HNA Properties v. Monica Moore. MN landlord tenant, statutory costs
Monica Moore's February 2013 rent was late. On February 6, her landlord, HNA Properties, filed an eviction complaint in Hennepin County. She filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP), and the district court granted this request. She then filed an answer. She also asked to have the case dismissed, since the landlord had not filed a Power of Authority form along with the complaint, as required by Minnesota Rule of General Practice 603.
A hearing was held, and the district court referee agreed that the required form was missing. Therefore, the case was dismissed without prejudice. Moore then asked for an award of $205.50 in statutory fees under Minnesota Statutes sections 549.02 549.06.
The referee denied this motion on the grounds that Moore was not a "prevailing party". The referee reasoned that the case was dismissed because the case was dismissed and there was no adjudication on the merits. The referee also reasoned that the case was essentially moot, because even if it ordered the landlord to pay the costs, this money would need to be paid to the court under the IFP statute, Minnesota Statute 563.01, subd. 10.
Dissatisfied with this turn of events in an otherwise successful case, Moore appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. She was represented in the appeal by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid attorneys Andrew P. Schaffer and Galen Robinson.
The Court of Appeals took a close look at the language of the three statutes. A defendant is entitled to $200 in costs "[u]pon discontinuance or dismissal or when judgment is rendered in the defendant's favor on the merits." The lower court had looked at the words "on the merits" as modifying the entire clause. But the Court of Appeals disagreed, and held that these words modified only "judgment is rendered." Among other things, the appeals court noted that the statute would make little sense as the lower court interpreted it, since there is no such thing as a "discontinuance on the merits."
The court then turned to the issue of whether the defendant was entitled to $5.50 for filing a satisfaction of judgment. Here, the appeals court agreed with the lower court that the statutory language did not permit the award of the additional $5.50. Unlike the $200, the $5.50 is reserved only for the "prevailing party," and the court held that Moore was not a "prevailing party" under this part of the statute.
Next, the court considered whether Moore would receive the $200, or whether it would need to be paid to the court under the IFP statute. Under the IFP statute, if a party receives money "by either settlement or judgment", then the deferred costs and expenses need to be paid directly to the court. But the Court of Appeals agreed that the $200 was not a "settlement or judgment." Instead, it was statutory costs which were merely incidental to the dismissal. Therefore, the statute was not triggered, and the $200 must be paid directly to Moore, and not to the court.
For these reasons, the Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. She was entitled to the $200, but not the additional $5.50.
No. A13-0870 (Minn. Ct. App. Mar. 17, 2014).
Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.
Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).
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