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Court of Appeals Digest: Dec. 27, 2022

Civil Precedential

 

Domestic Relations

Parenting Time; Determination

The parties to this appeal stipulated to a dissolution decree that determined their respective amounts of parenting time and required the father to pay the mother $734 per month in basic child support. Approximately four months after entry of the decree, the father ceased exercising his right to parenting time. The mother moved to modify the child-support order on the ground that the parties’ actual amounts of parenting time constituted a substantial change in circumstances that made the existing child-support order unreasonable and unfair. The District Court denied the motion.

The Court of Appeals held that, in calculating a parenting-expense adjustment as part of the determination of a child-support obligation, a District Court shall use the court-ordered amounts of parenting time, not the amounts of parenting time actually being exercised. Affirmed.

A22-0077 Nelson v. Nelson (Dakota County)

 

 

Civil Nonprecedential

 

Breach of Contract

Exclusivity Agreements

In this contract dispute arising out of the sale of hydraulic products, appellant, a manufacturer of hydraulic lift systems for pontoon boats, challenged the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to respondent, seller of hydraulic products, the District Court’s decision to award attorney fees to respondent without a jury trial, and the District Court’s decision not to require respondent to tender goods to appellant. Noting that there was no genuine issue of material fact regarding whether respondent impliedly accepted an unwritten confidentiality or exclusivity agreement through its course of dealing, the Court of Appeals concluded that respondent did not breach the parties’ agreement by selling products to appellant’s competitor, and the District Court did not err by rejecting this defense. However, appellant did not waive its right to a jury trial on the issue of attorney fees. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-0202 Int’l Fluid Power, Inc. v. Holb-Gunther, LLC (Hennepin County)

 

 

Domestic Relations

Child Custody; Modification

Appellant/cross-respondent father argued that the District Court abused its discretion by denying his motion to modify legal custody and awarding him sole physical custody on a temporary basis. Respondent/cross-appellant mother argued that the District Court abused its discretion by granting father’s motion to modify physical custody. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not misapply the law, clearly err in its findings of fact, or resolve the matter in a manner that was against logic and the facts in the record.

A22-0603 Dressel v. Dressel (Dakota County)

 

 

Domestic Relations

Child Protection; Termination of Parental Rights

The District Court terminated appellant father’s parental rights because reasonable efforts failed to correct the conditions leading to his child’s out-of-home placement. On appeal, father argued that the District Court erred by determining that (1) father did not rebut the presumption that reasonable efforts had failed to correct the conditions leading to the out of home placement, and (2) the county established that it made reasonable efforts toward reunification. The Court of Appeals concluded that substantial evidence in the record shows that, despite the county’s reasonable efforts to aid him, appellant did not correct the conditions leading to the child’s out of home placement, and therefore, the District Court did not abuse its discretion by basing its termination of his parental rights on his failure to do so. Affirmed.

A22-0985 In re Welfare of Child of S.R.D. (Becker County)

 

 

Domestic Relations

Child Protection; Termination of Parental Rights

Appellant-mother challenged the termination of her parental rights, arguing that the District Court erred by (1) determining that mother failed to rebut the statutory presumption that she was an unfit parent and (2) concluding that, even setting aside the presumption, clear and convincing evidence demonstrated that mother was palpably unfit to parent. Noting the District Court’s numerous, detailed factual findings regarding mother’s ongoing difficulties with substance abuse, domestic violence, and criminal activity, the Court of Appeals concluded that any error by the District Court in determining that mother failed to rebut the statutory presumption was harmless as the District Court did not abuse its discretion by determining that clear and convincing evidence supported the termination of mother’s parental rights. Affirmed.

A22-0825 In re Welfare of Child of L.C.M. (Hennepin County)

 

 

Domestic Relations

Child Support; Modification

In this child-support dispute, appellant-father challenged a District Court order modifying in part his child-support obligation and denying his request for repayment of an “overpayment” of child support. Father argued that the District Court (1) should not have imputed income to father in calculating his modified child-support obligation and (2) failed to make sufficient factual findings to support its decision to deny his request for repayment of an “overpayment” of child support. Noting that the record contained evidence that father has been able to work as an actor and model, the Court of Appeals concluded that District Court did not clearly err by calculating father’s child-support obligation based on imputed income or abuse its discretion by denying father’s request for reimbursement of “overpaid” child support. Affirmed.

A22-0765 Cristofono v. Cristofono (Carver County)

 

 

Domestic Relations

Dissolution; Property Division

In this appeal from a marriage-dissolution judgment and decree, appellant-husband claimed that the District Court abused its discretion when it awarded respondent-wife a disproportionate share of the value of the marital estate. Husband also claimed that the District Court incorrectly valued promissory notes and a bank account and assigned a value of $0 to cash awarded to wife. The Court of Appeals concluded that the disproportionate division of the marital estate was within the District Court’s broad discretion to allocate marital property, that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in considering wife’s need for spousal maintenance in making its disproportionate award, that the District Court did not penalize husband for marital misconduct, and that it was within the court’s discretion to consider conduct-based attorney fees in the disproportionate award. Affirmed.

A22-0207 Bassing v. Bassing (Anoka County)

 

Domestic Relations

Parenting Time; Modification

Appellant appealed the District Court’s decision to deny her motion to modify parenting time. Appellant argued the District Court failed to make sufficient factual findings and abused its discretion when it denied the motion. The Court of Appeals concluded the District Court failed to make sufficient findings regarding the best interests of the child. Remanded.

A22-0245 County of Anoka v. Shallman (Anoka County)

 

Drivers’ License Revocation

Alcohol Testing

In this appeal from a District Court order denying recission of the revocation of appellant’s driver’s license, appellant argued that the District Court erred by determining that an officer had reasonable, articulable suspicion to request a preliminary breath test (PBT) from appellant. Noting that the officer detected an odor of alcohol coming from appellant and appellant admitted to drinking earlier in the day and had been involved in an accident, the Court of Appeals concluded that the officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion to request that appellant submit to a PBT. Affirmed.

A22-0625 Rebentisch v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety (Anoka County)

 

 

Environmental Law

Injunctive Relief

In this post-remand appeal, appellant-city challenged the District Court’s grant of summary judgment and injunctive relief to respondents on their claim under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) that Minneapolis’s 2040 Plan that will cause significant environmental effects. The Court of Appeals concluded that it was appropriate for the District Court to base its MERA analysis on the presumption of a full build-out under the 2040 Plan, and that, using that approach, the District Court correctly determined that respondents established a prima facie case for relief under MERA and that the city failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment. However, the record was insufficient to determine whether the District Court properly exercised its discretion in granting injunctive relief. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-0852 State by Smith Growth Minneapolis v. City of Minneapolis (Hennepin County)

 

 

Highways

Discretionary Immunity

In this appeal from the summary-judgment dismissal of his claim alleging that respondent-Department of Transportation failed to properly place warning signs on a state road, appellant argued that the District Court erred by determining that: (1) the Department was entitled to statutory discretionary immunity as a matter of law, and (2) the evidence was insufficient to show a genuine fact issue on appellant’s claim that the absence of warning signs was the proximate cause of his accident. Noting that appellant did not provide any evidence that the Department had actual knowledge of the drop-off from the road to the shoulder, the Court of Appeals concluded that appellant failed to present evidence sufficient to establish that the Department had actual knowledge of the road’s drop-off from the shoulder at the location of the crash, and that statutory discretionary immunity protected the Department’s maintenance and inspection policies. Affirmed.

A22-0722 Boitnott v. State by Dep’t of Transp. (Fillmore County)

 

 

Insurance

Attorney Liens

Appellant-insurer challenged the District Court’s grant of summary judgment establishing respondent’s attorney lien on no-fault insurance benefits appellant paid to medical providers. The Court of Appeals concluded that, because appellant previously argued that Minn. Stat. § 65B.57 may prevent the attorney lien from attaching to the benefits paid, and this issue was not precluded following this court’s earlier remand. Reversed and remanded.

A22-0919 Gillespie Law Offices LLP v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. (Stearns County)

 

 

Unemployment Benefits

Employment Misconduct

Relator challenged the unemployment law judge’s (ULJ) determination that the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) discharged him for employment misconduct, arguing that his mental illness caused his inappropriate behavior and that it was only a single incident with no harm to the employer. Noting that substantial evidence in the record supports the ULJ’s finding that relator’s statement made over the facility radio was not a consequence of his mental illness or impairment, the Court of Appeals concluded that ULJ did not err by finding that relator’s behavior was not a consequence of his mental illness. Affirmed.

A22-0447 Jacobs v. Minn. Dep’t of Corr. (Dep’t of Emp’t & Econ. Dev.)

 

 

Unemployment Benefits

Employment Misconduct

Respondent-hospital terminated the employment of relator-nurse for accessing medical records without consent or a business reason. The Department of Employment and Economic D Development denied relator’s request for unemployment benefits, and an unemployment-law judge upheld that decision after finding that relator’s policy violation constituted employment misconduct. The Court of Appeals concluded that the record supported the finding that relator violated respondent’s patient-privacy policy and the violation constituted employment misconduct. Affirmed.

A22-0443 Wilhelm v. Fairview Health Servs. (Dep’t of Emp’t & Econ. Dev.)

 

 

Zoning

Variances

After respondent county board of adjustment approved four variance requests for windmills adjacent to his property, appellant-landowner sought review of that decision in District Court. Appellant alleged that because the board’s decision did not explicitly consider factors in the local zoning ordinance, the board’s decision was not legally sufficient. The District Court affirmed the board’s decision, holding that despite lacking specific reference to the ordinance and its requirements, the board’s findings were legally sufficient. The District Court also found that the board’s decision was adequately supported by facts in the record. The Court of Appeals concluded that the board made detailed written factual findings and the proceedings before the board were fair and complete. Affirmed.

A22-0797 Behrens v. Jackson County (Jackson County)

 

 

 

Criminal Nonprecedential

 

DWI

Physical Control

Defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction for driving while impaired (DWI). The Court of Appeals concluded that the circumstantial evidence was insufficient to establish that defendant drove or was in physical control of the vehicle while his body contained methamphetamine, as the circumstances proved supported reasonable inferences that defendant ingested the methamphetamine while he was in a gas station and that he did not have the means to initiate any movement of the vehicle when he returned to it. Reversed.

A22-0516 State v. Trott (Beltrami County)

 

Hearsay

Excited Utterances

Defendant challenged his conviction of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon, arguing that the District Court abused its discretion by admitting two victims’ out-of-court statements into evidence under the excited-utterance exception and the residual exception to the hearsay rule. Noting that the victims made their statements just minutes after the assault while they remained at the house where the assault happened, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the recorded statements under the excited-utterance exception to the hearsay rule. Affirmed.

A22-0634 State v. Flores (Scott County)

 

 

Illegal Firearm Conviction

Crimes of Violence

In this direct appeal from the judgment of conviction for possession of a firearm by an ineligible person, defendant raised the following three arguments: (1) the trial evidence was insufficient to support his conviction because his stipulation of prior conviction did not establish that his prior conviction was for a crime of violence; (2) the prosecutor committed misconduct by eliciting improper testimony from its witness and referring to the testimony in closing arguments; and (3) the District Court erred in concluding that there was probable cause to issue a search warrant for appellant’s residence. The Court of Appeals concluded that, because defendant stipulated to having a previous conviction for a crime of violence and that the jury would not be informed of this prior crime of violence, he was unable to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence presented to establish that element. Furthermore, any prosecutorial misconduct was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, and the affidavit accompanying the search warrant application provided a fair probability that evidence of a crime would be found at the residence. Affirmed.

A22-0143 State v. Hansmann (Hennepin County)

 

 

Jurors

Actual Bias

Petitioner challenged the District Court’s denial of his postconviction petition, filed after his conviction for first-degree criminal sexual conduct was affirmed on direct appeal. Petitioner argued that his appellate public defender provided ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to (1) argue on appeal that the District Court erroneously denied his for-cause challenge of a biased juror and (2) raise a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Concluding that the juror did not express strong and deep impressions that would prevent her from laying aside her impression or opinion and rendering a verdict based on the evidence presented in court, the Court of Appeals held that, because the District Court did not err in denying trial counsel’s motion to remove a juror for cause, petitioner’s appellate public defender did not provide ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to pursue the issue on direct appeal. Affirmed.

A22-0584 Ray v. State (Hennepin County)

 

 

Plea Withdrawal

Accurate & Voluntary

Petitioner argued that the District Court erred by denying his request to withdraw his guilty plea and in calculating and executing his sentence for two counts of felony domestic assault. Noting that petitioner’s testimony reflected sufficient facts to show intent to cause assault-fear, the Court of Appeals concluded that petitioner’s pleas to both offenses were accurate and voluntary and therefore constitutionally valid. Affirmed.

A22-0431 Wright v. State (St. Louis County)

 

 

Postconviction Relief

False Testimony

In this appeal from an order denying petitioner’s second petition for postconviction relief, petitioner argued that a trial witness gave false testimony, requiring a new trial. Noting that the witness testified at the evidentiary hearing that her recantation was not truthful and that her trial testimony was the truth, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that petitioner failed to establish that the witness gave false testimony. Affirmed.

A22-0291 Watkins v. State (Hennepin County)

 

 

Postconviction Relief

Timeliness

Petitioner challenged the District Court’s order denying his postconviction petition to withdraw his guilty plea after determining his petition was untimely and procedurally barred. Petitioner argued that the District Court erred because no time limit applies to motions for guilty plea withdrawal. Alternatively, if his motion is governed by the postconviction petition statute, petitioner claimed his petition satisfies two exceptions to the two-year deadline. Noting that the purported new evidence merely challenged a witness’s credibility, the Court of Appeals concluded that the motion was an untimely postconviction petition and neither of the two asserted exceptions applied to petitioner’s petition. Affirmed.

A22-0363 Knowles v. State (Ramsey County)

 

 

Prosecutorial Misconduct

Eliciting Testimony

In this direct appeal from the judgments of conviction for second-degree assault and a fifth-degree controlled-substance crime, defendant argued that (1) he was denied his right to a fair trial when the state elicited improper and unfairly prejudicial testimony, (2) his sentence for second-degree assault must be corrected because the District Court erred in calculating his criminal-history score and, (3) the District Court erred in ordering him to pay restitution. The Court of Appeals concluded that, even though it was plain error for the arresting officer to testify that he recognized defendant from previous contacts, defendant was not denied his right to a fair trial due to the challenged testimony as the reference did not affect defendant’s substantial rights. However, defendant was entitled to be resentenced for his conviction of second-degree assault and the District Court failed to make a finding on defendant’s ability to pay when ordering restitution. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-0116 State v. Kingbird (Stearns County)

 

 

Right to Counsel

Waiver

In this direct appeal, defendant challenged his conviction of fifth-degree assault, arguing that the District Court failed to obtain a valid waiver of his constitutional right to counsel. Noting that defendant did not expressly waive his right to counsel during any of his appearances before the District Court, the District Court’s bare inquiry did not ensure that defendant’s waiver was knowing and intelligent, and circumstances did not support an inference of waiver, the Court of Appeals concluded that defendant did not expressly waive his right to counsel. Reversed and remanded.

A22-0093 State v. Kramer (Steele County)

 

Right to Jury

Waiver

Petitioner challenged his conviction on five counts related to a domestic-abuse incident, arguing the postconviction court erred when it found he waived his right to a jury trial knowingly, voluntarily, and in compliance with Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01. Noting that the record showed that, although the District Court did not speak directly to petitioner, petitioner’s counsel—upon the court’s request—advised petitioner of many of the rights listed in caselaw and obtained his express waiver in open court, the Court of Appeals concluded that petitioner waived his right to a jury knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently. Affirmed.

A22-0532 Salat v. State (Stearns County)

 

 

Sentencing

Criminal-History Score

Following remand for resentencing, defendant argued that the District Court abused its discretion by imposing the original sentence based on its determination that defendant’s criminal-history score included a prior felony conviction. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the 2013 conviction for fifth-degree controlled-substance possession was a felony under current law and appropriately included in defendant’s criminal-history score. Affirmed.

A22-0893 State v. Liimatainen (Carlton County)

 

 

Traffic Stops

Expansion of Scope

In this pretrial appeal, the State challenged an order suppressing evidence obtained after law-enforcement officers ordered defendant to exit his vehicle during a traffic stop. The Court of Appeals concluded that asking defendant to exit the vehicle to allow the deputy to view the VIN was not an impermissible expansion of the scope of the stop. Reversed and remanded.

A22-0727 State v. Bedell (Chisago County)


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