The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday kept alive a lawsuit filed by a central Minnesota business alleging that Gov. Tim Walz's COVID-19 emergency measures amounted to a "commandeering" of his property.
District Court and Court of Appeals judges initially sided with Walz in the case, but a Wednesday opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Paul Thissen sent the matter back to its original jurisdiction to determine whether the government physically took over properties belonging to Carvin Buzzell.
Thissen wrote that the justices want the District Court to conclude whether Buzzell can prove that Walz's emergency orders "exercised exclusive control over or obtained exclusive possession of Buzzell's property such that the government could physically use it for emergency management purposes."
"In other words, the District Court must determine whether, under the emergency orders, only the government could exercise physical control or possession of Buzzell's property and Buzzell was prevented from exercising any control over or possession of his property," wrote Thissen.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison in a statement on Wednesday lauded the decision as helping define the meaning of "commandeering" in state law.
"This common-sense ruling is important not only for the decisions Governor Walz took to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, but important for every governor who may face any kind of life-threatening emergency in the future," Ellison said.
Buzzell argued that he is entitled to "just compensation" for the government's "use" of his property. He operates Rum River Barn and Vineyard, a wedding venue, in Morrison County, and a café in Milaca called the Timber Valley Grille and Catering. He argued that his businesses were not equipped to offer takeout or drive-through services amid the governor's shutdown orders and that his café's revenue plunged 75%.
Buzzell was denied a $10,000 application for federal disaster loans on May 29, 2020, and first filed this lawsuit four days later.
Previously, Walz asked the courts to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Buzzell failed "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." The Court of Appeals initially sided with the governor in June 2021 before Buzzell appealed to the state's high court.