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The Supreme Court chamber in the Minnesota Capitol. (File photo)

Supreme Court Calendar: December 2021

Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office

Monday, Dec. 6, 2021

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

Joseph Walsh, Appellant, Don Lorge, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A20-1083: Appellants, Mille Lacs County Attorney Joseph Walsh and Mille Lacs County Sheriff Don Lorge, along with Mille Lacs County itself, are defendants in a federal lawsuit brought by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants have interfered with and refused to recognize the Band’s law-enforcement jurisdiction over the Band’s reservation lands. Shortly after the federal lawsuit began in 2017, appellants successfully requested defense and indemnification of some of their expenses and attorney fees from Mille Lacs County under the Municipal Tort Claims Act. Then in 2019, appellants contacted the Minnesota Attorney General’s office to request that respondent the State of Minnesota indemnify them pursuant to the State Tort Claims Act, Minn. Stat. § 3.736 (2020), which provides that the State shall “defend, save harmless, and indemnify any employee of the state” from suit when the employee’s alleged acts or omissions giving rise to the suit were performed “within the scope of [their] employment.” Id., subd. 9. Appellants requested that the State indemnify them for costs and fees already incurred and to be incurred in the future. The Attorney General’s office denied appellants’ request, reasoning that appellants are not “employee[s] of the state,” but instead are employees of Mille Lacs County.

Appellants then brought this action in District Court, seeking a declaratory judgment that they are entitled to indemnification under the State Tort Claims Act, an order directing the State to pay their future legal expenses in the federal case, and damages to compensate them for past legal expenses in the federal case. The State moved to dismiss appellants’ complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, arguing chiefly that appellants are not employees of the state. The District Court granted the motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether county attorneys and sheriffs are “employee[s] of the state” for purposes of the State Tort Claims Act. (Ramsey County)

Aaron J. Harkins, Respondent vs. Grant Park Association, Appellant – Case No. A20-0937: Appellant Grant Park Association operates a common interest community under the Association’s bylaws and the Minnesota Common Interest Ownership Act (MCIOA), Minn. Stat. §§ 515B.1-101 to 515B.4-118 (2020). Respondent Aaron Harkins owns a condominium unit in the Grant Park complex. He initiated a lawsuit after the Association refused to provide him with contact information for the members of the Association.

This appeal concerns whether the Association must provide Harkins with member e-mail addresses. The District Court granted the Association’s motion for judgment on the pleadings under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.03. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. The Court of Appeals concluded that the Association’s compilation of member e-mail addresses may constitute a “record” that is “required to be made available to unit owners under Minn. Stat. § 515B.3‑118.” The Court of Appeals also concluded that Harkins pleaded a sufficient claim for breach of contract based on the Association’s bylaws.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether Harkins is entitled to the e-mail addresses of the members of the Association under the MCIOA or the Association’s bylaws. (Hennepin County)

Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Omar Nur Hassan, Appellant – Case No. A21-0453: Following a jury trial, appellant Omar Hassan was convicted of first-degree premediated murder and attempted first-degree premediated murder. The District Court sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of release for first-degree premediated murder and to a concurrent sentence of 240 months for attempted first-degree premediated murder.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issues presented are (1) whether the circumstantial evidence presented by the State is sufficient to support the jury’s guilty verdicts; and (2) whether the lifetime sentence without the possibility of release violates the Minnesota Constitution. (Hennepin County)

NonoralChambers Self-Storage Oakdale, LLC, Relator vs. County of Washington, Respondent – Case No. A21-0825: Relator Chambers Self-Storage Oakdale, LLC (“Chambers”) filed timely property tax petitions contesting the assessment of certain property in Washington County that it owns and uses as a self-storage facility, for the January 2, 2016, and January 2, 2017 assessments. Chambers alleged that the subject property was both overvalued (that is, that its assessed value was higher than its actual market value) and statutorily unequally assessed compared to similar properties. The petitions were consolidated and transferred to the tax court.

Prior to trial, Chambers moved for several forms of relief. First, it moved to compel the County to respond to its requests for discovery, which sought information relating to the methodology used in the assessment of other property used as self-storage facilities in the County. The tax court denied the motion to compel, concluding that the requested information was not relevant to the claims Chambers asserted or was not proportional to those claims. Chambers also moved to amend its petition to include state and federal constitutional claims of unequal assessment. The tax court denied the motion as untimely and futile, reasoning that Chambers had timely pled a statutory claim of unequal assessment, that adding constitutional claims would not entitle it to any additional remedy, and that the additional claims did not state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Finally, Chambers moved to compel the attendance of the Washington County Assessor—upon whom Chambers had been unable to serve a subpoena because the assessor was working from home during the pandemic—as a hostile witness at trial. The tax court denied that motion, concluding that it did not have authority to compel attendance of a witness who had not been served with a subpoena, and that the assessor’s anticipated testimony was not relevant to the claims at trial.

Following the trial, the tax court concluded that Chambers failed to meet its burden of showing that the property was unequally assessed or that it was overvalued. Instead, the tax court found that the property was undervalued—in other words, the assessed value was lower than the actual market value—and ordered the assessment to be increased. Chambers brought a motion for amended findings and a new trial, which the tax court denied (with the exception of correcting a clerical error).

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issues presented are (1) whether the tax court should have granted Chambers’ motion to compel discovery; (2) whether the tax court should have granted Chambers’ motion to amend; (3) whether the tax court should have disclosed the county assessor’s home address or compelled their appearance at trial; and (4) whether the tax court erred in its conclusion that Chambers did not demonstrate unequal assessment. (Minnesota Tax Court)

Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Morice Laroy Dixon, Appellant – Case No. A21-0205: The State charged appellant Morice Laroy Dixon with fifth-degree possession of marijuana. The criminal complaint did not allege that scientific testing was conducted to determine whether the substance Dixon possessed contained a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis. Such a concentration distinguishes marijuana from industrial hemp. Dixon moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that without a definitive scientific test result, the complaint failed to establish probable cause to believe he possessed marijuana. Persuaded by Dixon’s argument, the District Court dismissed the complaint.

On appeal, the State argued the District Court erred when it dismissed the complaint. The Court of Appeals concluded that on a motion to dismiss a marijuana charge for lack of probable cause, the State is not required to present a definitive scientific test result if other evidence establishes probable cause to believe the substance is marijuana. Consequently, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether the standard for probable cause to charge fifth-degree possession of marijuana can be met without a definitive scientific test result showing that the substance contains the statutorily required concentration of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol. (Hennepin County)

 

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