Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office
Monday, April 4, 2022
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor
Minnesota Department of Corrections, Respondent vs. Nathan Knutson, Appellant, Bureau of Mediation Services, Appellant – Case No. A21-0300: Respondent Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) discharged appellant Nathan Knutson from employment as an associate warden of operations following an investigation and determination that Knutson had engaged in employment misconduct. Minnesota Statutes section 43A.33, subdivision 3, provides a grievance procedure for state employees such as Knutson who held a position in the classified service that was not covered by a collective-bargaining agreement to grieve certain adverse employment actions, including discharge. The procedure is initiated by filing a notice of appeal with appellant Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS). Minn. Stat. § 43A.33, subd. 3 (2020). The commissioner of BMS must then provide the parties with a list of potential arbitrators to hear the appeal “according to the rules of the [BMS].” Id., subd. 3(d).
The parties selected an arbitrator from the BMS list per the statutory procedure. Following a hearing, the arbitrator concluded that the DOC’s termination of Knutson’s employment was not supported by just cause, reduced Knutson’s discharge to a 1-month unpaid suspension and ordered reinstatement with back pay. The DOC filed a certiorari appeal, seeking review of the arbitration award and naming BMS as the originating agency whose decision was challenged. BMS filed correspondence indicating that because the arbitrator is not a BMS hearing officer and not employed by BMS, BMS did not issue the arbitration award and thus is not a party to this appeal. The Court of Appeals questioned its jurisdiction and eventually concluded that the decision of an arbitrator appointed according to the procedures outlined in Minn. Stat. § 43A.33 is a final decision of an agency subject to review by the Court of Appeals on writ of certiorari under Minn. Stat. § 606.01 (2020).
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issues presented are: (1) is an arbitration award reinstating a wrongfully discharged employee of the DOC made by an arbitrator from a list provided by BMS subject to appellate review in a certiorari proceeding before the Court of Appeals; and (2) whether BMS is a proper party to this appeal. (BMS-listed arbitrator’s award)
State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. TanyaMarie Esthell Miller, Appellant – Case No. A21-0221: Respondent State of Minnesota filed a two-count complaint against appellant TanyaMarie Miller. Count II of the complaint alleged that Miller intentionally aided her husband by concealing evidence of first-degree murder in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.495, subd. 3 (2020). A person who violates the statute “may be sentenced to not more than one-half of the statutory maximum sentence of imprisonment” that “could be imposed on the principal offender.” The maximum sentence that could be imposed on Miller’s husband was life in prison.
Miller pleaded guilty to Count II. At the sentencing hearing, Miller argued that the district court lacked the legal authority to impose any sentence for her conviction because section 609.495 does not expressly define “one-half of a life sentence.” The district court rejected Miller’s argument and sentenced her to 48 months in prison. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed Miller’s sentence. Relying on the “in pari materia” canon of statutory construction, the Court of Appeals observed that the attempt statute, Minn. Stat. § 609.17 (2020), defines one-half of a life sentence as 20 years. Incorporating that definition into section 609.495, the Court of Appeals concluded that 20 years is the maximum sentence for a person who intentionally aids another by concealing evidence of a crime with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) did the Court of Appeals err when it found that Minn. Stat. § 609.495, subd. 3, is “inconsistent” because “there is no clear statutory maximum sentence” applicable to Miller on Count II, and then resorted to the “in pari materia” canon of construction to resolve this inconsistency; (2) did the Court of Appeals err in finding the penalty provision of the attempt statute and the accomplice after the fact statute are in pari materia, and thus the penalty provision of the attempt statute “supports an inference” that the maximum sentence for Count II is 20 years in prison; (3) did the Court of Appeals err when it upheld Miller’s sentence on Count II on the basis that to vacate the sentence would lead to an absurd result; and (4) did the Court of Appeals err when it determined the statutory maximum for a criminal offense by inference and after employing canons of construction. (Scott County)
Tuesday, April 5, 2022
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor
State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Rodney Donta Jackson, Appellant – Case No. A20-0779: A jury found appellant Rodney Jackson guilty of second-degree intentional murder. The district court mailed the jurors written evaluations that sought anonymous feedback on the performance of the attorneys and the judge. After reviewing the evaluations, Jackson requested a hearing under Schwartz v. Minneapolis Suburban Bus Co., 104 N.W.2d 301, 303-04 (Minn. 1960). To accommodate the schedules of the jurors, the district court divided the Schwartz hearing into two parts. The first part was closed to the public and the second part was open to the public. After the Schwartz hearing, the district court denied Jackson’s motion for a new trial.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals concluded that the district court committed a reversible error when it closed the first part of the Schwartz hearing to the public. Its remand order directed the district court to conduct the first part of the Schwartz hearing again.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issue is presented: What is the appropriate remedy for a violation of a defendant’s right to a public trial during a Schwartz hearing when the closure of the courtroom has been deemed improper. (Hennepin County)
St. Matthews Church of God and Christ, Appellant vs. State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, Respondent – Case No. A21-0240: A storm damaged property in St. Paul owned by appellant St. Matthews Church of God and Christ. St. Matthews reported the storm loss to its insurer, respondent State Farm Fire and Casualty Company. Among other damages, St. Matthews requested payment for the cost to repair a wall between two low‑sloped roofs on the property. State Farm paid for the storm-related damage to the drywall portion of the wall. But the City of Saint Paul would not authorize the drywall repairs unless the entire wall was brought up to code. State Farm declined to pay for repairs to the masonry portion of the wall, which had pre-existing, non-storm-related damage.
St. Matthews commenced a district court action. The district court granted summary judgment to State Farm. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals concluded that St. Matthews is not entitled to coverage for the masonry portion of the wall under Minn. Stat. § 65A.10 (2020). Section 65A.10, subdivision 1, generally requires replacement cost insurance to “cover the cost of replacing, rebuilding, or repairing any loss or damaged property in accordance with the minimum code as required by state or local authorities.” However, in “the case of a partial loss,” the insurance is required to cover only “the damaged portion of the property.” The Court of Appeals also concluded that St. Matthews is not entitled to coverage under “the code-compliance provision” of the State Farm policy.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issues presented are: (1) whether Minn. Stat. § 65A.10 requires State Farm to pay for repairs to the wall required by municipal code enforcement; and (2) whether the code-compliance provision of the State Farm policy requires State Farm to pay for repairs to the wall required by municipal code enforcement. (Ramsey County)
Wednesday, April 6, 2022
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor
Stern 1101 First Street South, LLC, et al., Respondents vs. Kenneth A. Gere, et al., Appellants – Case No. A21-0904: Respondents Stern 1011 First Street South, L.L.C. and Haberman 1011 First Street South, L.L.C. (collectively the “Stern/Haberman parties”) sued appellants Kenneth A. Gere, Gere 1011 First Street South, L.L.C., and planned Investments, Inc. (collectively the “Gere parties”), asserting various claims relating to a commercial dispute. The district court granted the Gere parties’ motion for summary judgment on May 10, 2021, entering judgment the same day. The district court’s order also mistakenly included references to another case involving different parties. On May 19, 2021, the Gere parties submitted a two-page letter, which stated it was sent “pursuant to Minn. R. Gen. Prac. R. 115.11 to request permission to seek limited review of a portion of the Court’s May 10, 2021, Order granting [their] motion for summary judgment.” The letter identified the mistaken references to the other case and sought “reconsideration merely to amend this portion of” the prior order. The district court issued an amended summary judgment order on May 21, 2021, striking the mistaken references, and entered an amended judgment that same day.
On July 19, 2021, the Stern/Haberman parties filed a notice of appeal from “an Order of the Court filed on” May 21, 2021, which the Court of Appeals construed as seeking review of the May 21, 2021, judgment. The Gere parties asserted that the appeal was untimely and thus the Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction. They claimed that the time to appeal an issue begins to run upon entry of judgment “and does not begin to run anew because of an amendment which leaves that determination undisturbed.” They argued that the time to appeal began running on May 10, 2021, and expired 60 days later.
On August 17, 2021, the Court of Appeals issued an order concluding that the appeal was timely. It accepted the Stern/Haberman parties’ argument that the Gere parties’ May 19, 2021, correspondence was functionally a motion to amend under Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.01, which under Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 104.01, subd. 2, tolled the time to appeal the May 10, 2021, judgment, notwithstanding that a motion for reconsideration is not specifically enumerated as a tolling motion under Rule 104.01, subdivision 2. It construed the appeal as taken from the May 10, 2021, judgment and accepted jurisdiction.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issues presented are: (1) in the absence of a motion identified in Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 104.01, subd. 2, whether the time to appeal a final appealable judgment is extended by the issuance of an amended judgment that leaves those determinations undisturbed; and (2) whether an appellate court can construe a Minn. R. Gen. Prac. 115.11 request for permission to file a motion for reconsideration as a Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.01 motion to toll the time to appeal a judgment never identified in an appellant’s notice of appeal, and for which the time to appeal has expired. (Hennepin County)
In re Hope Coalition – Case No. A21-0880: Respondent Kevin Conrad is charged with second-degree criminal sexual conduct in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.343, subd. 1(b) (2020). The alleged victim made a report to law enforcement of incidents of unwanted sexual contact that occurred multiple times between 2014 and 2019. A sexual assault advocate associated with appellant HOPE Coalition was present during the interview between law enforcement and the alleged victim.
Conrad filed a motion in the district court under In re Program to Aid Victims of Sexual Assault, 943 N.W.2d 673 (Minn. App. 2020), requesting that the district court issue a subpoena to HOPE Coalition to produce any records relating to the alleged victim and conduct an in-camera review of the records. The district court granted the motion, and a subpoena was issued. HOPE Coalition filed a motion to quash the subpoena, arguing among other things that the requested records were privileged under Minn. Stat. § 595.02, subd. 1(k) (2020) (“Sexual assault counselors may not be allowed to disclose any opinion or information received from or about the victim without the consent of the victim.”). The district court denied the motion to quash and ordered HOPE Coalition to comply with the subpoena.
HOPE Coalition petitioned the Court of Appeals for a writ of prohibition against the district court’s order. The Court of Appeals denied the writ, concluding that “the issue is whether compliance with the subpoena would be unreasonable,” and HOPE Coalition had not demonstrated such unreasonableness.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issues presented are: (1) should the court protect sexual assault counselors’ records from subpoena where the legislature has expressly prohibited the disclosure; (2) are Pennsylvania v. Ritchie, 480 U.S. 39 (1987) and State v. Paradee, 403 N.W.2d 640 (Minn. 1987), the appropriate standards to apply when the subpoenaed records are from a private, nonprofit corporation rather than the state; (3) did HOPE Coalition present persuasive arguments that compliance with the subpoena is unreasonable and should therefore be quashed; and (4) should a writ of prohibition issue to protect HOPE Coalition from having to produce their records to the district court for in camera review. (Wabasha County)
Thursday, April 7, 2022
University of Minnesota Law School
State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. William Deshawn Paige, Appellant – Case No. A20-1228: Respondent State of Minnesota charged appellant William Paige with second-degree assault. On February 18, 2020, Paige demanded a speedy trial. The district court scheduled a trial for March 31, 2020. Eleven days before trial, a statewide order issued by the Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court prohibited the commencement of trials due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After the restriction was lifted, trial was held on June 2, 2020, and Paige was convicted.
Paige appealed, arguing that his constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that neither Paige nor the State was responsible for the delayed trial, which was due to the COVID-19 related court shutdown.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) Where a criminal trial was delayed solely due to the COVID-19 related court shut down, is this delay attributable to the government; and (2) was appellant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial violated. (St. Louis County)
Monday, April 11, 2022
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor
State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Matthew Christopher Kurtenbach, Appellant – Case No. A21-0526: In May 2019, respondent State of Minnesota charged appellant Matthew Christopher Kurtenbach with controlled substance possession crimes after arresting him on an active warrant and finding methamphetamine inside of his impounded vehicle. Kurtenbach was taken into federal custody for violating the terms of his supervised release for a 2018 federal controlled substance possession conviction. Kurtenbach filed a motion to dismiss the pending state charges, arguing that the State was ignoring his requests made under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers, Minn. Stat. § 629.294 (2020) for the final resolution of his case. The district court denied the motion.
In August 2020, Kurtenbach entered a guilty plea to fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance. At his sentencing in April 2021, Kurtenbach asked the district court to award him 434 days of custody credit because he had been continuously held in custody since his arrest in May 2019. The district court denied Kurtenbach’s request and awarded him 65 days of custody credit for the time he spent in state custody only, not federal custody. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether Kurtenbach is entitled to jail credit for the time that he served in pre-sentencing confinement on non-Minnesota matters against his Yellow Medicine County Sentence. (Yellow Medicine County).
In re Petition of MCEA for Commencement of an Environmental Assessment Worksheet – Case No. A20‑1592: In this certiorari appeal, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and Protecting Public Waters challenge the denial of their petitions for an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) for a ditch improvement project. The proposed drainage system would drain into the upper reach of Limbo Creek in Renville County. Limbo Creek is a watercourse with a watershed comprising over 14 square miles. As relevant here, an EAW generally is mandatory for a project that “will change or diminish the course, current, or cross-section of one acre or more of any public water.” Minn. R. 4410.4300, subp. 27(A) (2021). The Renville County Board of Commissioners denied the petition for a mandatory EAW, stating that “[o]nly the lower portion of Limbo Creek is listed on the official public waters inventory list,” and the upper reach of Limbo Creek is not a public water.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for the County to prepare an EAW. The Court of Appeals concluded that the absence of the upper reach of Limbo Creek from the public waters inventory list does not conclusively establish that the watercourse is not a public water under Minn. Stat. § 103G.005, subd. 15(a)(9) (2020), which defines “public waters” to include “natural and altered watercourses with a total drainage area greater than two square miles.” The Court of Appeals also concluded that “the record lacks substantial evidence to support any determination that the upper reach of Limbo Creek is not a public water, that the project’s effect on Limbo Creek does not require a mandatory EAW, or that an exception to the mandatory EAW requirement applies.”
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is whether, for purposes of determining the need for a mandatory EAW, the absence of a watercourse from a county public waters inventory list conclusively establishes that the watercourse is not a public water. (Renville County Board of Commissioners)