MN Supreme Court settles St. Paul collector car debate

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John Krenick of St. Paul has lost again, and so, too, has everyone trying to store old cars on their own property in violation of Minnesota law.

Krenick, you may recall from this NewsCut post more than a year ago, challenged a St. Paul ordinance requiring collector cars to be “screened” from the neighbors by covering them with tarps at his Cleveland Avenue home. When that didn’t pass inspection, he put up a half-hearted fence.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the statute, declaring it’s a public safety issue, not an aesthetic one.

Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court dealt another setback to Krenick’s argument that partial screening of collector cars satisfies the law. It said his position is without merit (see opinion).

“Krenik proposes what is, in essence, a partial-screening interpretation because he argues that the phrase ‘screened from ordinary public view’ requires only the concealment of a vehicle’s condition so that individuals passing by cannot tell whether it is a ‘junk car,'” Justice David Stras acknowledged in his opinion today.

But Stras rejected the claim after consulting the most important book in law: the dictionary.

The word “screen” means to “conceal from view or knowledge” or to “hide.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 2040 (2002); see The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 1575 (5th ed. 2011) (defining “screen” as a verb to mean “[t]o conceal from view with a screen or something that acts like a screen,” and defining “screen” as a noun to mean something “that serves to protect, conceal, or divide”).

“Conceal,” in turn, is defined as “[t]o keep from being observed or discovered,” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 380 (5th ed. 2011), and to “place out of sight,” “withdraw from being observed,” or “shield from vision or notice,” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 469 (2002).

These definitions suggest that the collector-vehicle-storage statute requires complete concealment of the collector vehicles and their outdoor storage areas from ordinary public view.

Krenik argued that the St. Paul ordinance effectively prevents anyone from parking collector cars outside because driveways are too small to allow proper screening as Stras determines it.

“The unavailability of outdoor storage areas on some residential properties does not undermine our interpretation of the collector-vehicle-storage statute,” Stras countered. “After all, the statute applies statewide, in both rural and urban areas, and nothing indicates that the statute creates a right allowing all collector-vehicle owners to store their collector vehicles outside, regardless of space or other limitations on residential property.”

Stras also said the law only requires Krenik to screen collector cars from ordinary public view, not from every conceivable angle.