Junk vehicle ordinance not a traffic regulation; neither overbroad nor vague

by Hannah Dankbar

Village of North Hudson v Randy Krongard
(Wisconsin Court of Appeals, November 18, 2014)

In November 2011 Krongard received two citations from Village of North Hudson for violating article II, chapter 90, § 44 of the Village Code by having two junk vehicles (cars without current registration) in plain view on his property.

Krongard pleaded not guilty in municipal court, but failed to show for his trial. He showed up a few months later with counsel seeking to vacate the municipal court judgment against him by saying that the Village ordinance is void, unlawful and invalid as it is preempted by, contrary and inconsistent with Wisconsin traffic regulations. The municipal court refused to vacate the judgment.  Krongard’s appeal was also dismissed by the circuit court. Krongard then appealed to the court of appeals.

Krongard claimed the Village’s ordinance conflicted with state traffic regulations in chapters 341 to 348 and 350.  Krongard argued that The Village’s ordinance “impermissibly defines unregistered vehicles as junk vehicles and regulates unregistered vehicles on private property.”

The Village argued that its ordinance and the state traffic regulations could not be contradictory because they regulated “two completely different issues.”  While the village ordinance is “concerned with the upkeep of private property,” the state traffic regulations were concerned “with the licensing, regulation of, outfitting and operation of vehicles[.]”

The circuit court decided, “this regulation, because of the way it is written, its location within the Village Ordinances, and the Village’s alternative definition of junk vehicle, falls under the Village’s ‘health, safety, welfare’ power granted in Wis. Stat. § 61.34.”  It also found the ordinance was a constitutionally valid exercise of that ‘health, safety, and welfare’ power.  As a result, the circuit court denied Krongard’s motion to vacate the default judgment. Krongard appealed to the court of appeals.

Krongard argued that because the village ordinance concerns motor vehicles, it must be a traffic regulation. The Village argued that its ordinance only addresses the problem of uncovered junk vehicles and has nothing to do with the operation of motor vehicles on highways or city streets.  Rather, as the circuit court correctly noted it “simply requires owners of inoperable or unlicensed vehicles to keep their vehicles out of the public’s view, either by storage in a fully enclosed garage or by weatherproof, non transparent commercial car cover.”

The court rejected Krongard’s argument that the village ordinance is a traffic regulation. It stated that Krongard’s argument “ignores the fact that § 90-44 does not affect—directly or incidentally—motor vehicle operation. Rather, as the circuit court aptly noted on remand, it ‘simply requires owners of inoperable or unlicensed vehicles to keep their vehicles out of the public’s view, either by storage in a fully enclosed garage or by weatherproof, non transparent commercial car cover.’”

Regarding the constitutionality of the ordinance, Krongard raises due process concerns that the Village’s provisions in Article II are overbroad and vague.

An ordinance is vague if it is “so obscure that [persons] of ordinary intelligence must necessarily guess as to its meaning and differ as to its applicability.” It is overbroad “when its language, given its normal meaning, is so sweeping that its sanctions may be applied to conduct which the state is not permitted to regulate.” The court found “no indication that Krongard could reasonably have any question as to what constituted a violation of the village ordinance, or the consequences for such a violation.”

The court dismissed all of Krongard’s claims.

ND Attorney General: Junk ordinance not “zoning” to allow for use in extraterritorial zoning area

by Gary Taylor

North Dakota Attorney General Letter Opinion 2014-L-6 (March 13, 2014)

N.D.C.C. § 40-06-01(2) provides that the governing body of a municipality has general police power jurisdiction “[i]n and over all places within one-half mile . . . of the municipal limits for the purpose of enforcing health ordinances and regulations, and police regulations and ordinances adopted to promote the peace, order, safety, and general welfare of the municipality.” A city is also authorized to apply its zoning and subdivision regulations up to four miles beyond the city limits, depending upon the population of the city.

The city of Grand Forks’ extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction extends to four miles beyond the city limits.  In 1978, the North Dakota Supreme Court determined that a city has complete zoning control in this extraterritorial zoning area; however, since state law changes in 2009, the city and the county now exercise joint jurisdiction within the two to four mile area. The city of Grand Forks and Grand Forks County have signed a zoning and subdivision agreement which provides that the “[c]ity shall be responsible for all zoning and subdivision administration, activities and regulation for areas within the 2 mile area beyond the city limits.”  Grand Forks County has argued that the city’s nuisance ordinances regulating the accumulation of junk may be treated as zoning ordinances pursuant to the city’s general authority to regulate land and thus be enforced in the city’s extraterritorial zoning area.  The North Dakota Attorney General (AG), however, disagrees.

The AG looked to the North Dakota Supreme Court case of Jamestown v. Tahran, involving ordinances of the city of Jamestown that prohibited the storage or accumulation of trash, rubbish, junk, junk automobiles, or abandoned vehicles on any private property. The court rejected the argument that the ordinance constituted a zoning ordinance, stating, “[t]he plain language of the ordinance . . . indicates it is a criminal ordinance generally applicable throughout the City . . . and not a zoning ordinance.”  Similarly, the AG considers the plain language of the city of Grand Fork’s ordinances regarding the accumulation of junk to indicate they are criminal ordinances and not zoning ordinances.

The AG also noted that because the city’s junk ordinances are not zoning ordinances, there is no limitation on the county’s ability to enforce its own junk ordinances within the extraterritorial area in question.

 

Village junk vehicle ordinance broader than state traffic regulations, but validity of ordinance could not be determined

by Kaitlin Heinen

Village of North Hudson v. Randy J. Krongard
(Wisconsin Court of Appeals, March 12, 2013)

In November of 2011, the Village of North Hudson issued 2 citations to Randy Krongard for having 2 junk vehicles in plain view on his property, which was contrary to North Hudson Village Ordinance §§ 90-41 and 90-44. The vehicles were considered junk vehicles because they had expired registrations. In December, Krongard pleaded not guilty in municipal court; however, he did not appear at the scheduled trial, so the court entered default judgment against him. In March of 2012, Krongard moved to vacate the municipal court’s judgment because “90-44 is void, unlawful, and invalid as preempted, contrary to, and inconsistent with” Wisconsin state law.  His motion was denied. Krongard appealed to the circuit court, which also denied his motion, and then to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. The Village argued that Krongard’s appeal was an improper one because Krongard should be prohibited from appealing a default judgment. However, Krongard appealed the order denying his motion to vacate the default judgment. So Krongard’s appeal was properly before the circuit court and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

Before the court, Krongard argued that the circuit court wrongly denied his motion because the judgment against him was void, since the Village’s junk vehicle ordinance was invalid based on its conflict with state traffic regulations. An ordinance regarding traffic regulation “must be in strict conformity with state law,” otherwise it will be preempted. Krongard asserted the conflict stemmed from the ordinance’s defining unregistered vehicles as junk vehicles and regulating unregistered vehicles on private property. Wis. Stat. § 340.01(25j) does not include unregistered vehicles in its definition of a “junk vehicle.” Instead it defines a “junk vehicle” as a “vehicle which is incapable of operation or use upon a highway and which has no resale value except as a source of parts or scrap” and a “vehicle for which an insurance company has taken possession of or title to if the estimated cost of repairing the vehicle exceeds its fair market value.” Also, state traffic regulations allow for vehicles to be parked on private property with the owner’s consent and only permit municipalities to regulate unregistered vehicles on highways. So Krongard held that the Wisconsin Court of Appeals must conclude the ordinance is invalid, rendering his judgment void.

The Village counter-argued that the state traffic regulations are concerned “with the licensing, regulation of, outfitting and operation of vehicles” and its ordinance is “concerned with the upkeep of private property,” which are “two completely different issues.” The Village also contended that its junk vehicle ordinance is not inconsistent with or contrary to the state’s definition of a junk vehicle.  The Village argued that, under Wis. Stat. § 340.01(25j), a vehicle is junk if it is not capable of legal operation on the highway, and an unregistered vehicle is incapable of legal operation on the highway and therefore constitutes a junk vehicle.  Finally, the Village contended that parking motor vehicles is different than storing vehicles on private property.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals concluded that nothing in the state traffic regulations provides that a municipality can regulate unregistered vehicles on private property and that Wis. Stat. § 340.01(25j) defines a junk vehicle as one that is inoperable, not legally inoperable.  Therefore, the Village’s definition was broader than the traffic regulation. The ordinance requires owners of junk vehicles to notify and return the vehicle’s certificate of title to the Department of Transportation, but requires owners of unlicensed vehicles to keep their vehicles out of the public’s view. As such, the Village’s argument regarding the purpose of the ordinance and the ordinance’s language itself suggest that the ordinance is not a traffic regulation and the Village did not enact it pursuant to the power granted under the state traffic regulations.  Instead, it appears the ordinance may have been enacted using a different power, such as its zoning authority. However, because it could not be determined from the record whether the ordinance in question was a traffic regulation or part of a different regulatory scheme, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the order to the circuit court to determine the validity of the Village’s ordinance.

Legal non-conforming use still subject to junk and nuisance ordinances

by Victoria Heldt

Soo Township v. Lorenzo Pezzolesi
(Michigan Court of Appeals, October 25, 2011)

Lorenzo Pezzolesi purchased a piece of property in Soo Township in 1987 when the property was zoned commercial.  He began using it as a junk/salvage yard soon after that.  In 2001, the property was zoned residential and Soo Township passed a nuisance ordinance and a junkyard ordinance.

Subsequently, the Township filed a complaint against Pezzolessi claiming that he was in violation of the ordinances, that the property wasn’t zoned to be a junkyard, and that he did not have a license to operate a junkyard.  The Township’s Supervisor testified that the junkyard did not even classify as “commercial” since no commercial signs were up, the entrance was blocked on a regular basis, and no evidence of commercial activity existed.  Pezzolesi argued that his operation was a salvage yard, not a junkyard.  He claimed to have made sales two weeks prior to the trial and, when asked about employees, he responded that he called “Peter, Joe, and Bob” on the weekends when they were free.  He was unable to provide the last names of his helpers.  The trial court ruled in favor of Pezzolesi.  It found that his salvage yard constituted a commercial operation on property that was zoned commercial at the time of purchase.  The property was rezoned residential after the establishment of the salvage yard; therefore the salvage yard was a legal nonconforming use not subject to the license requirement in the zoning ordinance.  The trial court also found that Pezzolesi was not subject to the nuisance ordinance for the same reason.

The Township appealed, first arguing that the defendant abandoned his right to a nonconforming use when he ceased operating a “commercial” business.  The Court denied this argument, noting that the act of abandonment required “an act or omission on the part of the owner or holder which clearly manifests his voluntary decision to abandon.”  The Court found no such action.  Next, the Township argued that the Pezzolesi’s property was subject to the nuisance ordinance and the junkyard ordinance.  On this issue, the Court agreed.  It distinguished between a zoning ordinance and a regulatory ordinance in that “zoning ordinances regulate land uses, while regulatory ordinances regulate activities.”  It cited a previous case in which it ruled that “a regulatory ordinance can be imposed on a prior nonconforming user, but a zoning ordinance cannot.”  It found that in this case, the junkyard ordinance and the nuisance ordinance constituted regulatory ordinances since they governed people’s behavior regarding the operation of junkyards.  Similarly, the nuisance ordinance “address activity or conditions that could apply to any property, regardless of its location.”  Therefore, the ordinances applied to Pezzolesi’s junkyard/salvage operation.

The Court remanded the decision to the lower court to take further evidence and hear arguments on whether Pezzolesi’s operation in fact violated either of the regulatory ordinances.

LaCrosse, WI resident fails to establish “class of one” Equal Protection claim

by Allison Arends

John G. Reget v. City of La Crosse
(Federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, February 8, 2010)

John Reget and the City of La Crosse have had a long harsh relationship regarding Reget’s operation of a body shop/ automobile restoration business. The conflict between Reget and the City began in 1985 and has involved several citations for code violations, all of which were dismissed. One example of this strained relationship occurred In 1990 when the City cited Reget for a violation of the junk-dealer ordinance. The citation was later dismissed by Reget’s promise to construct a fence around his property, a promise that was never fulfilled. A second example occurred In 1995 when the City aimed to rezone 100 properties (including Reget’s property) from “heavy industrial” to “residential”. Reget confronted the City claiming he was being singled out by the rezoning. Again, the City compromised with Reget and agreed to refrain from rezoning his property as long as he was to construct the promised fence as well as comply with noise ordinances. Reget agreed to both requirements.

In 2006 Reget filed a lawsuit alleging that the City and various city officials violated his equal-protection rights by: 1. selectively enforcing its junk dealer ordinance against him 2. targeting him for rezoning in a discriminatory fashion 3. selectively enforcing its noise regulations. The district court granted the City’s motion for summary judgement, holding that Reget failed to establish that a similarly situated business was treated more favorably.

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, “prohibits state action that discriminates on the basis of membership in a protected class or irrationally targets an individual for discriminatory treatment as a so-called ‘class of one.'” The court clarified that the class-of-one theory must establish that (1) a state actor has intentionally treated him differently than others similarly situated, and (2) there is no rational basis for the difference in treatment. The court found Reget’s equal protection claim failed in the first step of the test because, “in order to prove a class-of-one claim the persons alleged to have been treated more favorably must be identical or directly comparable to the plaintiff in all material respects.” Reget did not provide evidence that similarly situated auto-salvage businesses were treated more favorably.

Although Reget presented examples of several other auto-repair shops in La Crosse that were not cited for violating the junk-dealer ordinance, there was no evidence that these businesses violated the ordinance at any time. Even more, the court noted that Reget’s citations were settled through voluntary agreements which cannot support a claim of class-of-one equal discrimination. The court also finds Reget’s claims that the City singled him out for rezoning irrelevant based on the fact that Reget’s property was never rezoned. Finally, in response to Reget’s claim that the City enforced noise ordinance requirements on him and not equally on his neighbors, the court found his claim to be “backwards.” He did not provide evidence that he was first cited under the noise ordinance and a similarly situated ordinance violator was not.

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