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The Supreme Court Chamber in the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)
The Supreme Court Chamber in the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Supreme Court Calendar: October 2018

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

Monday, October 1, 2018

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor 

Kurt A. Maethner, Respondent vs. Someplace Safe, Inc., Appellant, Jacquelyn Jorud f/k/a Jacquelyn Hanson Maethner, Appellant – Case No. A17-0998: Respondent Kurt Maethner brought defamation claims against appellant Someplace Safe, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides advocacy services to victims of domestic abuse, and appellant Jacquelyn Jorud, his former wife. The defamation claims stem from statements appellants made about Jorud’s personal experiences as a survivor of domestic abuse. The District Court granted appellants’ motions for summary judgment.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, concluding that “the District Court erred in granting summary judgment to Someplace Safe and Jorud because a qualified privilege did not protect allegedly defamatory statements that were made to raise funds” and that “Maethner offered sufficient evidence of emotional distress and the statements alleged criminal activity for which damages are presumed.” The Court of Appeals also concluded that “the District Court erred in determining that Someplace Safe did not owe a duty to exercise reasonable care before publishing allegedly defamatory statements.”

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the statements made by Someplace Safe are protected by a qualified privilege; (2) whether Maethner is entitled to presumed damages or whether he must prove actual harm to reputation; and (3) whether Someplace Safe had a duty to investigate before publishing Jorud’s statements about her personal experiences. (Otter Tail County)

Thaleaha McBee, Appellant vs. Team Industries, Inc., Respondent – Case No. A17-0060: Appellant Thaleaha McBee worked as a machine operator on the production line for respondent Team Industries, Inc. Two days after McBee informed Team that her physician had given her a 10-pound lifting restriction, Team terminated her employment. McBee filed suit, asserting claims for disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, and reprisal in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), Minn. Stat. §§ 363A.01–.43 (2016). The District Court granted summary judgment to Team, in part, because the District Court found that the ability to lift more than 10 pounds was “an essential function” of McBee’s position.

The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals ruled that McBee was not qualified to perform an essential function of her position, “the MHRA does not require an employer to engage in an interactive process to determine an appropriate reasonable accommodation,” and Team “could have reasonably concluded that her continued employment risked serious harm to herself and her coworkers.”

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issues presented include: (1) whether the District Court erred by concluding that McBee was not qualified to perform the essential functions of her position; (2) whether the MHRA requires employers and employees to engage in an interactive process to determine possible reasonable accommodations; and (3) whether Team established a “serious threat” affirmative defense under the MHRA. (Becker County)

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Appellant vs. Chippewa/Swift Joint Board of Commissioners, Respondent – Case No. A18-0201: After a landowner requested repairs, respondent Chippewa/Swift Joint Board of Commissioners (Board) determined that a reestablishment of records was necessary for Judicial Ditch No. 9. During the reestablishment proceedings, appellant Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) raised several concerns with the Board. The DNR claims that the Board disregarded those concerns when it issued an order reestablishing drainage system records pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 103E.101, subd. 4a (2016).

The DNR sought certiorari review of the reestablishment order. The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals concluded that the reestablishment order does not constitute a final, binding decision; therefore, the order is “not a quasi-judicial decision subject to review by certiorari.”

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether an order by a drainage authority to reestablish drainage system records under Minn. Stat. § 103E.101, subd. 4a, constitutes a quasi-judicial decision. (Chippewa/Swift County Joint Board of Commissioners)

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Vern Jason Mouelle, Appellant – Case No. A18-0083: A grand jury indicted appellant Vern Jason Mouelle with several offenses, including premeditated murder and premeditated murder of an unborn child. Mouelle pleaded not guilty and demanded a jury trial. During an ex parte discussion of an issue related to opening statements, defense counsel told the District Court that if Mouelle testified, a discussion was needed on the guidelines set forth in Nix v. Whiteside, 475 U.S. 157 (1986) (explaining that threatening to withdraw from representation in an attempt to dissuade a client from committing perjury does not fall below an objective standard of reasonableness). Mouelle later testified without any further discussion of Whiteside. While reading its instructions to the jury, the District Court misspoke using the word “or” once when it should have said “and.” After the jury found Mouelle guilty as charged, the District Court imposed consecutive sentences of life without the possibility of release for the convictions of premeditated murder and premeditated murder of an unborn child.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether defense counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel when he mentioned Whiteside; (2) whether the District Court committed plain error in its jury instructions; and (3) whether Mouelle is entitled to resentencing on the offense of premeditated murder of an unborn child. (Dakota County)

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

Claude Bruton, Jr., Respondent vs. Smithfield Foods, Inc. and ESIS, Inc., Relators – Case No. A18-0914: Employee-respondent Claude Bruton injured his shoulder and face while working at Smithfield Foods. Smithfield paid short-term disability (STD) wage-loss benefits to Bruton. Smithfield later agreed that Bruton was owed workers’ compensation benefits in the form of temporary disability benefits (TTD) from the date of injury and continuing forward. When Smithfield reduced the TDD payments by the amount of STD benefits that were previously paid, Bruton objected to the offset. The parties stipulated that “Smithfield maintained” the STD benefit through a plan, which “is not an ERISA plan” because the funds that pay the plan’s benefits “are funds owned by Smithfield and the plan is administered by Smithfield.” Based on the stipulated facts, the compensation judge agreed that Smithfield was entitled to an offset.

The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) reversed. According to the WCCA, the plan was not an entity that is authorized to make payment of workers’ compensation benefits because it was not a self-insured employer, the State, the Special Compensation Fund, or a workers’ compensation insurer. Thus, the STD benefits were not workers’ compensation benefits for which an offset could be claimed.

On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the WCCA abused its discretion when it determined that it was unclear whether Smithfield Foods’s plan was its own, or a “separate entity” which would have needed to intervene in the workers’ compensation proceedings; and (2) whether the WCCA committed an error of law in reversing the compensation judge and granting the employee’s claim for benefits from Smithfield Foods. (Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals)

Megan Ashley Olson, et al., Respondents vs. One 1999 Lexus MN License Plate No. 851LDV VIN: JT6HF10U6X0079461, Appellant – Case No. A17-1083: Respondent Megan Ashley Olson was arrested and charged with felony first-degree driving while impaired (DWI), a “designated offense” under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 1(e) (2016). Police seized the vehicle that Megan was driving—a 1999 Lexus owned by Megan’s mother, respondent Helen Olson—pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subds. 6, 8 (2016). Respondents received proper and timely notice of the seizure and intent to forfeit pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 8(b)-(c).On October 7, 2015, they filed a timely demand for judicial determination of the vehicle forfeiture in the form of a civil complaint pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 8(e), raising a number of defenses and claiming that the forfeiture statute was unconstitutional. A court trial was set for February 11, 2016. But the trial was rescheduled multiple times pending the outcome of Megan’s related implied-consent and criminal DWI matters. See Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 9(d) (2016).

On October 14, 2016, respondents moved for summary judgment. A hearing took place on February 23, 2017. The District Court granted the respondents’ motion, concluding that Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 9(d), does not provide for meaningful review after a prehearing vehicle seizure and no meaningful hardship relief and, therefore, violates due process. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that although subdivision 9(d) is constitutional on its face, it is unconstitutional as applied.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 9(d) is unconstitutional in violation of the Due Process Clauses of the United States and Minnesota Constitutions. (Scott County)

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

In re Petition for Reinstatement of Larry Severson, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0099363 – Case No. A17-0895: An attorney reinstatement matter that presents the issue of whether suspended attorney Larry Severson should be reinstated to the practice of law.

Nonoral: Charles Waters, et al., Relators vs. Commissioner of Revenue, Respondent – Case No. A18-0580: Relators Charles and Anita Waters received a Homestead Credit Refund for property taxes payable in 2014. Concluding that relators under reported their income for purposes of determining refund eligibility by failing to include funds received under a PELL grant, respondent Commissioner of Revenue issued an order assessing relators for the amount of the refund that was allegedly overpaid. The tax court granted the Commissioner’s summary judgment motion, holding that under Minn. Stat. § 290A.03, subd. 3(a)(xiii) (2016) (providing that “income” includes “nontaxable scholarship or fellowship grants”), PELL grants are considered income for purposes of property tax refunds.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether PELL grants are considered income for purposes of property tax refunds. (Minnesota Tax Court)

Monday, October 8, 2018

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

State of Minnesota, Respondent/Cross-Appellant vs. Fedor Pakhnyuk, Appellant/Cross-Respondent – Case No. A17-0474: The State charged Fedor Pakhnyuk with several offenses, including interference with the privacy of a minor, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.746, subd. 1(a), (e)(2) (2016). This statute makes it a crime if a person “(1) enters upon another’s property; (2) surreptitiously gazes, stares, or peeps in the window or any other aperture of a house or place of dwelling of another; and (3) does so with intent to intrude upon or interfere with the privacy of a member of the household.” Id., subd. 1(a). Thus, to prove that Pakhnyuk interfered with the privacy of a minor, the State was required to prove, among other things, the entering element, Minn. Stat. § 609.746, subd. 1(a)(1), the gazing element, Minn. Stat. § 609.746, subd. 1(a)(2), and the specific-intent element, Minn. Stat. § 609.746, subd. 1(a)(3).

Following a trial, a jury found Pakhnyuk guilty of all the charged offenses. A divided Court of Appeals panel affirmed Pakhnyuk’s conviction for interfering with the privacy rights of a minor.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the specific-intent element of Minn. Stat. § 609.746, subd. 1(a), applies to both the entering element and the gazing element; (2) if the specific-intent element of Minn. Stat. § 609.746, subd. 1(a), applies to both the entering element and the gazing element, whether the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Pakhnyuk had the specific intent when he entered another’s property; and (3) whether Pakhnyuk forfeited the statutory interpretation issue by failing to raise it in the District Court. (Scott County)

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. John Lee Bowen, Appellant – Case No. A17-0331: Appellant John Bowen was charged with simple robbery and making threats of violence based on allegations that he walked out of a liquor store without paying for a bottle of alcohol and threatened to return to the store to harm employees. A jury found Bowen guilty of simple robbery but not guilty of making threats of violence.

Bowen appealed his simple robbery conviction, arguing that the bottle of liquor taken from the liquor store does not fall within the definition of “personal property” under Minn. Stat. § 609.24 (2016). The Court of Appeals affirmed Bowen’s conviction, holding that the term “personal property” in the simple robbery statute includes all property owned by a person or entity, other than real property.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether the term “personal property” in the simple robbery statute includes property belonging to a business entity. (Ramsey County)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

City of Richfield, Respondent vs. Law Enforcement Labor Services, Inc., Appellant – Case No. A17-1275: Respondent City of Richfield terminated the employment of a police officer after an internal investigation concluded that the officer (1) used excessive force during an encounter with an individual, (2) failed to properly document or report his contact with the individual, and (3) violated his training and the standards of conduct reasonably expected of a Richfield police officer. Appellant Law Enforcement Labor Services, Inc., filed a grievance challenging the termination.

The matter proceeded to arbitration. Following a hearing, the arbitrator issued an award ruling that the City did not have “just cause” to terminate the officer’s employment. Among other conclusions, the arbitrator determined that the force used by the officer in the incident “was not excessive or unreasonable, given the totality of the circumstances,” but the officer’s “failure to properly report the incident” warranted “disciplinary action in the form of a three-shift unpaid suspension.”

The city filed a motion to vacate the arbitration award, which the District Court denied. The Court of Appeals reversed on the basis that the arbitration award violates public policy. Noting that the officer had previously been disciplined for failing to report the use of force, the Court of Appeals concluded that the arbitration award interferes with the police department’s “legal obligation to establish and enforce minimum standards of conduct for its police officers.”

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the arbitration award should be vacated because it violates “a well-defined and dominant public policy.” (Hennepin County)

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Heath Allen Atwood, Appellant – Case No. A17-1463: Appellant Heath Atwood was charged with fourth-degree driving while impaired after causing a motor vehicle accident. Atwood filed a motion to suppress the blood sample used to test his alcohol concentration, arguing that the sample was improperly obtained by law enforcement from the hospital while he was being treated for injuries. The District Court granted the suppression motion, holding that the sample was protected by the physician-patient privilege, codified in Minn. Stat. § 595.02 (2016).

The state appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the term “information” in the statute does not include a blood sample.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether a patient’s blood sample collected at the direction of a physician providing medical treatment is protected by the physical-patient privilege from collection by law enforcement using a search warrant. (Murray County)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

David Lee Henson, et al., Respondents vs. Uptown Drink, LLC, Appellant – Case No. A17-1066: Respondents David Henson, et al., asserted negligent-innkeeper and dram-shop claims against appellant Uptown Drink. The claims arose from the death of Maxwell Henson, who was fatally injured while trying to help eject an aggressive patron, Nicholas Anderson, from Uptown Drink. The District Court granted Uptown Drink’s motion for summary judgment.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for further proceedings. With respect to the negligent-innkeeper claim, the Court of Appeals concluded the District Court’s “application of primary assumption of the risk, as a matter of law, was not appropriate.” With respect to the dram-shop claim, the Court of Appeals concluded there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Anderson’s intoxication was the proximate cause of Maxwell Henson’s injury.

On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the injury-causing conduct of Anderson was not foreseeable, as a matter of law, for purposes of the negligent-innkeeper claim; (2) whether the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk bars the negligent-innkeeper claim; and (3) whether there is a fact question for the jury on the proximate cause of Maxwell Henson’s injuries for purposes of the dram-shop claim. (Hennepin County)

Julie A. Soderberg, Respondent vs. Lucas Anderson, Appellant – Case No. A17-0827: Respondent Julie Soderberg, a ski instructor, sustained significant injuries in a collision with appellant Lucas Anderson, a snowboarder. The collision took place while Soderberg was giving a ski lesson on a trail that was marked as a slow-skiing area. Soderberg brought a negligence action against Anderson, alleging that he failed to snowboard under proper control. The District Court granted Anderson’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk bars the negligence action.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. The Court of Appeals concluded that “genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether Soderberg appreciated the inherent risk that she could be crushed from above in a slow-skiing area and as to whether Anderson enlarged the inherent risk of skiing.”

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk bars Soderberg’s negligence action. In the order granting further review, the court directed counsel “to specifically address whether Minnesota should continue to recognize the doctrine of implied primary assumption of the risk.” (St. Louis County)

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