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Perspectives: Year in review: Top 22 intriguing cases of 2022

Marshall H. Tanick//December 28, 2022//

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Perspectives: Year in review: Top 22 intriguing cases of 2022

Marshall H. Tanick//December 28, 2022//

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“The Bible signifies that the number 22 is the primary symbol for disorganization.”

Numerology (2022)

Biblical scholars and the less scholarly, too, can interpret nearly everything in the Holy Book to their own liking.

Doubling down on the number 11, sometimes the symbol for chaos, creates the state of disorganization signified by the number 22.

But to dispel that negative symbology, here’s an organized look at 22 of the most intriguing cases decided in 2022 by the federal and state appellate courts for Minnesota.

As usual, this compilation does not purport to encompass all of the most important or interesting cases. But it is a somewhat organized collection of a group of them reflective of the diversity of decisions of the appellate tribunals here in the past 12 months.

They are arranged in two segments: the top 22 in some detail, and a summary of another 11 warranting honorable mention designation.

Bankruptcy brouhaha 

A case that will have major impact in Minnesota has not been adjudicated through the federal or state court systems in this state and has not yet reached final determination on the merits. However, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case, and it is anticipated that the appeal will be resolved during the high court’s current term before adjournment in June.

The case, MOAC Mall Holdings, LLC v. Trans Form Holdings, LLC, No. 21-1270, is a complicated bankruptcy brouhaha involving the Mall of America (“MOA”) in Bloomington and one of its lessees, the Sears department store. The issue in the case is whether the mall, as the lessor, can challenge a “sweetheart” lease arrangement that it entered into years ago prior to the Sears bankruptcy proceeding , which the new post-bankruptcy entity wishes to capitalize upon and the mall resists.

The 2nd Circuit ruled that § 363(c) of the Bankruptcy Code barred the challenge by MOA, which the Supreme Court heard earlier this month. Its determination of the rights of the MOA and the post-bankruptcy retail facility will form the precedent for other bankruptcy-related litigation between landlords and tenants.

Bypass battle 

The hot topic of abortion made its way into  8th Circuit jurisprudence in a battle over bypassing parental approval. A minor who was prevented from obtaining a judicial bypass for an abortion without parental consent was entitled to sue the court clerk who barred the procedure, according to a divided ruling by the  8th Circuit Court of Appeals in Doe v. Chapman, 30 F. 4th 736 (8th Cir. 2022). The court affirmed by a 2-1 vote an appeal from a lower court ruling in Missouri rejecting absolute and qualified judicial immunity defenses.

The evidence would lead a “reasonable jury [to] conclude” that immunity did not apply because the clerk was not acting at the direction of a juvenile court judge in precluding the 17-year-old from filing for the necessary approval.

But Judge David Stras of Minnesota dissented, pointing out that the “unrebutted evidence is that [the clerk] was acting at [the] judge’s direction, which entitles her to absolute immunity.”

Court case

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that court reporters in this state are “at will” employees and thus are not entitled to arbitrate wrongful termination claims following discharge by their judges in Minnesota Judicial Branch v. Teamsters Local 320, 971 N.W.2d 82 (Minn. 2022). The case arose out of the firing by two district court judges of their respective reporters for “disruptive and disrespectful conduct.”

The reporters pursued an arbitration under their union collective bargaining agreement, and the arbitrator ruled that while they may be discharged by their appointing judges, they remain employees of the Judicial Branch. The Ramsey County District Court vacated that ruling. The Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting the union’s claim that the dispute was arbitrable. Prior case law referencing the statute governing their employment. Minn. Stat. § 468.01 provides that they serve at the “pleasure” of their respective judges, which renders them “at will” employees who can be fired for any reason that displeases those jurists. Accordingly, they cannot arbitrate their discharges through their union.

Children’s cases 

A pair of cases involving children concerned pupils and play.

In Cruz-Guzman v. State, 980 N.W.2d 816 (Minn. Ct. App. 2022), the latest iteration of the long-standing battle over racial disparities in Twin Cities public schools, the Court of Appeals rejected the claim that de facto segregation is violative of the “general and uniform system (of) … thorough and efficient” public schooling, as recited in the Education Clause in Article XIII, § 1 of the Minnesota Constitution.

The claim of de facto segregation was not actionable because a “racial imbalance” in a school system, by itself, is not violative of that provision unless done “intentionally,” a high bar that sends the case back for further litigation in Hennepin County District Court.

An exculpation clause was not enforced by the Supreme Court in a personal injury case to bar a claim of negligence at a children’s play facility where the injury occurred in Justice v. Marvel, LLC, 979 N.W.2d 894 (Minn. 2022). The phrase “any and all claims” in the clause related to use items in the inflatable amusement area but did not “specifically reference” the facility’s own conduct.

COVID challenges

Although the pandemic has subsided this year, despite occasional surges, COVID-related cases addressed a number of practices and procedures in the federal and state appellate courts. Here’s a look at seven of these.

A pair of discordant rulings addressed Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency COVID-19 executive orders. The  8th Circuit dismissed a claim by three small businesses that the shutdown orders during the height of the pandemic in 2020 violated the “taking clause” of the Fifth Amendment in Glow In One Mini Golf, LLC v. Walz, 37 F.4th 1365 (8th Cir. 2022). In doing so, it departed from its reasoning a few months earlier in which it allowed a contractual “takings” clause challenge to the state’s eviction moratorium in Heights Apartments v. Walz, 30 F.4th 720 (8th Cir. 2022). In the ensuing “takings” case, it held the claims moot because the gubernatorial order had expired and, even if not, the closure directive was clothed with immunity because it did not violate “clearly established constitutional rights.” In a parallel lawsuit, the authority of the state Department of Health to suspend the license of a pair of bars and impose fines for violating COVID orders was upheld by the Court of Appeals In re Administrative Penalty Order to Mission Tavern, et al. 980 N.W.2d 599 (Minn. Ct. App. 2022).

But that decision was at odds with the one by the Minnesota Supreme Court in Buzzell v. Walz, 974 N.W.2d 256 (Minn. 2022), which allowed a case to proceed based on a claim that the lockdown constituted a “taking” of businesses, but set a high bar for the claimants to succeed on the merits.

The use of video testimony in a drug case by a key law enforcement witness exposed to COVID was allowed in State v. Tate, 969 N.W.2d 378 (Minn. Ct. App. 2022), noting the health justification coupled with absence of any “technical problems.” But glitches due to technology in Zoom proceedings do not warrant reversal unless the efficiency is raised in the record at the final proceeding, not for the first time on appeal, according to the appellate court’s decision in Matter of Butler v. Jakes, 977 N.W.2d 867 (Minn. Ct. App. June 27, 2022).

But the Court of Appeals reversed a retrial conviction for second-degree murder because a witness did not testify due to fear of COVID exposure in State v. Trifiletti, 980 N.W.2d 357 (Minn. Ct. App. 2022).

The appellate court rejected a speedy-trial claims in a harassment restraining order appeal in State v. Sandven, 2022 WL 1132066 (Minn. Ct. App. April 18, 2022)(unpublished).

Another speedy-trial defense was rebuffed by the appellate court, along with a claim of violation of the Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause due to remote video testimony in State v. Keene, 2022 WL 2195979 (Minn. Ct. App. June 20, 2022)(unpublished).

Likewise, the wearing of face masks by a witness while testifying during COVID did not violate the confrontation clause in the appellate court’s ruling in State v. Modtland, 970 N.W.2d 711 (Minn. Ct. App. Feb. 14, 2022). The appellate tribunal rejected the contention in a drug appeal that the refusal of a defendant’s request for witnesses to remove face masks while testifying transgressed the right of confrontation.

The Minnesota Judicial Center
The Minnesota Judicial Center stands near the Capitol in St. Paul. (File photo: Bill Klotz)

Defamation duels 

A pair of high-profile duels were among several defamation cases in 2022.

A defamation lawsuit by a claimant who asserted that his reputation was harmed by #metoo postings by a former business colleague and romantic partner addressed a recurring genre of issues in Johnson v. Freborg, 978 N.W.2d 911 (Minn. Ct. App. 2022).

The case was brought by a man who asserted that he had been defamed by Facebook postings that accused him of abusive behavior and “rape.” The lawsuit was dismissed by the Hennepin County District Court but reinstated by the Court of Appeals on grounds that the postings did not constitute a matter of “public interest” that would invoke the high standard of “actual malice” under the doctrine of New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964).

Pointing to its decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court in Maethner v. Someplace Safe, 929 N.W.2d 868 (Minn. 2019), the appellate tribunal reasoned that the context of the postings, their particular contents, and other factors in determining that the “totality of circumstances” did not warrant higher standard applicable to “public figures,” “public officials,” and matters of “public concern.” That ruling is likely to form significant exposure for social media defamation litigation in Minnesota and, perhaps, elsewhere, as well.

A defamation lawsuit by a fan of the Minnesota Twins against a newspaper for its reporting and a letter-to-the-editor about the being barred from Twins games due to alleged disruptive behavior was rejected by the appellate court in Gabbert v. Star Tribune, 2022 WL 2911884 (Minn. Ct. App. July 25, 2022)(unpublished). These claims were barred by the “fair reporting privilege” for accurate and fair reporting, and some of the remarks constituted “constitutionally protected opinion” under the First Amendment because they reflected “subjective view[s], rather than statements of objective facts.”

Election exercise

As an election year, the past 12 months had its share of electoral litigation.

In Minnesota Republican Farmer Labor Caucus v. Freeman, 33 F.4th 985 (8th Cir. 2022), the  8th Circuit refused to enjoin a provision the Minnesota Prairie Act barring lying about a party designation. The measure, Minn. Stat. § 211B.02, prohibits false statements of endorsement of a “major political party” organization or individual without authorization.

A challenge to that failed under the high standard for injunctive relief in a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Eric Tostrud in Minnesota. The Circuit Court held that the county attorneys sued in the action were, as state officers, immune under the 11th Amendment from suit in federal court. Because the officials “have not enforced or threatened to enforce” the measure, the exemption to immunity unless for equitable relief is inapplicable, which renders it unlikely that the challenge can prevail under Ex parte Young. 209 U.S. 123 (1908).

Deputy court auditors are allowed to count absentee ballots in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Ramsey County, 971 N.W.2d 269 (Minn. Ct. App. 2022). A petition for a writ of mandamus to bar them from doing so was dismissed by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and the State Supreme Court affirmed. It reasoned that the challenging organization did not prove that the deputies violated “a duty clearly established by law.”

The underlying statute, Minn. Stat. §203B.121, gives counties “discretion to decide” the number of election judges to count ballots “and to otherwise appoint deputy county auditors” to do that job.

Flag flying

An owner of a business who flew a flag supporting former President Trump in his commercial property in Buffalo prevailed in his First Amendment challenge to a land use citation by Wright County in Johnsonville LLC v. City of Buffalo, 2022 WL 1297835 (Minn. Ct. App. May 2, 2022)(unpublished).

The sanction was overturned by the Court of Appeals, which ruled that the proscription violated the First Amendment because it was an impermissible “content-based” determination. The gravamen was that “certain other signs” concerning different issues and subjects were allowed on commercial sites.

The decision, coincidentally, was handed down the same day as the U.S. Supreme Court overturned, on First Amendment freedom of religion grounds, the refusal by the city of Boston to allow the flying of a large banner with a Christian cross on public property in the Massachusetts capital city in Shurtleff v. City of Boston, 142 S.Ct. 1583 (2022).

Plea pair 

Different outcomes arose in requests to withdraw criminal guilty pleas in a pair of cases.

A concern of contracting COVID in jail was insufficient to warrant setting aside a guilty plea in State v Moon, 2022 WL 3581818 (Minn. Ct. App. Aug. 22, 2022) (unpublished). Upholding a decision of the Hennepin County District Court, the Court of Appeals refused to overturn the plea to terroristic threats and unlawful firearm possession. The effort to withdraw did not merit an evidentiary hearing because the defendant never told the trial judge of his “fear” prior to entering the plea. Thus, the plea could not be deemed “involuntary” and subject to withdrawal in the absence of any evidence that it was timely raised.

But, in a rarity, a northern Minnesota man had his plea to first-degree aggravated burglary overturned on grounds that his plea did not indicate a sufficient factual basis in State v. Mattson, 2022 WL (Minn. Ct. App. Jan. 18,2022)(unpublished). Reversing a ruling of the St. Louis County District Court, the appellate court extinguished the plea. The admission of guilt was deficient because the defendant’s testimony that he did not try to rob the victim negated the required intent element of the offense. Because this was no “adequate factual basis,” the plea was invalid and the case remanded.

Staffing suit 

A lawsuit brought by eight residents of north Minneapolis seeking to require the hiring of additional Minneapolis police officers succeeded in Spann v. Minneapolis City Council, 973 N.W.2d 321 (Minn. 2022). The Minnesota Supreme Court reinstated a lower court ruling by the Hennepin County District court, which had been overturned by the appellate court.

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision written by Chief Justice Lori Gildea, ruled that the mayor “has a clear legal duty” under the Minneapolis City Charter to employ at least 731 sworn police officers, about 100 more than currently are on stuff due to some 300 resignations and other departures following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and ensuing events. The chief justice reasoned that the city charter’s requirement to “fund” a minimum of 731 officers, based on the population of the city, was clear and mandated compliance by the mayor and city officials.

Video voyeurs

The state law prohibiting unauthorized recording of private parts (Minn. Stat. § 609.746, subd. 1) did not apply to a video of a naked sleeping women taken by a man with a cellphone in her bedroom. In State v. McReynolds, 973 N.W.2d 314 (Minn. 2022), the Supreme Court held that the privacy statute did not apply to a video recording done in the same room with the subject of the voyeurism.

The couple had gone to the woman’s apartment after a date. While she was sleeping, the companion took a video on his cellphone of her genital area.

But his plea to a violation of the statute was thrown out because the voyeurism did not violate that law which prohibits recording “through the window” or any other opening of “a house or place of dwelling of another.”

While the “plain meaning” of the statute is “oddly narrow,” it does not expand to recording done while in the same premises, and “there is no other Minnesota statute” expressly forbidding such conduct.

Another video recording conviction was reversed by the Supreme Court in State v. Galvan-Contreras, 980 N.W.2d 578 (Minn. 2022). The felony conviction of a man under Minn. Stat. § 609.146, subd. 1(e)(2) for surreptitiously recording on his cell phone a minor at a Bloomington physical fitness facility was reversed because the state could not prove the defendant knew the subject was under age 18, as required by the felony prong of the statute, leaving open the possibility of prosecution as a misdemeanor.

These 22 marquee cases — and 11 others — reflect some of the diversity that characterized the federal and state appellate court decisions in Minnesota during the past year, a feature that is likely to recur in next year’s Top 23.


11 More ‘Top’ Cases of 2022

  • United States v. Kuhnel: 8th Circuit applies double jeopardy to bar multiple convictions for possession of a single child pornography item.
  • U.S. v. Mattox: 8th Circuit upholds warrantless search of hospital room of gunshot victim.
  • U.S. v. Unpradit: 8th Circuit affirms five sex-trafficking convictions among about of Sturgis motorcycle rally.
  • Gamble v. MSOS: 8th Circuit denies minimum wage claims of civil sex offender detainees because they are not “employees.”
  • Mittelstadt v. Henry: Minnesota Supreme court says expert testimony in fiduciary breach case must be decided by trail courts on case-by-case basis.
  • State v. Bey: Supreme Court affirms burglary and assault convictions despite jury polling error.
  • Bender v. Bernhard: Supreme Court allows reopening of a child-support order based on newly discovered evidence that adult and child obtained Social Security benefits after dissolution.
  • Matter of Welfare of A.D.C, etc.: Minnesota Court of Appeals rules that incarceration alone does not bar parental reunification.
  • State v. Cloutier: Minnesota Court of Appeals rules that state does not have burden to prove defendant has ability to pay restitution.
  • In re Yanez: Court of Appeals reverses, remands denial of teaching license due to vague statutory language of “immoral character or conduct.”
  • In re First Church of Christ: Appellate court upholds demolition of deteriorating church building not subject to feasible rehabilitation.

Marshall H. Tanick is an attorney with the Twin Cities law firm of Meyer Njus Tanick.

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