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Court of Appeals Digest: Dec. 19, 2022

Civil Precedential

 

Public Employment

Death Benefits

In this certiorari appeal, relator challenged the denial of her application for the death benefit provided by Minn. Stat. § 299A.44 to survivors of public safety officers “killed in the line of duty.”  Relator argued that an administrative-law judge (ALJ), who made the final decision denying the application, erred by concluding on summary disposition that relator’s husband, a sheriff’s deputy, was not “killed in the line of duty” within the meaning of the statute when he died by suicide after receiving a diagnosis of duty-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Court of Appeals held that a surviving spouse of a public safety officer who dies by suicide is entitled to the death benefit for survivors of officers “killed in the line of duty” under § 299A.44 if the officer’s death resulted from PTSD caused by performing duties peculiar to a public safety officer. Reversed and remanded.

A22-0507 In re Pub. Safety Death Benefit for Lannon (Office of Admin. Hearings)

 

 

Civil Nonprecedential

 

Corporations

Shareholder Duties

Appellants filed three separate lawsuits against respondent-bank: one for its actions as trustee of decedent’s trust, one for its actions as special administrator of decedent’s estate, and one for its actions as an alleged shareholder of the Minnesota corporation. This appeal was taken from a judgment dismissing only the third of those three lawsuits, in which respondents alleged that respondent was a shareholder of the corporation and, in its role as a shareholder, breached shareholder fiduciary duties and committed unfairly prejudicial conduct in violation of the Minnesota Business Corporations Act. The District Court dismissed the claims on the pleadings because appellants failed to properly allege that both respondent and appellants were shareholders of the corporation. As a result, the court held that appellants were not entitled to relief. The Court of Appeals concluded that the pleadings did not allege facts sufficient to prove that respondent was a shareholder of the corporation and appellants could not initiate a buy-out as non-shareholders. Affirmed.

A22-0777 Demski v. U.S. Bank. Nat’l Assoc. (Scott County)

 

 

Domestic Relations

Child Custody; Modification

Appellant-mother challenged the District Court’s order granting respondent-father sole legal and physical custody of their child, arguing that the record did not support the District Court’s factual findings, that the District Court misapplied the law, and that its custody decision was an abuse of discretion. Mother also contended that the District Court abused its discretion by restricting her parenting time and lacked authority or jurisdiction to temporarily place the child in the care of her paternal grandmother. The Court of Appeals concluded that the record supported the District Court’s finding that mother alienated the child from father by manipulating her into fearing him and falsely accusing him of sexual abuse and did not abuse its discretion by awarding father sole legal and physical custody of the child. Affirmed.

A22-0181 Dempsey v. Loman (Hennepin County)

 

 

Domestic Relations

Child Custody; Relocation

Appellant-father argued that the District Court abused its discretion by granting respondent-mother’s motion to relocate out of state with their children, and denying, without an evidentiary hearing, his motion to modify custody. Noting the District Court’s experience with these parties and its thoughtful contemplation, the Court of Appeals concluded that the decision to grant a relocation request was within the court’s discretion. Affirmed.

A22-0142 Henry v. Meilahn (Hennepin County)

 

 

Domestic Relations

Dissolution; Jurisdiction

The current issues in this divorce case involved the priority of jurisdiction between courts of two states. Husband moved to dissolve the parties’ thirty-year marriage in Oklahoma, and four weeks later wife petitioned to do the same in Minnesota. The Minnesota District Court dismissed wife’s petition, determining that it could not exercise jurisdiction under the first-to-file rule, the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. It also found that wife, by filing in Minnesota, improperly engaged in forum-shopping, and it awarded husband conduct-based attorney fees on that basis. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court properly declined to exercise jurisdiction over the child-support aspect of the parties’ dispute but improperly dismissed wife’s petition on jurisdictional grounds and improperly ordered her to pay conduct-based attorney fees. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-0616 Knutsen v. Knutsen (Hennepin County)

 

 

Easements

Continuous Use

Following a court trial in a Torrens registration proceeding under Minn. Stat. §§ 508.01-.84, appellant challenged the District Court’s determination that the Minnesota Marketable Title Act (MTA), did not extinguish a recorded easement, arguing that the MTA possession exception does not apply to a misused easement. The District Court determined that respondents’ historical use, including various types of foot and vehicle traffic, and respondents’ current use of the easement, including use as an emergency exit for a pub, as a personal walkway, and as a path to haul trash from the pub, constituted continuous use sufficient to put a prudent person on notice of the interest. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court correctly determined that respondents’ use of the easement constituted continuous use under the MTA possession exception. Affirmed.

A22-0617 In re Sharifkhani (Ramsey County)

 

 

Landlord & Tenant

Punitive Damages

Appellant, a property management company, managed an apartment leased to respondent-tenant, who gave notice of her intent to end the lease and move. Tenant filed a complaint in District Court claiming appellant was liable under theories of ouster, conversion, and a violation of a duty to care for her personal property. After a bench trial, the District Court found that appellant threw away all of tenant’s property in one day before tenant’s agreed upon moving date, and awarded actual and punitive damages. Appellant challenged the punitive damages award under Minn. Stat. § 504B.271, subd. 2, arguing that tenant did not make a written demand for return of her personal property as required by subdivision 2. Tenant argued that either no written demand was required based on the facts in this case or that tenant satisfied the written demand requirement when she commenced her claim against appellant in conciliation court. The Court of Appeals concluded that that tenant satisfied the written demand requirement by commencing a conciliation court action for damages. Affirmed.

A21-1676 Said v. Old Home Mgmt., LLC (Hennepin County)

 

 

Name Change

Felons

Appellant, who has been indeterminately as a sexually dangerous person and as a sexual psychopathic personality since 2018, challenged the denial of his application for a name change. The Court of Appeals concluded that (1) denial of the name change did not burden the exercise of appellant’s religious beliefs and maintained the state’s compelling interest in public safety, and (2) the District Court did not abuse its discretion in determining that appellant did not meet his burden to prove that the name change will not compromise public safety. Affirmed.

A22-0456 In re Gutierrez (Carlton County)

 

 

Res Judicata

Appeals

Pro se appellants challenged the dismissal of their action seeking to vacate an agreed-to permanent injunction. The District Court dismissed this lawsuit because it was an attempt to relitigate a dispute that was resolved once in court-ordered mediation and resolved a second time by the denial of a motion to vacate. Noting that appellants did not challenge the District Court’s finding that this action was bared by res judicata, the Court of Appeals concluded that appellants did not present any valid argument for reversing the District Court’s dismissal. Affirmed.

A22-0842 Auleciems v. Edina Realty (Washington County)

 

Unemployment Benefits

Employment Misconduct

In November 2021, respondent-employer required its Minnesota-based employees to be on site at the company’s Minnesota facilities for a week-long series of meetings and, in addition, required them either to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 coronavirus or to test for the virus and wear a mask at the workplace. Relator refused to comply with the policy, and his employment was terminated. An unemployment-law judge determined that relator was ineligible for unemployment benefits because he was discharged for employment misconduct. The Court of Appeals concluded that the ULJ did not err by concluding that relator was ineligible for unemployment benefits. Affirmed.

A22-0472 Sun v. Pepperl & Fuchs, Inc. (Dep’t of Emp’t & Econ. Dev.)

 

 

Warranties

Persons Liable

In this dispute arising out of the sale of a truck used to haul scrap metal, appellant-plaintiff appealed from the District Court’s summary judgment in favor of respondent-defendants on his breach of contract claim, arguing that the District Court erred as a matter of law and that material facts are in dispute. Noting that the truck manufacturer, not respondents, issued the manufacturer’s warranty covering appellant’s truck, and that respondents merely relayed that warranty to appellant, the Court of Appeals concluded that, because respondents did not issue or adopt the manufacturer’s warranty, they could not be held liable for any alleged breach. Affirmed.

A22-0328 Arteaga v. Kenworth (Dakota County)

 

 

 

Criminal Precedential

 

Criminal Sexual Conduct

Sentencing

Defendant challenged his conviction for third-degree criminal-sexual conduct, asserting, inter alia, that the District Court abused its discretion by granting an upward durational departure at his sentencing hearing after the jury found the offense occurred in the victim’s zone of privacy. The Court of Appeals held that an aggravated sentence for criminal sexual conduct against a sleeping victim may be based on the offense occurring within the victim’s zone of privacy when it is committed in the victim’s own bedroom. Affirmed.

A22-0105 State v. Vanengen (Hennepin County)

 

 

Criminal Nonprecedential

 

Arrest

Probable Cause

Defendant challenged his conviction of fifth-degree drug possession, arguing that the District Court erred by not suppressing evidence that resulted from an unlawful search and seizure. Defendant argued that neither a 911 caller’s tip nor the lead officer’s observations individually nor the two together were sufficient to establish probable cause, and thus that the search of defendant was unlawful. Noting that the 911 caller provided the police with very specific information that the officers could and did corroborate, and that the 911 caller acted against his and his son’s interests by reporting the suspected drug transaction, the Court of Appeals concluded that the totality of the circumstances showed that the caller’s tip was reliable. Affirmed.

A22-0193 State v. Falk (Hennepin County)

 

 

Criminal Sexual Conduct

Coercion

Defendant appealed his conviction for first-degree criminal sexual conduct following a jury trial, arguing that the State failed to prove he used coercion in committing the offense, his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance, and the District Court erroneously excluded evidence. The Court of Appeals concluded that the testimony of the victim, in conjunction with other corroborating evidence, was sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant used coercion to sexually penetrate the victim. But the District Court erroneously entered convictions for three lesser-included offenses. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-0070 State v. Palodichuk (Anoka County)

 

 

Expungement

Statutory

In this appeal from an order denying petitioner’s petition for statutory expungement of a criminal record, petitioner made the following two arguments: (1) the District Court erred by requiring petitioner to bear the burden of proof; and (2) the District Court erred in its analysis of whether the public’s interest in keeping the criminal record unsealed outweighed the disadvantages to appellant. Noting that the District Court did not analyze the impact of sealing the criminal record, and considered only generalized harm not tied to the criminal record at issue here, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court erred in its application of the law. Reversed and remanded.

A22-0391 State v. C.L.S. (Wabasha County)

 

 

Evidence

Foundation

After defendant was placed at the scene of his pregnant girlfriend’s murder by his own cellphone-location data, he was convicted of second-degree murder. Defendant appealed his conviction on two grounds: (1) his cellphone data was admitted without proper foundation, and (2) the prosecution’s remarks in its opening statement and closing argument constituted prosecutorial misconduct. Noting that the cellphone data was only one piece of evidence in a strong case against defendant, the Court of Appeals concluded that any error by the District Court in admitting the cellphone data was harmless. Furthermore, the prosecution’s statements during its opening and closing at trial did not prejudice defendant or impact the verdict. Affirmed.

A21-1737 State v. Delaney (Ramsey County)

 

 

Hearsay

Prior Consistent Statement

Defendant challenged his two convictions of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, arguing that the District Court abused its discretion by (1) admitting comments made by the victim while completing an activity with a child-protection worker as a prior consistent statement and (2) precluding defendant from questioning the victim’s therapist about child memory on cross-examination and excluding evidence that the victim tested positive for a sexually transmitted infection. Defendant also argued that the District Court erred by entering a conviction for the second count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct because it was included in the offense of his conviction on the first count. Noting that the fact that the victim used broader language (“the problem thing”) to describe the sexual abuse while completing the activity with the child-protection worker did not make that statement inconsistent with her more specific description of the abuse at trial, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in making the challenged evidentiary decisions or precluding the therapist from testifying about child memory. However, defendant’s second conviction must be vacated because it was an included offense of his first conviction. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-0160 State v. Zepeta (Scott County)

 

Jury Instructions

Specific Unanimity

In this appeal from the final judgment of conviction for first-degree criminal sexual conduct, defendant argued that (1) the District Court erred in failing to give a specific unanimity jury instruction; (2) the prosecutor committed misconduct by encouraging the jury to return a nonunanimous verdict; and (3) the District Court violated defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a sentencing jury by imposing an upward durational departure based on the finding that defendant committed multiple forms of sexual penetration. Noting that the state alleged multiple forms of sexual penetration that were part of a single behavioral incident occurring over a period of one hour, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not err by not providing a specific unanimity jury instruction. Furthermore, the prosecutor did not err in her closing-argument statements regarding unanimity, and any error as to the durational departure was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Affirmed.

A21-1694 State v. Capshaw (Hennepin County)

 

 

Murder

Sufficiency of the Evidence

Defendant challenged his convictions of second-degree attempted murder and several other offenses. He argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove second-degree attempted murder, that the prosecutor committed misconduct, and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Defendant argued that the evidence left a reasonable inference that he intended to intimidate or injure the victim rather than kill him. The Court of Appeals concluded that, because defendant fired a gun directly at the victim’s head, the circumstances left no reasonable inference except that defendant intended to kill the victim. Affirmed.

A22-0354 State v. Scruggs (Mille Lacs County)

 

 

Plea Withdrawal

Fair & Just

Defendant pleaded guilty to killing his pregnant girlfriend and her young daughter. Prior to sentencing, he requested to withdraw his plea, which the District Court denied. He argued on appeal that the District Court erred in not allowing him to withdraw his plea because fair and just reasons exist to support withdrawal and because his plea was manifestly unjust. The Court of Appeals discerned no abuse of discretion by the District Court in its denial of defendant’s motion to withdraw his plea under the fair-and-just standard. Affirmed.

A22-0313 State v. Carter (Olmsted County)

 

 

Probation Revocation

Probation

In this challenge to a probation-revocation decision, defendant argued, inter alia, that the District Court erred by determining that he was on probation when the alleged violations occurred. Noting that neither the violation report nor defendant’s testimony established that defendant was on probation at the time of his admitted conduct, the Court of Appeals concluded that the record did not establish whether defendant was on probation at the time of the alleged violations. Reversed and remanded.

A22-0082 State v. South (Crow Wing County)

 

 

Right to Speedy Trial

Pandemic

A jury found defendant guilty of first-degree criminal sexual conduct after the state accused him of molesting his stepdaughter at least one hundred times while she was between the ages of nine and thirteen. Defendant raised five challenges. The Court of Appeals rejected defendant’s speedy-trial argument because the pandemic-caused delay did not prejudice him. The Court rejected his contention that the District Court should have examined the victim’s counseling records because defendant offered no plausible showing that the records likely contain material information favorable to his defense. The Court rejected his complaint that the District Court unfairly refused to allow testimony about immigration-related benefits available to crime victims because it was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the testimony would not have affected the jury’s finding of guilt. For the same reason and others, the Court also rejected his argument that a witness’s reference to his deportation status required a mistrial. And the Court rejected his contention that the District Court should not have instructed the jury that guilt can rest on a single witness’s testimony because the instruction did not misstate the law and resulted from his attorney’s potentially confusing statements to the contrary. Affirmed.

A21-1543 State v. Diaz (Scott County)

 

 

Search Warrants

Reasonableness

Defendant challenged her conviction of theft by swindle. She contended that (1) the District Court erred by denying her motion to suppress evidence because the searches of her law office and electronic devices were unreasonable and because the warrant authorizing the search of her law office and the warrant authorizing the search of files on her electronic devices were overbroad; (2) the District Court erred by denying her motion to disqualify the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office from prosecuting her case; and (3) the District Court erred by instructing the jury that a claim of right was not a defense to theft by swindle. The Court of Appeals concluded that, because the police were investigating defendant’s wrongdoing, the search of her law office was not unreasonable. Furthermore, there was no abuse of discretion in the other challenged rulings. Affirmed.

A22-0468 State v. Mcneilly (Hennepin County)

 

 

Sentencing

Downward Departures

Defendant appealed from his conviction for first-degree criminal sexual conduct, specifically challenging his sentence and arguing that the District Court abused its discretion when it denied his motions for downward durational and dispositional departures from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines. Noting that District Court thoughtfully considered defendant’s request for a downward departure and acted well within its discretion, the Court of Appeals found no error in the District Court’s imposition of the presumptive guidelines sentence for this first-degree sex crime.

A22-0295 State v. Kalvoda (Clay County)

 

 

Sentencing

Plea Agreements

In this sentencing appeal, defendant argued that the District Court imposed a sentence that was not authorized by law because it violated his plea agreement on the charge of first-degree burglary. Noting that the plea hearing colloquy allowed for only one conclusion: the parties agreed to limit the length of the executed prison term only, allowing the District Court to exceed that length if the District Court stayed execution of an imposed prison term, the Court of Appeals concluded that appellant’s sentence did not violate his plea agreement. Affirmed.

A22-0509 State v. Landwehr (Stearns County)

 

 

Sentencing

Restitution

Defendant challenged the District Court’s decision to impose restitution, raising the following two arguments: (1) the record lacked sufficient facts to support the restitution order; and (2) the District Court failed to consider defendant’s ability to pay restitution. The Court of Appeals concluded that the restitution request satisfied the statutory requirements for ordering restitution paid to the Crime Victims Reparations Board (CVRB) and the District Court properly considered defendant’s ability to pay. Affirmed.

A22-0553 State v. Wiebrand (Hennepin County)


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