Decedent died in 2017 at the age of 96. In his will, he left his various assets to his seven adult children. A probate action has been pending in the District Court since November 2017. This appeal and cross-appeal concerned the personal representative’s attempts to administer the estate in a way that accounted for significant debts that three of decedent’s children owed to the estate.
The Court of Appeals held that the personal representative of an estate may not sell real property that the testator has specifically devised by will. The Court also concluded that the District Court erred in the form and amounts of three interim judgments that were entered against the three children who were indebted to the estate. But the District Court did not otherwise err. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
Appellant-attorney challenged the District Court’s award of rule 11 sanctions against him for frivolous filings in District Court related to appellant’s representation of petitioner-father in proceedings against respondent-mother. Noting the frivolous and duplicative nature of his motions, and that father, through attorney, continually raised claims that were not well grounded in fact and not warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification or reversal of existing law, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion. Affirmed.
Breach of Contract
Appellant, the developer of a wind energy project, challenged the District Court’s findings after a bench trial that, under the parties’ contract, appellant was not entitled to liquidated damages that it did not invoice for, it was not entitled to off-site demurrage, and it was not entitled to additional delay and delivery costs. In its cross-appeal, respondent, the contractor for the project, challenged the District Court’s finding that it was not entitled to its mechanic’s liens. The Court of Appeals concluded that District Court did not err in concluding that appellant was only entitled to liquidated damages that it invoiced because, under the agreement, an invoice was a condition precedent to payment. Furthermore, the agreement contemplated on-site storage and double handling costs and the parties agreed that liquidated damages were the exclusive remedy for failure to meet the guaranteed completion dates. In addition, respondent was not entitled to a mechanic’s lien as it failed to show appellant’s ownership interest in the land. Affirmed.
In this appeal, appellant challenged the District Court’s rule 12.02(e) dismissal of his civil claims arising from respondent-state-trooper’s response to a “road rage” traffic incident that involved appellant pointing a handgun at the other driver. The Court of Appeals concluded that qualified and official immunity shield the state trooper from liability. Affirmed.
Appellant challenged the District Court’s decision to appoint a conservator for her estate, arguing that the District Court made insufficient findings and otherwise failed to support its decision. Alternatively, appellant contended the District Court abused its discretion when it decided not to appoint her choice of conservator. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court’s finding that appellant had an impairment because of her diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease was supported by clear and convincing evidence. Affirmed.
Appellant sued her former co-worker, respondent, alleging defamation and intentional interference with prospective business relations based on statements that respondent made in emails to appellant’s supervisor. The District Court granted summary judgment for respondent on both claims, determining that the statements at issue were opinions and thus not defamatory as a matter of law and that, without a viable defamation claim, the intentional-interference claim also failed as a matter of law. The Court of Appeals concluded that respondent’s claim that appellant was “unprofessional” and used “vulgar language” was a factual statement, and it could not conclude that the statement was not defamatory as a matter of law. Furthermore, issues of material fact precluded summary judgment based on qualified privilege. Reversed and remanded.
Appellant-transferees challenged the grant of default judgment in favor of respondent-lender on the lender’s claims against appellants under the Minnesota Uniform Voidable Transactions Act (MUVTA). Noting that the District Court’s conclusion that § 510.06 must apply for the homestead exemption to survive the owner’s death in the context of a transfer on death deed (TODD) was a misapprehension of law, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court abused its discretion by determining that appellants did not establish a reasonable defense on the merits and thus in granting default judgment and denying appellants’ motion to vacate judgment. Reversed and remanded.
Child Custody; Modification
In an appeal of the District Court’s order granting respondent-father’s motion to modify physical custody of son, appellant-mother argued the District Court abused its discretion by (1) using a parenting time expeditor’s decision and statements in an evidentiary hearing and in its subsequent decision and (2) modifying physical custody based on endangerment. The Court of Appeals concluded that any error in the District Court’s use of the parenting time expeditor’s decision and statements was harmless, and the District Court did not abuse its discretion when it determined mother’s care created a significant degree of danger for son. Affirmed.
Child Protection; Termination of Parental Rights
In this appeal from a termination of appellant’s parental rights, appellant argued that the District Court abused its discretion when it determined that he was palpably unfit to care for the children, when it ordered him to comply with an inadequate case plan, and when it took judicial notice of reports filed in other child protection cases regarding appellant and the children. Noting the findings that father had been unable to maintain long-term sobriety, including his recent methamphetamine relapse, that father was not attending his treatment program, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion when it determined that specific conditions directly relating to father’s relationship with the children would continue for an indefinite period of time and render father unable to care appropriately for the children’s ongoing physical, mental, and emotional needs. Affirmed.
Child Protection; Termination of Parental Rights
The District Court terminated appellant-mother’s parental rights to two children on the ground that she was palpably unfit to be a party to a parent-child relationship. Noting appellant’s relapse and her voluntary discontinuation of inpatient treatment, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not err by determining that appellant was palpably unfit or by determining that the termination of her parental rights was in the children’s best interests. Affirmed.
Child Protection; Visitation
In this juvenile-protection case, appellant-father challenged the District Court’s order denying his motion for a court-ordered visitation schedule with his two children following a transfer-of-custody proceeding. Father argued that the District Court abused its discretion by determining that it remained in the children’s best interests for respondents-maternal grandparents, who were the children’s legal custodians, to retain sole discretion over father’s visitation. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court thoroughly considered the children’s best interests and did not otherwise abuse its discretion in denying father’s motion. Affirmed.
Harassment Restraining Orders
Appellant, a minor, appealed the dismissal of her petition for a harassment restraining order (HRO) against her father, respondent, arguing that the District Court erred by concluding that, as a minor, she did not have standing to file an HRO petition under the statute in effect at the time of her petition. The Court of Appeals agreed that appellant did not have standing when she petitioned for the HRO. Affirmed.
Appellant challenged the summary judgment dismissal of her claims for malicious prosecution and negligence, arguing that genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment on both claims. The Court of Appeals concluded that, because the record contained no evidence of malice, the District Court did not err in granting summary judgment on appellant’s malicious prosecution claim. In addition, because the alleged acts in support of the negligence claim involved the exercise of discretion, respondents were immune from liability and the district did not err in granting summary judgment on this claim. Affirmed.
Orders for Protection
Appellant-father challenged the District Court’s order granting respondent-mother’s petition on behalf of the parties’ two minor children for an order for protection (OFP) against father. Father argued the District Court abused its discretion in determining that father committed acts of domestic abuse. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in determining that father’s actions of restraining daughter and twisting son’s arm constituted physical harm. Affirmed.
In this real-property dispute, appellants challenged the summary judgment granted to respondents on the four affirmative defenses asserted by appellants in their reply to respondents’ quiet-title counterclaim. Appellants’ affirmative defenses were failure to state a claim, estoppel, waiver, and laches. Noting the fact that purported conveyor had already conveyed the lot at issue to respondents’ predecessor-in-interest in 1998 meant that she no longer owned the lot in 2011 when she purportedly conveyed it to appellants, and that, therefore, the conveyance was moot, regardless of her intent, the Court of Appeals found no error in the grant of summary judgment. Affirmed.
Appellant-surety appealed from the District Court’s order denying its petition to reinstate a forfeited bail bond, arguing that the District Court (1) erred by assigning a judge other than the forfeiting judge or the judicial district’s chief judge to hear appellant’s petition for reinstatement and (2) abused its discretion by denying reinstatement of the bond. Noting that the sheriff’s department located and apprehended defendant at public expense, the Court of Appeals concluded that any error in judicial assignment constituted harmless error and the District Court did not abuse its discretion by denying reinstatement. Affirmed.
Controlled Substance Crimes
In this appeal from his conviction of second-degree sale of a controlled substance in a prohibited zone, defendant argued that his conviction must be reversed because the state failed to prove that he constructively possessed the methamphetamine found in his vehicle and that he intended to sell it. Noting that defendant was driving the car in which officers found the methamphetamine, he owned the car, he was in close proximity to the methamphetamine located in the car, he fled on foot when the trooper attempted to make a traffic stop, he was under the influence when law-enforcement officers apprehended him, and his use of methamphetamine gave him a motive to possess and sell it, the Court of Appeals concluded that the only rational inference from the circumstances proved was that defendant consciously exercised dominion and control over the methamphetamine found in his car and therefore constructively possessed it, either jointly with the passenger or by himself. Affirmed.
Criminal Sexual Conduct
Statute of Limitations
Defendant challenged his convictions for three counts of first-degree criminal-sexual conduct. Defendant argued: (1) the statute of limitations bared the charges against him; (2) the unreasonable delay in charging violated his due-process rights; (3) the record lacked sufficient evidence to support his convictions; and (4) the District Court improperly admitted Spreigl evidence. The Court of Appeals concluded that probation officers are not “law enforcement authorities” for purposes of the applicable statute of limitations, and thus any report by defendant to his probation officer did not start the running of the limitations period. Affirmed.
Criminal Sexual Conduct
Sufficiency of the Evidence
In this direct appeal from multiple convictions of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence presented against him. Defendant also argued that he was entitled to a new trial because the prosecutor committed misconduct by misstating the evidence and disparaging the defense. The Court of Appeals concluded that the victim’s testimony was sufficient to support the conviction, and defendant did not demonstrate plain error by the prosecutor during closing arguments. Affirmed.
Following his convictions for first-degree attempted murder of an unborn child and first-degree aggravated robbery, defendant argued that he was entitled to a new trial because the District Court abused its discretion by admitting unauthenticated GPS tracking evidence. Before the evidence was admitted at trial, the victim testified about the manner in which she obtained the GPS tracking evidence. She testified that after her phone was stolen during the attack, she accessed tracking data associated with her phone through Google services. The victim testified that the GPS tracking evidence accurately showed the location of her phone both immediately before and during the attack, locations she verified that she personally visited with her phone. The Court of Appeals concluded that the testimony in this case established with sufficient reliability that the evidence was what it purported to be. Affirmed.
In this direct appeal from his judgment of conviction for third-degree criminal sexual conduct, defendant argued that his conviction must be reversed and a new trial granted because the District Court admitted irrelevant evidence when it permitted the alleged victim to testify regarding how “this assault affected [her] life.” In the alternative, defendant argued, and the State agreed, that he was entitled to resentencing because the District Court erred in calculating his criminal-history score based on a full custody-status point when, under a 2019 amendment to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines, he should be assigned only a one-half custody-status point. Noting that the victim’s reaction to the event logically tended to prove that the sexual contact was nonconsensual, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the challenged testimony because it was relevant to whether the sexual conduct was consensual. However, the District Court did err by not giving appellant the benefit of the amended custody-status provision in the sentencing guidelines. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
In this direct appeal from the final disposition of a petty misdemeanor violation of state law prohibiting pedestrians from using a controlled access highway, defendant argued that the circumstantial evidence was insufficient to support the District Court’s finding of guilt. Noting that there was no direct evidence in the record to establish that defendant used I-94 as a pedestrian before he was detained and cited, the Court of Appeals concluded that the circumstances proved at trial were not inconsistent with a rational hypothesis of innocence. Reversed.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
In this direct appeal, defendant challenged his conviction for fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct following a jury trial, claiming that he had ineffective assistance of trial counsel and seeking reversal and remand for a new trial. Defendant contended his trial attorney provided ineffective assistance by failing to (1) “present a complete defense of consent” by not introducing evidence of the victim’s prior consensual sexual conduct with others; (2) offer evidence of the victim’s alleged motive to falsely accuse appellant; (3) request a jury instruction on voluntary intoxication as a defense; and (4) impeach the victim by offering her complete police statement into evidence. The Court of Appeals concluded that, because the trial record did not permit a determination on defendant’s claims of ineffective assistance, and declined to reach the merits. Affirmed.
Defendant appealed from her conviction for first-degree sale of a controlled substance following a stipulated-evidence court trial. Defendant and the State agreed that a single dispositive issue was been preserved for review: whether the District Court erred in determining that probable cause supported a search warrant that police obtained during their investigation of defendant. Noting that the search warrant application did not offer facts from which the informant’s reliability could be inferred, and that it contained no information about the basis for the informant’s knowledge, the Court of Appeals concluded that there was not a substantial basis to conclude that the search warrant application satisfied the probable-cause standard. Reversed.
Stays of Adjudication
Defendant challenged the District Court’s order revoking stays of adjudication of three criminal charges against him. He argued that the District Court committed reversible plain error by failing to provide him with a written copy of a probation-violation report before accepting his admissions to the alleged violations and revoking the stays of adjudication. The Court of Appeals concluded that any error did not affect defendant’s substantial rights. Affirmed.
Common Scheme or Plan
In this direct appeal from the final judgments of conviction for two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, defendant argued that the District Court abused its discretion by (1) admitting evidence of an uncharged offense involving the same victim and (2) imposing consecutive sentences of 172 months for an aggregate sentence of 344 months’ imprisonment. The Court of Appeals concluded that, although the uncharged offense did not qualify relationship evidence, the evidence was admissible as Spreigl evidence because it helped establish a common scheme or plan—that defendant sexually assaulted the victim on the two earlier occasions. Furthermore, the District Court did not abuse its discretion by imposing consecutive sentences. Affirmed.
Reasonable, Articulable Suspicion
Defendant challenged the District Court’s admission of evidence obtained from a traffic stop, arguing that the police officer lacked reasonable, articulable suspicion to initiate the stop. Based on the road conditions, the time of day, and the deputy’s first-hand observations, the Court of Appeals concluded that the deputy had reasonable, articulable suspicion that defendant violated Minn. Stat. § 169.14, subd. 1, for failing to drive with due care, and subd. 2 for driving above the posted speed limit. Affirmed.
Reasonable, Articulable Suspicion
Defendant challenged his conviction of first-degree possession of a controlled substance, arguing that the District Court erred by denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained after police searched his vehicle and his person. The Court of Appeals concluded that the record supports the District Court’s conclusion that the concerned citizen’s tip and subsequent police surveillance of the neighborhood would lead a reasonable officer to conclude that defendant was engaging in criminal activity. Furthermore, police had reasonable suspicion of drug activity to support the dog sniff.