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Minnesota Supreme Court chamber
The Supreme Court chamber in the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. (File photo: Kevin Featherly)

Supreme Court Calendar: September 2021

These summaries have been prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office.

 

Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

 

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Cordale Irby, Appellant – Case No. A20-0375: Respondent the State of Minnesota charged appellant Cordale Irby with wrongfully obtaining public assistance, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 256.98, subd. 1 (2020), which prohibits a person from committing certain acts or omissions “with intent to defeat the purposes of sections 145.891 to 145.897, the MFIP program formerly codified in sections 256.031 to 256.0361, the AFDC program formerly codified in sections 256.72 to 256.871, chapters 258B, 256D, 256J, 256K, or 256L, and child care assistance programs.” (Emphasis added). Irby pleaded not guilty and demanded a jury trial. The jury found Irby guilty as charged.

On appeal, Irby argued the Legislature’s use of an “and,” rather than an “or” at the end of the list of public-assistance programs in Minn. Stat. § 256.98, subd. 1, unambiguously required the State to prove he intended to defeat the purposes of all the programs listed in the statute. Because the State failed to present evidence that he intended to defeat the purposes of all the programs, Irby argued his conviction must be reversed. The court of appeals affirmed Irby’s conviction.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether Minn. Stat. § 256.98, subd. 1, requires the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted with intent to defeat the purposes of all the public-assistance statutes listed in subdivision 1. (Ramsey County)

 

Bentley S. Poitra, et al., Appellants vs. Emily Short, et al., Respondents, North Star Mutual Insurance, Respondent – Case No. A20-0491: This appeal concerns a declaratory judgment action arising from a dog attack. Appellant Bentley Poitra was living with his grandparents when their dog seriously injured him. Respondent North Star Mutual Insurance Company, which provided homeowner’s insurance to the grandparents, denied coverage for claims arising from the injury, citing a resident-relative exclusion clause in the insurance policy.

The district court applied the resident-relative exclusion and granted North Star’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(e). The court of appeals affirmed, holding that “resident-relative exclusions do not contravene public policy.”

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether the resident-relative exclusion in the homeowner’s policy is valid and enforceable. (Crow Wing County)

 

Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

 

Steven Lee Mittelstaedt, et al., Appellants vs. William H. Henney, et al., Respondents – Case No. A20-0573: In 2015, appellant Steven Lee Mittelstaedt was leasing a particular part-residential and part-commercial property in Virginia, Minnesota, with an option to purchase it from its owner, a bank. Defendant John Prosser (who had a pre-existing business relationship with Mittelstaedt) and respondent William H. Henney (a lawyer who had previously provided legal services for both Prosser and Mittelstaedt on different occasions) created defendant Maxim Management, LLC to purchase that property from the bank with the intention to continue leasing it to Mittelstaedt. The agreement between Mittelstaedt and Maxim again contained an option for Mittelstaedt to purchase the property. Henney drafted all the related documents and signed on behalf of Maxim, while Mittelstaedt signed on behalf of his company. By late 2015, Mittelstaedt and Prosser agreed to a second lease agreement that reduced the monthly rent. The second agreement did not contain the option to purchase.

Eventually Maxim brought an eviction action against Mittelstaedt and his company, alleging they had fallen behind on rent. In response, Mittelstaedt sued Prosser, Henney, and Maxim, alleging they had committed fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of contract. In his claims against Henney, Mittelstaedt alleged that Henney had been acting as his attorney and failed to disclose that he was a part owner of Maxim. Mittelstaedt also claimed that because Henney was supposedly acting as his attorney, he did not closely examine the documents Henney drafted. The two lawsuits were consolidated. Eventually Henney moved for summary judgment on the claims against him. The district court granted Henney’s motion with respect to the breach-of-fiduciary duty claim. The district court resolved the parties’ remaining claims at a bench trial and through other motion practice, leading to a small net award in Mittelstaedt’s favor. The court of appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment on Mittelstaedt’s breach-of-fiduciary duty claim against Henney.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether the expert-affidavit requirement in Minn. Stat. § 544.42 (2020), applies to an alleged breach of fiduciary duty against a lawyer when that claim allegedly does not involve negligence or malpractice. (St. Louis County)

 

Kyle Wendell Else, Appellant vs. Auto-Owners Insurance Company, Respondent – Case No. A20-0476: Appellant Kyle Else sued his homeowner’s insurer, respondent Auto-Owners Insurance Company, after the insurer denied coverage for fires that damaged his home. The case went to trial, and the jury found for Else. The district court awarded prejudgment interest to Else but ruled that the insurer is not liable for prejudgment interest in excess of the homeowner’s policy limit. The court of appeals affirmed as modified.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the primary issue presented is whether Else is entitled to prejudgment interest under the standard fire insurance policy, Minn. Stat. § 65A.01 (2020), in excess of the homeowner’s policy limit. (Blue Earth County)

 

Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

 

Madison Equities, Inc., et al., Respondents vs. Office of Attorney General, Appellant – Case No. A20-0434: This appeal arises from a civil investigative demand issued by respondent Office of the Attorney General (Attorney General) to appellants Madison Equities, Inc., et al. (Madison Equities), after the Attorney General received complaints of wage theft from individuals who were employed by Madison Equities as security guards. The district court denied Madison Equities’ motion for a protective order and granted the Attorney General’s motion to compel compliance. The court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, concluding that the civil investigative demand is overbroad.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the Attorney General has reasonable grounds under Minn. Stat. § 8.31, subd. 2 (2020), to investigate Madison Equities’ closely held subsidiaries and seek information about hourly employees other than security guards; and (2) whether the court of appeals improperly applied the abuse-of-discretion standard. (Ramsey County)

 

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Anthoney Micheal Fugalli, Appellant – Case No. A19-2007: Respondent State of Minnesota charged appellant Anthoney Fugalli with first-degree sale of a controlled substance. A person commits first-degree controlled-substance crime if “on one or more occasions within a 90-day period [they] unlawfully sell[] one or more mixtures of a total weight of ten grams or more containing heroin.” Minn. Stat. § 152.021, subd. 1(3) (2020). “Sell,” in turn, is defined as: “(1) to sell, give away, barter, deliver, exchange, distribute or dispose of to another, or to manufacture; or (2) to offer or agree to perform an act listed in clause (1).” Minn. Stat. § 152.01, subd. 15(a) (2020) (emphasis added).

Pursuant to a plea agreement, Fugalli pleaded guilty. At his plea hearing, he admitted that on four different occasions in a 90-day period, he offered to sell a person a total of 13 grams of heroin, although the weight of the heroin actually exchanged was 8.906 grams. The district court accepted Fugalli’s guilty plea.

Prior to sentencing, Fugalli filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The district court denied the motion. The court of appeals affirmed.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether Fugalli’s guilty plea was inaccurate because the weight of the drugs sold was less than the statutory 10-gram threshold. (Rice County)

 

Monday, Sept. 13, 2021

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor
Jonathan Richardson Woolsey, Appellant vs. Ruthanne A. Woolsey, Respondent – Case No. A20-0749: This appeal involves a child custody dispute between appellant Jonathan Woolsey (father) and respondent Ruthanne Woolsey (mother). During their marital dissolution action, the parties filed a stipulated custody and parenting-time agreement. Mother was granted sole physical and legal custody of the parties’ child. The parties also agreed: “The issue of legal custody may be reviewed by motion of [father] no earlier than January 1, 2020, and that review will be based upon the best interest standard set forth in Minn. Stat. 518.17.” The agreement was incorporated into the dissolution judgment and decree.

In January 2020, father moved to modify legal custody, requesting joint legal custody of the child. The district court ruled that father failed to make a prima facie case for modification because he failed to allege a change in circumstances. The court of appeals affirmed. The court of appeals held that “changed circumstances are required to modify custody” under Minn. Stat. § 518.18(d)(i) (2020), and the “failure to allege the required changed circumstances is fatal to father’s motion regardless of his allegations regarding the child’s best interests.”

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether father was required to make a threshold showing of changed circumstances when moving for a change in legal custody. (Hennepin County)

 

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Quanteze Damar Morgan, Appellant – Case No. A19-1902: Appellant Quanteze Morgan pleaded guilty to felony domestic assault. The probation officer determined that Morgan’s criminal-history score was 4.5, which included three felony “half points” for Morgan’s prior controlled-substance convictions. Based on his criminal-history score, the district court sentenced Morgan to 24 months in prison.

On appeal, Morgan challenged his sentence, arguing he was not convicted of a violation of Minnesota Statutes Chapter 152 (the controlled-substance statute), when he pleaded guilty to possessing a small amount of marijuana, and therefore one of his prior controlled-substance convictions should have been treated as a gross misdemeanor, not a felony. The court of appeals affirmed.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether Morgan’s sentencing claim is justiciable; and (2) if so, whether the 2005 petty misdemeanor is a previous conviction for a violation of Chapter 152. (Hennepin County)

 

Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

 

Perham Hospital District, Respondent vs. County of Otter Tail, Relator – Case No. A21-0619: This appeal involves the classification for several parcels of real property for purposes of the hospital district tax exemption in Minn. Stat. § 447.31 (2020). Respondent Perham Hospital District (“the District”) owns these parcels and operates medical clinics on them. Relator Otter Tail County classified the clinic properties as commercial; the District asserts the clinics are exempt under Minn. Stat. § 447.31, subd. 6.

Following a trial, the Minnesota Tax Court made numerous factual findings on the organization and operation of the hospital and the clinics. The tax court concluded that the clinics are exempt under a statutory exemption for public hospitals, Minn. Stat. § 447.31, subd. 6.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) did the tax court misinterpret the term “hospital,” as used in Minn. Stat. §§ 447.31 to 447.37 (2020); and (2) whether the tax court misinterpreted the term “improve,” as used in Minn. Stat. §§ 447.31 to 447.37. (Minnesota Tax Court)

 

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Chris A. Mrozinski, Appellant – Case No. A20-0231: Appellant Chris Mrozinski slid an envelope under the door to the Initial Intervention Unit of St. Louis County Children’s Protection Services. The envelope contained a letter and four “toe tags” that also were in her handwriting. Respondent the State of Minnesota charged Mrozinski with four counts of threats of violence, Minn. Stat. § 609.713, subd. 1 (2020), one for each county employee listed on the toe tags.

Mrozinski filed a motion to dismiss, arguing, in part, that the threats-of-violence statute was unconstitutionally overbroad, in violation of the First Amendment. The district court denied the motion. Mrozinski waived her right to a jury trial and other trial rights, and the parties agreed to submit the case to the district court based on stipulated facts. The district court found Mrozinski guilty of all counts. The court of appeals affirmed.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether the threats-of-violence statute is unconstitutionally overbroad, in violation of the First Amendment. (St. Louis County)

 

Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

 

Amreya Rahmeto Shefa, Respondent/Cross-Appellant vs. Attorney General Keith Ellison, in his official capacity, Appellant/Cross-Respondent, Governor Tim Walz, in his official capacity, Respondent/Cross-Appellant, and Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, in her official capacity, Appellant/Cross-Respondent – Case No. A21-0830: Respondent/Cross-Appellant Amreya Rahmeto Shefa filed a petition for a pardon. Two of the three members of the board of pardons voted to grant her petition. But because Minn. Stat. § 638.02, subd. 1 (2020), requires “a unanimous vote of the board,” the petition was denied. Shefa then filed a civil action against the pardon board members in their official capacities seeking declarative and injunctive relief. The district court declared that Minn. Stat. § 638.02, subd. 1, and part of Minn. Stat. § 638.01 (2020), violate Minn. Const. art. V, § 7. The district court denied Shefa’s request for injunctive relief, concluding it was the duty of the Legislature to enact a new law.

Appellant/Cross-Respondent Chief Justice Lorie Gildea filed a notice of appeal and a petition for accelerated review. The petition for accelerated review was granted.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether Minn. Stat. § 638.02, subd. 1, and part of Minn. Stat. § 638.01, violate Minn. Const. art. V, § 7; and (2) if so, whether Shefa is entitled to injunctive relief. (Ramsey County)

 

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Edgar Isidro Galvan-Contreras, Appellant – Case No. A20-0366: In 2019, appellant Edgar Galvan-Contreras was charged with interfering with the privacy of a minor, based on allegations that he used his cell phone to record a 15-year-old male who was changing in a bathroom stall in the locker room of a fitness center. Galvan-Contreras waived his right to a jury trial and proceeded with a stipulated-facts trial under Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 4. The district court found him guilty. The court of appeals affirmed.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether the interference with the privacy of a minor statute, Minn. Stat. § 609.746, subd. 1(e)(2) (2020), requires the State to prove that the defendant knew or had reason to know that the person present during the offense was a minor. (Hennepin County)

 

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