Evans v. City of St. Paul

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Citation211 Minn. 558,2 N.W.2d 35
Decision Date16 January 1942
Docket NumberNo. 32928.,32928.

211 Minn. 558
2 N.W.2d 35


No. 32928.

Supreme Court of Minnesota.

Jan. 16, 1942.

Appeal from District Court, Ramsey County; Clayton Parks, Judge.

Action by Nathaniel A. Evans against the City of St. Paul to recover ‘back pay’ benefits as a city fire fighter for a period during which plaintiff, due to disability resulting from no injury received in the service of the city, performed no services as such fire fighter. From an adverse judgment, plaintiff appeals.

Judgment affirmed.

[2 N.W.2d 36]

Syllabus by the Court.

1. In construing statutes or ordinances the ascertainment of legislative intent is the aim. The construction to be adopted and used must be reasonable-such as the language chosen will reasonably bear; and where questions of government arise the construction should not be along technical lines but rather upon broad and practical considerations. This is especially so where, as here, administrative interpretation has been tested by many years of practical and satisfactory experience.

2. So applying the stated principles to facts summarized in opinion, held that verdict for defendant, upon which judgment later was entered, is unassailable.

Samuel Lipschultz and Melvin L. Lipschultz, both of St. Paul, for appellant.

Harry W. Oehler, City Atty., and Hilary J. Flynn, Asst. City Atty., both of St. Paul, for respondent.


Plaintiff's action to recover ‘back pay’ benefits ‘as a city fire fighter’ under the provisions of § 52 of the St. Paul charter met with an adverse verdict. His blended motion for judgment or a new trial was denied. Judgment was entered, and he appeals.

The portion of the charter section upon which plaintiff relies provides: ‘In case of disability through * * * sickness * * *, in case of firemen, such firemen shall, notwithstanding such sickness * * *, receive his salary, less the amount paid a substitute, if any substitute is employed, for a period not exceeding 12 months.’ (Italics supplied).

Two causes of action are pleaded. The first involves ‘back pay’ from February 1, 1938, to January 15, 1939, wherein $1,389.95 is claimed, being the difference between $1,782.50 which plaintiff would have earned if drawing full pay, less $392.55, the amount received by him after monthly deductions from his salary for substitutes. The second cause is for the period from January 1 to and including May 31, 1936, for which recovery of $858 is sought upon a like basis.

The record establishes the following facts: From January 1, 1918, until January 31, 1938, plaintiff was in the continuous service of defendant as a member of its fire department, except that from August 31, 1918, until the spring of 1919 he was absent on leave, duly granted, while he was in military service in World War No. 1. In 1924 he was promoted to the position of engineer of company 9, consisting of colored men only.

Some time prior to January 31, 1938, he was suffering from glaucoma in both eyes to such an extent as to be almost totally blind in one eye and nearly so in the other. This ailment was not caused by, nor was it the result of, any injury received while in the service of the city. Some time prior to this date, defendant, having learned of plaintiff's condition, notified him that he could no longer continue as a member of the fire department. Accordingly, he was placed on sick leave as provided by § 52. From then on until January 15, 1939, he was carried on defendant's payroll as a disabled engineer of his company. The

[2 N.W.2d 37]

amount of his compensation was $155 per month, less authorized deductions made for a substitute. In substance and effect, the other cause of action is similarly founded.

Plaintiff's claim has for its foundation-‘that in truth and in fact defendant did not employ a substitute in place of the plaintiff during any part of the period of time aforementioned, and that the sums paid by the defendant to the plaintiff during the entire period of time * * * was not in accordance with the charter provision hereinbefore referred to, and that the deductions made each month by the defendant from the plaintiff's pay were unauthorized’ and ‘in clear violation of plaintiff's rights under the charter provision hereinbefore referred to.’

So the issue presented, as gathered from the facts, is largely, if not wholly, one of law, and its solution depends upon the interpretation (if interpretation is needed and permissible) to be given the charter provisions and the civil service rules and regulations applicable to plaintiff, who concededly was within the classified service of the city.

In State ex rel. Gillis v. Goodrich, 195 Minn. 644, 645, 264 N.W. 234, 235, the city government of St. Paul is characterized as ‘unique in that its six elective commissioners and mayor constitute the city council. The mayor assigns the commissioners as administrative heads of the several departments of city government, among the latter being that of public safety, which includes the bureaus of police and fire protection.’ The issue in that case related to the powers of the comptroller. We reached the conclusion that he (195 Minn. 650, 264 N.W. 237) ‘was intended to be, ex officio, the budget commissioner, with the power to limit expenditures of any department,’ subject to review by the city council as permitted by the charter...

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