Judge dismisses civil suits filed by Interchange owner

Published 5:55 pm Friday, August 13, 2021

A judge has dismissed the civil lawsuits filed by the owner of The Interchange Wine & Coffee Bistro against multiple entities, including the state, Gov. Tim Walz, the city of Albert Lea, Albert Lea’s city attorney and two judges, among others.  

Judge Chris Wilton granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss Interchange owner Lisa Hanson’s claims with prejudice on Wednesday after a hearing on the issue on May 13. Hanson did not attend the hearing.

Hanson is facing civil litigation through the state of Minnesota for reopening her business for in-person dining in defiance of the governor’s orders put in place to help limit the spread of COVID-19. She also faces nine criminal counts filed by the city, including eight misdemeanor counts of violating emergency powers or rules and one misdemeanor public nuisance charge.

She filed the countersuits in March questioning Walz’s ability to make executive orders regarding the private affairs of people or businesses and questioning state agents’ ability to come into her business for the purpose of enforcing the emergency order. The suits also questioned Martinez’s ability to bring criminal charges by the city on behalf of the state and sought monetary damages in excess of $34 million.

“Judicial corruption continues,” Hanson said in a text message Friday morning about the dismissal. “Due process is a right the people are guaranteed. This is simply not happening in our courts. We will be filing in regards to the dismissal of the cases in the near future.” 

Wilton said in his order that the state executive orders put in place in the COVID-19 pandemic “sought to balance a vast array of competing concerns, from public health and economic well-being, to the constantly-evolving nature of the pandemic and the very values that undergird our system of government.” 

“The court recognizes that these orders wrought sudden and difficult changes on many Minnesotans” and that the public has had divergent beliefs about the restrictions. However, he acknowledged that the orders “are not inchoate; they are validly issued laws.” 

He said in Hanson’s case, that facts did not support the conclusion that the defendants violated Hanson’s Fourth Amendment rights, either on an unreasonable search or malicious prosecution theory, and noted she failed to plead a 14th Amendment injury. 

He referenced the prosecutorial immunity prosecutors have in Minnesota when acting within the scope of their duties by filing and maintaining criminal charges. 

Wilton said Judges Steven Schwab and Ross Leuning also had judicial immunity in the case in their role of presiding over Hanson’s criminal arraignment hearings. The hearings were conducted “in open court, on the record and with a clear statement of their purpose — to arraign plaintiff.” He said any argument that they exceeded their jurisdiction when presiding over those matters failed.

Regarding claims against Walz and the other state inspectors and agents named in the case, the judge said Hanson did not meet the legal requirements to support the conclusion that any constitutional injuries occurred and stated that along each step of the enforcement process, the defendants provided ample notice and opportunity to be heard. 

Wilton said though the issue of whether Hanson was a frivolous litigant was not properly before the court, he made comments unofficially that he would justify her as one. 

A frivolous litigant is one who “uses the courts for improper purposes, such as harassment, delay or the imposition of undue cost,” he wrote. It would also include someone who submits numerous or legally baseless filings across multiple cases, he said. 

“Were the issue properly before the court, it would find that plaintiff’s actions justify a frivolous litigant designation …” he said. “Plaintiff’s claims lack merit; have been made in bad faith; and pose a risk to the rights of other litigants, the public and the courts.” 

Stephanie Angolkar, the city’s civil attorney, said the city was pleased with the court’s dismissal of all of Hanson’s lawsuits. 

Wilton also denied Hanson’s motion for a refund for filing and transcription fees.