More Signs of Success for IJ Minnesota Chapter

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · October 2, 2006

Minneapolis, Minn,—Needless bureaucracy that once hampered Minneapolis-area entrepreneurs was taken off the books this weekend and replaced with new signs of opportunity for small businesses. On Saturday, September 30, a consent judgment approved by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak went into effect against the City and in favor of Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter (IJ-MN) clients, Dan Dahlen, Truong Xuan Mai and their sign hanging businesses. The judgment promises to help restore the initial rung of the economic ladder to entrepreneurs who wish to do business in Minneapolis.

The consent judgment frees Dahlen, Mai and other sign hangers from red tape and useless process. The City previously required the Police, Health, Waterworks, Building, Zoning and Fire Departments to approve any sign hanger license application, but furnished no criteria to govern this process and no safeguards against the indefinite postponement of license applications. As admitted in the consent judgment, this needless bureaucratic approach resulted in approximately 131 sign hanger license applications being subjected to unreasonable licensing delays. IJ-MN client, Truong Xuan Mai, was among the victims of such delay—he was unable to obtain sign-hanger licenses during two of the three years in which he applied because the City’s Zoning Department would not act on his application.

Now, in order to receive a license to practice their trade in Minneapolis, sign hangers like Mai and Dahlen will need only to meet an objective procedure of submitting a completed application, providing proof of insurance and bonding, and paying a fee. Once this occurs, the City will have no more than 5 days in which to issue a license. This expedited process makes perfect sense for an entry-level occupation that often involves simply digging a hole, dropping in a couple of posts, filling the hole with concrete, and attaching a board to the posts.

Mai is thrilled with the result reached in the consent judgment. “I escaped oppression by communists in Vietnam and I wasn’t about to let a bureaucrat take away my American Dream” said Mai. “I stood my ground and I’m expecting my license in the mail.”

Dan Dahlen, co-owner of Dahlen Sign Company of Shakopee, was just as happy, “It is no longer pointless for us to apply for a sign hanger license. My late grandfather would have been proud to see Minneapolis reject the same sort of unfair licensing practices that kept him from installing signs twenty years ago. On the fiftieth anniversary of our business, my grandfather’s belief in the right to earn an honest living has been confirmed.”

Dahlen, Mai and IJ-MN filed the lawsuit, Dahlen v. City of Minneapolis on May 4, 2006 to also vindicate the constitutional principle that procedural due process requires notice, an opportunity to be heard and a timely decision based on knowable standards.

The victory is the third successful case in the IJ-MN’s campaign to restore economic liberty as a basic civil right under both the Minnesota and U.S. Constitutions. The first was Anderson v. Minnesota Board of Barber and Cosmetologist Examiners, in which IJ-MN successfully freed African hairbraiders from the State of Minnesota’s onerous cosmetology licensing regime. The second was Crockett v. Minnesota Department of Public Safety, in which IJ-MN successfully stopped the government from enforcing a blanket ban on advertising, soliciting or using the Internet to conduct lawful, direct sales of wine.

Opened in 2005, the Minnesota Chapter is one of three state chapters of the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm founded in 1991 to advance free speech, property rights, educational choice and economic liberty. Headquartered in Arlington Va., the Institute for Justice has a long record of success in representing entrepreneurial Davids against governmental Goliaths.

IJ-MN seeks to restore constitutional protection for economic liberty—the right to earn an honest living in the occupation of one’s choice free from excessive government regulation. In pursuit of that goal, IJ-MN has published a 21-page study, titled The Land Of 10,000 Lakes Drowns Entrepreneurs in Regulations, which exposes the shocking state of Minnesota’s occupational licensing laws.

“The victory achieved for sign hangers today is one that must be repeated if Minnesota’s economy is to be freed from arbitrary licensing laws that do nothing more than squelch competition and stifle entrepreneurship,” said IJ-MN Staff Attorney Nick Dranias, the study’s author.

“Our litigation successes and this study should serve as a wake-up call to occupational licensing boards throughout Minnesota,” said IJ-MN Executive Director Lee McGrath. “We invite other entrepreneurs to join us in challenging these irrational barriers to entry and we urge the state legislature and judiciary to protect economic liberty by reviewing new and existing occupational licensing schemes with an appropriately skeptical eye.”

Legislators and journalists may obtain the report here.