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Court of Appeals Digest: May 30, 2023

Minnesota Lawyer//June 1, 2023

Court of Appeals Digest: May 30, 2023

Minnesota Lawyer//June 1, 2023

Civil Nonprecedential


Civil Commitment

Mental Illness; Advisement of Rights

Appellant was civilly committed on the grounds that he was a mentally ill and chemically dependent person under the Minnesota Commitment and Treatment Act. Appellant argued that the order of civil commitment must be reversed because (1) he was not advised by the District Court that he had the right to an independent examiner, (2) he was under the influence of medication at the time of the evidentiary hearing, and (3) his court-appointed counsel was ineffective. The Court of Appeals concluded that appellant was informed of and exercised his right to a second examiner, that appellant was able to participate in the commitment hearing, and that defendant could not show any prejudice from any ineffective assistance. Affirmed.

A22-1510 In re Civ. Commitment of Thompson (Wabasha County)




Claims Upon Dissolution

Appellant-attorney challenged two District Court orders. First, appellant challenged the District Court’s dismissal of his complaint against respondent individuals and corporation for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Appellant’s complaint alleged several common-law claims arising out of a 2006 legal-services agreement. Second, appellant challenged the District Court’s refusal to enter default judgment against respondents. The Court of Appeals concluded that appellant’s complaint failed to allege facts that the individual respondents ratified the legal-services agreement, his complaint against the now-dissolved corporation was untimely, and there was no error in the District Court’s refusal to enter default judgment against respondents. Affirmed.

A22-1639 Dinneen v. Melby (Lake County)



Domestic Relations

Child Custody; Grandparent Custody

Appellant father argued the District Court erred by transferring permanent legal and physical custody of his children from respondent mother to maternal grandmother. Father contended that the District Court clearly erred in its analysis of the best interests and corrected conditions factors. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not clearly err by making its factual findings or abuse its discretion by ordering the transfer to grandmother and denying father’s petition. Affirmed.

A23-0110 In re Welfare of Children of S.S. (Mower County)



Domestic Relations

Contempt; Attorney Fees

In this parenting dispute, pro se appellant-father challenged an order awarding respondent mother costs and attorney’s fees as sanctions for father’s bad-faith motion to find mother in civil contempt of court. Noting that record supported the District Court’s determination that father had no good faith basis for his contempt motion and that it was an objectively frivolous filing, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion by awarding costs and attorney’s fees as sanctions against father. Affirmed.

A22-1446 Traugott v. Traugott (Benton County)



Domestic Relationships

Dissolution; Marital Property

Appellant-husband challenged a portion of the District Court’s judgment dissolving his marriage to respondent-wife. Husband argued the District Court did not divide the parties’ marital property equitably and fairly. Noting that the District Court did not divide a martial asset evenly because of concern for wife’s health after she suffered a debilitating injury, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion when it divided the parties’ marital property. Affirmed.

A22-1028 Mussehl v. Mussehl (Mille Lacs County)



Domestic Relationships

Spousal Maintenance; Modification

In this appeal from the District Court’s denial of her motion to modify spousal maintenance, appellant-wife argued that the District Court erred in concluding that it lacked authority to modify spousal maintenance. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court could not modify spousal maintenance because it did not expressly award spousal maintenance or expressly reserve a decision regarding an award of spousal maintenance when it entered the initial dissolution judgment and decree. Affirmed.

A22-0953 Barnett v. Barnett (LeSueur County)



Eminent Domain


This case arose from the development and financial demise of a parking ramp in downtown St. Paul. Respondent Port Authority of the City of Saint Paul purchased property for the ramp from appellant in July 1999 for $1.5 million, via a subordinate cash-flow note to be paid out of net cash from the parking ramp, if any. After 21 years, Port Authority had yet to make any payments to appellant, and plaintiff, a superior bond holder, foreclosed on the property, cutting off any chance of payment. During the foreclosure proceedings, appellant brought cross claims against Port Authority. The District Court granted Port Authority’s motion to dismiss these claims and denied appellant’s motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals concluded that Port Authority never exercised its eminent domain power and appellant did not plead its fraud claim with sufficient specificity. Affirmed.

A22-1226 Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Port Auth. of City of St. Paul (Ramsey County)



Medical Malpractice


Appellant-trustee challenged the District Court’s grant of summary judgment for respondent-care-provider on appellant’s medical-malpractice and wrongful-death claims, which were based on the death of appellant’s adult daughter. The Court of Appeals concluded that the record was inadequate to enable a reasonable person to conclude—without speculation—that the delay in providing daughter medical care was a substantial factor in bringing about her untimely death. Affirmed.

A22-1376 Rygwall v. ACR Homes, Inc. (Anoka County)




Criminal Nonprecedential



Predicate Offenses

On a summer night, defendant removed his electronic ankle monitor, borrowed his stepfather’s truck without permission, and entered a home without consent from the homeowner, believing that it was his ex-girlfriend’s house and wanting to surprise her. The state charged defendant with first-degree burglary, third-degree burglary, receiving stolen property, and escape from custody. A jury found him guilty of all four charges, and the District Court sentenced him to 60 months’ imprisonment for the first-degree burglary conviction, 24 months’ imprisonment for the receiving stolen property conviction, and 26 months’ imprisonment for the escape-from-custody conviction, to be served concurrently. The Court of Appeals concluded that escape from custody is a continuing offense for the purpose of a first-degree burglary conviction. But the District Court improperly sentenced defendant to more than the 12-month maximum sentence for his escape from custody conviction. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-1045 State v. Nelson (Isanti County)



Contributing to Runaway Minors


On appeal from a conviction for contributing to a minor being a runaway, appellant argued that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to establish his criminal intent. Noting that defendant knew the child was a runaway, failed to return her home, allowed her to stay at his residence for several hours, took her to the airport, and accompanied her to the ticket counter with his son before a flight to Chicago, the Court of Appeals concluded that the circumstances proved lead only to a conclusion consistent with defendant’s guilt. Affirmed.

A22-1004 State v. Johnson (Dakota County)




Residual Exception

Defendant challenged his second-degree murder convictions, arguing that the District Court abused its discretion in its evidentiary rulings, including a recorded phone call with defendant’s friend that was hearsay. The Court of Appeals concluded that most of the statements in the call were admitted only to show that defendant made them, not for the truth of the matter, and that the remaining statement, that defendant caught the victim and another man “naked” and “sleeping together,” was admissible under the residual exception to the hearsay rule, as it possessed circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness and was the most probative. Affirmed.

A22-0795 State v. Cotton (Hennepin County)



Terry Stops

Reasonable, Articulable Suspicion

In this appeal from the judgment of conviction for simple robbery and felony fifth-degree assault, defendant argued that the District Court committed the following three errors: (1) the District Court concluded that law enforcement officers had a reasonable and articulable suspicion to conduct an investigatory seizure and pat-down search; (2) even though the District Court admitted one of defendant’s statements only for impeachment purposes, the District Court instructed the jury that it could use that statement for “all purposes”; and (3) the District Court entered convictions for both offenses. Noting that a body camera recording showed defendant walking toward a light-rail station but turning around and walking quickly in the opposite direction when he saw an investigating officer, defendant looking over his shoulder at the pursuing officer while continuing to walk away, and that, when the officer told defendant to stop, defendant Mason did not, the Court of Appeals concluded the officers had a sufficient basis to stop and conduct a pat-down search of defendant and that defendant did not establish that any error in the challenged jury instruction affected his substantial rights. However, the District Court erred in entering two separate convictions. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-1015 State v. Mason (Hennepin County)



Plea Withdrawal

Adequate Factual Basis

Defendant challenged his guilty plea to threats of violence, arguing it was inaccurate and thus invalid. Noting that defendant admitted that he was driving with the victim and he threatened to push her out of the car while it was moving, that Court of Appeals concluded that defendant’s plea colloquy provided a sufficient factual basis to establish his guilt. Affirmed.

A22-0858 State v. Smith (Stearns County)



Prosecutorial Misconduct

Closing Arguments

Defendant challenged his judgment of conviction for felony domestic assault, arguing that the prosecutor committed reversible misconduct during closing argument. Noting that the prosecutor’s references to victim blaming were factually related to the victim’s credibility which was challenged during the defense closing argument, the Court of Appeals concluded that the prosecutor’s statements were not misconduct. Affirmed.

A22-1152 State v. Hassan (Hennepin County)



Search Warrants

Probable Cause

In this direct appeal from convictions of criminal vehicular homicide and criminal vehicular operation, defendant challenged the District Court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence from a blood sample obtained pursuant to a search warrant. Noting allegations that defendant and a female passenger were the sole occupants of a truck involved in a fatal accident, the Court of Appeals concluded that the information in the search-warrant application established probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime would be found in defendant’s blood. Affirmed.

A22-1002 State v. Wuori (Cass County)



Traffic Stops

Expansion of Scope

Defendant challenged his controlled-substance-crime conviction, arguing that the District Court erred by denying his motion to suppress evidence because police improperly expanded the scope of a traffic stop. Noting that the officer testified that defendant’s “weaving” driving conduct could have indicated that he was impaired and that the officer told defendant that he stopped him to ensure that defendant was not impaired, tired, or texting and driving, the Court of Appeals concluded that the expansion of the stop was justified by the original legitimate purpose of the stop. Affirmed.

A22-1098 State v. Villegas (Crow Wing County)

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