The following summaries of upcoming Supreme Court arguments were prepared from information provided by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office.
Tuesday, June 1, 2021
Minnesota Judicial Center
Vaundell Duwayne Kingbird, Appellant/Cross-Respondent vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent/Cross-Appellant – Case No. A19-1850: In May 2010, the State of Minnesota charged Vaundell Duwayne Kingbird with several offenses, including being a felon in possession of a firearm, for possessing a BB gun. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Kingbird pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, and the State dismissed the other charges. The district court accepted Kingbird’s guilty plea, sentenced him to a 60-month stayed sentence, and placed him on probation. In August 2011, the district court revoked Kingbird’s probation and executed his sentence.
In 2016, the Supreme Court held that an air-powered BB gun is not a “firearm” under the felon-in-possession-of-a-firearm statute. State v. Haywood, 886 N.W.2d 485, 487 (Minn. 2016). The State later filed a motion to vacate Kingbird’s conviction and dismiss the charge. The district court vacated Kingbird’s conviction and sentence and dismissed the charge.
Kingbird filed an amended petition for an order declaring him eligible for compensation based on exoneration. In order to be eligible for such compensation, a person must prove, among other things, that “a court” has “vacated, reversed or set aside a judgment of conviction on grounds consistent with innocence.” Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 1(b)(1)(i) (2020). The definition of “[o]n grounds consistent with innocence” includes that “the judgment of conviction was vacated or reversed, or a new trial was ordered, and there is any evidence of factual innocence.” Id., subd. 1(c)(2) (2020). The district court denied Kingbird’s petition. The court of appeals affirmed.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether there is any evidence of factual innocence when, after a petitioner is convicted, an appellate court rules that the petitioner’s conduct was not a crime. (Itasca County)
State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Larry Dale Taylor, Appellant – Case No. A20-0425: On February 17, 2019, a Clay County sheriff’s deputy stopped the truck that appellant Larry Dale Taylor was driving after noticing that the truck had no front license plate and that the rear license plate was covered by snow. The deputy spoke with Taylor, who failed to produce a driver’s license and admitted to last registering the truck in 2017. During this interaction, the deputy saw a case of beer with an open flap in the back seat of the truck, directly behind Taylor. There were cans missing from the case, but the deputy did not see any cans anywhere else in the truck.
While checking Taylor’s license plate and name, the deputy learned that Taylor’s driver’s license had been canceled as inimical to public safety. The deputy asked Taylor if he had consumed any of the beers from the open case in the truck. Taylor initially said that he had two of the beers but later admitted to having had six.
The deputy brought Taylor to jail. Taylor took a breath test, which measured his alcohol concentration as 0.12. The deputy searched Taylor’s truck and found two open cans of beer by the front passenger seat.
Respondent State of Minnesota charged Taylor with several offenses, including first-degree driving while impaired (DWI), based on driving with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher and driving with an open bottle of alcohol. Taylor filed a motion to suppress, arguing, in part, that the deputy improperly expanded the scope of the traffic stop by asking Taylor if he had recently consumed alcohol.
The district court denied the motion to suppress. The court concluded that the deputy lawfully expanded the scope of the traffic stop to investigate a possible DWI violation when he asked Taylor if he had been drinking. The court reasoned that under the totality of the circumstances, the deputy had reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity to expand the scope of the stop based on the open case of beer and Taylor’s license status of cancelled as inimical to public safety.
Taylor waived his right to a jury trial and other trial rights and stipulated to the prosecution’s evidence in a court trial. The district court found Taylor guilty of first-degree DWI, driving with an open bottle of alcohol, and one other offense. A divided court of appeals panel affirmed Taylor’s convictions.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether the deputy unreasonably expanded the scope of the traffic stop by asking questions unrelated to the original purpose of the stop when the totality of the facts known to the deputy would not cause a rational person to infer Taylor’s impairment. (Clay County)
Wednesday, June 2, 2021
Minnesota Judicial Center
In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of: Mitchell Lee Kenney – Case No. A20-1007: Appellant Mitchell Lee Kenney was indeterminately committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program as a sexually dangerous person in 2010. He carries a diagnosis of pedophilic disorder. In 2018, Kenney petitioned for a reduction in custody. The Special Review Board held a hearing and recommended provisional discharge. Following a contested hearing, the Commitment Appeal Panel provisionally discharged Kenney to the community, finding that (1) his course of treatment and present mental status indicate that there is no longer a need for treatment and supervision at Community Preparation Services, and (2) the conditions of the provisional discharge plan will provide a reasonable degree of protection to the public and will enable Kenney to adjust successfully to the community. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that “the overwhelming weight of the evidence shows that provisional discharge is premature and would be counterproductive to Kenney’s overall development.”
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the court of appeals misapplied the clear error standard of review; and (2) whether the Commitment Appeal Panel clearly erred by granting provisional discharge. (Commitment Appeal Panel)
State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Seth Mars Reimer, Appellant – Case No. A19-1801: In 2018, Seth Mars Reimer was charged with multiple counts of first-degree and second-degree criminal sexual conduct based on allegations that he sexually abused his girlfriend’s three minor daughters between 2006 and 2018. A jury found him guilty of two counts. The parties disputed whether Reimer should be sentenced under the sentencing guidelines that existed before August 1, 2006, or after. During the sentencing hearing, the district court found that based on the testimony given by two of the victims during the jury trial, the earliest incident of sexual abuse occurred in 2010, which means that Reimer should be sentenced under the sentencing guidelines that became effective after August 1, 2006. The court of appeals held that the district court committed an error when sentencing Reimer by making factual findings regarding the offense dates, but the error was harmless.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether the district court committed an error when sentencing Reimer. (Saint Louis County)
Thursday, June 3, 2021
Minnesota Judicial Center
Virginia Staub, Appellant vs. Myrtle Lake Resort, LLC, Respondent, James Lown, Respondent – Case No. A20-0267: Appellant Virginia Staub brought this wrongful death action after her mother Joyce Weeks died from the injuries she sustained falling down a set of outdoor cement stairs at Myrtle Lake Resort. Respondent Myrtle Lake Resort, LLC, of which respondent James Lown is the sole member, owns the resort. Appellant alleged that Weeks fell due to the defective and unsafe condition of the stairs. The district court granted summary judgment to respondents. The district court concluded that “[t]here are no facts upon which a jury could determine that the negligence” of respondents caused the fall because no one had observed what caused Weeks to fall down the stairs. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that appellant offered only speculation as to the proximate cause of the injury.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is the legal standard for causation. (Saint Louis County)
Nonoral: Diamond Lee Jamal Griffin, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A20-1449: Following a jury trial, appellant Diamond Lee Jamal Griffin was convicted of first-degree felony murder in connection with the shooting death of Francisco Benitez-Hernandez in 2013. The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction on direct appeal. State v. Griffin, 887 N.W.2d 257 (Minn. 2016). The Supreme Court also affirmed the denial of Griffin’s first and second petitions for postconviction relief. Griffin v. State, 941 N.W.2d 404 (Minn. 2020).
In his third petition for postconviction relief, Griffin claims that the State violated his right to due process by using false and misleading evidence and representations during the indictment proceedings—specifically, the use of an alias for the victim instead of his legal name. The district court summarily denied the petition on the grounds that the claim is procedurally barred and untimely.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether the district court abused its discretion by summarily denying Griffin’s third petition for postconviction relief. (Hennepin County)
Tuesday, June 8, 2021
Minnesota Judicial Center
Nonoral: Michelle Sayler, Relator vs. Bethany Home and American Compensation Insurance/RTW, Respondents – Case No. A20-1429: Relator Michelle Sayler suffered a work-related injury in 1997 when a patient’s wheelchair ran over her right foot while she was employed by respondent Bethany Home. In 1998, the parties settled the claim for $27,000, less attorney fees, leaving open some forms of medical treatment, but specifically closing out chiropractic treatment, future psychological treatment, pain clinic treatment, and rehabilitation. In 2019, Sayler petitioned to vacate the 1998 award based on a substantial change in medical condition. The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) concluded that Sayler had not established good cause to vacate the award under Minn. Stat. § 176.461 (2020). Therefore, the WCCA denied the petition.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether the WCCA abused its discretion in denying the petition to vacate by applying an incorrect burden of proof and by making incorrect factual conclusions. (Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals)
Nonoral: Mary Jaeger, Relator vs. Children’s Hospitals & Clinics of MN and Berkley Risk Administrators Company, LLC, Respondents – Case No. A21-0149: Relator Mary Jaeger was employed by respondent Children’s Hospitals & Clinics of MN as an advance practice nurse. On the afternoon of October 9, 2015, Jaeger had finished seeing patients at the Saint Paul campus and was planning to complete chart work at home. As she left the facility, she received a call from the Minneapolis facility. After she left work, Jaeger was injured in a car accident. At the time of the accident, Jaeger was planning to pull over so that she could return the call and determine whether her assistance was needed at the Minneapolis campus.
Jaeger filed a claim petition for the injuries she sustained in the accident. Following a hearing, the compensation judge found that the preponderance of the evidence did not support a finding that Jaeger’s injury was work related. The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) affirmed, concluding that Jaeger’s injury was not compensable under any of the exceptions to the general rule that injuries suffered while commuting to and from work are not compensable.
On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: whether the WCCA applied the correct legal standard and substantial evidence supports the compensation judge’s findings with regard to (1) whether Jaeger was a “traveling employee” at the time of her injury; (2) whether Jaeger’s home was a “special place of work”; and (3) whether Jaeger was on a “dual purpose” errand at the time of her injury. (Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals)
Wednesday, June 9, 2021
Minnesota Judicial Center
State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Mohamed Mohamed Noor, Appellant – Case No. A19-1089: The State of Minnesota charged appellant Mohamed Mohamed Noor with several offenses, including depraved-mind murder, Minn. Stat. § 609.195(a) (2020), in connection with the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk. Following a jury trial, Noor was convicted of depraved-mind murder.
On appeal, Noor argued that his conviction could not be sustained because his death-causing act was directed at the particular person who was killed. A divided panel of the court of appeals affirmed. The panel majority concluded that section 609.195(a) does not require that more than one person be put in jeopardy.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether Noor’s conviction for depraved-mind murder can be sustained even though the death-causing act was directed at the particular person who was killed; and (2) whether there is sufficient evidence that Noor acted with a “depraved mind, without regard for human life,” under section 609.195(a). (Hennepin County)
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