Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor
State of Minnesota, Appellant, vs. Donald Mark Gray, Respondent – Case No. A22-0606: Appellant State of Minnesota charged respondent Donald Gray with two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct (counts 1 and 2) for sexual contact that allegedly occurred in Edina. Gray filed a motion to dismiss counts 1 and 2 for lack of probable cause, arguing that the State cannot present sufficient evidence to corroborate his confessions as required by Minn. Stat. § 634.03 (2020). The State responded that Gray’s statements to child protective services and in a letter could be used to corroborate his confession to a police detective. The district court concluded that Gray’s statements to the detective, child protective services, and in the letter were all confessions that must be independently corroborated, and the State’s additional evidence was insufficient. The district court dismissed counts 1 and 2 for lack of probable cause.
The State filed a pretrial appeal. Gray filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Minn. R. Crim. P. 28.04, subd. 1(1), does not authorize the appeal because the probable cause dismissal was based on a factual determination by the district court. The court of appeals agreed and dismissed the appeal.
On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the court of appeals erred in dismissing the State’s appeal by holding that the district court dismissed counts 1 and 2 based solely on a factual determination; and (2) whether two of Gray’s confessions—neither of which had law enforcement involvement—could be used to corroborate a third confession made to law enforcement. (Hennepin County)
Neomi Schmidt, Respondent, vs. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and Wal-Mart Claims Services, Inc., Relators – Case No. A22-0803: Respondent Neomi Schmidt began working full-time at Wal-Mart in 2005. In 2011, she sought evaluation for knee pain, which she knew was caused by her work activities. In 2015, Schmidt went in for further evaluation of her knee and had total knee replacement surgery later that same year. The indication on the form filled out by the doctor at that time was that Schmidt’s condition was not work-related. Schmidt continued working at Wal-Mart after her surgery and also continued to seek periodic evaluation of her knee. A doctor provided an opinion on September 28, 2018, that Schmidt’s knee symptoms were multifactorial. One month later, another doctor recommended a revision surgery, which Schmidt underwent on January 16, 2019. On March 1, 2019, Schmidt retained an attorney. On that same day, Schmidt’s attorney provided written notice to Wal-Mart regarding Schmidt’s alleged Gillette-type injuries related to her knee. A Gillette-type injury takes its name from Gillette v. Harold, Inc., 101 N.W.2d 200, 205–06 (Minn. 1960), in which the court held that “when a preexisting infirmity is aggravated by repetitive minute trauma as a result of the ordinary and necessary duties of employment, the disability resulting from such aggravation is compensable as a personal injury under the workers’ compensation statute.” See Anderson v. Frontier Communications, 819 N.W.2d 143, 146 (Minn. 2012).
The compensation judge and Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) both concluded that Schmidt was entitled to workers compensation. A focus in both courts was whether Schmidt gave timely notice of her claim, as required by Minn. Stat. § 176.141 (2020). The court has previously explained that “[u]nder Minn. Stat. § 176.141 and our case law, an employee must give notice of injury no more than 180 days after it becomes reasonably apparent to the employee that the injury has resulted in, or is likely to cause, a compensable disability.” Anderson, 819 N.W.2d at 147 (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). Here, the compensation judge found, and the WCCA affirmed, that Schmidt’s Gillette injury culminated on October 27, 2015, the date of her total knee replacement surgery. But both courts also concluded that the triggering event for purposes of notice was Schmidt’s first meeting with her legal counsel on March 1, 2019, when she first became aware that repetitive minute trauma culminating in an injury could be a compensable work-related injury, i.e., a Gillette claim.
On appeal to the supreme court, the relator’s brief presents the following issues: (1) whether the compensation judge erred in finding the employee did not suffer a work-related injury until October 27, 2015, while also finding that the employee was aware of a work-related injury no later than September 22, 2011; (2) whether the compensation judge erred in finding that the employee’s ignorance of the law tolled the notice requirement of Minn. Stat. § 176.141; and (3) whether the compensation judge erred in finding that the preponderance of the evidence supported an award of benefits under Minn. Stat. § 176.101, subd. 2(a) (2020). (Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals)
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor
State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Jerome Dionte Spann, Appellant – Case No. A22-0229: In 2019, appellant Jerome Spann was indicted for first-degree murder based on allegations that he shot and killed an adult male on a residential street in Hibbing on Christmas Day. Spann was also charged with second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon related to an adult male bystander. Spann waived his right to a jury trial and the case proceeded to a 3-day bench trial. The district court found Spann guilty and sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of release for the first-degree murder of the victim and 36 months in prison for the second-degree assault of the bystander.
On appeal to the supreme court, the appellant argues that the district court committed the following errors: (1) failed to determine whether two individuals who drove Spann to and from the location where the shooting occurred were accomplices whose testimony required corroboration; (2) prohibited the impeachment of a witness with a specific instance of untruthfulness; and (3) applied the doctrine of transferred intent. (St. Louis County)
Hennepin Healthcare System, Inc, Respondent, vs. AFSCME Minnesota Council 5, Union, Appellant – Case No. A21-1079: Respondent Hennepin Healthcare System, Inc. (HHS) is a hospital that employs certain workers under a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with appellant AFSCME Minnesota Council 5, Union. In 2020, the parties arbitrated a dispute relating to HHS’s use of temporary staffing agency workers. The arbitrator issued an award in favor of the Union. HHS filed an action in district court and moved to vacate the arbitration award, arguing that the arbitrator had exceeded his powers. The district court denied the motion and confirmed the arbitration award.
The court of appeals reversed in a precedential opinion. It concluded that the arbitrator’s award did not draw its essence from the CBA, and therefore the arbitrator exceeded his power because the CBA denies the arbitrator “the right to amend, modify, nullify, ignore, add to, or subtract from the provisions” of the CBA, whereas “[t]he arbitrator’s decision would essentially amend the [CBA] by adding to one of its provisions a restriction that, by its express terms, applies only to a different provision.”
On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the court of appeals erred when it reversed the district court’s order which denied the motion to vacate and instead ordered confirmation of the arbitration award. (Hennepin County)
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor
State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Irfan Beganovic, Appellant – Case Nos. A21-0477, A21-0480: The State charged appellant Irfan Beganovic with first-degree arson under Minn. Stat. § 609.561, subd. 1 (2020), which prohibits a person from “unlawfully by means of fire or explosives, intentionally destroy[ing] or damag[ing] any building that is used as a dwelling at the time the act is committed.” Beganovic pleaded not guilty to the charge and demanded a jury trial. During the trial, an insurance investigator and a fire marshal testified about the source of the fire that burned down Beganovic’s home. The State did not present testimony regarding whether the fire was set according to a valid permit. The jury found Beganovic guilty as charged. The court of appeals affirmed his conviction.
On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) is “unlawfully” an element of first-degree arson that the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) if “unlawfully” is an element, did the State prove beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant “unlawfully” destroyed or damaged his house with fire; and (3) if “unlawfully” is an element, did the district court commit reversible plain error by failing to instruct the jury that the State was required to prove that appellant “unlawfully” destroyed or damaged his house with fire. (Otter Tail County)
Non-oral: Timothy Humble, Respondent, vs. Swift Transportation Company, Inc., and Corvel Corporation, Relators – Case No. A22-0361: Respondent Timothy Humble claimed that he suffered a neck and shoulder injury arising out of and in the course and scope of his employment on June 3, 2020. Two different medical examinations led to different opinions as to whether the injury was related to Humble’s work-related activities in June. This led relators to file a petition to discontinue benefits. The parties agreed that the sole issue before the compensation judge was whether Humble had sustained a work-related injury on or about June 3, 2020. The compensation judge found for Humble on that issue and denied the petition to discontinue. The relators appealed, arguing that the findings were clearly erroneous and not supported by the evidence. The compensation judge’s decision came down to a choice between the two conflicting medical expert opinions. The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) noted the high standard of review and affirmed the compensation judge’s choice. The WCCA also affirmed over relators’ credibility attacks on Humble, observing that witness credibility determinations are entrusted to the trier of fact. The WCCA also stated that the compensation judge’s determination in Humble’s favor that he sustained a work-related injury on or about June 3, 2020, was supported by the record
On appeal to the supreme court, the relators’ brief presents the following issues: (1) whether the WCCA erred in affirming the compensation judge’s finding that the respondent sustained a work injury on or about June 3, 2020, including the compensation judge’s reliance on one of the experts and determination that respondent’s testimony was credible; and (2) whether the WCCA erred in affirming the compensation judge’s denial of relators’ petition to discontinue. (Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals)
Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center Building
Glen Edin of Edinburgh Association, Respondent, vs. Hiscox Insurance Company, Appellant – Case No. A21-0761: Respondent Glen Edin of Edinburgh Association filed a claim with its insurer, appellant Hiscox Insurance Company, for wind and hail damage under their policy. The parties could not agree on the amount of the loss, and Glen Edin demanded an appraisal according to the terms of the policy and Minn. Stat. §§ 65A.01, 65A.26 (2020), which call for court involvement in appointing an umpire to break anticipated ties between party-appointed appraisers.
On June 11, 2019, Glen Edin commenced this lawsuit, serving on Hiscox (but not filing with the district court) a complaint alleging two counts: breach of contract and declaratory judgment. The count for declaratory judgment alleged, among other things, that appraisal was the appropriate remedy for the dispute, and Glen Edin requested relief including an order compelling the parties to address their dispute through appraisal and staying the lawsuit pending the resolution of the appraisal. Glen Edin later filed and served a motion for an appointment of a neutral umpire for appraisal. As an exhibit to an affidavit in support of the motion, Glen Edin included the complaint it had served on Hiscox. The district court held a hearing on the motion and issued an order appointing a neutral umpire in December 2019. In late January 2020, Hiscox filed an answer to the complaint, in which it made denials, stated affirmative defenses, and requested relief including an award of costs, disbursements, and attorney fees.
On March 3, 2021—over 21 months after it served the complaint—Glen Edin filed the complaint with the district court as a stand-alone document. At Hiscox’s request and following a hearing, the district court dismissed the complaint under Minn. R. Civ. P. 5.04(a), which deems dismissed with prejudice “[a]ny action that is not filed with the court within one year of commencement.”
The court of appeals reversed and remanded. Construing the language of Rule 5.04(a), the court of appeals specifically looked to the meaning of the term “action,” which it concluded unambiguously “encompass[es] pleadings like the answer filed in this case, which requested an award of costs, disbursements, and attorney fees.” Because Hiscox had filed its answer within 1 year of the commencement of the suit, the court of appeals reasoned, the Rule’s requirement had been met.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether a plaintiff avoids dismissal under Minn. R. Civ. P. 5.04(a) when a defendant files its answer within 1 year of the commencement of the action. (Hennepin County)
Non-oral: Tyrone James White, Appellant, vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A22-0662: In 2003, appellant Tyrone White was convicted of first-degree murder for the shooting death of an adult male. The district court sentenced White to life in prison without the possibility of release. On appeal, the court affirmed the conviction. State v. White, 684 N.W.2d 500 (Minn. 2004).
In 2005, White filed a petition for postconviction relief asserting various claims, including ineffective assistance of counsel and juror bias. The district court denied the petition. On appeal, the court affirmed. White v. State, 711 N.W.2d 106 (Minn. 2006). White also filed habeas petitions in federal court asserting various claims, likewise including ineffective assistance of counsel and juror bias. The federal district court denied the petitions and the federal appeals court affirmed. White v. Dingle, 757 F.3d 750 (8th Cir. 2014). In 2022, White filed another petition for postconviction relief asserting newly discovered evidence related to his ineffective assistance of counsel and juror bias claims. The district court summarily denied the petition as untimely.
On appeal to the supreme court, the appellant argues the district court abused its discretion by summarily denying his second petition for post-conviction relief. (St. Louis County)
Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center
Taquinia Kokela Douglas, Appellant, vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A21-1001: In 2017, appellant Taquinia Douglas was charged with possession of shoplifting gear under Minn. Stat. § 609.521(b) (2020) after law enforcement officers were called by employees of a retail clothing store to investigate potential shoplifting. When the officers confronted Douglas outside the store, they found unpaid merchandise in her bag with aluminum foil wrapped around the security sensors. A jury found Douglas guilty.
In 2020, Douglas filed a petition for postconviction relief, arguing that the evidence presented by the State is insufficient to support her conviction because tinfoil is not a device “designed” to assist in shoplifting. The district court summarily denied the petition. The court of appeals affirmed. In reviewing Minn. Stat. § 609.521(b), the court of appeals determined that the plain language of the statute controls and the statute’s passive construction of the verb phrase “designed to assist” does not presume formulation by the original manufacturer of the item. The court of appeals reasoned that “raw material, like thin sheets of aluminum, can be designed by a manufacturer for one purpose but then molded, shaped, or altered by a user, including a crafty shoplifter, redesigning it for an altogether different purpose.”
On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether a common, household item like tinfoil, unaltered in any substantial manner, is a device “designed to assist in shoplifting or defeating an electronic article surveillance system” as the phrase is used in the possession of shoplifting gear statute, Minn. Stat. § 609.521(b). (Hennepin County)
Non-oral: Sheila Anderson, Relator, vs. Valuevision Media, Inc., and Chubb Group Insurance Co., Respondents – Case No. A22-0266: Relator Sheila Anderson worked for ShopNBC/ValueVision Media, Inc. On January 23, 2012, she sustained work-related injuries to her back, neck, and shoulders in a fall. Later that year, on October 19, 2012, she also sustained a work-related injury to her arm, shoulder, and neck. And on July 2, 2013, Anderson claimed she sustained pain in her neck, back, and shoulder, due to work. Valuevision and its insurer admitted liability for the two work injuries in 2012 and paid for chiropractic treatment for limited periods of time. As for the July 2, 2013 injury, primary liability was initially admitted but later denied. In 2016, a hearing was held on Anderson’s claims for medical, wage loss, and vocations rehabilitation injuries related to those injuries, as well an amended claim for a Gillette injury culminating on July 2, 2013, and consequential depression. The compensation judge found that Anderson failed to prove a compensable, work-related injury to her neck, back, and shoulders on July 2, 2013. The compensation judge also found that Anderson failed to prove that she sustained consequential chronic pain syndrome or depression as a result of the 2012 injuries. The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) affirmed.
On October 9, 2017, Anderson filed a new claim petition alleging a work-related Gillette-type injury with a culmination date of October 27, 2011. Valuevision and the insurer denied liability, arguing that the claim was barred by res judicata. The compensation judge agreed. The WCCA affirmed the denial on res judicata grounds.
On appeal to the supreme court, the relator’s brief challenges the denial on res judicata grounds, raising the issue of whether there is a new condition involving different body parts and a new cause of action for the instant October 27, 2011 claim as compared with a 2013 Gillette claim. (Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals)
Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center
In the Matter of the Denial of Contested Case Hearing Requests and Issuance of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System / State Disposal System Permit No. MN0071013 for the Proposed NorthMet Project St Louis County Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt Minnesota – Case Nos. A19-0112, A19-0118, A19-0124, A20-1271, A20‑1380, A20-1385: Respondent Poly Met Mining, Inc., intends to build and operate a mine and associated facilities to extract and process copper, nickel, and platinum group metals from the NorthMet Deposit in northeastern Minnesota. At issue is the decision of the respondent Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to issue a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and State Disposal System (NPDES/SDS) permit for the NorthMet project.
Appellants are environmental nonprofit organizations and one tribal band that filed three certiorari petitions in the court of appeals: (1) WaterLegacy, (2) Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and (3) Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Center for Biological Diversity, and Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Appellants challenged the MPCA’s decision to issue the NPDES/SDS permit, as well as other decisions related to the permit, including decisions to not impose more restrictive conditions and to deny a contested case hearing.
While the certiorari petitions were pending, the court of appeals issued an order transferring the matter to Ramsey County District Court to conduct an evidentiary hearing regarding “alleged irregularities in the procedure.” The district court authorized limited discovery, conducted an evidentiary hearing, and issued a decision. Appellants separately appealed the district court order, and the MPCA filed a notice of related appeal.
After consolidating all the appeals, the court of appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. The court of appeals concluded that the MPCA “erred by not properly considering whether the federal Clean Water Act applies to any future discharges from Poly Met’s facility to groundwater.” But the court of appeals determined that “there is no reversible error with respect to all other issues that have been raised by the parties.” The court of appeals remanded to the MPCA “for a determination as to whether any discharges by Poly Met to groundwater are governed by the Clean Water Act.”
The supreme court granted review on three primary issues: (1) whether any procedural irregularities in the MPCA’s consideration of the permit application may have prejudiced appellants’ substantial rights; (2) whether the MPCA erred by issuing a permit that does not include water-quality-based effluent limits; and (3) whether the permit complies with a Minnesota rule addressing discharges to groundwater, Minn. R. 7060.0600 (2021). (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency)