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(Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)
(Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Supreme Court Calendar: January 2018

 

The following summaries of upcoming Supreme Court arguments for January 2018 were prepared from information provided by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office.

 

Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

 

Anthony Gist, Respondent vs. Atlas Staffing, Inc. and Meadowbrook Claims Service, Appellants/Cross-Respondents, Fresenius Medical Care, Respondent/Cross-Appellant, and Mercy Hospital, et al., Intervenors – Case Nos. A17-0819, A17-1096: Employee Anthony Gist was exposed to silica sand during his work at Waltek, Inc., through Atlas Staffing, Inc. After almost 2 years on the job, Gist was diagnosed with acute kidney failure. Gist sought workers’ compensation benefits, alleging a work-related occupational disease. The compensation judge found that Gist’s exposure to silica while working for Atlas was a substantial contributing factor to his kidney failure. The compensation judge ultimately ordered Atlas and its insurer Meadowbrook Claims Service to pay Fresenius Medical Care and other intervenors, pursuant to the Minnesota workers’ compensation fee schedule, “their outstanding intervention interests” associated with Gist’s kidney failure.

The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals  affirmed, as modified, the findings and order of the compensation judge. The WCCA concluded that substantial evidence supports the compensation judge’s finding that Gist’s exposure to silica while working for Atlas was a substantial contributing factor to his kidney failure. The WCCA also concluded that the compensation judge properly rejected the argument that “a medical provider that accepts payments from Medicaid and Medicare is barred from receiving workers’ compensation payment for treatment provided to an injured employee,” and the compensation judge properly awarded payment of the outstanding intervention interests pursuant to the workers’ compensation fee schedule. In addition, the WCCA dismissed the cross-appeal of Fresenius as untimely.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether there is substantial evidence to support the decision that a substantial contributing factor to Gist’s kidney failure was exposure to silica while working for Atlas; (2) whether 42 C.F.R. § 447.15 (2016) prohibits Fresenius from receiving additional amounts from Atlas and Meadowbrook when Fresenius already received payment from Medicaid; (3) whether the WCCA erred by reaching the merits of the appeal of Atlas and Meadowbrook and by dismissing the cross-appeal of Fresenius; (4) whether the WCCA erred by deciding issues raised by Fresenius in its cross-appeal; and (5) whether the compensation judge erred by directing the payment of Gist’s pre-determination medical expenses pursuant to the workers’ compensation fee schedule instead of the stipulated reasonable cost of the medical expenses. (Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals)

Kemen Lavatos Taylor, II, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A17-0965: Appellant Kemen Taylor, II, was convicted of one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder in connection with the shooting of three teenagers. On appeal, among other arguments, Taylor claimed that the trial court had violated his constitutional right to a public trial by requiring members of the public to display photographic identification in order to attend his trial. On direct appeal, the Supreme Court concluded that there was “no constitutional ground for reversal” because “the photographic identification requirement did not constitute a ‘true’ closure” of the courtroom. State v. Taylor, 869 N.W.2d 1, 12 (Minn. 2015).

In 2017, Taylor filed a petition for postconviction relief. Taylor sought to “expand the record” in connection with his claim that the trial court had violated his constitutional right to a public trial. The postconviction court denied the petition without holding an evidentiary hearing, concluding that Taylor’s claim is procedurally barred under State v. Knaffla, 243 N.W.2d 737, 741 (Minn. 1976).

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether Taylor is entitled to an evidentiary hearing on his postconviction petition; and (2) whether the issue raised in the postconviction petition is Knaffla-barred.(Hennepin County)

 

Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

 

Rebecca Otto, in her official capacity as State Auditor of the State of Minnesota, Appellant/Cross-Respondent vs. Wright County, et al., Respondents/Cross-Appellants, Ramsey County, Respondent – Case No. A16-1634: State Auditor Rebecca Otto commenced a declaratory judgment action against Wright, Becker, and Ramsey Counties, challenging the constitutionality of 2015 legislation, which requires Minnesota counties to “have an annual financial audit,” but permits counties to “choose to have the audit performed by a CPA firm” that meets certain statutory requirements, rather than by the State Auditor, Minn. Stat. § 6.481 (2016). After concluding that the facts pleaded present a justiciable controversy, the District Court granted in part and denied in part the State Auditor’s motion for summary judgment.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s rulings. The Court of Appeals concluded that although “auditing the finances of Minnesota counties is a core function” of the State Auditor, Minn. Stat. § 6.481 does not violate the separation-of-powers requirements of Minn. Const. art. III, § 1, by impermissibly modifying  this core function. In addition, the Court of Appeals concluded that the Legislature did not violate the Single Subject Clause of the Minnesota Constitution, Minn. Const. art. IV, § 17.Finally, the Court of Appeals concluded that the claims against Ramsey County are justiciable.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the Legislature violated the Separation of Powers Clause of the Minnesota Constitution by enacting Minn. Stat. § 6.481; (2) whether the Legislature violated the Single Subject Clause of the Minnesota Constitution by passing Minn. Stat. § 6.481 as part of the State Government Finance Omnibus Bill; (3) whether conducting a physical examination of county financial records constitutes a core function of the State Auditor; and (4) whether the claims against Ramsey County are too speculative to establish a justiciable controversy. (Ramsey County)

 

Glacial Plains Cooperative, formerly known as United Farmers Elevator, Respondent vs. Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company, LLLP, successor to Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company, LLC, Appellant – Case No. A16-1626: The respective predecessors-in-interest of appellant Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company, LLLP (CVEC) and respondent Glacial Plains Cooperative (GPC) entered into a contract for the handling of grain in 1994. Under the contract, GPC would invest in CVEC’s ethanol plant, CVEC would provide property next to the plant on which to build a grain-processing plant, and GPC would be the exclusive provider of grain for the plant. A number of provisions of the contract contemplated a very long-term relationship between the parties. Most notably, the contract stated that the parties’ intent was that “this agreement shall continue indefinitely unless terminated by the terms of this agreement, or by the mutual agreement of both parties.” The remaining “terms of [the] agreement” provided for termination only if GPC failed to perform its obligation and failed to cure the breach within 30 days.

In 2014, CVEC notified GPC of its intent to terminate the contract. GPC sued in district court, seeking to preclude CVEC from terminating the contract. The District Court denied CVEC’s motion for summary judgment, which CVEC had pressed based on the theory that the contract was for an indefinite duration that could be terminated at will by either party. After a bench trial, the court found that CVEC had breached the contract. Rather than damages, it ordered specific performance of the contract because it could not “accurately determine the value of GPC’s expectancy under the Contract.” The Court of Appeals affirmed, reasoning in part that the rule stated in Benson Cooperative Creamery Ass’n v. First District Ass’n, 151 N.W.2d 422, 426 (Minn. 1967)—that a contract of indefinite duration is terminable at will upon reasonable notice—is a rule of construction, not a rule of substantive law, and is therefore inapplicable if the text of the contract clearly evidences an intention that the contract be of perpetual duration. The Court of Appeals further reasoned that the contract between CVEC and GPC evidenced such an intention and that specific performance was appropriate.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the general rule that a contract of indefinite duration is terminable at will upon reasonable notice applies to the contract in this case; and (2) whether the remedy of specific performance of a contract of perpetual duration is appropriate in this case. (Swift County)

 

Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

 

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Daniel Joseph Decker, Appellant – Case No. A16-0830: A jury found appellant Daniel Decker guilty of fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct for “engag[ing] in masturbation or lewd exhibition of the genitals in the presence of a minor under the age of 16, knowing or having reason to know the minor is present.” Minn. Stat. § 609.3451, subd. 1(2) (2016). A jury also found Decker guilty of indecent exposure for “willfully and lewdly expos[ing] [his] body, or the private parts thereof” “in the presence of a minor under the age of 16.” Minn. Stat. § 617.23, subds. 1(1), 2(1) (2016). The evidence presented at trial established that Decker sent a 14-year-old girl a photo of his penis using Facebook Messenger. The Court of Appeals affirmed Decker’s convictions.

On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether a person exhibits or exposes his genitals “in the presence of a minor under the age of 16,” in violation of the fifth-degree-criminal-sexual-conduct and indecent-exposure statutes, by sending a photograph to a minor over the internet; and (2) whether a person “exhibit[s]” or “exposes” his genitals, in violation of the fifth-degree-criminal-sexual-conduct and indecent-exposure statutes, by sending an image of his genitals to another. (Steele County)

 

Hearing Associates, Inc., Respondent vs. Dr. Sara Downs, et al., Appellants – Case No. A16-1317: Respondent Hearing Associates, Inc., an audiology practice, employed appellants Dr. Sara Downs and Dr. Jonathan Gervais under terms that restricted them from competing or preparing to compete with Hearing Associates while employed, and from using confidential information for their own benefit. While employed at Hearing Associates, Downs and Gervais prepared to open a competitive practice, appellant Hearing Wellness Center, LLC. In doing so they used confidential information about Hearing Associates that they obtained during their employment with Hearing Associates.

Hearing Associates sued appellants on theories including breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of duty of loyalty, and violation of the Minnesota Uniform Trade Secrets Act (MUTSA), Minn. Stat. §§ 325C.01–.08 (2016). The District Court dismissed the MUTSA and fiduciary duty claims. A jury found both Downs and Gervais liable for both breach of contract and breach of the duty of loyalty. The District Court awarded damages to Hearing Associates and ordered Downs and Gervais each to forfeit wages and commissions earned during the period they were employed by Hearing Associates and were actively disloyal. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether MUTSA preempts Hearing Associates’ common-law claim for breach of the duty of loyalty because the claim is based upon misappropriation of confidential information; (2) whether an agreement restricting an employee’s right to prepare to compete is void as a matter of public policy; and (3) whether an employer may obtain forfeiture of an employee’s wages based on the employee’s breach of the duty of loyalty in the absence of a breach of a fiduciary duty. (St. Louis County)

 

Monday, Jan. 8, 2018

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

 

Holly Virginia Anderson, Appellant vs. Derrik T. Anderson, Respondent – Case No. A16-2006: Following years of litigation and appeals, in 2015, the District Court ordered respondent Derrik Anderson to pay permanent spousal maintenance to his former wife, appellant Holly Anderson, in the amount of $800 per month; the order was retroactive to February 1, 2010. In ruling on her subsequent requests, the District Court indicated that appellant “may seek cost of living adjustments for her spousal maintenance award.” In June 2016, appellant served three separate cost-of-living adjustment notices pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 518A.75 (2016), seeking increases to her spousal maintenance award, retroactive to 2010. The District Court declined to award retroactive increases.

The Court of Appeals affirmed. It concluded that “a retroactive COLA is not authorized by statute.” According to the court of appeals, appellant “could have preserved an earlier effective date for her COLA by providing notice of that requested COLA during the pendency of the parties’ then-existing disputes and, if [respondent] contested the COLA, asking the district court to hold the question in ‘abeyance’ pending resolution of those other disputes.”

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the District Court erred by failing to grant retroactive, cumulative COLA increases for appellant’s spousal maintenance award; (2) whether the Court of Appeals erred by imposing conditions on a party seeking a COLA under Minn. Stat. § 518A.75 who has a case under appeal; (3) whether Minn. Stat. § 518A.75 is unconstitutional as applied by violating equal protection rights; and (4) whether the law-of-the-case doctrine applies.(Scott County)

Tramayne Colfred Williams, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case Nos. A16-1526, A16-1527: In this appeal, appellant Tramayne Williams is challenging his sentence for promoting prostitution in a Hennepin County case and his sentence for first-degree aggravated robbery in an Otter Tail County case. In November 2012, the Hennepin County District Court sentenced Williams to 96 months in prison. In January 2013, the Otter Tail County District Court sentenced Williams to 92 months in prison. In calculating his criminal-history score, both courts treated two Illinois drug convictions for which Williams had received concurrent sentences at the Cook County boot camp as felony convictions.

In 2016, Williams filed a motion to correct his sentence under Minn. R. Crim. P. 27.03, subd. 9, in both Minnesota cases. Williams argued, in part, that he was sentenced with an incorrect criminal-history score because his two Illinois drug convictions were treated as felony convictions when he did not receive felony-level sentences for these offenses. The state did not file a response to the motion in Otter Tail County District Court, but it did file a response to the motion in Hennepin County District Court. Both courts denied the motion. Each concluded that the Illinois drug convictions were properly counted as felony convictions for purposes of Williams’ criminal-history score because the Illinois offenses would be defined as felonies in Minnesota and the boot-camp sentences would be felony-level sentences in Minnesota. After consolidating Williams’ appeals, the Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) in a challenge under Minn. R. Crim. Proc. 27.03, subd. 9, whether the state has the burden to prove that a defendant was sentenced using the correct criminal-history score; and (2) whether Williams’ two Illinois drug convictions should have been included as felonies when calculating his criminal-history score. (Hennepin and Otter Tail Counties)

 

Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

 

Justin Stephen Ries, Respondent/Cross-Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Appellant/Cross-Respondent – Case No. A16-0220: Following a jury trial, Justin Ries was convicted of possession of a firearm by an ineligible person, Minn. Stat. § 609.165, subd. 1b(a) (2016). Ries did not file a direct appeal. He did file a petition for postconviction review, alleging that the District Court committed reversible error (1) when it denied his pretrial motion to suppress the firearm, and (2) when it denied his motion to strike a juror for cause. Although the postconviction court concluded that the motion to suppress was properly denied, it granted Ries a new trial because a juror with actual bias had served on his jury. The state appealed, arguing that Ries had forfeited his right to challenge the biased juror on appeal by failing to use a peremptory challenge to remove the juror. Ries filed a cross-appeal, arguing that his pretrial motion to suppress was erroneously denied. The Court of Appeals affirmed the postconviction court’s order.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether Ries forfeited his right to appellate review of a biased juror when he failed to use a peremptory challenge to remove the juror; and (2) whether the lower courts erred by not suppressing the firearm. (Ramsey County)

 

Alejandro Cruz-Guzman, as guardian and next friend of his minor children, et al., Appellants/Cross-Respondents vs. State of Minnesota, et al., Respondents/Cross-Appellants, Higher Ground Academy, et al., Intervenors – Case No. A16-1265: Appellants Alejandro Cruz-Guzman, et al., as representatives of a class of children enrolled or expected to be enrolled in the Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools, brought a putative class-action lawsuit against respondents State of Minnesota, et al., claiming violations of the Education, Equal Protection, and Due Process Clauses of the Minnesota Constitution. Appellants allege that the Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools are segregated by race and socioeconomic status and that this segregation deprives students of an adequate education, resulting in significantly poorer outcomes in comparison with students in suburban school districts in measures such as proficiency in math, science, and reading, as well as graduation rates.

Respondents moved to dismiss the complaint on multiple grounds, including lack of subject matter jurisdiction, failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and failure to join all interested parties. Although the District Court did dismiss certain defendants as well as a claim under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, it otherwise denied the motion to dismiss. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that claims based on a purported right to an education of a certain quality under the Education Clause, Minn. Const. art. XIII, § 1, “present a nonjusticiable political question.” The Court of Appeals did not address respondents’ “other assignments of error.”

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether a claim for violation of the right to an adequate education under the Education Clause presents a justiciable issue for determination by Minnesota courts; (2) whether the District Court erred by failing to dismiss the Minnesota Senate and Minnesota House of Representatives from the action on the basis of legislative immunity; and (3) whether the District Court erred by failing to dismiss the complaint on the basis that all interested persons are not parties to the action. (Hennepin County)

 

Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

 

Faricy Law Firm, P.A., Appellant/Cross-Respondent vs. API, Inc. Asbestos Settlement Trust, Respondent/Cross-Appellant – Case No. A16-1539: API, Inc. Asbestos Settlement Trust retained Faricy Law Firm, P.A., to represent the trust in litigation against insurers related to insurance coverage for asbestos-related claims. The retainer agreement provided for a one-third contingency fee of any recovery against the insurers. In August 2012, the trust fired the law firm. In November 2012, the trust reached a settlement agreement with an insurer for $21,500,000. The law firm demanded one-third of the payment pursuant to the retainer agreement, but the trust refused.

The law firm filed a petition in district court for an attorney’s lien pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 481.13 (2016), seeking one-third of the amounts the trust receives from the insurer. The law firm argued that it is entitled to the full contingency fee, and despite the District Court’s invitation, the law firm presented no argument and no alternate calculation of an appropriate fee based on quantum meruit. The District Court concluded that the law firm is entitled to compensation under the retainer agreement, but because the law firm had failed to prove the reasonable value of its services based on quantum meruit, awarded the law firm nothing. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for the District Court to determine the reasonable value of the services the law firm provided, instructing the District Court to consider a number of factors in making that determination. Those factors did not include the terms of the contingency fee agreement.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the District Court should consider a contingency fee agreement as one of the factors in determining the reasonable value of a discharged law firm’s services; and (2) whether the law firm’s failure to present any evidence of the reasonable value of its services except the contingency fee agreement preclude it from recovery. (Ramsey County)

 

Security Bank & Trust Company, Respondent/Cross-Appellant vs. Larkin, Hoffman, Daly & Lindgren, Ltd., Appellant/Cross-Respondent – Case No. A16-1810: In 2015, Security Bank & Trust Company, as the trustee for a revocable trust and as the personal representative for an estate, brought a legal malpractice claim against Larkin, Hoffman, Daly & Lindgren, Ltd., which arose from estate planning services. The complaint alleges that the law firm prepared a revocable trust instrument and a separate last will and testament for the decedent in 2009, but failed to advise him regarding the applicability of a generation-skipping transfer tax, which resulted in substantial tax obligations. The District Court granted the law firm’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, concluding that the bank, both as trustee and as personal representative, lacked standing to bring the legal malpractice claim.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. The court determined that the decedent had sustained “some damage” at the time he signed the will and trust; that “he had a cause of action for legal malpractice that accrued at that time”; and that “after his death, that cause of action survived to the personal representative of his estate by operation of the survival statute,” Minn. Stat. § 524.3-703(c) (2016). Therefore, the Court of Appeals concluded that the bank “as personal representative had standing to assert a claim for legal malpractice based on allegedly negligent advice.” The Court of Appeals did not address the standing of the bank “in its capacity as trustee.”

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether a cause of action for legal malpractice, alleging that the preparation of testamentary instruments resulted in adverse tax consequences to the estate, accrues during the life of the testator or at the time of death; (2) whether Minn. Stat. § 524.3-703(c) requires a cause of action for legal malpractice to accrue before the death of the decedent in order for a personal representative to pursue a claim for damages; and (3) whether the trustee of a revocable trust may bring a cause of action for legal malpractice arising from negligent estate planning following the death of the decedent for injuries accruing to the trust. (Hennepin County)

 

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