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Court of Appeals Digest: Feb. 13, 2023

Civil Precedential




Relator challenged respondent school district’s decision not to renew her teaching contract. Relator argued that (1) her three consecutive years of teaching in a Minnesota charter school entitled her to a continuing contract after only a one-year probationary period in the district, and (2) the district’s decision not to renew her contract without offering her a hearing violated her right to due process.

The Court of Appeals held that teaching experience in a charter school does not constitute “teaching experience in Minnesota in a single district” for purposes of determining the probationary period of a teacher under the Minnesota Continuing Contract Law, Minn. Stat. § 122A.40. Affirmed.

A22-0776 Resolution Relating to Termination & Nonrenewal of Teaching Contract of Probationary Teacher (Indep. School Dist. No. 882)



Civil Nonprecedential


Department of Education

Summer Food Service Program

After relator participated as a sponsor in the Summer Food Service Program, relator applied to be a sponsor of the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Respondent Minnesota Department of Education denied relator’s application. Relator appealed the denial of its application because it claimed the Department’s decision was based on erroneous theories of law; arbitrary, capricious, and unsupported by the record; and violated relator’s due process rights. The Court of Appeals concluded that the Department’s decision applied the correct federal regulations and its findings that relator was neither financially viable nor had proper financial management in place were supported by substantial evidence, and neither arbitrary nor capricious. Affirmed.

A22-0378 Re Youth Leadership Acad. (Minn. Dep’t of Educ.)


Domestic Relations

Child Protection; Custody Transfer

Appellant-mother challenged a District Court order transferring permanent legal and physical custody of her two children to paternal relatives. Appellant argued that the record evidence was insufficient to support the transfer of custody under Minn. Stat. § 260C.517(a). Noting that mother failed to show that the District Court clearly erred when it found that mother’s efforts and ability to use services did not sufficiently correct the conditions leading to out of home placement so that the children could return to her, the Court of Appeals found that the District Court did not abuse its discretion. Affirmed.

A22-1198 In re Welfare of Children of K.H. (Lincoln County)



Environmental Law

Environmental-Assessment Worksheet

Relator challenged the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) decision to require an environmental-assessment worksheet (EAW) before adding a site to relator’s existing permit for stormwater discharge. The Court of Appeals concluded that permit coverage for additional sites does not become effective until the MPCA issues a written modification of the permit, and the MPCA’s decision to require an EAW was supported by substantial evidence and not arbitrary and capricious. Affirmed.

A22-0818 In re Petition Requesting Preparation of Env’t Assessment Worksheet for Proposed W. Lorentz & Sons Constr., Inc., Sioux Quartzite Quarry (Minn. Pollution Control Agency)





In this second action arising out of a dispute relating to hotel construction, appellant hotel owner sued defendant subcontractor’s former counsel, respondent law firm, for restitution. The District Court denied appellant’s repeated attempts to remove the District Court judge, dismissed the action on the pleadings, and awarded sanctions to law firm. On appeal, appellant challenged the District Court’s decisions related to appellant’s attempts to remove the District Court judge and the District Court’s decision to grant law firm’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. Appellant argued the scheduling judge erred in assigning the second action to the trial judge from the first action because appellant was entitled to random judicial assignment. Noting that a bright-line rule that random assignment must occur would not comport with the needed flexibility to implement the Duluth Expedited Litigation Track Pilot Project (DELTPP), the Court of Appeals declined to address this issue because appellant failed to cite any relevant authority. Affirmed.

A22-0704 Morex Props., LLC v. Sauro & Bergstrom, PLLC (St. Louis County)



Criminal Precedential



In Camera Review

Defendant, who was accused of engaging in criminal sexual conduct against a teenage boy, successfully moved the District Court to review the boy’s medical and mental-health records for information material to defendant’s defense. Relying on the supreme court’s recent decision in State v. Conrad (In re Hope Coalition), 977 N.W.2d 651 (Minn. 2022), the state challenged the District Court’s decision to grant defendant’s request by prohibiting enforcement of the subpoena to obtain the records.

The Court of Appeals held that the statutory privileges afforded to medical and mental-health records by Minn. Stat. § 595.02, subd. 1(d) and (g), do not permit disclosures of protected information to a District Court for in camera review in a criminal prosecution without the consent of the patient or another applicable statutory exception. Writ granted.

A22-1490 State v. Ramirez (In re State) (Dakota County)



Juvenile Delinquency


During court proceedings on a charge of gross misdemeanor fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, the District Court found appellant, a child, incompetent and suspended the proceedings pursuant to Minn. R. Juv. Delinq. P. 20.01, subd. 5(B). The District Court found appellant incompetent in five consecutive review hearings over a span of nearly two years. Within one year of the District Court’s initial finding of incompetency, the State filed a written notice of its intention to prosecute appellant after his restoration to competency, which notice extended suspension of the proceedings for an additional one-year period from the state’s filing as provided by rule 20.01, subd. 7(A)(2). Shortly before the one-year extension expired, appellant moved the District Court to dismiss the case, arguing that further extensions were unavailable under the rule. The District Court denied appellant’s motion to dismiss, determining that rule 20.01, subd. 7(A), permitted the state to file additional notices of intention to prosecute until either appellant was found competent and the proceedings resumed or appellant aged out of juvenile jurisdiction.

The Court of Appeals held that, pursuant to Minn. R. Juv. Delinq. P. 20.01, subd. 7(A)(2), when a child is found incompetent to proceed in juvenile delinquency proceedings, the state may file more than one notice of intention to prosecute the child following a District Court’s finding of incompetency. Pursuant to rule 20.01, subd. 7(A), any such filing extends the suspension of the proceedings for a one-year period, except that the suspension ends earlier if (1) the child regains competency, (2) the District Court exercises its discretion to dismiss the proceedings, or (3) the proceedings are mandatorily dismissed because the child ages out of juvenile jurisdiction upon the child’s 19th or 21st birthday. Affirmed.

A22-0654 In re Welfare of D.J.F.-D. (Hennepin County)



Probation Revocation


Defendant sought review of the District Court’s order revoking her probation and executing her sentences for three fifth-degree controlled substance convictions. During the terms of defendant’s stays of execution, probation filed several violation reports, prompting the District Court to issue warrants for defendant’s arrest. Before defendant was taken into custody, her stays expired. More than six months after their expiration, the District Court conducted a hearing, revoked defendant’s probation, and executed her sentences. Defendant argued that the District Court lacked statutory authority to revoke her probation because it did not initiate revocation proceedings within six months after the expiration of her stays of execution. During District Court proceedings, the State argued that the District Court had initiated revocation proceedings by issuing a warrant following a probation violation report.

The Court of Appeals held that, under Minn. Stat. § 609.14, subd. 1 (2016), the District Court must take two steps to initiate probation revocation proceedings: (1) issue an order revoking the stay of execution and (2) issue a warrant to take the defendant into custody or a summons for the defendant to appear in court. Therefore, the District Court lacked statutory authority to revoke defendant’s probation. Reversed.

A22-0696 State v. Redford (Blue Earth County)




Custody-Status Points

A jury found defendant guilty of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Defendant argued on appeal that the evidence was sufficient to prove that he used coercion in committing the offense and that the District Court erred by assigning him one custody-status point for committing the present offense while he was on probation after pleading guilty to a felony theft charge and receiving a stay of adjudication.

The Court of Appeals held that Minn. Sent’g Guidelines 2.B.2.a authorizes a District Court to assign one custody-status point to a defendant who committed the present offense while on probation after pleading guilty to another felony charge, even if the prior guilty plea resulted in a stay of adjudication rather than a conviction. Furthermore, the evidence was sufficient to establish that defendant used confinement to cause the victim to submit to sexual penetration. Affirmed.

A22-0164 State v. Woolridge Carter (Blue Earth County)



Criminal Nonprecedential


Highway Pedestrian

Sufficiency of the Evidence

Defendant challenged her petty-misdemeanor conviction of being a pedestrian on a controlled-access highway, arguing that the circumstantial evidence was insufficient to convict her, her right to present a complete defense was violated, the statute under which she was convicted violates the First Amendment, she was singled out for discriminatory prosecution, and her prosecution was barred by government estoppel. The Court of Appeals concluded that the fact that appellant might have been in a vehicle was insufficient to warrant reversal of her conviction since there was no evidence connecting defendant to any vehicle. Furthermore, defendant failed to show that her right to free speech was violated by the commissioner’s right to regulate pedestrians’ use of a controlled-access highway or by the police’s activity to enforce that regulation. Affirmed.

A22-0816 State v. Dornfeld (Hennepin County)




Cross-Section of Community

In this direct appeal from the judgment of conviction for third-degree criminal sexual conduct, defendant argued (1) he was denied his right to a jury panel composed of a fair cross-section of the community, (2) the District Court erred in admitting testimony concerning a witness’s fear of defendant’s “people,” and (3) the prosecutor committed misconduct by commenting on defendant’s invocation of his right to remain silent. Noting that defendant presented no demographic data to the District Court and only pointed to the fact that only one of the 24 people in the jury panel was Black, the Court of Appeals concluded that defendant failed to make a prima facie showing that the jury panel failed to reflect a fair cross-section of the community. Furthermore, the District Court acted within its discretion to admit evidence of bias and the prosecutor’s misconduct did not prejudice defendant. Affirmed.

A22-0491 State v. Davis (Hennepin County)



Plea Withdrawal


Petitioner argued in this postconviction appeal that her guilty plea and conviction for criminal vehicular homicide must be vacated because: (1) she did not make a knowing, intelligent, or voluntary guilty plea; (2) she received ineffective assistance of trial counsel; (3) the state engaged in prosecutorial misconduct; and (4) the District Court failed to follow Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.04, subd. 3(2). The Court of Appeals concluded that work release was not an unfulfillable or unfulfilled promise that provided material inducement for the plea and that petitioner made a knowing and intelligent guilty plea because work release was not a direct consequence of the plea. Furthermore, petitioner did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel, her prosecutorial misconduct argument failed, and the District Court followed Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.04. Affirmed.

A21-0824 State v. Schauer (Scott County)


Postconviction Relief

Due Process

Pro se petitioner appealed from the District Court’s order denying postconviction relief from her misdemeanor convictions for operating her bar and restaurant in violation of emergency executive orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Petitioner argued that she was entitled to postconviction relief because the District Court violated her due-process rights in various ways in connection with her prosecution and convictions. The Court of Appeals concluded that the governor had statutory authority to issue the executive orders under the Minnesota Emergency Management Act of 1996 and thus petitioner’s due-process rights were not violated.

A22-0884 Hanson v. State (Freeborn County)



Postconviction Relief

False Testimony

The State challenged the postconviction court’s grant of a new trial to petitioner on charges of second-degree murder in the death of his infant son. The state argued that the postconviction court abused its discretion by determining that (1) two of the state’s expert witnesses offered false testimony at petitioner’s trial, and (2) petitioner received ineffective assistance of counsel. The postconviction court found that the state’s pediatric ophthalmologist and forensic pathologist testified at trial that “macular schisis is not caused by anything other than [abusive head trauma] (AHT)” and that this testimony was false. The Court of Appeals concluded that the state failed to demonstrate that the postconviction court clearly erred in finding that the doctors’ trial testimony falsely overstated the causal relationship between macular schisis and AHT, and there was no clear error in the postconviction court’s finding that the jury might have reached a different result without the false testimony. Affirmed.

A22-0749 Kaiser v. State (Stearns County)




Personal Representatives

Pro se appellant challenged the denial of his petition to remove the personal representative of his deceased mother’s estate, arguing that the District Court abused its discretion in denying the petition because the personal representative acted improperly and unlawfully. Noting that personal representative’s conduct in initiating an eviction action against appellant did not constitute an improper exercise of power under Minn. Stat. § 524.3-712, the Court of Appeals found no error by the District Court. Affirmed.

A22-0624 In re Bicanich (Dakota County)



Right to Confrontation

Plain Error

Defendant challenged his final judgments of conviction for third-, fourth-, and fifth degree criminal sexual conduct following a jury trial. Defendant argued he was entitled to a new trial because (1) the District Court violated his constitutional right to confrontation by requiring face coverings during trial, and (2) the District Court abused its discretion by denying appellant’s request for the jury to visit the crime scene, excluding some DNA evidence from the victim’s clothing, and allowing the state to call a rebuttal witness. Noting that, because defendant never made any request for a witness to remove a face covering even though the District Court stated it would consider making exceptions, defendant forfeited the Confrontation Clause issue, the Court of Appeals concluded that defendant’s right to confrontation was not violated, and the District Court acted within its ample discretion in making the challenged evidentiary rulings. However, the District Court erred by entering convictions and sentences for the two lesser included offenses. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-0402 State v. Knott (Cook County)




Downward Departures

On appeal of his sentence for fifth-degree drug possession, fourth-degree DWI, and second-degree drug possession, defendant challenged the District Court’s denial of his motion for a downward dispositional departure and failure to impose a sentence at the bottom of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines range. Defendant argued that the District Court abused its discretion because he was particularly amenable to probation and, alternatively, compelling circumstances supported imposing a shorter sentence. The Court of Appeals found no abuse of discretion. Affirmed.

A22-0544 State v. Engen (Mower County)



Warrantless Searches


Defendant admitted to investigators that she was driving her car when it caused a crash that killed one victim and injured two more people. But the District Court suppressed her confession because it came after a warrantless search of her car when it was parked in her driveway. The State challenged that ruling, arguing that suppression of this evidence had a critical impact on its ability to bring a case against defendant, defendant’s car was not on property afforded the constitutional protections of the home (referred to as curtilage), and even if it was, the search was justified by the exigency exception to the warrant requirement. Though suppression of this evidence did seriously jeopardize the state’s ability to successfully prosecute defendant, the Court of Appeals held that defendant’s car was in the curtilage of her home when it was parked in her driveway and exigent circumstances did not justify the warrantless search. Affirmed.

A22-1425 State v. Whitley (Hennepin County)

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