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Friday, April 22, 2011

No. 10–2896. - LAASE v. COUNTY OF ISANTI - US 8th Circuit

No. 10–2896. - LAASE v. COUNTY



LAASE v. COUNTY OF ISANTI




David L. LAASE, Appellant, v. COUNTY OF ISANTI; Jeffrey R. Edblad, Isanti County Attorney, in his official capacity; City of Cambridge, Minnesota; David Pajnic, Chief of Police, Cambridge, Minnesota, in his official capacity, Appellees.



No. 10–2896.


-- April 20, 2011

Before WOLLMAN, MURPHY, and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges.


After David Laase's Minnesota state-court challenge to the forfeiture of his vehicle failed, he brought a lawsuit in federal district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that the forfeiture of his vehicle violated the United States and Minnesota Constitutions. The district court

1

concluded that, as a matter of Minnesota law, Laase's suit was res judicata and dismissed the case for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. For reasons that follow, we affirm.


Under Minnesota's statutory forfeiture scheme, a vehicle is subject to forfeiture “if it was used in the commission of a designated offense,” Minn.Stat. § 169A.63(6)(a), and “[a]ll right, title, and interest in a vehicle subject to forfeiture ․ vests in the appropriate agency upon commission of the conduct resulting in the designated offense,” § 169A.63(3). However, upon seizure, the state agency must “serve the driver or operator of the vehicle with a notice of the seizure and intent to forfeit the vehicle,” § 169A.63(8)(b), and the vehicle's owner may “file a demand for a judicial determination of the forfeiture,” § 169A.63(8)(d). The state agency is permitted to file an answer to this demand, “including an affirmative counterclaim for forfeiture,” § 169A.63(9)(c), but whether or not it does so, “[t]here is a presumption that a vehicle seized ․ is subject to forfeiture if the prosecuting authority establishes that the vehicle was used in the commission of a designated offense,” § 169A .63(9)(e). The owner may raise a number of affirmative defenses to forfeiture, but she “bears the burden of proving any affirmative defense raised.” Id.


In 2006, David Laase's wife was convicted of second-degree driving while impaired, see Minn.Stat. §§ 169A.20(2), 169A.25(1)(b), a designated offense under section 169A.63(1)(e). The County of Isanti, Minnesota, seized the Laases' 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe, and David Laase filed a demand for judicial determination, raising multiple affirmative defenses, including the “innocent owner” defense and a claim that the forfeiture statute is unconstitutional because “it violates the double jeopardy provisions of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.” Laase also asserted the unspecified affirmative defense that “the forfeiture statute ․ is unconstitutional, both on its face and applied.”

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The Minnesota district court ruled for Laase based on the innocent owner defense, concluding that Laase “did not actually or constructively know that his wife was going to use the vehicle in a manner contrary to the law.” Laase v.2007 Chevrolet Tahoe, No. CV–06–383, slip op. at 1 (10th Jud. Dist. Minn. June 19, 2007); see § 169A.63(7)(d). The court did not address his constitutional claims.


The County appealed, and the Minnesota Court OF ISANTI - US 8th Circuit