Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 19, 2020

MN Appeals Court Reverses Attorneys Fees Award in Open Meetings Law Case

This post was authored by Amy Lavine, Esq.

In an unpublished decision issued in October the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed an award of attorneys fees for frivolous claims under the Open Meetings Law. Lanoux v. Huber, 2020 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 818, 2020 WL 6123059 (10/19/20).

The litigation in Lanoux v. Huber was brought by several former members of the Grant City Council against the Mayor and various members of the Council and the Grant City Planning Commission, who allegedly convened in private to discuss public business and improperly used a consent agenda to avoid public discussions about certain matters. The district court dismissed these claims, however, because there was no evidence to substantiate the alleged secret meetings beyond pure speculation, and because nothing in the Open Meetings Law prohibited the use of consent agendas. Following this ruling, another district court judge determined that the lawsuit was “frivolous and malicious” and awarded attorneys fees to the city officials.

On appeal, the court explained that the Minnesota Open Meetings Law authorizes attorney fees “only if the court finds that the action under this chapter was frivolous and without merit.” The court concluded that the district court failed to comply with this standard because the only specific finding it made was that the “appellants’ ‘claims, history, and discovery practices demonstrate that an award of attorney fees and costs is appropriate.'” Without more, the court held that this single finding was insufficient to allow a meaningful review of the attorney fees decision. Additionally, nothing in the statute allowed the appellants’ “history” to be considered in awarding attorneys fees, and even if there were, there was no record of any discovery sanctions or other violations. The court concluded by remanding the matter with instructions to “review the entire record…, which may include a review of the legal merits of the claims, in making findings as to whether appellants’ claims were frivolous and without merit.”

Lanoux v. Huber, 2020 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 818, 2020 WL 6123059 (10/19/20).

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