The Minnesota Court of Appeals has clarified the standard for challenging the denial of a professional license under Minnesota law. In the Matter of the Short Call Teaching License Application of Jeronimo Yanez, 983 N.W.2d 89 (Minn. Ct. App. 2022).
This case involved an individual who was prominent in the news in 2016. In his previous position as a police officer for the City of St. Anthony, Yanez fatally shot Philando Castile, a St. Paul school district employee, during a traffic stop. The shooting sparked protests in Minnesota and elsewhere. In November of 2016, Yanez was charged with second degree manslaughter and intentional discharge of a firearm endangering safety. A jury acquitted Yanez of all criminal charges. The City of St. Anthony reached a settlement of a civil suit with Castile’s family. Yanez then left the police force and surrendered his peace officer’s license.
In 2020, Yanez applied to the Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (“PELSB” or “Board”) for a three-year short-call substitute teaching license. In his application he disclosed that he had been involved in a deadly use of force situation and had been acquitted of criminal charges. The Board referred his application to its disciplinary committee. After investigation, the committee denied his license application. The denial was based on a finding of “immoral character or conduct” pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 122A.20, subd. 1(a)(1). Yanez challenged the denial before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). After a contested case hearing, the ALJ recommended that the Board affirm the committee’s denial. Yanez then sought certiorari review by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals identified three issues for review: (1) Which party bears the burden of proof? (2) Is the phrase “immoral character or conduct” pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 122A.20, subd. 1(a)(1) unconstitutionally vague and, if so, can it be cured by a narrowing construction? and (3) Is Yanez entitled to a reversal of the denial and an instruction to the Board to issue him a teaching license?
Burden of Proof
The Court of Appeals held that Yanez held the burden of proof as he was the applicant seeking to change the status quo by seeking a license. It distinguished the holding in an administrative decision cited by Yanez on the basis that where a board seeks to revoke a license it is the board proposing certain action be taken, and in that case it is the board’s burden of proof.
The Court of Appeals held that the phrase “immoral character or conduct” was unconstitutionally vague but that it could avoid constitutional infirmity through a narrowing construction. Specifically, it held that grounds for refusal must be based on immoral character or conduct that “indicates an unfitness to teach.”
Finally, the Court held that Yanez was entitled to have his case remanded so that the Board could apply the correct legal standard but that he was not entitled to an instruction that he be issued a license.
This decision demonstrates how applicants for professional licenses and license holders, no matter their past circumstances, are entitled to due process. Minnesota licensing boards must follow the law, they cannot make decisions based on notoriety or emotion. The case also illustrates the legal pathway for those challenging denial of a license. Specifically, it clarifies that those seeking licensure hold the burden of proof to challenge a denial. Where boards seek to restrict an existing license, however, they have the burden of proof. The decision likely has precedential implications for those seeking licensure or facing discipline from other licensing boards, not just those in the teaching profession.
About the Firm: The Minnesota professional licensing attorneys of Trepanier MacGillis Battina P.A. can be reached at 612.455.0500. TMB is a business law firm located in Minneapolis, Minnestoa.