Government and constitutional litigation is a cornerstone of Greene Espel’s practice. We represent cities, counties, airports, school districts, and regional authorities—often in high-profile disputes where fundamental public policies are at stake or where the outcome carries significant financial implications.
We also represent individuals and private businesses where their actions raise constitutional issues.
- Our attorneys have experience litigating a multitude of issues in the government sector. We have defended land-use and zoning decisions made by cities, counties, and other public bodies. We have defended claims against government entities arising from land-use regulation, including “takings,” free speech and association, and substantive and procedural due process claims.
- Our attorneys have litigated matters that have been instrumental in developing case law on critical issues of governmental liability. Our cases have helped shape state and federal judicial policy concerning immunities and related defenses for governments and their officials. We have litigated other issues involving government entities, including data practices, defamation, environment, government contracts, franchises, and procurement.
- We have represented cities in tax-increment financing cases. We have defended municipal bond issuers against claims for violations of federal and state securities fraud statutes, consumer fraud, and breach of contract.
- We have litigated employment cases in federal and state court, in arbitration, and in federal and state agencies. We have represented clients accused of making decisions on the basis of gender, disability, race, religion, and other protected classes. We have represented government entities in employment disciplinary investigations and decisions. We have litigated employment discipline decisions in court, arbitration, and other forums.
- We have represented local governments, departmental officials, and officers in law enforcement liability cases. Our cases have included a range of allegations from complex federal constitutional challenges to allegations of state tort violations.
- A part-time firefighter was passed over for promotion to a full-time position. She also felt that the department was selective in the allocation of equipment. She brought a formal administrative charge, accusing the City of making decisions based on gender. We represented the City and obtained the rejection of these claims before the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, in Sabo-Clegg v. Winona (MDHR 1999)
- A high-yield income fund purchased $5 million in revenue bonds to finance the construction of rental housing projects in northern Minnesota cities. To the disappointment of investors, the cities refused to pay deficits connected with the housing projects. The fund sought to represent 350 investors in a class action against the cities. We represented the cities and defeated class certification in Franklin Fund v. City of Roseau, et al., 98-CV-1576 (D. Minn. 2000)
Conflict of Interest Investigations
- An administrative department head was assigned to contract with private vendors. Others accused the department head of selecting a contractor with whom the department head had a private business relationship, allegedly to benefit personally. We investigated the accusation for the City
- A paving contractor sought to expand its asphalt plant in Rice County. Residents expressed concerns about road and environmental damage, traffic, safety, and noise. The County limited the operations at the asphalt plant, and the contractor sued. We defeated dormant Commerce Clause and substantive and procedural due process claims at summary judgment in Bituminous Materials v. Rice County, 126 F.3d 1068 (8th Cir. 1997)
- A City employee obtained the decision of the Minnesota Commissioner of Administration advising that the employee was entitled to documents the City felt should not be disclosed under provisions of the Data Practices Act. We represented the City in court and obtained a decision ordering the destruction of the requested documents in Gill v. City of Mahtomedi, No. C 7-95-3025 (10th Jud. Dist. Ct. 1995).
- The then-mayor Jesse Ventura made comments during a city council meeting regarding alleged business improprieties at a municipal golf course. The course’s clubhouse manager took issue with the comments, and accused Mayor Ventura of defamation. We defended the Mayor and secured summary judgment in Anderson v. Jesse Ventura, File No. PI 93-008900 (4th Jud. Dist. Ct. January 5, 1994)
- A City’s maintenance employee found a loaded police shotgun in the City’s service garage near an unattended police car. The employee approached the shotgun, raised it, and remarked about walking into the supervisors’ office with the weapon. The City disciplined the employee for falsely denying this conduct. We represented the City at arbitration and sustained a thirty-day suspension
- A female police supervisor was accused of sexually harassing a male subordinate officer. The department applied its new, mandatory termination policy for two-time offenders, and therefore terminated the sexually harassing supervisor. The supervisor’s union challenged the discipline, which was the first termination for sexual harassment in the police department’s history. We represented the City and sustained the discipline at arbitration
- The first female police officer for the City sued the City and officers for violations of federal and state gender discrimination laws after she was dismissed during her probationary period. The officer sought to amend her complaint to seek significant punitive damages against the City and officers. We defended the attempt, securing a finding in federal court that “the Plaintiff’s claim is not deserving” of punitive damages. We then brought the case to a reasonable settlement. See Ulrich v. City of Crosby, 848 F. Supp. 861 (D. Minn. 1994)
- A former volunteer firefighter claimed to have been fired in violation of the state whistleblower statute. We represented the City and obtained summary judgment after minimal discovery in Boever v. Oakdale Volunteer Fire Department (10th Jud. Dist. Ct. 1998)
- “Public policy” warrants judicial reversal of arbitrator’s reinstatement of discharged employee. In a highly publicized case establishing legal precedent, the Minnesota Court of Appeals invalidated an arbitrator's decision reinstating a police officer who had been discharged for engaging in a pattern of inappropriate conduct toward women. The Court of Appeals ruled that courts are obligated to intervene and disturb arbitration awards when the enforcement of an award would compromise an overriding public policy, City of Brooklyn Center v. Law Enforcement Labor Services, Inc., 635 N.W.2d 236, 168 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2593 (Minn. App. 2001)
- Police officers patrolling the Mall of America sought to control three patrons who were acting in a disorderly way in a movie theater. The patrons resisted the officers’ arrest attempts. The arrest was captured a videotape that was aired on local news broadcasts. In the arrest, the officers sprayed one patron with a chemical and struck him with a baton. The three patrons sued the officers in federal court, demanding $5 million for constitutional and tort violations. We represented the officers and obtained dismissal, and a public apology, on behalf of the officers. McKinney v. Mall of America, et al., (D. Minn. 2000); see also Williams v. City of Plymouth (D. Minn. 1996) (sustaining favorable jury verdict for officers accused of unconstitutional excess force and discrimination during an arrest)
Failure to Protect
- The University sponsored a cultural immersion program in Mexico. A taxi driver sexually assaulted a student in the program when the student left her host family to meet friends at a local bar. The student sued the University on the theory that the University had failed to protect her. We represented the University and secured a holding that the University enjoyed qualified immunity in Bloss v. University of Minnesota, No. C4-93-163, 1993 N.W. 2d 661 (Minn. July 6, 1999)
- The City of Marshall granted a cable company a cable television franchise. A different company later sought another nonexclusive cable television franchise. The first company objected. The City granted the second franchise, and the first company appealed by certiorari to challenge the second franchise. We represented the City and defended the legality of the second franchise award in In re: Dakota Telecommunications Group, 590 N.W.2d 644 (Minn. Ct. App. 1999)
Hiring Practices and Remedies
- A trial court found that the written examination used by 36 Minnesota cities to screen police officer candidates had a disparate impact on racial minorities. The trial court then ordered various remedies, including injunctive relief and punitive damages, and also awarded complete attorneys fees to the plaintiffs. The cities and the testing organization asked us to handle the appeal of these remedies. We did so, obtaining a holding that the trial court had improperly ordered race-based hiring as an injunctive remedy, improperly ordered a $300,000 penalty contingent on future violations, improperly ordered punitive damages, and improperly awarded complete attorneys’ fees. Fields v. Minnesota Police Recruitment System, No. C1-97-517, 1998 WL 40507 (Minn. Ct. App. Feb. 3, 1998)
Housing Class Action
- A local public housing authority successfully accommodated the influx of one racial minority, causing another racial minority to claim discrimination based on the disparate impact of the housing authority’s decision. We defended the accommodation, defeating class certification in federal court. Robinson v. Cisneros, Civ. No. 3-95-384 (D. Minn. 1995)
- Several townships in Olmsted County, Minnesota, adopted their own zoning ordinances, and one such township then approved a rezoning for a project that conflicted with the County’s zoning laws. The County Recorder refused to record the plat for the proposed development, which caused the developer to sue the County in two different courts. We defended the County in both actions and prevailed before each court. West Circle Properties L.L.C. v. Hall, 634 N.W.2d 238 (Minn. Ct. App. 2001), rev. denied (Minn. Dec. 19, 2001)
- A mobile home seller sold and stored homes in a mobile home park in Dayton, Minnesota. The City saw this as unlawful under its nonconforming use ordinance. After the City ordered the seller to cease, the seller sued the City to challenge enforcement. We brought a counterclaim against the seller, defeated the challenge, and won declaratory and injunctive relief for the City in Northgate Homes, Inc. v. City of Dayton, 126 F.2d 1095 (8th Cir. 1997)
Public Duty Doctrine
- Defended city and obtained appellate decision affirming summary judgment in our client’s favor because the public-duty doctrine applied to the city’s provision of emergency services. Wilson v. City of Burnsville, 2007 WL 1263490 (Minn. Ct. App. May 1, 2007)
- A City inspector evaluated a home that later was destroyed in a fire, killing several occupants. The family of the decedents sued, claiming negligent inspection. We represented the City, and obtained early summary judgment based on the “public duty doctrine.” Canizares v. City of Tracy (9th Jud. Dist. 1996)
- We have successfully represented several cities defending challenges to public support for private enterprise, including the creation of a tax increment financing district for redevelopment, refusal to create a tax increment financing district for a senior housing project in Hastings, and an attack on the use of public funds to retain a business in Roseville. See e.g., Nielson, et al. v. City of Roseville, No. 98-1625 (D. Minn. 1999 and 2000), and 2001 WL 1640040 (D. Minn. 2001)
Public Utilities and Communications
- We have defended a variety of challenges to the authority of local government to regulate the location and operation of cellular phone towers, power lines, and cable television franchises and facilities. These cases often require the application of new and complex statues, including the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and Minnesota statues governing electrical transmission
Referendum and Initiative
- The Minnesota Court of Appeals has endorsed an independent legal opinion prepared by Greene Espel addressing the impropriety of enacting land use legislation by referendum and initiative. We had advised the City of Richfield that Minnesota land use statutes requiring municipal planning and mandating inter-jurisdictional coordination would preempt efforts to enact land use-related ordinances via direct popular vote. In a precedent-setting decision, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the City’s refusal to hold an election for the proposed ballot measures. Nordmarken v. City of Richfield, 641 N.W.2nd 343 (Minn. Ct. App. 2002)
Regulatory Contract Oversight
- The Counties of Anoka, Hennepin, and Sherburne considered the transfer of a waste-to-energy facility from Northern States Power to Xcel Energy. We assisted the Counties in evaluating contractual obligations, liability risks, and guarantees and releases, to ensure that the Counties’ interests were protected
Statutes and Ordinances
- The City created a policy incorporating several state statutes to impose impound fees for vehicles seized as evidence of crime. Officers towed and impounded as evidence a vehicle owned by a defendant charged with assault and theft. Months after conviction, the defendant was released, but his car had remained under impound and had accumulated fees in excess of the vehicle’s value. He sued, alleging the scheme effectively deprived him due process of law. We obtained summary judgment for the City, affirming its ordinance as constitutional. Spangler v. Roseville, CIV No. 97-2021 (D. Minn. 1997)
Taxation / Impact Fees
- The City of Eagan imposed a road unit connection charge as a condition for the issuance of all building permits within the City. Building contractors sued, arguing that the charge was illegal and seeking a refund for those who had paid the charge. On our defense of the City, the district court found that even though the charge was illegal, the building contractors had no basis for recovery in Country Joe, Inc. v. City of Eagan, No. C4-98-618, 1998 WL 713481 (Minn. Ct. App. 1998)
Waste Disposal Facility
- A developer wanted to construct two waste-disposal facilities in Monroe County, Iowa, against the County’s best interests. The County denied the developer’s application. The developer sued the County, seeking a multimillion-dollar damages judgment on constitutional and tort theories. We obtained summary judgment on behalf of the County, which the Eighth Circuit affirmed in Iowa Coal, Inc. v. Monroe County, Iowa, 257 F.3d 846, (8th Cir. 2001)
- A developer applied for a conditional use permit to build a Home Depot mega store in White Bear Lake. The City amended its zoning ordinances before reviewing the application. The City refused the developer’s permit, as the intended use would violate the newly-amended ordinance. The developer claimed that the City’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. We successfully defended the City’s refusal in Acorn Invest, Inc. v. City of White Bear Lake, No. C0-00-1055, 2001 WL 32769 (Minn. Ct. App. 2001)