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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 2021

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

Monday, October 4, 2021

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Darrell James Wigham, Appellant – Case No. A20-0857: In 2018, appellant Darrell Wigham was charged with first-degree arson based on allegations that he started a house on fire. Wigham entered an Alford plea to the charge. The district court sentenced Wigham to 88 months in prison and reserved the issue of restitution based on the State’s request to clarify the amounts requested. The district court subsequently awarded restitution and Wigham challenged the order. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court issued an order awarding $87,500 in restitution to the homeowner and the insurance company. Wigham appealed the final restitution order and the court of appeals affirmed.

 

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the district court properly considered Wigham’s ability to pay under Minn. Stat. § 611A.045, subd. 1 (2020), when awarding restitution. (Mower County)

 

NonoralDe-Aunteze Lavion Bobo, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A21-0440: In 2007, appellant De-Aunteze Bobo was convicted of first-degree murder for shooting a man outside of a bar in Minneapolis. The district court sentenced Bobo to life without the possibility of release. Bobo filed a direct appeal and his conviction was affirmed.

Bobo filed petitions for postconviction relief asserting claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and newly discovered evidence. The district court denied the petitions and the denials were affirmed on appeal.

In 2020, Bobo filed another petition for postconviction relief asserting a claim of newly discovered evidence. The district court held an evidentiary hearing and then denied the petition.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the district court committed an error when it denied Bobo’s most recent petition for postconviction relief. (Hennepin County)

 

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

 

In the Matter of the Welfare of: H.B., Child – Case No. A20-0954: In 2019, juvenile delinquency petitions were filed against H.B. charging him with first-degree aggravated robbery and second-degree murder under an aiding-and-abetting theory of criminal liability. The petitions alleged that H.B. and another juvenile male robbed several individuals at gunpoint on the streets of Minneapolis and shot one individual who tried to flee. The State filed motions to certify H.B. as an adult for prosecution. The juvenile court held an evidentiary hearing and denied the motions. The State appealed under Minn. R. Juv. P. 21.04, subd. 1(B), and the court of appeals reversed.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the court of appeals erroneously interpreted and applied the public safety factors for adult certification set forth in Minn. Stat. § 260B.125, subd. 4 (2020). (Hennepin County)

 

NonoralJason Lee Bolstad, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A21-0511: In 2003, a jury found appellant Jason Lee Bolstad guilty of first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree felony murder, second-degree intentional murder, and second-degree felony murder. The district court convicted Bolstad of first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced him to life without the possibility of release. Bolstad’s conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. Bolstad subsequently filed two petitions for postconviction relief, which were denied.

In December 2020, Bolstad filed a motion to correct his sentence under Minn. R. Crim. P. 27.03, subd. 9. In his motion, Bolstad asserted there is reasonable doubt as to which degree of murder he committed, and therefore Minn. Stat. § 611.02 (2020), requires that he be convicted of the lowest degree. Based on that assertion, Bolstad argued the district court erred when it sentenced him on the conviction of first-degree premeditated murder. The district court construed Bolstad’s motion as a postconviction petition, which it summarily denied as time barred and procedurally barred.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issues presented are: (1) whether the district court abused its discretion in concluding Bolstad’s motion was time barred and procedurally barred; and (2) if so, whether the district court erred when it sentenced him on the conviction of first-degree premeditated murder. (Kanabec County)

 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

 

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Tyler Ray Pauli, Appellant – Case No. A19-1886: In 2017, Tyler Pauli was charged with possession of child pornography after a private online digital storage account company identified suspected child pornography files in Pauli’s online storage account and notified the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Pauli filed a motion to suppress the evidence found in his online storage account and the district court denied the motion. Pauli waived his right to a jury trial and proceeded with a stipulated evidence trial under Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 4. The district court found Pauli guilty and imposed a stayed sentence. On appeal, Pauli argued that the search of his online storage account violated the federal and state constitutions. The court of appeals upheld the district court’s ruling on the suppression motion and affirmed.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the search of Pauli’s online digital storage account was unconstitutional. (St. Louis County)

 

Monday, October 11, 2021

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

 

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Barbara Ann Currin, Appellant – Case No. A20-0603: In 2010, appellant Barbara Currin was convicted of medical-assistance fraud. As a result of this conviction, federal regulations excluded Currin from participating as a medical-assistance provider. Nevertheless, between 2012 and 2015, Currin owned and operated eight agencies and other businesses that billed the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) for services as medical-assistance providers. Currin set up agencies that billed DHS for nursing services while concealing her identity as the owner and manager. For this scheme, Currin pleaded guilty to and was convicted of racketeering.

The State asked the district court to order Currin to pay $2.6 million in restitution. After a restitution hearing, the district court ordered Currin to pay $2,648,539.53 in restitution. This was the total amount DHS had paid to Currin’s agencies.

Currin filed a petition for postconviction relief that challenged the amount of the restitution award. She asked the district court to reduce the restitution award to $1.49 million. Currin argued that this was the economic loss DHS suffered because it accounted for nursing services her agencies provided to qualified recipients of medical assistance. The district court denied the postconviction petition. The court of appeals affirmed.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the district court abused its discretion when it concluded that the victim’s economic loss was the entire amount DHS distributed to Currin’s agencies. (Ramsey County)

 

NonoralMaureen Ndidiamaka Onyelobi, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A21-0517: In November 2014, a jury found appellant Maureen Ndidiamaka Onyelobi guilty of first-degree premeditated murder under an aiding-and-abetting theory of criminal liability. The district court sentenced Onyelobi to life without the possibility of release. Onyelobi’s conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. In August 2018, Onyelobi filed a postconviction petition, which was summarily denied.

In February 2021, Onyelobi filed a second postconviction petition, alleging newly discovered evidence—a January 2020 affidavit from her co-defendant. According to her co-defendant, at no time prior to the fatal shooting, did he ever communicate his intent to kill the victim. The district court denied the second petition, concluding that the claim of newly discovered evidence was barred by State v. Knaffla, 243 N.W.2d 737 (Minn. 1976).

On appeal to the supreme court, the issues presented are: (1) whether the district court abused its discretion when it concluded that the newly discovered evidence claim was Knaffla barred; and (2) if so, whether Onyelobi is entitled to a postconviction evidentiary hearing. (Hennepin County)

 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

 

Lori Dowling Hanson, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Respondent – Case No. A20-0747: Appellant Lori Dowling Hanson was a regional director at respondent Department of Natural Resources (DNR) who represented DNR in interactions with counties, cities, tribes, and other entities in the relevant region. DNR terminated Hanson’s employment based on events occurring on August 15, 2017. On that date, Hanson was attending a work-related conference, representing DNR, at a hotel on reservation land. Hanson maintains that she suspected child neglect/abuse and sex trafficking were occurring in a neighboring hotel room. Hanson reported these suspicions to the hotel and to law enforcement. Three separate law-enforcement agencies responded—the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, as well as township police and the county sheriff’s office—but none were able to confirm her suspicions. Eventually the hotel manager requested that Hanson be removed from the hotel for creating a disturbance. She initially refused to do so but was eventually escorted out of the hotel. DNR maintains that it terminated Hanson’s employment because of her unprofessional and inappropriate conduct on the evening in question. Hanson maintains that she was fired, at least in part, for making a protected report of suspected illegal activity.

Hanson sued DNR, alleging in part that it had terminated her employment for retaliatory reasons in violation of the Whistleblower Act, Minn. Stat. § 181.932 (2020). DNR moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted. The district court concluded that Hanson did not establish a prima facie case of retaliation under the burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), and its progeny. The court of appeals affirmed, reasoning that although Hanson did establish a prima facie case of retaliation, she did not present evidence showing that DNR’s stated reason for its actions was pretextual. Hanson sought review from the supreme court, arguing in part that the court should reconsider the applicability of the McDonnell Douglas framework.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of DNR on Hanson’s whistleblower claim. (Ramsey County)

 

NonoralRebecca Ellen Bender, Respondent vs. Peter Howard Bernhard, Appellant – Case No. A20-1234: Respondent Rebecca Ellen Bender and appellant Peter Howard Bernhard, who divorced in 2004, are the parents of an adult child with special needs. At the time of the divorce, the district court ordered Bernhard to pay child support until “the child’s emancipation or further Order of the Court.” In 2017, when the child was 18 years old, Bender moved to continue child support. A child-support magistrate agreed with Bender that the now-adult child was “incapable of self-support” as contemplated by Minn. Stat. § 518A.26, subd. 5 (2020). But the child-support magistrate found that the determination need not be permanent, and therefore they ordered Bernhard to pay child support until the child reached the age of 21 “or until further order.” In 2019, as the child’s 21st birthday approached, Bender again moved to extend child support on the basis that the child was incapable of self-support. She submitted extensive documentary evidence and informed the court of a pending request for Social Security disability benefits on behalf of the child. The district court denied the request to extend child support, and the court of appeals affirmed.

Then in 2020, Bender moved the district court, under Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2(2) (2020), and Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02(b), to reopen its prior order based on newly discovered evidence. The child’s application for Social Security disability benefits had been granted, and Bender submitted documentation from the Social Security Administration that the child is entitled to Social Security disability benefits because he is incapable of substantial gainful activity. That documentation included some information that postdated the district court’s order. The district court denied the motion to reopen the prior order, noting that at the time of its prior decision it was aware that the child’s application for benefits was pending, and “[n]o new information regarding [the child’s] condition, or his ability to be self-supporting has been proffered.” Instead, “the underlying facts relied upon . . . in determining whether [the child] is incapable of self-support remain unchanged.” Because “no new evidence ha[d] been brought to the Court’s attention,” the district court treated the motion as one to reconsider, which it denied.

The court of appeals reversed and remanded. It concluded that the district court’s determination “that mother presented ‘no new evidence’ is contrary to logic and facts in the record,” and therefore the district court abused its discretion when it denied the motion to reopen. The court reversed and remanded for the district court to analyze whether the evidence submitted by Bender warrants relief under Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2(2).

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether, for purposes of Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2(2), “newly discovered evidence” includes evidence that did not exist at the time of the district court’s decision. (Hennepin County)

 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

 

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Richard Lee Swanson, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0173423 – Case No. A20-1027: An attorney discipline matter that presents the question of what discipline, if any, is appropriate based on the facts of the case.

 

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