Drake Snell v. Tim Walz

In Minnesota, the administration of Governor Tim Walz relied on Minnesota’s Emergency Management Statute (MEMA) to implement a wide variety of COVID-19 mitigation measures – from state-wide business closures to a ban on residential evictions.  The scope of the activities that the administration engaged in under MEMA was unprecedented, and disputes arose over the bounds of that statute’s authority.  

Drake Snell v. Tim Walz is a case that challenges the imposition of a state-wide mask mandate under MEMA, but it has much wider implications regarding the scope of powers granted by MEMA – particularly in regard to the interaction between executive actions taken under MEMA, and other statutes passed by the legislature.  Snell and related plaintiffs lost their case at the district court level, and then appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.  By that time, the executive order that established the mask mandate had been rescinded, and the Court of Appeals held that the case was moot.  Snell appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which agreed to hear arguments related to the mooting of the case. 

Snell’s counsel, the Upper Midwest Law Center, argued that even though the mask mandate executive order had been terminated, Snell’s case was not moot under exceptions to mootness currently recognized by Minnesota courts. Counsel also advocated for Minnesota adoption of the “voluntary cessation” exception to mootness long-recognized by federal courts. 

The Forum for Constitutional Rights (FCR) filed an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs in Snell, arguing that Minnesota courts should recognize the “voluntary cessation” doctrine. FCR’s brief also highlighted how emergency government actions which rely on broad new claims of power – like those taken by the Walz administration in regard to COVID-19 – need to have comprehensive review by courts.

In February of 2023, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued its opinion in Snell V. Walz, and remanded the case back to the Minnesota Court of Appeals for further review.  The Court also adopted the voluntary cessation doctrine, making it applicable to controversies heard in Minnesota courts.

FCR was represented by Subbaraman, PLLC. Find FCR’s amicus brief here.