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Anderson v. City of St. Paul

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 1, 2017

Leonard N. Anderson; Carol D. Berg; Carol D. Berg LLC Plaintiffs - Appellants
v.
City of St. Paul, Minnesota, a Minnesota Charter City; Steven Magner, both individually and in his official capacity as an employee of the City of St. Paul, Minnesota; Kathy Lantry; Melvin Carter; Dave Thune; Pat Harris; Russ Stark; Lee Helgen; Don Bostrom, both individually and in their capacities as members of the City Council of the City of St. Paul; Kamish Excavating, Inc., a Minnesota corporation Defendants-Appellees

          Submitted: November 16, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis

          Before BENTON and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges, and STRAND, District Judge. [1]

          SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge.

         Leonard Anderson appeals the district court's[2] order dismissing his federal and state law claims arising from a nuisance abatement carried out on his land. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm.

         I.

         Mr. Anderson owns a 2.3-acre lot in St. Paul, Minnesota where he collects and stores, among other things, vehicles, trailers, commercial storage units, barrels, boats, and broken lawn mowers. Branding the collection a public nuisance, the City of St. Paul has tried for years to make Mr. Anderson clean up his lot. Indeed, this appeal is only the latest development in an ongoing struggle between Mr. Anderson and the city, one that has spawned property inspections, nuisance abatements, city council hearings, and now both state and federal lawsuits.

         Just before Christmas 2011, the city issued a "notice to proceed with nuisance abatement" instructing city contractor Kamish Excavation to remove and dispose of various items of personal property stored on Mr. Anderson's lot. A month earlier, the city had ordered Mr. Anderson to cure the nuisance on his own and warned him that failure to do so could lead to an abatement by the city. Mr. Anderson did not cure the nuisance but appealed to the city council. When he failed to attend his legislative hearing, the council denied the appeal but granted an extension for Anderson to clean up the nuisance himself. The deadline arrived and the nuisance remained, so Kamish, in accordance with the city's instructions, entered Anderson's land and completed the abatement. Mr. Anderson promptly sued the city and two of its officials in the Ramsey County District Court, alleging violations of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, along with state constitutional claims, trespass, and conversion. In addition to Mr. Anderson, the plaintiffs were Anderson's long-term companion Carol Berg and her business, Berg LLC. Ms. Berg and Berg LLC were included partly because one of the items removed from Mr. Anderson's property, a commercial shipping container, belonged to Berg LLC. The trial court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on all claims and entered final judgment against the plaintiffs. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed, and the Minnesota Supreme Court denied review.

         Unsuccessful in state court, Anderson, Berg, and Berg LLC (collectively, Appellants) next filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, again challenging the 2011 abatement.[3] They named the city, a city employee, seven city counselors, and the city contractor as defendants. The complaint alleged violations of the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as state constitutional claims, conversion, negligence, and violations of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. The district court held that claim preclusion prevents the Appellants from relitigating their federal claims arising from the 2011 abatement because those claims already were or could have been adjudicated in the 2012 state court action. In doing so the district court rejected Anderson's argument that his federal claims are for "continuing wrongs, " that is, failure to return the abated property, which Anderson claimed did not occur until after the state litigation ended. The court noted that Anderson's federal complaint did not raise a continuing wrong claim and, even if it had, the claim would fail because it does not allege ongoing conduct but rather ongoing harm-interrupted use of property-which could have been redressed by the state court had Anderson prevailed. Having disposed of the federal claims arising from the 2011 abatement, the district court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims and dismissed the case.

         II.

         A district court's grant of a motion to dismiss is reviewed de novo, with all reasonable inferences construed in favor of the nonmovant. E-Shops Corp. v. U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n, 678 F.3d 659, 662 (8th Cir. 2012).

         Minnesota law governs the preclusive effect of a prior Minnesota state court judgment. See Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 86 ("A valid and final judgment of a state court has the same effects under the rules of res judicata in a subsequent action in a federal court that the judgment has by the law of the state in which the judgment was rendered . . . ."); see also Hillary v. TransWorld Airlines, Inc., 123 F.3d 1041, 1043 (8th Cir. 1997) ("[T]he res judicata effect of the first forum's judgment is governed by the first forum's law, not by the law of the second forum.") (internal quotation marks omitted). Under Minnesota's claim preclusion doctrine (also known as "res judicata"), claims that were or could have been adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction cannot be relitigated in another court. Hauschildt v. Beckingham, 686 N.W.2d 829, 837 (Minn. 2004). The doctrine "applies as an absolute bar to a subsequent claim when (1) the earlier claim involved the same set of factual circumstances; (2) the earlier claim involved the same parties or their privies; (3) there was a final judgment on the merits; [and] (4) the estopped party had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the matter." Id. at 840. Applying these elements to the case at hand, we hold that Appellants' federal action challenging the 2011 nuisance abatement is precluded by the summary judgment granted in the Ramsey County District Court and affirmed by the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Accordingly, we affirm.

         A. Same Set of Factual Circumstances

         "The common test for determining whether a former judgment is a bar to a subsequent action is to inquire whether the same evidence will sustain both actions." Id. at 840-41 (internal quotation marks omitted). It follows that, if facts giving rise to a claim in the second action did not occur until after the first action terminates, claim preclusion would not bar the subsequent claim. See Mach v. Wells Concrete Prods. Co., 866 N.W.2d 921, 925 (Minn. 2015) ("Claims are not considered the same cause of action if the right to assert the second claim did not arise at the same time as the right to assert the first claim.") (internal quotation marks omitted). Appellants argue that their federal complaint "was entirely based on a new set of facts occurring after the dismissal of the [state court suit]." Though not a model of clarity on this point, Appellants' brief indicates that, while litigating in state court, Appellants did not and could not have known that city employees retained Mr. Anderson's abated ...


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