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The Supreme Court Chamber in the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Supreme Court Digest: April 26, 2023



Attorney Discipline


The Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (petitioned for disciplinary action against respondent attorney Herbert Azubuike Igbanugo, alleging 54 violations of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct. After conducting an evidentiary hearing, the referee’s factual findings concluded that Igbanugo committed 50 rule violations across 7 client matters. These violations included failing to act with diligence, failing to notify clients of important updates, failing to properly explain legal issues to clients, collecting unreasonable fees (including availability fees when he was already retained to perform legal services), failing to issue prompt refunds of unearned advanced fees, failing to refund unearned advanced fees, failing to take reasonable steps to make sure the firm had measures to ensure all lawyers and non-lawyers complied with professional obligations, and providing false and misleading information. The referee found five aggravating factors, no mitigating factors, and determined Igbanugo’s constitutional rights were not violated during the disciplinary process. The referee recommended that Igbanugo be suspended from the practice of law for 10 months. Igbanugo challenged the referee’s findings, conclusions, and evidentiary decisions and argued the proceedings and investigation violated his constitutional rights. The Director contended that the recommended discipline was too lenient and sought suspension for a minimum of 1 year.

The Supreme Court held that (1) the referee’s findings and conclusions that the attorney committed misconduct in seven matters by neglect, failing to notify clients, failing to explain legal issues, collecting unreasonable fees, collecting improper availability fees, failing to issue or to promptly issue refunds of unearned fees, failing to have measures to ensure lawyers and non-lawyers at his firm conformed with professional obligations, and providing false and misleading information were not clearly erroneous; (2) the referee’s evidentiary decisions were not an abuse of discretion; (3) the attorney failed to establish that the disciplinary process violated his constitutional rights; and (4) an indefinite suspension with no right to petition for reinstatement for 10 months was the appropriate discipline for the attorney’s misconduct. Suspended.

A21-0338 In re Igbanugo (Original Jurisdiction)


Harassment Restraining Orders


This case arose from a harassment restraining order issued against appellant. The District Court concluded that appellant had engaged in repeated incidents of harassing conduct against his ex-spouse, respondent, and issued a 6-month HRO. Appellant appealed, arguing that his actions did not constitute “repeated incidents” of the type of conduct necessary for a finding of harassment. While his appeal was pending at the Court of Appeals, the underlying HRO expired. After the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s decision to grant the HRO, appellant filed a petition for further review, which was granted.

The Supreme Court held that dismissal is appropriate when a case is moot and no exception to the mootness doctrine applies, and that here, no justiciable controversy existed. Dismissed.

A21-1115 Winkowski v. Winkowski (Court of Appeals)




Preaward Interest

Minn. Stat. § 549.09, subd. 1(b), states that “[e]xcept as otherwise provided by contract or allowed by law, preverdict, preaward, or prereport interest on pecuniary damages shall be computed . . . from the . . . time of a written notice of claim.”  The issue in this case was whether a fire insurance policy provision that states that “[n]o interest accrues on the loss until after the loss becomes payable” precludes preaward interest under the statute.

The Supreme Court held that a fire insurance policy claim provision stating that “[n]o interest accrues on the loss until after the loss becomes payable” is sufficient to preclude preaward interest under Minn. Stat. § 549.09. Reversed.

A21-1587 Wesser v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. (Court of Appeals)

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