Arlington, Va.—After a coalition of landlords and tenants litigated a case for six-and-a-half-years, and twice to the Minnesota Supreme Court, today the state’s high court told those plaintiffs to come back again later for an answer to the basic question of whether the government may enter their homes without probable cause. The case concerned a lawsuit against the city of Red Wing and its rental inspection ordinance. The ordinance allows for inspections of rental homes based upon “administrative warrants” that can be issued when a landlord and tenant refuse to allow a building inspector permission to enter. These warrants do not require the government to have any evidence that there is anything actually wrong with a residence, but simply allow inspections because other houses have had problems.
The court decided to not weigh in on this issue because of the possibility that a judge would demand the city bring forth actual evidence before issuing a warrant. That is exactly the standard that the plaintiffs in the case were asking for, and exactly the standard the city of Red Wing repeatedly rejected having to abide by throughout the litigation. Nevertheless, because of this technical possibility that a judge might ignore the city and impose a higher standard, the court left for another day the answer to this important constitutional question.
Justice Paul Anderson, whose last day on the court is today, wrote a concurring opinion where he joined the court in avoiding the issue, calling it a “good no call,” quoting CBS football announcer, and former New York Giants quarterback, Phil Sims. But, Justice Anderson went on to say that in a future case where an administrative warrant has actually been issued, courts should have serious concerns about its constitutionality and that “our prior case law and the broader protections provided by the Minnesota Constitution lead me to conclude, at least at this point, that some level of individualized suspicion will be required before the administrative warrants are issued.” He prefaced this by saying that “Minnesota has a proud tradition of applying its constitution more broadly than the United States Constitution when acting to protect the privacy interests of its citizens.”
The decision means that the plaintiff landlords and tenants of Red Wing must now wait for the city to, once again, apply for an administrative warrant to inspect their properties and residences. The city has already tried, and failed, to obtain a warrant three times.
Institute for Justice Director of Litigation Dana Berliner stated, “We have been to the Minnesota Supreme Court twice already, and I look forward to the third time. Justice Paul Anderson’s concurrence backs our firm conviction that warrants issued without probable cause are unconstitutional in Minnesota.”