In this defamation action, appellant argued that the District Court erred by denying his motion for summary judgment and concluding that Minnesota law does not recognize a qualified privilege for defamatory statements made while dispensing unsolicited career advice. The Court of Appeals held that Minnesota law does not recognize a qualified privilege for defamatory statements made while dispensing unsolicited career advice. Affirmed.
A22-0738 Abdul-Haqq v. LaLiberte (Hennepin County)
This declaratory judgment action presented a challenge by petitioner to the validity of rules adopted by respondent Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) that require automobile manufacturers to deliver for sale in Minnesota (1) only vehicles that meet specified air-pollutant emission standards and (2) a certain percentage of vehicles with ultra-low or zero tailpipe emissions. See Minn. R. 7023.0150-.0300 (the Clean Car Rule). The Clean Car Rule was adopted under the authority of Minn. Stat. § 116.07 and pursuant to the federal Clean Air Act (the CAA). Petitioner argued that the Clean Car Rule was invalid because it violates article I of the Minnesota Constitution by improperly delegating the MPCA’s rulemaking authority to California or, in the alternative, that Minn. Stat. § 116.07 violates article III of the Minnesota Constitution by improperly delegating legislative authority to the MPCA without adequate guidance. Petitioner also argued that the Clean Car Rule was invalid because the MPCA lacked statutory authority to establish a uniform statewide standard and that Minnesota did not qualify for the provision in the CAA that allows states to adopt California motor-vehicle emission standards set out in 42 U.S.C. § 7507.
The Court of Appeals held that the MPCA did not improperly delegate its rulemaking authority to another state when it incorporated by reference California’s motor-vehicle emission standards into Minn. R. 7023.0150-.0300. Rule declared valid.
A22-0796 Minn. Auto. Dealers Assoc. v. Minn. Pollution Control Agency (Minn. Pollution Control Agency)
Appellants challenged the District Court’s determination that the settlor’s trust instrument was properly amended by the settlor’s attorney-in-fact pursuant to a statutory short-form power of attorney. The Court of Appeals held that, when the unambiguous terms of a trust instrument provide an exclusive method to amend the trust, Minn. Stat. § 501C.0602 prohibits consideration of any other method of amending the trust found in another writing, such as a power of attorney. Reversed and remanded.
A22-0826 In re Hanson Living Trust (Anoka County)
This case turned on the power of a District Court to issue orders in a trust proceeding that bind a person. Respondent petitioned the District Court to remove her sister, appellant, as trustee of a trust established by their father. The District Court ruled that, in this trust proceeding, respondent had invoked the court’s authority to act in rem—the power of the District Court to issue an order binding trust property—and that it could remove appellant under its in rem power. But per the Minnesota Trust Code, a District Court must act in personam—in a manner involving the District Court’s power to issue an order that binds a person—to remove a trustee. The Court of Appeals held that Minn. Stat. § 501C.0204 dictates that a District Court cannot remove a trustee in an in rem proceeding. Rather, the District Court must act in an in personam proceeding to remove a trustee. Reversed and remanded.
A22-0688 Swanson v. Wolf (Faribault County)
Dissolution; Marital Assets
In these consolidated marital-dissolution appeals brought by the parties to the dissolution, wife and husband each challenged several of the District Court’s property rulings. Wife argued that the District Court erred or abused its discretion by (1) double counting a marital cash gift, (2) mischaracterizing a certain asset as husband’s nonmarital property, (3) obligating wife to pay certain debts to third-party creditors, and (4) denying wife’s motion to reopen the dissolution judgment. Husband argued that the District Court erred or abused its discretion by improperly (1) calculating his nonmarital interest in the parties’ real property, (2) calculating the value of the parties’ mortgage on the real property, and (3) allocating a certain monetary asset and certain debts. As to wife’s arguments, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court erred by double counting the marital cash gift and by mischaracterizing a marital asset as husband’s nonmarital property, but it found no abuse of discretion in the District Court’s order to pay third-party creditors or in the denial of wife’s motion to reopen the judgment. As to husband’s issues, the Court of Appeals conclude that the District Court neither erred nor abused its discretion in determining that husband has no nonmarital interest in the real property, in calculating the value of the parties’ mortgage, or in allocating the debts. But the Court agreed that the District Court abused its discretion by improperly allocating the monetary asset.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
A21-1709, A21-1725 Blessing v. Blessing (Ramsey County)
In this appeal from a marriage dissolution judgment, appellant-husband claimed that the District Court deprived him of due process when it continued the remote trial without his attendance. Husband also argued that the District Court abused its discretion by awarding a property to wife based on an incomplete record. The Court of Appeals concluded that husband forfeited his due-process argument by failing to raise it before the District Court and the District Court properly awarded the house to wife, despite husband’s absence at trial. Affirmed.
A22-0631 Jimenez v. Jimenez Perez (Watonwan County)
Parenting Time; Presumptions
In this parenting-time dispute, father argued that the District Court (1) erred by determining that he failed to rebut the presumption against sole legal custody and sole physical custody; (2) abused its discretion by awarding wife sole legal and sole physical custody; and (3) abused its discretion by not maximizing parenting time for both parents. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not clearly err by finding that domestic abuse occurred or err by determining that father did not rebut the presumption against joint legal and joint physical custody. Affirmed.
A22-0639 Wittrock v. Wittrock (Benton County)
Some eight months before her death at age 95, decedent changed the beneficiaries of annuities that she held with respondent, naming the eight respondent charities as beneficiaries. Decedent’s long-time financial planner, respondent, assisted her in executing the beneficiary update. After decedent’s death, her nephew, appellant, brought suit against respondents, seeking to invalidate decedent’s beneficiary update on the ground that she lacked capacity and was unduly influenced by financial planner when she made the update. The District Court granted respondents’ motion for summary judgment, determining that appellant had failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding decedent’s capacity or the claimed undue influence on her and that respondents were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Noting that it was not persuaded by appellant’s argument that, given decedent’s estate plan, the change in beneficiaries raised particularly complex issues challenging decedent’s capacity, as the effect of changing the beneficiaries of annuities to charities was not difficult to understand, the Court of Appeals concluded that appellant failed to raise a genuine issue dispute of fact regarding decedent’s capacity to execute the beneficiary update. Affirmed,
A22-0555 Davis v. Am. Fin. Inc. (Hennepin County)
Harassment Restraining Orders
Appellant appealed from a harassment restraining order (HRO) obtained by respondent guardian on behalf of ward. She argued that the District Court did not have jurisdiction to issue the HRO, respondent lacked standing to petition for an HRO on ward’s behalf, the District Court abused its discretion by issuing an HRO against ward’s wishes, and there was insufficient evidence to support the issuance of the HRO. Noting that the fact that respondent was an emergency guardian at the time the petition for an ex parte HRO was filed did not affect the court’s jurisdiction, the Court of Appeals concluded that none of appellant’s arguments had merit. Affirmed.
A22-0487 Arctos Wealth Mgmt. & Fid. LLC v. Jeno (Ramsey County)
Landlord & Tenant
Appellant-tenant appealed the judgment for recovery of premises in favor of respondents-landlords. Tenant argued that the District Court (1) erred by trying the case under a theory of ouster, which was not alleged in the complaint; (2) made clearly erroneous findings of fact; (3) erred by prohibiting tenant from returning to her apartment; and (4) erred by issuing a writ of recovery after tenant filed a notice of appeal. Noting that tenant failed to explain how the District Court’s decision to consider whether there had been an unlawful ouster requiring treble damages prejudiced her in any way, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not err by considering whether tenant was entitled to treble damages under Minnesota law even though tenant did not specifically request this relief. Furthermore, the court rejected tenant’s challenges to the District Court’s findings of fact, concluded that tenant failed to establish that the District Court erred by prohibiting her from returning to her apartment, and would not consider whether the District Court erred by issuing the writ of recovery after tenant filed her notice of appeal. Affirmed.
A22-0530 Kottschade v. Mokua (Olmsted County)
After a nine-day trial, a jury found appellants—commercial driver and his employer—liable for a serious injury to respondent caused by driver’s negligence in driving a commercial truck through a work zone. Appellants appealed the District Court’s denial of their motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) and their motion for a new trial. They contended that the trial evidence was insufficient to prove that driver’s driving conduct caused respondent’s injuries and that respondent’s trial counsel committed pervasive misconduct during the trial. Noting that there was both direct and circumstantial evidence from which the jury could reasonably find that driver’s failure to slow down and exercise reasonable caution when passing over a hose that became caught in the vehicle’s rear axil caused Kelley’s injury, the Court of Appeals concluded that the jury’s finding of causation was well supported by the trial evidence. Furthermore, there was no abuse of discretion in the denial of appellants’ motion for a new trial based on attorney misconduct. Affirmed.
A22-0599 Kelley v. Bernick’s Co. (Hennepin County)
Orders for Protection
Guardians ad Litem
Appellant-father appealed from the District Court’s order vacating an ex parte order for protection (OFP) on behalf of his and respondent mother’s joint child, arguing that the District Court erred by (1) failing to appoint a guardian ad litem for the child and (2) vacating the OFP and dismissing the matter. The Court of Appeals concluded that father’s allegations of abuse did not meet the threshold level of circumstantial evidence to give the District Court reason to believe that the child was abused, and thus the District Court did not err by not appointing a guardian in this case. Affirmed.
A22-0593 Rued v. Rued (Scott County)
In this appeal from a declaratory judgment, appellant challenged the District Court’s decision that respondent owns half of the parties’ house under a theory of promissory estoppel, arguing that the factual findings of the District Court did not support the declaratory relief ordered. Noting the findings that appellant promised respondent that she would own half of the property if she lived in the property and contributed to the mortgage payment, and that respondent made contributions to the mortgage and home improvements in reliance on appellant’s promise of one-half ownership, the Court of Appeals concluded that the factual findings addressed each element of respondent’s promissory estoppel counterclaim. Affirmed.
A22-0706 Pavelka v. Shadursky (Hennepin County)
Controlled Substance Crimes
Permitting Consumption by Child
Defendant challenged his conviction for knowingly permitting a child to ingest methamphetamine, arguing that the evidence was insufficient because the state did not prove that he knew the child was under 18 and that the District Court plainly erred by failing to instruct the jury on that element of the offense. The Court of Appeals held that a conviction for knowingly permitting a child to ingest methamphetamine under Minn. Stat. § 152.137, subd. 2(b), does not require proof that the defendant knew the victim’s age. Affirmed.
A22-0200 State v. Lehman (Stearns County)
Criminal Sexual Conduct
Sufficiency of the Evidence
A jury found defendant guilty of two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct based on evidence that he engaged in sexual contact with two young girls while they slept in a bedroom in his home. Defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to support the jury’s guilty verdicts and the District Court erred by admitting Spreigl evidence. Noting that it would not second guess the credibility of the state’s witnesses, and that the jury could reasonably infer that, when defendant reached under a victim’s clothing while she was sleeping, he touched her body in a place that is intimate, the Court of Appeals concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support the verdicts. The Court also concluded that the District Court did not err by admitting Spreigl evidence. Affirmed.
A21-1577 State v. Konakowitz (Brown County)
Illegal Firearm Possession
Sufficiency of the Evidence
In this direct appeal from the final judgment of conviction for possession of a firearm and ammunition by an ineligible person, defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to show that he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Noting that law enforcement found in plain view an unsecured, loaded rifle in an apartment occupied by defendant and his family, the Court of Appeals concluded that the circumstances proved here led only to the inference that defendant possessed the rifle and ammunition, either individually or jointly. Affirmed.
A22-0386 State v. Adams (Steele County)
Defendant challenged his conviction for first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Defendant, who identified as Black, argued that his constitutional rights were violated because his jury venire did not represent a fair cross section of the community, and the District Court erred by denying his motion to strike the venire. The Court of Appeals concluded that, even if it assumed unfair representation in defendant’s jury venire and also assumed unfair representation in the Hennepin County jury pool over time, defendant failed to show this underrepresentation resulted from systematic exclusion. Affirmed.
A22-0094 State v. Lockhart (Hennepin County)
Adequate Factual Basis
In this appeal from the District Court’s order denying his petition for postconviction relief, petitioner argued that his Alford plea to second-degree intentional murder was inaccurate. Noting that the prosecutor thoroughly described the anticipated trial evidence and petitioner acknowledged that this evidence was sufficient to convict him of second-degree murder, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the petition. Affirmed.
A22-0441 Frazier v. State (Polk County)
Petitioner argued the postconviction court erred when it denied his petition to withdraw his guilty plea to first-degree assault on the basis that the guilty plea was the product of the District Court improperly forcing petitioner to be represented by counsel. Noting that, at the plea hearing, petitioner affirmed he was satisfied with his defense counsel’s representation, he affirmed he understood the terms of the plea agreement, and he indicated no one had coerced or forced him to plead guilty, the Court of Appeals concluded that petitioner guilty plea was valid. Affirmed.d
A22-0732 Dudley v. State (Ramsey County)
In this appeal from the District Court’s probation-revocation decision, defendant argued that the District Court violated Minn. R. Crim. P. 27.04 by failing to give a rights advisory at his first-hearing appearance and abused its discretion by revoking his probation without making sufficient findings on the third Austin factor. Noting that the record showed that the District Court did not make the requisite findings on the third Austin factor, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for the District Court to make substantive findings. Reversed and remanded.
A22-0917 State v. Buezo (Watonwan County)
Defendant challenged his conviction for first-degree controlled-substance crime, arguing that the District Court erred by denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained from two tracking-device orders. The Court of Appeals concluded that the orders could be construed as containing probable-cause findings for controlled-substance crime, despite their mistaken references to arson, and the tracking-device applications established probable cause relating to controlled-substance crime. Affirmed.
A22-0246 State v. Waites (Stearns County)
Defendant argued that the District Court abused its discretion by failing to grant a downward dispositional sentencing departure on his conviction for first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct, claiming he was particularly amenable to probation. Noting that the District Court is not required to explain its reasoning when it considers factors supporting departure but elects to impose the presumptive sentence, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court acted within its discretion by sentencing defendant to an executed sentence. However, the District Court erred by entering a judgment of conviction for a lesser-included offense. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
A22-0322 State v. Griffith (Hennepin County)
Defendant argued that the District Court abused its discretion in denying his motion for a downward dispositional departure after he pleaded guilty to fifth-degree controlled substance possession and gross misdemeanor domestic assault. Noting that the record showed the District Court carefully evaluated the reasons for and against departure in determining that defendant was not particularly amenable to probation, the Court of Appeals found no abuse of discretion. Affirmed.
A22-0401 State v. Wheeler (Dakota County)
Single Behavioral Incidents
In this direct appeal stayed for postconviction proceedings, defendant challenged the final judgment of conviction for first-degree controlled-substance sale of heroin. He argued that the District Court violated statutory protections against serial prosecution and multiple punishments, as well as his double-jeopardy rights, when the District Court entered a conviction and sentenced him to prison based on a single behavioral incident and criminal act for which he had already been punished. Noting that, though his overarching goal may have been to sell heroin for profit, the evidence showed that the heroin in defendant’s home was to be sold at a different time than the heroin he sold to the agent, the Court of Appeals concluded that defendant’s offenses in Rice County and Dakota County were separate acts, not part of a single behavioral incident. Affirmed.
A22-0037 State v. Washington (Rice County)