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Bruce Roger Mills, Individually and On Behalf of Those Similarly Situated v. City of Grand Forks

March 15, 2012

BRUCE ROGER MILLS, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF THOSE SIMILARLY SITUATED,
PLAINTIFF, APPELLANT AND CROSS-APPELLEE
v.
CITY OF GRAND FORKS,
DEFENDANT, APPELLEE AND CROSS-APPELLANT



Appeal from the District Court of Grand Forks County, Northeast Central Judicial District, the Honorable Joel D. Medd, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Crothers, Justice.

N.D. Supreme Court

Mills v. City of Grand Forks,

2012 ND 56

This opinion is subject to petition for rehearing.

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AFFIRMED.

Opinion of the Court by Crothers, Justice.

[¶1] Bruce Roger Mills, individually and on behalf of those similarly situated, appeals from a judgment dismissing his claims against the City of Grand Forks to recover the amount of fines and fees collected in the past for non-criminal traffic violations by the City exceeding the amount the City could legally impose under state law. The City cross-appeals from the judgment. Because the district court correctly ruled Mills's claims are barred by res judicata, we affirm the judgment.

I

[¶2] On July 7, 2004, a Grand Forks police officer cited Mills with careless driving, a non-criminal offense proscribed by Grand Forks City Code § 8-0701. Under Grand Forks City Code § 8-1502, the maximum fine for violation of a non-criminal offense was $1,000 "in the discretion of the court." Mills pled not guilty and proceeded to trial in municipal court. Mills was found guilty. On August 19, 2004, the municipal court imposed against Mills "a fine in the amount of $151 with $0 suspended" and a hearing fee of $15. Mills appealed to district court for trial anew, and on September 14, 2004, the court affirmed the conviction and the fine and fees totaling $166. Mills appealed to this Court, but on December 1, 2004, we dismissed the appeal because the district court judgment was "not appealable under N.D.C.C. § 39-06.1-03(5)." Mills did not petition this Court for a supervisory writ under N.D. Const. art. VI, § 2 and N.D.C.C. § 27-02-04.

[¶3] In 2008, we held in Sauby v. City of Fargo, 2008 ND 60, ¶¶ 1, 2, 13, 747 N.W.2d 65, that a home rule city could not impose fees for non-criminal traffic offenses exceeding the limits set forth for equivalent violations under state law. In 2004, the maximum fee for careless driving under state law was $30. See N.D.C.C. § 39-09-01. The day after Sauby was decided, Grand Forks, a home rule city under N.D.C.C. ch. 40-05.1, stopped charging fines exceeding allowable amounts under state law. Three days after Sauby was decided, Mills commenced a civil rights action against Grand Forks in federal district court claiming the City's excessive fines violated various constitutional rights. The federal district court dismissed the action on the pleadings, and in Mills v. City of Grand Forks, 614 F.3d 495, 497 (8th Cir. 2010), the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal "because the complaint fails to state any federal constitutional violation."

[ΒΆ4] On August 16, 2010, Mills brought a "Class Action Complaint for Restitution" in state district court seeking on behalf of himself and others similarly situated the amount of monies paid to Grand Forks exceeding the state law limits for fines for similar state offenses. Mills asserted the excess fines, fees and charges were "involuntary and void." Before the court could rule on certification of the class, the City moved to dismiss the complaint under N.D.R.Civ.P. 12, or in the alternative, for summary judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 56. The City contended Mills's claims should be dismissed as a matter of law because they are barred by res judicata and collateral estoppel. The City argued Mills's claims were precluded by both res ...


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