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Court of Appeals Digest: Jan. 17, 2023

Civil Precedential

 

Environmental Law

Review

Appellants challenged the dismissal of their petition for review of administrative penalty orders (APOs) issued by the respondent Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which the District Court dismissed because appellants failed to serve the petition timely under Minn. Stat. § 116.072, subd. 7(a). The Court of Appeals held that a petition for review of an administrative penalty order under § 116.072, subd. 7(a), must be dismissed as untimely if the person subject to the order fails both to serve and file the petition within 30 days of receiving the order. Affirmed.

A22-0918 Twin City Petroleum & Props., LLC v. Kessler (Stearns County)

 

 

Trusts

Trustees

This case arose from a Minnesota Attorney General’s Office petition to remove the three trustees of a trust. After a 20-day bench trial, during which the District Court heard testimony from more than two dozen witnesses and received more than 500 exhibits, the District Court issued an order granting the AGO petition to remove one trustee but denying the AGO petition to remove the other two trustees. Appellant, the removed trustee, appealed the District Court’s decision to remove him. Appellant argued the District Court abused its discretion when it determined his actions constituted a serious breach of trust and that his removal serves the interests of the trust and its beneficiaries.

The Court of Appeals held that a District Court does not abuse its discretion when it removes the trustee of a charitable trust: (1) who has engaged in a series of breaches of trust that collectively constitute “a serious breach of trust” under Minn. Stat. § 501C.0706(b)(1); or (2) whose repeated improprieties demonstrate that removal is in “the best interest” of the charitable trust and its beneficiaries under Minn. Stat. § 501C.0706(b)(3). Affirmed.

A22-0906 In re Bremer Trust (Ramsey County)

 

 

Civil Nonprecedential

 

Civil Commitment

SDP; Transfer

Appellant, who was committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program as a sexually dangerous person, challenged the decision of the Commitment Appeal Panel to deny his petition for transfer to Community Preparation Services (CPS). The Court of Appeals concluded that the record did not suggest prejudicial error stemming from the admission of an expert’s testimony and that the record as a whole supported the determinations that CPS would not be the best facility to meet appellant’s present needs and that he needed to make more clinical progress before transfer was appropriate. Affirmed.

A22-1181 In re Civil Commitment of Lindsey (Commitment Appeal Panel)

 

 

Damages

Trees

Following a bench trial on respondent-landowners’ claims related to damage to their trees and crops, appellant-adjoining-landowner argued, inter alia, that the District Court abused its discretion in awarding damages in favor of respondents. Noting that the fallen trees were small and ill-formed, with little or no aesthetic value, situated along a fence line between appellant’s pastureland and respondents’ cropland, and that there was no indication that the fallen trees had any shade or aesthetic value or were used as a sound or sight barrier, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court erred in using replacement cost as the measure of damages for the trees appellant removed in this case, and that respondents were not entitled to any damages for the fallen trees because of the admission that the value of his land was not damaged by appellant’s actions. Reversed.

A22-0903 Moon v. Schultz (Chippewa County)

 

 

Domestic Relations

Child Protection; Custody Transfer

Police arrested appellant-mother for drug dealing and found drugs in her home with her children present after respondent county health and human services received a report that the children were left alone and not attending school. The county placed the children in foster care and petitioned the court to transfer permanent custody to the children’s aunt and uncle. Mother challenged the District Court’s order granting the petition. The Court of Appeals determined that mother forfeited all arguments not adequately briefed, and even on the merits found no error in the trial court’s custody-transfer order. Affirmed.

A22-1224 In re Welfare of Children of P.M. (Mower County)

 

Domestic Relations

Child Protection; Termination of Parental Rights

Appellant-mother challenged a District Court order terminating her parental rights to her minor children. Noting the findings that mother had not maintained any period of sobriety, had not successfully completed even one chemical dependency treatment program, had not consistently attended individual therapy, and had engaged in only one family therapy session, the Court of Appeals concluded that the record supported the District Court’s determination that a statutory ground for termination existed, that respondent-county made reasonable efforts to reunify the family, and that termination of mother’s parental rights was in the children’s best interests. Affirmed.

A22-1053 In re Welfare of Children of K.L.D. (Pine County)

 

 

Domestic Relations

Child Protection; Termination of Parental Rights

Appellant argued that the District Court abused its discretion by determining that a statutory basis supports the termination of his parental rights and that termination was in the child’s best interests. Noting that the record supported the findings that appellant had been abusive in his romantic relationships and that he participated in abusive incidents in the presence of children, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in terminating appellant’s parental rights. Affirmed.

A22-0947 In re Child of T.M.M. (St. Louis County)

 

 

Domestic Relations

Parenting Time; Modification

Appellant father appealed the District Court’s grant of respondent-mother’s motion to suspend father’s parenting time. Noting that the record supported the District Court finding that credible evidence was presented that child was sexually abused by father or adamantly believes she was sexually abused by father, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion when it suspended father’s parenting time until child was ready to initiate contact or child’s therapist recommended reunification therapy with father. Affirmed.

A22-0075 Fosse v. Fosse (Ramsey County)

 

 

Domestic Relations

Parenting Time; Restrictions

In this parenting-time dispute, appellant argued that the District Court’s restriction of his parenting time based on endangerment was an abuse of discretion. Noting finding that father had created a source monitoring problem for the child due to the child being repeatedly questioned, interviewed, forensically examined and spoken to about allegations, that the child was having difficulty distinguishing reality from fabrication, and that father’s continued allegations of abuse were endangering the child’s emotional health, the Court of Appeals concluded that the record amply supported the District Court’s findings that father’s conduct was endangering the child. Affirmed.

A22-0812 Rued v. Rued (Hennepin County)

 

 

Landlord & Tenant

Eviction

Pro se appellant challenged an eviction judgment, arguing that (1) the evidence did not support the District Court’s findings of fact, (2) respondent’s decision not to renew the lease was retaliatory, and (3) his due-process rights were violated. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not clearly err by finding that appellant failed to pay rent and refused to vacate the premises, and that appellant forfeited his retaliation and due-process arguments by not presenting them to the District Court. Affirmed.

A22-1014 Cmty. P’ship of Scott, Carver & Dakota Ctys. v. Britton (Scott County)

 

 

Manufactured Homes

Lease Modifications

In this eviction action based on nonpayment of rent for his lot in a manufactured-home park, appellant-resident challenged the District Court’s judgment of recovery, arguing that (1) respondent-park owner substantially modified his lease when it began charging him for utilities and (2) a default judgment against respondent in a separate rent-escrow case resolved the merits of the issue in this case. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court erred by determining that the utility charges were a permissible rent increase rather than an unenforceable substantial modification of the rental agreement. Reversed and remanded.

A22-0542 Belle Plaine MHP, LLC v. Haugen (Scott County)

 

Probation Revocation

Condition Violations

In this probation-revocation appeal, defendant challenged the District Court’s decision to revoke her probation, arguing that the District Court made the following two errors: (1) the District Court abused its discretion in determining that the criteria for revocation were satisfied; and (2) the District Court did not make adequate findings before revoking her probation. The Court of Appeals concluded that defendant’s addiction did not render her failure to abstain and her failure to complete outpatient treatment excusable. Furthermore, the findings, although brief, were specifically tied to the facts of this case and adequately conveyed the evidence relied on to support the conclusion that the need for confinement outweighed the policies favoring probation. Affirmed.

A22-0728 State v. Stanley (Goodhue County)

 

Real Property

Constructive Trusts

In this intra-family dispute over equity in a home, pro se appellant, the prior legal owner, challenged the grant of summary judgment to respondents, his sons, who were the current legal owners. Noting that appellant testified that there was no agreement, written or oral, between himself and respondents regarding his equity interest in the property, the Court of Appeals concluded that, because appellant failed to identify evidence that respondents obtained the property in a manner that would support imposition of a constructive trust based on unjust enrichment, the District Court did not err by granting summary judgment. Affirmed.

A22-0382 Aaron v. Aaron (Scott County)

 

 

Unemployment Benefits

Employment Misconduct

Relator challenged the decision of an unemployment-law judge (ULJ) that relator was ineligible to receive unemployment benefits because his refusal to abide by his employer’s COVID-19 vaccination and testing policy constituted disqualifying employment misconduct. The Court of Appeals concluded that the ULJ did not err in finding that respondent’s COVID-19 policy was reasonable or in determining that relator’s proffered reasons for refusing to comply with the COVID-19 policy were not based on sincerely held religious beliefs. Affirmed.

A22-0689 Larson v. Minn. State Coll. Se. – Winona (Dep’t of Emp’t & Econ. Dev.)

 

 

Criminal Precedential

 

Sentencing

Conditional Release

Defendant was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. Due to a prior third-degree criminal-sexual-conduct conviction, the District Court sentenced defendant to serve a lifetime period of conditional release pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 609.3455, subd. 7(b) (2022), upon his release from incarceration. On direct appeal, defendant argued that the District Court erred when it imposed lifetime conditional release because the state charged him by complaint rather than indictment

The Court of Appeals held that the imposition of a lifetime period of conditional release does not constitute a punishment of life imprisonment for purposes of Minn. R. Crim. P. 17.01, subd. 1, and the underlying offense need not be prosecuted by indictment. Affirmed.

A22-0318 State v. Snyder (Sherburne County)

 

Criminal Nonprecedential

 

Controlled-Substance Crimes

Crimes Involving Children

Following her conviction for a methamphetamine-related crime involving children for storing methamphetamine paraphernalia in the presence of children, defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the conviction, that the District Court erred in admitting certain evidence, and that she received ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court of Appeals held that the act of “storing” under Minn. Stat. § 152.137, subd. 2(a)(4), unambiguously means to keep for future use, and thus concluded that the evidence to convict defendant was sufficient. Furthermore, the admission of the challenged evidence did not affect her substantial rights and defendant did not meet her burden to establish ineffective assistance of counsel. Affirmed.

A22-0368 State v. Anderson (Polk County)

 

 

Controlled-Substance Crimes

Felonies

In this direct appeal of the judgment of conviction for fifth-degree drug possession and unlawful transportation of a firearm, defendant argued (1) he was entitled to a new trial because the jury was not asked to find facts necessary to enhance the severity of the drug-possession offense to a felony, and (2) the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew he was transporting a firearm. Noting that the jury found credible the evidence regarding the testing and composition of THC liquid mixture when it found defendant guilty, the Court of Appeals concluded that the plain error in the jury instruction did not affect defendant’s substantial rights because there was no reasonable likelihood that the error substantially affected the verdict. Affirmed.

A22-0453 State v. Warner (Lyon County)

 

 

Criminal Sexual Conduct

Coercion

Defendant challenged his conviction of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, arguing that his conviction must be reversed because there was insufficient evidence that he used coercion to accomplish penetration. The Court of Appeals concluded that testimony from the victim and her boyfriend that provided sufficient evidence that defendant used words and circumstances that reasonably caused the victim to fear that defendant might inflict physical pain on her. Affirmed.

A22-0474 State v. Thompson (Hennepin County)

 

 

Criminal Sexual Conduct

Sufficiency of the Evidence

In this direct appeal from a delinquency adjudication for third-degree criminal sexual conduct, appellant argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove his guilt. Noting consistent testimony from the victim, the Court of Appeals concluded that the evidence sustained the finding of guilt. Affirmed.

A22-0568 In re Welfare of M.S.M. (Anoka County)

 

 

Impeachment Evidence

Prior Convictions

A jury found defendant guilty of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon based on evidence that he held a knife to a woman’s chest and threatened to kill her. Defendant argued that the District Court erred by excluding three forms of impeachment evidence. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not err by excluding evidence of the victim’s prior conviction of misdemeanor theft, probationary status, or her restitution affidavit. Affirmed.

A22-0210 State v. Barndt (Scott County)

 

 

Judges

Impartiality

In this direct appeal from his sentence for third-degree burglary, defendant argued that (1) the District Court conducted an independent investigation of facts in violation of defendant’s constitutional right to have an impartial judge preside over his sentencing hearing, (2) the District Court judge was disqualified from presiding over his sentencing hearing because her conduct created a reasonable question about her impartiality, and (3) the District Court abused its discretion in denying his request for a downward dispositional departure. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not violate defendant’s right to an impartial judge, noting that the judge’s conduct—sharing the substance of the inadvertently received, unsolicited “chat” communication and allowing responses from the parties—fell within and comported with the judge’s obligations; it did not constitute an independent investigation. Affirmed.

A22-0766 State v. Knopik (Meeker County)

 

Jury Instructions

Plain Error

The state accused defendant of shooting a man in the stomach outside a bar. A jury found him guilty of possessing a firearm as an ineligible person and second-degree assault with a deadly weapon. The District Court denied defendant’s request for a dispositional departure and sentenced him to 60 months in prison. Defendant argued on appeal, inter alia, that the District Court improperly instructed the jury with a no-adverse-inference instruction and that the District Court improperly denied his request for a downward sentencing departure. Noting that it was not clear and obvious that defendant’s verbal declaration of “sure,” after being advised by counsel, failed to meet the clear-and-insistent requirement, the Court of Appeals concluded that any error in the unobjected-to jury instruction was not plain, and the District Court acted within its discretion by imposing the presumptive sentence. Affirmed.

A22-0128 State v. Wiley-Hunt (Hennepin County)

 

 

Sentencing

Criminal-History Score

Defendant challenged his sentence for three counts of using a minor in a sexual performance or pornographic work, arguing that the District Court used an incorrect criminal-history score and abused its discretion by denying a downward dispositional departure. The Court of Appeals concluded that defendant was entitled to resentencing with the correct criminal-history score pursuant to the 2019 sentencing guidelines, but that denial of a downward dispositional departure was within the District Court’s discretion. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-0478 State v. Johnson (Dakota County)

 

Sentencing

Evidence

Defendant challenged the denial of her petition for postconviction relief, arguing that she is entitled to be resentenced because the District Court erred by relying on hearsay statements in denying her motion for a downward durational departure. The Court of Appeals concluded that that hearsay evidence is admissible at sentencing, and that, even if defendant was correct that an indicia of reliability was required, it was satisfied that a purported accomplice’s statement in this case had such an indicia. Affirmed.

A22-0775 Bastyr v. State (Hennepin County)

 

 

Speedy Trial

Statutory Interpretation

Defendant moved to dismiss the charges against him on the ground that respondent the State of Minnesota had violated the Uniform Mandatory Disposition of Detainers Act (UMDDA). His motion was denied, and, after a jury trial, he was convicted of third-degree burglary. He challenged his conviction, arguing that the District Court erred in denying his motion, and his sentence, arguing that the District Court failed to consider defendant’s ability to pay when it ordered restitution. Noting that the legislature suspended statutory deadlines due to the COVID-19 pandemic during the relevant period, the Court of Appeals found no error in the denial of defendant’s motion to dismiss. However, the restitution award failed to comply with the requirements set out after sentencing in State v. Wigham, 967 N.W.2d 657 (Minn. 2021). Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-0315 State v. Jamison (Stearns County)

 

 

Speedy Trial

Reason for Delay

Defendant was one of three men who attacked and stabbed another man at a bar; the victim later died. Defendant challenged a final judgment of conviction for aiding and abetting second-degree murder. Defendant argued that his conviction should be reversed for three reasons: (1) the 228-day delay before his jury trial began violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial; (2) the District Court abused its discretion when it denied sanctions for the state’s discovery violations; and (3) the District Court abused its discretion when it denied his postconviction petition for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence. Noting that the first delay was because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the second delay was due mostly to the pandemic and only somewhat weighed against the state, which was overburdened, the Court of Appeals concluded that defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial was not violated. Furthermore, the District Court acted within its discretion by denying sanctions for discovery violations and rejecting postconviction relief. But the District Court erred by entering convictions for three lesser included offenses that arose from a single behavioral incident. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A21-0746 State v. Johnson (Stearns County)

 

 

Warrantless Searches

Automobile Exception

In this pretrial appeal in a prosecution for being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm, the State challenged the District Court’s order granting defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained by police during a warrantless vehicle search. The state argued that the police had probable cause to search the vehicle because a confidential reliable informant (CRI) with a proven record of reliability personally observed criminal activity, and the information provided by the CRI was adequately corroborated. Noting that the tip did not reveal how the CRI had personally viewed a gun or knew about marijuana sales, and that the only corroboration was that the vehicle was at the location described by the CRI 30 minutes after the tip, the Court of Appeals concluded that the totality of the circumstances did not establish probable cause to believe that the vehicle contained evidence or contraband. Affirmed.

A22-1073 State v. Mosley (Hennepin County)


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