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$70,000 to be paid to plaintiffs

The city of Apple Valley has agreed to settle a class action federal lawsuit filed in 2020 that challenges the constitutionality of a 2017 city ordinance that limits where some sex offenders can live in the community.

The Apple Valley City Council, without discussion, approved a settlement agreement as part of the consent agenda during its March 25 meeting.

According to the agreement, one payment of $70,000 will be made to “resolve all claims for damages, fees and costs.” Of that total, two plaintiffs will reach receive $15,000 while the remaining $40,000 will go to their attorneys. In the agreement, none of the parties admit any liability or validity of the claims or defenses asserted.

The $70,000 settlement amount will be paid by the city’s insurer, the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, according to a statement provided by City Administrator Tom Lawell.

“Although the city disagrees with the premise of the challenge to the ordinance’s constitutionality and maintains that the ordinance is appropriately enforced, the city felt it was in the best interests of the parties to resolve the case. This resolution avoids additional time, expense, and uncertainties of the litigation process. Also, this settlement does not affect the lawful authority of the ordinance, going forward,” the statement says.

“The city takes seriously all violations that could affect the well-being of Apple Valley residents. The safety of residents is the city’s primary concern, and the city will continue to uphold all provisions of the sex offender restriction ordinance to help ensure safety concerns continue to be thoroughly addressed.”

In the original lawsuit filed Feb. 12, 2020, three unnamed sex offenders sought an injunction to prevent the city from enforcing the ordinance. They also sought judgment to recover attorney’s fees and costs incurred in bringing the action.

The lawsuit alleged that the restrictions imposed by the ordinance “are so severe that they effectively ban individuals subject to the ordinance’s restrictions from residing anywhere in Apple Valley,” according to court documents.

The attorneys representing the offenders argued the ordinance violates the Constitution’s ex post facto clause, the lawsuit said. According to Cornell Law School, the clause prohibits governments from passing laws that “retroactively criminalize behavior.”

The ordinance, passed by the City Council in February 2017, prevents certain convicted sex offenders from living near parks, schools, churches and day care centers. Under the measure, offenders designated Level 3 — those most likely to reoffend — and those whose victims were under 16 cannot reside within 1,500 feet of those types of facilities.

Before the city’s first Level 3 sex offender moved to Apple Valley in November 2016, the Police Department went through a community notification process, which included mailing information and a public meeting, Sun Thisweek reported in 2017.

Feedback received by police during the notification process suggested a “clear desire” from community members to restrict residency of sex offenders, Capt. Nick Francis told the newspaper in 2017.

Francis said as of March 30, there are 49 registered predatory offenders living in Apple Valley, with 13 of those being Level 1 and six Level 2. There are no Level 3 offenders. The remaining offenders were not assigned a risk level.

According to the state of Minnesota, some registrants don’t receive a risk level because they may be juveniles; may have been sentenced to probation; were released from a Minnesota prison prior to Jan. 1, 1997, or were registrants from another state prior to July 1, 2005. Roughly 75% of offenders registered in Minnesota have never been assigned a risk level.

Patty Dexter can be reached at patty.dexter@apgecm.com.

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