by Gary Taylor
Pawn America Minnesota, LLC v. City of St. Louis Park
(Minnesota Supreme Court, August 26, 2010)
In 2007 a prospective pawnbroker was required to submit a zoning application, and an application for a pawnbroker’s license in order to operate a pawnshop in St. Louis Park, Minnesota (city). In June of that year Pawn America submitted just such a zoning application. The assistant city zoning administrator issued a zoning verification letter confirming that the intended use of the property complied with the City’s zoning code. Because of public concerns about the proliferation of pawnshops, the city council brought forward for consideration a moratorium on new pawnshops and a proposal to initiate a study in order to decide whether any additional conditions or restrictions on pawnshops should be adopted. Upon learning of the city council’s intent to vote on the moratorium Pawn America immediately entered into a lease agreement and submitted to the city a signed certificate of occupancy and land use registration application, and requested immediate issuance of a pawnbroker license. The city refused, and soon thereafter adopted the moratorium that temporarily prohibited new pawn-shops, and stopped any further processing of pending pawn-shop licenses. The zoning study was completed two months after the moratorium went into effect, and as a result of the study the city amended the zoning code to make pawnshops conditional uses which included a distance separation requirement between pawnshops, gun shops, liquor stores, and certain other business from being located within 350 feet of residentially zoned property. The separation requirement precluded Pawn America from opening its pawnshop at the proposed location. �
Pawn America asked the district court to declare the interim ordinance invalid because it was adopted for the improper purpose of delaying or preventing Pawn America from opening a pawnshop. The city moved to dismiss the claims. The district court dismissed Pawn America’s claims because the moratorium was not arbitrary or capricious. The court affirmed previous caselaw stating that moratoria to preserve the status quo pending further study of zoning are permissible. The court went further saying the mere adoption of an interim ordinance after learning of a particular proposed use of property does not, in itself, mean that enactment of an ordinance is arbitrarily enacted to delay or prevent the project. The Minnesota court of Appeals affirmed the district court, and Pawn America appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.�
The court examined the case in light of Minn. Stat. § 462.355(4)(a) which gives authority to a municipality, under certain conditions, to adopt a moratorium “for the purpose of protecting the planning process and the health, safety and welfare of its citizens.” It determined that the city enacted the moratorium to give it time to study the situation and make informed decisions for the long-term welfare of the city. While the court was cognizant of the hostility surrounding the location of a pawnshop at Pawn America’s proposed site, nothing in the statute precluded the city from adopting the moratorium when the city knew that it would affect only one particular entity, or that it was adopted in response Pawn America’s pending application. The court concluded that the city was acting to protect the planning process and the health, safety and welfare of its citizens and that the moratorium was not unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious.