Honn v. City of Coon Rapids

Decision Date17 December 1981
Docket NumberNo. 81-319.,81-319.
Citation313 NW 2d 409
PartiesLaron K. HONN, et al., Respondents, v. The CITY OF COON RAPIDS, Appellant.
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court

Tanick & Heins, Marshall H. Tanick and Samuel D. Heins, Minneapolis, for appellant.

Lefevere, Lefler, Kennedy, O'Brien & Drawz, Richard J. Schieffer and James P. O'Meara, Minneapolis, for respondents.

Stanley G. Peskar, League of Minnesota Cities, St. Paul, amicus.

Considered and decided by the court en banc without oral argument.

SIMONETT, Justice.

This case involves the decision of a city council refusing to rezone certain land from single-family residential to multiple-unit residential and commercial and the order of the district court reversing that decision. The city appeals. We conclude the review procedure used by the district court was incorrect and we reverse and remand for trial.

The tract involved is about 15 acres of vacant, wooded land lying in the City of Coon Rapids. It is somewhat triangular in shape, bounded by Foley Boulevard on the northwest and Coon Rapids Boulevard on the southwest, with the eastern boundary, the base of the triangle, bounded by a park and some single-family dwellings. The adjacent land on the opposite side of Foley Boulevard is devoted to commercial use, and on the opposite side of Coon Rapids Boulevard is an industrial park. The boulevards, which intersect at the west end of the tract, are busy, arterial streets. Thus the property, as the trial court put it, is "at the confluence of a mixture of commercial, residential and industrial districts."

Plaintiff-respondents, Laron, Galen and Carol Honn, purchased the property in 1968 and shortly thereafter petitioned to rezone about 6 acres to multiple-unit residential. The city's planning commission recommended approval but expressed concern that multiple dwellings should not be allowed until sewer service became available. In November 1968 the city council unanimously approved the planning commission's recommendation for the rezoning but no more was done and the ordinance was never amended.

In 1975 respondents filed a new application to rezone 14 acres from single-family residential (R-2) to multiple-unit residential (M) and one-half acre to general commercial (GC). This would allow construction of multiple-unit apartments on the 14 acres and various businesses on the half-acre parcel. At a March planning commission hearing, the commission presented its evaluation of the proposal. The commission stated the Honn development would be a buffer between adjacent commercial and residential zones and would be consistent with broader neighborhood plans and with the city's "goals and policies."1 The commission recommended approval of the rezoning application.

When the recommendation reached the city council, it ran into strong citizen opposition. At the first reading of the proposed rezoning ordinance, neighbors expressed fears that the development would destroy the residential character of the area, that increased drainage needs would require increased taxes, and that local recreational facilities would be overburdened. Possible alternatives were discussed at the second reading in June, but in the end the city council voted 4 to 1 to deny rezoning.

Respondents Honn sued the city in August 1978, bringing a declaratory judgment action, alleging among other things that the denial of rezoning "exceeds the zoning power" of the city.2 The trial court, instead of conducting a trial, treated the case as one "in the nature of certiorari"; it instructed the parties to prepare an "agreed upon record" of the proceedings before the city council and, after reviewing that record, issued its findings of fact and conclusions of law. The trial court concluded that the city's denial of rezoning was arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable. It therefore ordered the city to rezone the property as recommended by the planning commission. The city appeals.

We are presented with two issues, broadly stated as: (1) Procedurally, could the trial court, in fashioning a method of review, use the certiorari approach; and (2) on the merits, should the city council's decision have been reversed?


When the parties appeared in district court with their witnesses for trial, the court advised them there would be no trial as such. Rather, the parties were told to agree upon a record of what had occurred before the city council and present this for review. This was done. The city assembled the various documents and studies prepared by the planning commission, the city staff and respondents, which had been presented at the city council meeting, plus a transcript of the tape recording (somewhat garbled) of the hearings themselves, and the city council's findings of fact (64 detailed findings) and conclusions of law, prepared with the help of counsel and adopted by the council at a special meeting. It was this record, filling a large three-ring loose-leaf binder, that the trial court reviewed and on which it based its decision.

Appellant city argues it had no "trial" on its declaratory judgment action, that there was no true record, no opportunity to examine or cross-examine witnesses or to submit further testimony. Although both parties had originally protested the certiorari procedure, respondents now claim, naturally enough, that all relevant information was before the court and thus there was no need for a trial.

In using this procedure the trial court pointed out its only proper function was to review the reasonableness of the decision to deny rezoning. "It would be a disservice to the City Council," said the trial court, "if the Court entertained any evidence submitted by plaintiffs that was not before the City Council at the time and, thus, held them the Council to be arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable in determining the matter on evidence adduced before me and not before the Council." In other words, the trial court took the position the only evidence relevant on the reasonableness of the council's decision was evidence that had been presented to the council at its hearing.

Since the parties came to court with no record of the proceedings below, indeed with no findings of fact but only the minutes of its public hearing, the trial court instructed the parties to submit an "agreed upon" record. The trial court took the position that its limited scope of review dictated "exclusion of any evidence which was not considered by the legislative body at the time the zoning decision was made. A contrary ruling would result in a trial de novo, a result which is logically incompatible with the scope of review required." Our first inquiry, then, is whether the trial court adopted a proper review procedure.


Minn.Stat. § 462.361, subd. 1 (1980), provides:

Any person aggrieved by an ordinance, rule, regulation, decision or order of a governing body or board of adjustments and appeals acting pursuant to sections 462.351 to 462.364 may have such ordinance, rule, regulation, decision or order reviewed by an appropriate remedy in the district court, subject to the provisions of this section.

1. What, then, is the "appropriate remedy" for review? The statute does not say; but litigants have used a variety of remedies for a variety of zoning cases. The remedies include mandamus, certiorari, injunction and the declaratory judgment action.3

In none of our zoning cases, as the trial court observed, do we either approve or disapprove of a review by certiorari. Certiorari was used in Olsen v. City of Hopkins, 288 Minn. 25, 178 N.W.2d 719 (1970), to test denial of a building permit, and it was used in Ram Development Co. v. Shaw, 309 Minn. 139, 244 N.W.2d 110 (1976), to review the validity of a certain voting procedure in adopting a rezoning ordinance. Both cases, however, involved issues best characterized as quasi-judicial.

Certiorari is a venerable common-law right, recognized also in this state by statute. Minn.Stat. ch. 606 (1980). It is issued by a court to review the proceedings of a tribunal exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions. 14 C.J.S. Certiorari § 1 (1939). It is considered an extraordinary remedy to redress obvious defects of justice for which no ordinary remedy is available. At common law it issued only where there was a manifest injustice and not where there was any doubt as to the petitioner's rights. Its purpose, as section 606.01 puts it, is "to correct any proceeding." As this court has stated:

Certiorari lies to review the quasi-judicial acts and proceedings of a municipal body to determine — through an inspection of the record — if the body had jurisdiction, kept within it, and to examine the evidence, not for the purpose of weighing it, but to ascertain whether it furnished any legal and substantial basis for the action taken.

Beck v. City Council of St. Paul, 235 Minn. 56, 58, 50 N.W.2d 81, 82 (1951). Minnesota law is also consistent with common law in stating that certiorari is not appropriate to review legislative acts. Mahnerd v. Canfield, 297 Minn. 148, 211 N.W.2d 177 (1973). Our case law has also established that on certiorari a court should only reverse when, as a matter of law, the evidence did not provide a substantial basis for the decision. Haaland v. Pomush, 263 Minn. 506, 117 N.W.2d 194 (1962); State ex rel. Spurck v. Civil Service Board, 226 Minn. 240, 32 N.W.2d 574 (1948).

2. Since certiorari is properly used only to review quasi-judicial issues and because rezoning involves a legislative determination, certiorari is not a proper remedy for review here. The distinction between what is quasi-judicial and what is legislative is not always easy to make, but the argument that rezoning should be treated as quasi-judicial was made and lost in State, by Rochester Association of Neighborhoods v. City of Rochester, 268 N.W.2d 885 (Minn. 1978). In that case we reaffirmed our holding that in adopting or amending a zoning ordinance, a municipality acts in a legislative...

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