WALKER -- The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed a Cass County District Court decision and ruled the city of Walker can locate its municipal liquor store in the block next to the Cass County jail.
Judges Roger Klaphake, Terri Stoneburner and Doris Huspeni ruled Dec. 28. Their decision was filed Tuesday.
The city of Walker remodeled a 1930s WPA building in the winter of 2003-04, moving the city hall and liquor store into the building in April 2004.
Block 25 Committee filed suit, contending the city had violated state statutes by locating the liquor store within 1,000 feet of the Cass County jail, which is located in the adjacent block along Highway 371.
The law the committee cited prohibits liquor sales "within 1,000 feet of a state hospital, training school, reformatory, prison or other institution under the supervision and control, in whole or in part, of the Commissioner of Human Services or the Commissioner of Corrections."
Judge Jay D. Mondry ruled in Cass County District Court the law does apply to county jails, because Minnesota Department of Corrections has at least partial supervision and control over county jail operations. The city appealed that decision and July 27 last year obtained a Court of Appeals ruling permitting the city to continue its liquor store operation until an appeals court ruling could be filed.
The effect of Tuesday's Appeals Court ruling makes it legal for the city of Walker to continue operating its municipal liquor store in the building next door to the Cass County Courthouse and the jail.
The Minnesota statute "is ambiguous regarding whether it applies to sales within 1,000 feet of a county jail, which indisputably is supervised or controlled in part by the Commissioner of Corrections," the court of appeals stated in its decision.
"Applying the principles of statutory construction, we conclude that the statute refers only to sales within 1,000 feet of a state institution, and the statute does not apply to prohibit liquor sales within 1,000 feet of a county jail," the Appeals Court concluded.
They based this in part on a 1987 court ruling that stated, "where doubt exists as to legislative intent of a penal statute, doubts must be resolved in favor of the defendant."
In the analysis of arguments, the court stated: "Insofar as we can determine legislative intent and continuity, these factors weigh in favor of the appellant's argument that the statute applies only to state institutions."
At least four establishments licensed for on-sale liquor in Walker also are within 1,000 feet of the jail. Attorneys for the city argued that if the state law prohibits liquor sales within 1,000 feet of a Minnesota county jail, this could impact businesses statewide.
"Despite the absence of support in the record for the assertion of the number of existing liquor establishments located within 1,000 feet of county jails, there is sufficient evidence to conclude that in the city of Walker alone the construction of the statute urged by the respondents would have significant consequences. And the consequences of a particular interpretation is a factor to be considered by the court in ascertaining the legislative intent," the court concluded.
Bob Mallory, co-chair of Block 25 Committee, had yet to read the decision and had not had time to contact other committee members Tuesday afternoon to decide whether they will appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
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