City of Duluth wants Last Place on Earth owner's suit tossed

The city of Duluth asked Judge Shaun Floerke on Tuesday to throw out a civil suit brought against it by Jim Carlson, the owner of the Last Place on Earth.

The city of Duluth asked Judge Shaun Floerke on Tuesday to throw out a civil suit brought against it by Jim Carlson, the owner of the Last Place on Earth.

Carlson alleges the city obtained a warrant to search his business and seize cash and property from it under false pretenses last September.

Randall Tigue, Carlson's attorney, contends his client's business was subjected to an illegal search and seizure. He said the city convinced a judge to sign a warrant on the basis of a controlled undercover police buy from the shop that involved an illegal "synthetic marijuana" product claimed to contain a known cannabinoid receptor agonist --a chemical that binds to a cell's receptor and mimics a naturally occurring substance. But Tigue noted that this was a dubious representation at best, considering that the head of the state crime lab testified before the Legislature that scientists have no way of even determining exactly what a cannabinoid receptor agonist is.

As part of discovery for the civil case, Tigue had requested the city be required to disclose the results of tests it conducted on products taken from the Last Place on Earth during that raid.

Tigue predicted those tests would confirm his client's innocence, claiming none of the products should have tested positive for any of the 15 named chemical compounds that have been outlawed in Minnesota.


In August, Floerke ordered the city to submit the requested test results to the court for his private review in chambers.

City Attorney Gunnar Johnson views the civil suit as a back-door maneuver to peer inside the ongoing criminal investigation of the Last Place on Earth's operations.

"This civil case is in some ways a Trojan horse. They're using it as a tool to obtain confidential police information they would otherwise be unable to get," he said.

Assistant City Attorney Nathan LaCoursiere said it would be wrong to make the test results public, calling the information "confidential criminal investigative data."

LaCoursiere also dismissed Tigue's argument challenging the validity of the search warrant issued last year, saying the subject of Tuesday's court hearing was the city's motion for a summary judgment ending the suit.

"The probable cause underlying the warrant is not the issue before the court," he said.

But Tigue disagreed, saying that the court should consider whether his client's constitutional rights had been violated.

Outside the courtroom, Carlson said that if the city had evidence that he had been selling illegal products, a criminal complaint would have been filed by now.


Any criminal case involving drug charges will not be handled by the city, according to Johnson. He said any pending prosecution would be led by either the St. Louis County Attorney's Office or a U.S. district attorney. Under the statute of limitations, a criminal complaint must be filed within three years of a crime being committed or charges cannot be pressed.

"This is a violation of my rights. They sat on my legal property, waiting for it to become illegal," Carlson said.

During the intervening months, the Minnesota Legislature passed a new, more restrictive law, thereby depriving Carlson of "hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales," Tigue said, explaining why his client will seek damages from the city.

Johnson apparently isn't losing any sleep over Carlson's lost profits.

"The Last Place on Earth, as Mr. Carlson has bragged, is making millions of dollars at tremendous cost to the city of Duluth and our community," said Johnson, pointing to the negative impact synthetic drugs have had on neighboring businesses, tourism in Duluth's Old Downtown, criminal activity and the health of users, many of whom lack insurance but require emergency care.

Floerke said he will take the case under advisement and rule on the city's motion for summary judgment soon.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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