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Court of Appeals Digest: Jan. 3, 2023

Civil Nonprecedential

 

Landlord & Tenant

Covenant of Habitability

Appellant-tenant sued respondent-landlord under a breach-of-contract theory after appellant slipped and fell on ice outside her apartment building. Appellant appealed from a District Court’s grant of summary judgment for respondent, arguing that summary judgment was not appropriate because (1) the implied covenants of habitability in Minn. Stat. § 504B.161 created a contractual duty that respondent breached and (2) a genuine issue of material fact existed as to the condition of the sidewalk. The Court of Appeals held that a breach of the implied covenants of habitability does not give rise to a negligence claim and that Minnesota courts do not recognize a negligent breach-of-contract cause of action. Affirmed.

A22-0839 Abdulle v. WV Ltd. P’ship (Olmsted County)

 

Real Property Sales

Options

Appellant and his mother respondent executed an agreement giving appellant the option to purchase the family farm from respondent for $200,000. After nearly four decades, appellant’s attorney sent respondent a letter asserting that appellant had already paid the $200,000 purchase price in full, mostly through his labor, and asking respondent to sign the property over to appellant. After trial on the quiet-title action that followed, the District Court rejected appellant’s argument that the attorney’s letter effectively exercised the purchase option, and it barred appellant from ever exercising the option on the equitable ground of laches. On appellant’s appeal from that decision, the Court of Appeals held that the evidence supported the District Court’s decision that the letter did not exercise the contracted option to purchase and therefore did not require respondent to convey the property to him. But the option agreement gave appellant a lifetime to exercise the option and the District Court misapplied the law and clearly erred in fact findings bearing on its equity-based decision prohibiting appellant from ever exercising his right to purchase. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-0331 Bruntlett v. Bruntlett (Meeker County)

 

 

 

Criminal Nonprecedential

 

Expert Witnesses

Qualification

Defendant challenged his convictions for first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct, arguing that the District Court abused its discretion by admitting the testimony of an expert witness and that the state’s evidence of first-degree criminal sexual conduct was insufficient to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Noting that the record contained substantial evidence of this expert’s knowledge and experience in the broader areas of child sexual abuse disclosure, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the expert witness was qualified to testify as to his opinion on the behaviors of children disclosing sexual abuse and that the expert’s testimony was foundationally reliable, and the evidence supported defendant’s conviction for first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Affirmed.

A22-0329 Contreras v. State (Anoka County)

 

 

Fictious Emergency Call

Knowledge

In this direct appeal from a final judgment of conviction, defendant argued that he must be permitted to withdraw all six of the guilty pleas he entered as part of a global plea agreement because his guilty pleas to placing a fictitious emergency call and trespass were invalid as inaccurate. The Court of Appeals held that that the crime of fictitious emergency call requires the actor to know the emergency is false at the time they place the fictitious emergency call, and concluded that, because neither the state nor the District Court elicited any testimony regarding defendant’s knowledge or intent at the time he made the emergency call, defendant’s plea to placing a fictitious emergency call was inaccurate and therefore invalid. However, defendant’s guilty plea to trespass was not properly before this court and remand was appropriate to allow the District Court to reconsider its acceptance of the global plea agreement. Reversed and remanded.

A22-0091 State v. Defries (Wilkin County)

 

 

Jury Instructions

Plain Error

Following his convictions for aiding and abetting first-degree burglary and fourth-degree criminal damage to property, defendant argued that he was entitled to a new trial because the District Court erroneously instructed the jury on an aiding and abetting theory of liability not argued by the state or supported by the evidence at trial. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court committed plain error in instructing the jury regarding an aiding and abetting theory of liability, but such error did not affect defendant’s substantial rights and a new trial was not necessary to ensure the fairness and integrity of the proceedings. Affirmed.

A22-0152 State v. Whitebird (Cass County)

 

Sentencing

Criminal History Score

This was an appeal from the District Court’s probation-revocation decision in two cases. Defendant argued the District Court: (1) abused its discretion when it decided that the need for confinement outweighed the policies favoring probation; (2) must resentence defendant pursuant to the amelioration doctrine for his first-degree-assault conviction because his criminal-history score erroneously included an extra custody-status point; and (3) must correct the warrant of commitment to vacate the third-degree-assault conviction because it was a lesser-included offense of first-degree assault. Noting that the District Court applied the incorrect sentencing guidelines, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court must resentence defendant pursuant to the amelioration doctrine and correct the warrant of commitment, but the District Court did not abuse its discretion when it revoked defendant’s probation. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-0551 State v. Robinson (Hennepin County)

 

 

Sentencing

Downward Departures

In this appeal from the District Court’s order denying postconviction relief from a criminal-sexual-conduct conviction, defendant challenged his sentence. Defendant argued that the District Court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a downward dispositional departure and relying on “offense-based characteristics” instead of “the offender-based Trog criteria.” Noting that District Court also discussed offender-based characteristics, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion when it (a) imposed a guidelines sentence after considering the parties’ submissions and arguments and (b) denied postconviction relief after reviewing the sentencing record. Affirmed.

A22-0684 Wilkins v. State (Olmsted County)


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