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Court of Appeals Digest: Dec. 5, 2022

Civil Precedential

 

Domestic Relations

Child Custody; Foreign Judgments

This appeal arose from a Minnesota District Court order denying the motion of appellant-father to dismiss respondent’s petition for guardianship/custody of two minor children. The District Court first determined that prior orders issued by a Wisconsin court appointed respondent, the children’s maternal grandmother, as the children’s guardian and granted respondent significant powers over the children. The District Court also determined that the Wisconsin guardianship orders are child custody determinations under Minnesota’s version of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (MUCCJEA), Minn. Stat. §§ 518D.101 .317, and that Minnesota courts recognize and enforce foreign custody orders, as provided in the MUCCJEA. Finally, the District Court set an evidentiary hearing on father’s motion to modify custody and for parenting time. Father argued, inter alia, the District Court erred by determining that the Wisconsin orders amounted to an award of child custody under Minnesota law without respondent first having petitioned in Minnesota as an interested third party or de facto custodian under Minn. Stat. § 257C.03.

The Court of Appeals held that, if a foreign court awards to a person other than a child’s parent what, in Minnesota, would be legal or physical custody of the child, and if that foreign court’s determination otherwise satisfies MUCCJEA, it is proper for a Minnesota court to recognize and enforce that foreign court’s child custody determination even if the person awarded those rights did not also petition a Minnesota court for those rights under Minn. Stat. §§ 257C.01-.08. Affirmed.

A22-0533 Easter v. Alyea (In re Custody of K.S.A.) (Dakota County)

 

 

Personal Jurisdiction

Sufficiency of Contacts

This interlocutory appeal followed an unsuccessful challenge to the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction by a Minnesota court over a Canadian company that completed a single business transaction with a Minnesota company.

The Court of Appeals held that, in examining the sufficiency of contacts with the forum state to determine the existence of specific personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant, courts generally focus on those contacts leading up to and surrounding the accrual of the cause of action. Here, the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over the Canadian company would violate due process. Reversed.

A22-0467 Husky Constr., Inc. v. Gestion G. Thibault, Inc. (Hennepin County)

 

 

Civil Nonprecedential

 

Civil Commitment

SDP; Evidence

Following the District Court’s order of indeterminate civil commitment of appellant as a sexually dangerous person (SDP) and sexual psychopathic personality (SPP), appellant argued that the District Court abused its discretion in making certain evidentiary and trial-management rulings, exhibited bias, erred in appointing a second examiner without his agreement, and erred in its ultimate finding that appellant meets the standard for commitment as an SDP and an SPP. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in making its rulings, the District Court did not exhibit bias, appellant acquiesced to the choice of the second examiner, and the record supported the conclusion that appellant met the standards for commitment as an SDP and an SPP. Affirmed.

A22-0887 In re Civil Commitment of Ward (Ramsey County)

 

Discovery

Sanctions

Appellant-insureds challenged the District Court’s dismissal under Minn. R. Civ. P. 37.02(b)(3) of their claims relating to respondent-insurer’s denial of coverage for water damage to their rental home. Appellants also challenged the denial of their request for a continuance of trial. Insurer conducted a site inspection and investigation and determined that the damage resulted from vandalism and malicious mischief, and that the damages resulting from this loss were not covered by the insurance policy because the home had been vacant for more than 30 days. Noting that each of the five applicable factors supported dismissal, the Court of Appeals concluded that dismissal with prejudice under rule 37.02 was within the District Court’s discretion. Affirmed.

A22-0477 Jones v. State Farm Ins. Co. Fire Claims (Crow Wing County)

 

 

Domestic Relations

Child Protection; Maltreatment

Appellant challenged a District Court order affirming a determination by respondent Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) that appellant maltreated her child based on prenatal exposure to cocaine. Appellant asserted (1) that the District Court improperly interpreted the governing statute, Minn. Stat. § 626.556; (2) that the governing statute was void for vagueness; and (3) that the maltreatment determination was unsupported by substantial evidence. The Court of Appeals concluded that § 626.556 incorporates no requirement of a finding of excessive or habitual use. Furthermore, appellant’s constitutional argument is unavailing, and the record supported the finding that appellant exposed her child to a controlled substance while she was pregnant by intentionally using cocaine. Affirmed.

A22-0497 Glesener v. State, Dep’t of Human Servs. (Sherburne County)

 

 

Domestic Relations

Child Protection; Termination of Parental Rights

On appeal from the termination of her parental rights, mother argued that the record did not support the District Court’s determinations that (1) the county made reasonable efforts to reunify the family, (2) there was a statutory basis for termination, and (3) termination of her parental rights was in the best interests of the children. Noting that mother did not challenge the determination that she had subjected the children to egregious harm, the Court of Appeals concluded that the county was properly relieved of the duty to make reasonable efforts for reunification. Affirmed.

A22-0720 In re Welfare of Children of K.J.L. (Hennepin County)

 

 

Domestic Relations

Child Protection; Termination of Parental Rights

On appeal from the District Court’s termination of parental rights to his two children, father argued that the District Court erred in concluding that statutory grounds for termination were proven and that termination was in the children’s best interests. Noting that none of the witnesses at trial testified that they believed father should be a primary caregiver for his children, or any child, and that father had not begun the phase of sex offense therapy where he began to understand what led to his offense, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the egregious-harm statutory basis for termination of parental rights was established by clear and convincing evidence. Affirmed.

A22-0725 In re Welfare of Children of K.W. (Ramsey County)

 

 

Expert Witnesses

Ultimate Issues

In this defamation case, appellant argued that the District Court abused its discretion by excluding testimony from his expert witness and by giving a faulty jury instruction. Appellant also contended that 10 of the 18 statements found to be defamatory by the jury were published outside the statute of limitations period and that those claims are thus time-barred. Noting that respondents claimed that they were falsely accused of stealing money from a client’s payroll tax account, the Court of Appeals concluded that the tax expert’s opinion that respondents in fact committed a crime by their actions constituted an inadmissible opinion on one of the ultimate legal issues in the case because the truth or falsity of the statement was dispositive of the question of whether it was defamatory. Furthermore, appellant’s argument on the statute-of-limitations issue was forfeited. Affirmed.

A22-0524 Stemm v. Kraus (Ramsey County)

 

 

Harassment Restraining Orders

Firearms

Appellant challenged the District Court’s inclusion of a firearm-prohibition and firearm-surrender provision in the harassment restraining order (HRO) issued against him. Appellant does not challenge the District Court’s decision to issue the HRO. The Court of Appeals concluded that the HRO statute did not authorize a firearm prohibition or firearm surrender as an available remedy. The HRO issued against appellant, minus the firearm-prohibition and firearm-surrender provision, remained in effect. Reversed and remanded.

A22-0162 Egan v. Wright (Dakota County)

 

 

Insurance

No-Fault Automobile

Appellant challenged the District Court’s order vacating an arbitration award that required respondent-insurer to pay income-loss benefits under the Minnesota No-Fault Automobile Insurance Act. Appellant asserted that the District Court erred by misinterpreting Minn. Stat. § 65B.44, subd. 3(e), and reversing a factual determination of the arbitrator. Noting that appellant made no argument that his physical-therapy appointments were a full-time undertaking, the Court of Appeals concluded that did not show that he was unable by reason of the injury to work continuously or that he missed six weeks of work to obtain medical treatment. Furthermore, the District Court did not err in determining that the arbitrator exceeded his powers by interpreting § 65B.44, subd. 3, to provide income-loss benefits for appellant’s six-week leave of absence. Affirmed.

A22-0473 Pinchinat v. Allstate Ins. Co. (Dakota County)

 

 

Municipalities

Immunity

Appellant challenged the summary-judgment dismissal of her claims against respondents Metropolitan Council and its subsidiary Metro Transit for negligence and violation of the Minnesota Health Records Act, arguing that the District Court erred in determining that the Metropolitan Council was entitled to immunity from the lawsuit and that there were genuine issues of material fact that prevented summary judgment. The action was brought after a Metro Transit employee’s laptop, containing sensitive information about appellant, was stolen from the employee’s personal vehicle. The Court of Appeals concluded that the Metropolitan Council’s determination of security policy solidly qualified as a planning decision involving matters of policy, and thus that the Council was entitled to statutory immunity. Affirmed.

A22-0194 Lutzke v. Metro. Council (Hennepin County)

 

 

Promissory Estoppel

Injustice

Following a court trial, appellant-contractor and its principal challenged the judgment for respondent-homeowners-association on its promissory-estoppel and unjust-enrichment claims. Appellants argued that the District Court (1) misapplied the elements of promissory estoppel, (2) erred in determining that they were liable to respondent on its unjust-enrichment claim, and (3) abused its discretion in its evidentiary rulings. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court neither acknowledged, nor addressed, the injustice prong of the promissory-estoppel test, and that meaningful appellate review was not possible without the District Court’s analysis. However, appellants were liable for unjust enrichment. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-0635 Townhomes of Raspberry Ridge Homeowners Assoc., Inc. v. Charles Stuurop Enters., Inc. (Ramsey County)

 

 

Public Employment

Disability Benefits

Relator city appealed the decision of an administrative law judge (ALJ) affirming a determination by the Public Employment Retirement Association (PERA) that respondent, a former police officer, had a duty disability that required the city to provide continued health insurance coverage under Minn. Stat. § 299A.465. Noting that even the city’s own expert agreed that respondent would not have been able to perform the normal duties of a police officer due to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the Court of Appeals concluded that the errors of law that the city alleged on appeal would not affect the ALJ’s determination that the city failed to satisfy its burden of showing that respondent did not suffer a duty disability. Affirmed.

A22-0449 City of Minneapolis v. Tichich (Office of Admin. Hearings)

 

 

Settlements

Interpretation

In this second appeal arising from a 2012 motor-vehicle crash, appellants argued that the District Court erred by denying their motion to enforce a settlement agreement between respondent and appellants’ primary insurer and deem a default judgment against them satisfied and, alternatively, that it erred by granting respondent’s motion to add prejudgment interest to the default judgment. Noting that the Drake-Ryan agreement unambiguously required only a discharge of appellants’ personal liability, which appellants had enjoyed throughout the protracted life of this case, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not err by denying appellants’ motion to enforce the agreement as they argued that it should have been read and understood. Affirmed.

A22-0548 Orcutt v. Crews (Olmsted County)

 

 

Criminal Precedential

 

Plea Withdrawal

Voluntary & Intelligent

In this direct appeal from his conviction for third-degree driving while impaired, a gross misdemeanor, defendant challenged the constitutional validity of his guilty plea entered pursuant to Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.03, subd. 2. Defendant contended the record fails to establish a voluntary and intelligent guilty plea because defendant did not sign the plea petition and the record otherwise failed to demonstrate the constitutional validity of his guilty plea.

The Court of Appeals held that a guilty plea is not constitutionally valid if the defendant does not personally sign his or her petition to plead guilty, entered pursuant to Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.03, subd. 2, and the record does not otherwise demonstrate the defendant entered a voluntary and intelligent guilty plea. Reversed and remanded.

A22-0080 State v. Lawrence (Washington County)

 

 

Criminal Nonprecedential

 

Criminal Sexual Conduct

Sufficiency of the Evidence

Defendant entered the bedroom of a sleeping teenage girl, propositioned her for sex, and groped her buttocks through the blanket covering her. On appeal challenging the sufficiency of the evidence underlying his conviction after being charged with fourth- and fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, defendant argued that groping was not a crime if effected by touching through a blanket. The Court of Appeals concluded that well-settled precedent defeated this argument. As to sentencing, although the state conceded that the District Court erroneously entered a conviction on both criminal-sexual-conduct charges and accurately conceded that the lesser-included offense should not have resulted in a conviction, neither the sentencing transcript nor the sentencing order indicates certainly that count two resulted in a conviction or that it did not, requiring remand. Affirmed in part and remanded.

A22-0019 State v. Simmons (Dakota County)

 

Hearsay

Excited Utterance

In this appeal from a judgment of conviction of aiding and abetting third-degree assault, defendant argued that (1) the District Court abused its discretion by admitting defendant’s three-year-old child’s out-of-court statement “Daddy hurt Mommy” under the excited-utterance exception and (2) the probative value of child’s out-of-court statement was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Defendant disputed that child was not under sufficient aura of excitement to ensure trustworthiness of the statement. Noting that one of the officers provided testimony that child was crying and seemed very sad when the statement was made, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion by determining that the statement qualified as an excited utterance. Affirmed.

A21-1559 State v. Stewart (Hennepin County)

 

 

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Immigration Consequences

Petitioner pleaded guilty, on the advice of his attorney, to charges which he acknowledged would make his deportation presumptively mandatory. But two years after the plea, an immigration court concluded that petitioner would be subject to mandatory deportation because he was ineligible to apply for cancellation of removal. Petitioner was deported in January 2021. Petitioner brought a petition for postconviction relief based on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, and he sought to vacate his guilty plea and reinstate the charges against him so he could go to trial. After the postconviction court granted petitioner’s petition for postconviction relief, the State appealed. The Court of Appeals concluded that, because the relevant immigration statute was unclear at the time of petitioner’s plea and no additional research by defense counsel could have clarified the potential immigration consequences, petitioner did not meet his burden to show that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Reversed.

A22-0506 Ahmed v. State (Polk County)

 

 

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Trial Strategy

Petitioner challenged the District Court’s denial of postconviction relief, arguing that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel and that the evidence was insufficient for his first-degree criminal-sexual-conduct conviction. Noting that defendant’s attorney’s decision to not call a DNA expert and instead rely on vigorous cross-examination to show issues with the DNA evidence was trial strategy that was beyond review, the Court of Appeals concluded that petitioner failed to establish an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim. Affirmed.

A22-0452 Moses v. State (Hennepin County)

 

 

Prosecutorial Misconduct

Closing Argument

Following her conviction for third-degree assault, defendant argued that the prosecutor committed misconduct warranting a new trial by making certain statements during closing argument. Defendant specifically argued that the prosecutor misstated, diluted, and shifted the state’s burden of proof, made improper statements about the credibility of witnesses, and stoked sympathy for the accuser. Defendant did not object during closing argument. The Court of Appeals discerned no prosecutorial misconduct, prejudice to defendant affecting her substantial rights, or impairment of the fairness and integrity of the proceedings. Affirmed.

A22-0151 State v. Thompson (Hennepin County)

 

 

Self-Defense

Duty to Retreat

Defendant repeatedly stabbed a man at a homeless shelter after the man began hitting him. During jury deliberations in defendant’s trial on an assault charge, the jury inquired as to whether defendant’s shelter bunk was his home for purposes of a resident’s duty to retreat before engaging in self-defense. The District Court answered only that the jury had all the information it needed to make its decision, and the jury then found defendant guilty of first-degree assault. On appeal, defendant contended that the District Court’s failure to respond substantively to the jury’s question was an abuse of discretion. The Court of Appeals concluded any error was harmless, as the force defendant used in his alleged self-defense was unreasonable regardless of whether he had no duty to retreat. Affirmed.

A21-1582 State v. Farah (Hennepin County)

 

 

Self-Defense

Intent to Harm

After petitioner was charged with domestic assault, the District Court denied petitioner a self-defense jury instruction at trial because he did not admit to intentionally inflicting bodily harm upon his girlfriend. Petitioner was convicted of misdemeanor domestic assault. In a petition for postconviction relief, petitioner challenged the denial of his requested self-defense jury instruction. His postconviction petition was denied. The Court of Appeals concluded that admission of an intent to harm is not needed for a self-defense jury instruction in a domestic-assault bodily-harm case. Noting that petitioner admitted to an act of force against his girlfriend, the Court ordered a new trial. Reversed and remanded.

A22-0343 Beale v. State (Ramsey County)

 

 

Sentencing

Downward Departure

On appeal from his conviction of and sentence for third-degree murder, defendant argued that the District Court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a downward dispositional departure and downward durational departure. Defendant also argued the District Court abused its discretion in ordering restitution without considering his ability to pay. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion by denying defendant’s motion for a downward departures, but did abuse its discretion by ordering defendant to pay restitution and failing to follow the requirements of Minn. Stat. § 611A.045. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-0417 State v. Slattum (Dakota County)

 

 

Sentencing

Due Process

In this direct appeal from a judgment of conviction for second degree assault, defendant challenged the District Court’s denial of his motion for a downward dispositional departure from the presumptive sentence. Defendant raised one issue: whether the District Court violated due process by considering unreliable hearsay in the presentence investigation (PSI) report before imposing a presumptive prison sentence of 60 months. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not err by denying defendant’s departure motion based on a PSI report that included hearsay. Affirmed.

A22-0352 State v. Sidney (Ramsey County)


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