this court quoted with approval from an article by Professor Borchard in 18 Minn.L.Rev. 239, stating that the general purpose of the Declaratory Judgments Act is to afford an Alternative remedy which can be used whether or not further relief is or could be claimed. In a suit to test the validity of a municipal ordinance, this court held that a declaratory judgment action was proper, quoting with approval the following rule: "The existence of another adequate remedy does not preclude a judgment for declaratory relief in cases where it is appropriate." Barron v. City of Minneapolis, 212 Minn. 566, 569, 4 N.W.2d 622, 624. We are presented here with a controversy as to legal rights which requires judicial interpretation and are of the view that the declaratory judgment action was an appropriate remedy. Notes 5 and 29 following § 555.01 in 36 M.S.A. pp. 58 and 64; Arens v. Village of Rogers, 240 Minn. 386, 61 N.W.2d 508.

2. The township claims that the dismissal in the first case brought by the Connors concerning the validity of the zoning ordinance was in effect a dismissal on the merits. This contention may be disposed of readily. Rule 41.01(2) of the Rules of Civil Procedure states in part: 'Unless otherwise specified in the order, a dismissal under this paragraph is without prejudice.' The order did not specify either that it was with or without prejudice, and so under Rule 41.01(2) it was a dismissal without prejudice and not a...

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