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Court of Appeals Digest: May 1, 2023

Civil Precedential


Contracts for Deed

Anti-Transfer Clauses

Appellant challenged the District Court’s decision dismissing his complaint, which sought to enjoin respondents from cancelling a contract for deed. Appellant argued that the District Court erred when it determined that, based on this court’s decision in Woodard v. Krumrie, No. A19-0800, 2020 WL 996746 (Minn. App. Mar. 2, 2020), rev. denied (Minn. May 19, 2020), the anti-transfer clause of the contract for deed precluded intestate transfers.

The Court of Appeals held that the intestate transfer of a property interest purchased pursuant to a contract for deed is not prohibited by an anti-transfer provision in the contract for deed stating that the purchaser “may not sell, assign, or otherwise transfer [p]urchaser’s interest” without the seller’s consent. Reversed and remanded.

A22-1298 Kohn v. Dunn (Douglas County)



Domestic Relations

Spousal Maintenance; Modification

This appeal concerned a motion to modify an award of permanent spousal maintenance. At the time of the dissolution, the maintenance obligee was unemployed because of poor health. Eight years later, the maintenance obligor moved to modify the maintenance award and argued that the obligee’s health had improved, that she was earning income through employment, and that she had the potential to increase her earned income. The District Court denied the modification motion without considering whether the obligee has the potential to increase her earned income. The District Court reasoned that the dissolution judgment and decree did not expressly require the obligee to increase her earning capacity by obtaining additional education or vocational training.

The Court of Appeals held that, on a motion to modify an award of permanent spousal maintenance, the opinion in Madden v. Madden, 923 N.W.2d 688 (Minn. App. 2019), prevents the District Court from finding that the obligee has potential income only if the obligor argues that the obligee failed to make reasonable efforts to increase his or her earning capacity by obtaining additional education or vocational training. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-0602 Backman v. Backman (Blue Earth County)



Drivers’ License Revocation


Appellant challenged the District Court’s order sustaining the revocation of his driving privileges, arguing that revocation was improper because the advisory requirement of Minn. Stat. § 171.177, subd. 1, was not satisfied. The Court of Appeals held that a search-warrant advisory that deviates from the exact wording in § 171.177, subd. 1, is insufficient to sustain the revocation of a person’s driving privileges if it is an inaccurate statement of law, misleading, or confusing when considered in its context as a whole. Here, the advisory informed appellant that he could be charged with a crime if he refused the blood test, even though the trooper had not offered appellant an alternative urine test, and that was an inaccurate statement of law and misleading. Reversed and remanded.

A22-1238 Nash v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety (Hennepin County)



Landlord & Tenant


At issue in this case was the interpretation of Minn. Stat. § 504B.331(d), which sets forth the requirements for service of a summons in an eviction action by posting when the tenant cannot be found in the county. Appellant-tenant leased an apartment from respondent housing authority. Respondent initiated an eviction action against appellant and, following a trial, obtained a judgment for recovery of premises. Appellant appealed, arguing that the District Court lacked personal jurisdiction over him because respondent did not follow the procedures outlined by § 504B.331(d) for service of the summons by posting.

The Court of Appeals held that, when a landlord who has initiated an eviction action against a residential tenant cannot find the tenant in the county, § 504B.331(d) allows service of the summons by posting it in a conspicuous place on the property for not less than one week before the first hearing in the action. But service by posting under § 504B.331(d) is effective only if the following have also occurred not less than one week before the first hearing in the action:  (1) there have been two attempts at personal service on two different days, including one attempt between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. and (2) the landlord or landlord’s attorney has signed and filed an affidavit with the court stating that the tenant cannot be found or is believed to be out-of-state and that the summons has been mailed to the tenant’s last known address or that such an address is unknown to the landlord. Affirmed.

A22-1386 Hous. & Redevelopment Auth. of St. Cloud v. Royston (Benton County)



Summary Judgment

Sua Sponte

Appellants-insureds sought review of the District Court’s grant of summary judgment on its own initiative to respondent-insurer. Appellants sued respondent and two other defendants seeking a judgment declaring that a homeowners’ insurance policy covered property damage to their home as well as a judgment awarding money damages. The two other defendants moved for summary judgment, but respondent did not seek summary judgment. After a hearing on the summary judgment motions of the two other defendants, the District Court issued an order notifying the parties that it intended to issue a judgment independent of the motions filed by the parties and requesting supplemental briefing. None of the parties filed supplemental briefs. Citing Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.06, the District Court granted summary judgment for respondent after concluding appellants failed to show legal entitlement to relief.

The Court of Appeals held that, when a District Court proceeds under Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.06(c) to consider summary judgment on its own initiative, the District Court’s notice must identify for the parties the material facts that may not be genuinely in dispute, which requires identification of the issue under consideration for summary judgment. Here, the District Court’s notice did not comply with rule 56.06(c). Reversed and remanded.

A22-1433 Bell v. St. Joseph Mut. Ins. Co. (Mille Lacs County)



Civil Nonprecedential


Breach of Contract


In this appeal after a court trial involving a breach-of-contract action arising out of the building of a universal testing machine, appellant-seller challenged the District Court’s judgment in favor of respondent-buyer. The District Court determined that appellant breached the contract because the machine was incapable of performing the tasks it was commissioned for and was therefore defective. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court acted within its discretion by determining that appellant-seller breached the contract and caused the damages awarded. Affirmed.

A22-1422 TestResources, Inc. v. Metal Tech Indus., Inc. (Scott County)


Domestic Relations

Child Custody; Transfer

Appellant consented to the permanent transfer of legal and physical custody of her children to their maternal grandparent and later moved the District Court to transfer custody back to her. On appeal from the District Court’s denial of appellant’s motion, she argued that the District Court committed reversible error by failing to (1) properly apply Minn. Stat. § 260C.521, subd. 2(a), which provides for modification of an order transferring permanent legal and physical custody to a relative, and (2) determine that the record supported modification. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in determining that appellant failed to make a prima facie case for modification. Affirmed.

A22-1670 In re Welfare of Children of N.S. (Washington County)



Orders for Protection

Domestic Abuse

In this appeal, appellant-husband challenged the District Court’s grant of an order for protection (OFP) for respondent-wife. The Court of Appeals concluded that respondent’s testimony, including that appellant repeatedly slammed her against a wall, supported the District Court’s determination that acts of “domestic abuse” occurred. Affirmed.

A22-1067 Blom v. Blom (Watonwan County)



Vehicle Towing


Appellant contended that respondent wrongfully towed his vehicle when it was blocking a driveway he shared with his neighbor, and the District Court erred by granting respondent summary judgment because his neighbor’s shared ownership of the driveway is a disputed fact. The Court of Appeals concluded that there was no factual dispute that appellant’s vehicle was blocking the driveway and the driveway was subject to a reciprocal easement. Affirmed.

A22-1219 Green v. USA Towing & Recovery (St. Louis County)




Criminal Nonprecedential



Mistake of Fact

Defendant appealed from judgments of conviction, following a jury trial, for first-degree criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, first-degree aggravated robbery, unlawful possession of a firearm, and second-degree assault. He argued that he was entitled to a new trial because (1) the District Court erred by denying his motion to suppress evidence because the warrantless searches of his person, car, and apartment were unconstitutional; (2) the District Court abused its discretion by admitting evidence of other crimes; and (3) the District Court judges presiding over his case were not impartial. Noting that the officers knew there was arrest warrant for the registered owner of the vehicle that defendant was in, and that, because defendant was alone in the vehicle, sitting in the driver’s seat, it was reasonable for officers to infer that he was the registered owner, and that defendant stated that he was the owner of the vehicle, the Court of Appeals concluded that the fact that defendant turned out not to the individual with the outstanding arrest warrant did not invalidate the arrest. Furthermore, the search of defendant’s car was a lawful search incident to arrest, the search of defendant’s apartment was justified by exigent circumstances, and the District Court did not otherwise abuse its discretion. Affirmed.

A22-0337 State v. Buckles (Hennepin County)



DANCO Violations


Defendant argued on appeal from his conviction of violating a domestic-abuse no-contact order (DANCO) that the District Court abused its discretion by not instructing the jury (1) on the defense of necessity and (2) that it had to agree unanimously on which of two acts violated the DANCO. The Court of Appeals concluded that the record showed that defendant had other legal alternatives than going back to the trailer occupied by the person protected by the DANCO after defendant had been stabbed, noting testimony that the hospital wanted him to stay, that he could have stayed in his current residence, or that he could have stayed in a hotel. Therefore, the defense of necessity did not apply in this case. Affirmed.

A22-0750 State v. Mohamud (Olmsted County)





Defendant, who was Black, was convicted of felony threats of violence by an all-White jury. She appealed this conviction on the basis that the denial of her pretrial motion challenging the racial composition of the jury—without granting her a hearing—was error. The Court of Appeals concluded that, because defendant’s motion did not satisfy the requirement that she specify the grounds on which the jury pool violated the law, in light of the three prima facie factors for a pretrial jury challenge under Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.02, she was not entitled to a hearing. Affirmed.

A22-0840 State v. Lampkin (Hennepin County)



Postconviction Relief

Knaffla Bar

Pro se petitioner challenged the postconviction court’s order denying his second petition for postconviction relief, arguing that the postconviction court erred by failing to properly respond to his request to withdraw his guilty plea. Noting that petitioner’s petition to withdraw his guilty plea raised substantively similar claims to those in his first petition for postconviction relief and that the claims were known to him at the time of his direct appeal, the Court of Appeals concluded that petitioner’s petition for relief was procedurally barred by Knaffla. Affirmed.

A22-1358 Auginaush v. State (Clearwater County)



Prosecutorial Misconduct

Closing Argument

Defendant challenged his conviction for second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon, arguing that the prosecuting attorney committed misconduct during closing argument. Defendant did not object to the arguments during trial. The Court of Appeals concluded that defendant’s substantial rights were not affected by the prosecuting attorney’s improper statements during closing arguments. Even though two statements were plainly erroneous, defendant was not entitled to reversal of his because the state met its burden to prove there was no reasonable likelihood that the lack of these statements would have made an impact on the jury verdict. Affirmed.

A22-0772 State v. Mueller (Hennepin County)



Search Warrants

Probable Cause

In this direct appeal, defendant challenged his convictions for three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, one count of kidnapping, and one count of domestic assault. Defendant raised seven arguments for reversal, including that the District Court erred by denying his motion to suppress cell site location information collected pursuant to a search warrant. The Court of Appeals found that the District Court did not err by admitting cell site location information, as, under the totality of the circumstances, there was a fair probability that evidence of the victim’s kidnapping—specifically, evidence that would confirm that defendant and the victim were at defendant’s house for the asserted duration—would be found in defendant’s cell site location information. Affirmed.

A22-0755 State v. St. John (Carlton County)



Traffic Stops

Expansion of Scope

Defendant appealed his convictions for first- and fifth-degree controlled-substance possession, challenging the District Court’s denial of his pretrial motion to suppress evidence recovered during a stop of his vehicle. The Court of Appeals concluded that officers expanded the scope and duration of the stop by continuing to detain defendant after determining that he was not intoxicated and by questioning him about his international travel, and that the facts that defendant was from Mexico, that he had traveled from Texas through Memphis, and that he had driven erratically before the stop, did not support a reasonable suspicion of drug-related criminal activity. Reversed and remanded.

A22-1029 State v. Rodriguez (Benton County)



Traffic Stops

Reasonable, Articulable Suspicion

Defendant challenged his conviction for second-degree drug possession, arguing that the District Court erred in denying his motion to suppress the evidence because the police did not have reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity to justify the stop of his vehicle and improperly expanded the scope of the traffic stop by questioning him about drug possession and conducting a canine search of his vehicle. Noting that the officer’s reasonable, articulable suspicion that defendant had been driving in the rain without lights on was derived from an investigator’s information given only a few minutes earlier, and that it was not necessary that defendant be driving in the rain without lights at the moment the officer stopped him, the Court of Appeals concluded that the stop was supported by reasonable, articulable suspicion. Affirmed.

A22-0648 State v. Hansen (Crow Wing County)

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