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

Supreme Court Calendar: January 2022

Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office

Tuesday, Jan. 4

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

Minnesota Voters Alliance, et al., Appellants vs. County of Ramsey, et al., Respondents – Case Nos. A20-1294, A20-1295: In this consolidated appeal, appellants Minnesota Voters Alliance, et al., challenged a district court order denying their petitions for writs of mandamus. Appellants alleged that respondents Ramsey County and Olmsted County failed to comply with statutory requirements when appointing deputy county auditors to absentee ballot boards for the November 2020 general election. See Minn. Stat. § 203B.121, subd. 1(a) (2020). The Court of Appeals concluded that appellants had not demonstrated that the Counties “violated an official duty clearly imposed by law.” Therefore, the Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of the petitions.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issues presented include whether counties must exhaust major political party lists for the appointment of election judges before including deputy county auditors as members of absentee ballot boards. (Ramsey County)

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Barry Ishmael McReynolds, Appellant – Case No. A20-1435: Appellant Barry McReynolds pleaded guilty to interference with privacy, Minn. Stat. § 609.746, subd. 1(b) (2020). In order to violate this statute, a person must, among other things, “surreptitiously install[] or use[] any device for observing, photographing, recording, amplifying, or broadcasting sounds or events through the window or any other aperture of a house or place of dwelling of another.” Id. (emphasis added). At his guilty plea hearing, McReynolds admitted that he made a video with his cell phone of a naked woman sleeping in her bed without her permission.

Prior to sentencing, McReynolds made a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, which the district court denied. The district court convicted McReynolds. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed McReynolds’ conviction.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether McReynolds’ guilty plea lacks a factual basis because sufficient facts on the record do not support the conclusion that he recorded the woman through a window or any other aperture of a house or place of dwelling of another. (Dakota County)

Wednesday, Jan. 5

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

Energy Policy Advocates, Respondent vs. Keith Ellison, et al., Appellants – Case No. A20-1344: Energy Policy Advocates submitted document requests to the Office of the Attorney General under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 13.01–.90 (2020). After the Office responded that there were no responsive, non-privileged public data to produce, Energy Policy brought a district court action to obtain access to the responsive documents. The district court denied Energy Policy’s motion to compel production of the documents and dismissed the complaint.

The Court of Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. The Court of Appeals concluded that the district court erred by ruling that data in certain categories “may be classified as ‘private data on individuals’ pursuant to section 13.65, subdivision 1(b), without regard for whether the data are data on individuals.” The Court of Appeals also concluded that the district court erred by ruling that certain documents are protected by the attorney-client privilege based on “general descriptions of categories of documents.” In addition, the Court of Appeals concluded that the common-interest doctrine is not an exception to the disclosure requirements of the Data Practices Act because the doctrine has not been recognized in Minnesota.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether section 13.65 of the Data Practices Act, which addresses “private data on individuals,” provides protection only to data about individuals; (2) whether internal communications among attorneys in public law agencies can be covered by the attorney-client privilege; and (3) whether Minnesota recognizes the common-interest doctrine. (Ramsey County)

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Michael Anthony Lee, Appellant – Case No. A20-0758: In 2017, appellant Michael Lee was charged with assault under Minn. Stat. § 609.2231, subd. 3a(b) (2020), based on allegations that he attacked a security officer at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program facility in Moose Lake. At the time, Lee was indeterminately committed as a sexually dangerous person and housed at the facility. Lee entered a guilty plea to the charge and his sentence included a 5-year conditional release term.

In 2020, Lee filed a petition for postconviction relief, challenging the conditional release term as a violation of his constitutional right to equal protection. Specifically, Lee challenged the difference in the mandatory sentencing requirements for individuals convicted under Minn. Stat. § 609.2231, subd. 3a(b), and individuals convicted under Minn. Stat. § 609.2231, subd. 3a(c) (2020). The district court summarily denied Lee’s petition for postconviction relief. On appeal, the Court of Appeals concluded that Lee is not similarly situated to individuals convicted under subdivision 3a(c).

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether Lee’s sentence violates his constitutional right to equal protection. (Carlton County)

Monday, Jan. 10

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

Carvin Buzzell, Jr., Appellant vs. Tim Walz, as Governor of Minnesota, et al., Respondents – Case No. A20-1561: Appellant Carvin Buzzell, Jr., owns and operates two related hospitality businesses: a full-service restaurant and bar, and a converted barn and vineyard open for weddings. In March 2020, respondent Gov. Tim Walz, pursuant to his authority under the Minnesota Emergency Management Act of 1996, Minn. Stat. §§ 12.01–.61 (2020), issued a number of executive orders to address the pandemic. Some of these orders restricted business operations at bars, restaurants, and other places of public accommodation, which included Buzzell’s businesses. The governor began relaxing restrictions on business beginning in May 2020.

Buzzell commenced this action in June 2020, alleging that compliance with the governor’s executive orders was financially ruinous for the operation of his businesses. Buzzell argued, among other things, that by issuing the orders, the governor had “commandeer[ed]” his property under Minn. Stat. § 12.34, subd. 1(2), and therefore Buzzell was entitled to compensation as an “owner of commandeered property” under Minn. Stat. § 12.34, subd. 2.

The governor filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(e). The district court granted the motion and dismissed Buzzell’s complaint, interpreting the statutory term “commandeer” not to encompass the actions of the governor. Buzzell appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the term “commandeer,” as used in the statute, “unambiguously requires direct, active use of private property by the government.” The Court of Appeals further concluded that the complaint did not allege that the governor authorized “direct, active use” of Buzzell’s property.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether the governor’s orders constitute “commandeer[ing]” Buzzell’s property, as that term is used in Minn. Stat. § 12.34. (Ramsey County)

Bunny Annette Byington, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A20-1441: In 2009, appellant Bunny Byington pleaded guilty to one count of coercion, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.27, subd. 1(4) (2020). As a part of her sentence, the district court ordered Byington to pay $585 in fines and a total of $12,831 in restitution. Byington satisfied her fines with community service and made periodic restitution payments.

In 2020, the Supreme Court held that Minn. Stat. § 609.27, subd. 1(4), was facially overbroad, in violation of the First Amendment, and severed that provision from the statute. State v. Jorgenson, 946 N.W.2d 596, 600 (Minn. 2020). Byington filed a postconviction petition that asked the district court to vacate her conviction and sentence and to refund any restitution payments she had made.

The district court granted Byington’s petition for postconviction relief in part and denied it in part. In light of Jorgenson, the district court granted Byington’s request to vacate her conviction and sentence. The court also vacated the restitution order. The court ordered that Byington “be refunded any monies paid by her and applied to fines and fees in this case” or “that the court is holding, and has not forwarded on, if any,” and vacated any “civil judgment” that “has been entered solely by virtue of the Restitution Order in this matter.” The court, however, denied Byington’s request that she receive a refund of the amounts she had paid in restitution. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) because Byington’s criminal conviction has been invalidated and no retrial will occur, is the State required under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution to refund any money taken from her pursuant to that conviction, including restitution; and (2) does the State violate due process by withholding Byington’s refund of restitution payments unless and until she establishes a claim for compensation under the Minnesota Incarceration and Exoneration Remedies Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 611.362–.368 (2020). (Clay County)

Tuesday, Jan. 11

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

City of Circle Pines, Appellant vs. County of Anoka, Respondent – Case No. A20-1637: Four counties are represented in the Rice Creek Watershed District (the District), including respondent Anoka County (the County). The appointment of managers to the board of managers of a watershed district is governed by Minn. Stat. § 103D.311 (2020). The County is entitled to appoint two of the board’s five managers. In 2015, the County appointed Patricia Preiner to the board. In September 2019, the County published notice of an upcoming vacancy because Preiner’s term was expiring in January 2020. In October 2019, appellant City of Circle Pines (the City), which is located within the District, submitted a list of three persons the City nominated for appointment to the board. The City of Columbus, which is also located within the District and of which Preiner was a resident, sent a letter of support for the reappointment of Preiner but did not submit a formal list of candidates. No other city submitted a list of candidates. In June 2020, the County reappointed Preiner.

The City sued the County, seeking a declaratory judgment that the reappointment of Preiner was unlawful. The City’s theory was that under section 103D.311, the County was required to appoint a manager from one of the lists of candidates submitted by a city in the District, and because Circle Pines was the only city that had submitted a list, the manager was required to be one of the candidates on the City’s list. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court interpreted Minn. Stat. § 103D.311 and concluded that it unambiguously allowed the reappointment of Preiner. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether the County’s reappointment of Preiner violated Minn. Stat. § 103D.311. (Anoka County)

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against B. Joseph Majors, II, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0066734 – Case No. A21-0242: 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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