Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Court of Appeals Digest: July 10, 2023

Minnesota Lawyer//July 13, 2023

Court of Appeals Digest: July 10, 2023

Minnesota Lawyer//July 13, 2023

Civil Precedential


Environmental Law

Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act

Appellants are members of the Amish community. Appellants sought review of the District Court’s judgment denying their request for it to declare that respondents county and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) may not enforce particular land-use regulations as to these appellants. The challenged regulations generally required appellants to use a septic tank to dispose of “gray water,” which is water discharged after being used for dishwashing, laundry, bathing, and other tasks not involving toilet waste. Appellants contended that the septic-tank requirement infringes on their rights to religious exercise, in violation of the state and federal constitutions as well as federal law. All parties and the District Court focus their analysis on Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), a federal law that requires strict scrutiny where, as here, the District Court has determined that land-use regulations impose “a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person.” This was the second appeal for these parties after the United States Supreme Court vacated an earlier Court of Appeals decision. After remand, the District Court concluded that the government met its burden to prove the septic-tank requirement was narrowly tailored to further a compelling state interest. Appellants appealed.

The Court of Appeals held that, under RLUIPA, the government has the burden to demonstrate a compelling state interest in enforcing the challenged law against the particular claimant whose sincere exercise of religion is being substantially burdened. The evidence the government presented did not support the District Court’s conclusion that the septic-tank requirement furthered a compelling state interest specific to appellants. Reversed and remanded.

A22-1534 Mast v. County of Fillmore (Fillmore County)



Peacetime Emergencies

In this remand from the Minnesota Supreme Court, appellants challenged the District Court’s dismissal of their petition for a writ of quo warranto, which sought to prevent enforcement of an executive order issued during a peacetime emergency based on the COVID-19 pandemic, and ensuing executive order that required Minnesotans to wear face coverings.

The Court of Appeals held that the Minnesota Emergency Management Act of 1996, Minn. Stat. §§ 12.01-.61, authorizes the governor to declare a peacetime emergency based on a public-health emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Affirmed.

A21-0626 Snell v. Walz (Ramsey County)



Civil Nonprecedential



Timely Challenges

Pro se appellant challenged the confirmation of an arbitration award, arguing that he never signed an arbitration agreement, never accepted the panel of arbitrators, and did not receive notice of the arbitration award. Noting that appellant did not seek to vacate the award until more than 90 days after the arbitration award was served on him, the Court of Appeals concluded that appellant’s motion to vacate the award was untimely. Affirmed.

A22-1423 Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. v. Thiam (Ramsey County)



Civil Commitment

Due Process

Appellants, who are civilly committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP), challenged the dismissal of their complaints against respondents director of MSOP and commissioner of human services. On remand from the Minnesota Supreme Court was the issues of whether appellants’ complaints sufficiently pleaded claims for violation of their federal due-process rights. Noting that appellants alleged that respondents deprived them of timely transfer to a less restrictive facility without constitutionally sufficient procedures, that that respondents failed to provide notice that there would be a delay in the transfers, of the justifications for the delay, or when transfer could be expected, the Court of Appeals concluded that that the complaints sufficiently pleaded procedural due-process claims. Reversed and remanded.

A21-0042, A21-0043 McDeid v. Johnston (Ramsey County)


Domestic Relations

Spousal Maintenance; Modification

After over 21 years of marriage and three children together, appellant and respondent’s marriage was dissolved by the District Court in 2012 through a stipulated judgment. Nearly ten years later, the District Court granted respondent’s request to modify his spousal-maintenance obligation, due to appellant’s increased income, and it made the modification retroactive to August 2020. It also amended appellant and respondent’s 2012 dissolution decree to include a conclusion of law allocating the children’s uninsured and unreimbursed medical expenses. Appellant appealed.

Appellant argued that the District Court abused its discretion by reducing spousal-maintenance because respondent’s motion did not include a hearing date. Further, appellant contended that the District Court erred by amending the 2012 dissolution decree. The Court of Appeals concluded that respondent’s reduced spousal-maintenance obligation was reasonable, given appellant’s nearly doubled income, and respondent’s motion was properly pending with the District Court, and thus the court acted within its discretion by reducing the spousal-maintenance award and making it retroactive. Furthermore, because there was a clerical error in the 2012 dissolution decree when a finding of fact did not have an accompanying conclusion of law, the District Court did not err by amending the decree to fill that gap. Affirmed.

A22-0636 Kossack v. Kossack (Dakota County)



Public Benefits


This appeal involved two separate overpayment notices issued by respondent-county to appellant, which required appellant to reimburse the county for Minnesota Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) payments made by the county on behalf of appellant and his family. The commissioner of human services, after a hearing, upheld the overpayment assessments for the two time periods at issue. The commissioner’s decision with respect to each time period was subsequently affirmed by an order of the District Court. On appeal to this court, appellant argued that the county failed to present sufficient evidence to meet the statutory standard for recoupment of CCAP funds under Minn. Stat. § 119B.11, subd. 2a(b) for either time period. Noting that there was no evidence in the record that the family paid less for childcare expenses than the family otherwise would have been required to pay during the earlier time period if the CCAP payments had not been made, the Court of Appeals concluded that recoupment of payments for the earlier time period was not supported by the record, but that substantial evidence supported recoupment for the later time period. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-1208 Anoka County v. Hersi (Anoka County)



Real Property

Reasonable Use

Appellants challenged the District Court’s summary judgment allowing respondents to continue to use and repair a drainage system located under appellants’ land, applying the reasonable-use doctrine in favor of respondents. Appellants argued that (1) the reasonable-use doctrine did not allow respondents to continue to use the system as a matter of law and that even if it did, questions of material fact existed that preclude its application, (2) the District Court erroneously employed principles of estoppel to reach its decision, and (3) the District Court improperly granted an easement in favor of respondents that burdened appellants’ land. Noting that caselaw did not require that benefited property be adjacent to the burdened property for the reasonable-use doctrine to apply and that the use of an underground-pipe system did not negate the doctrine’s application, the Court of Appeals concluded that the reasonable-use doctrine applied and summary judgment was proper. Affirmed.

A22-1533 Hintze v. Hoese (Carver County)




Undue Influence

In this dispute among children and grandchildren involving decedent’s actions before her death, appellants challenged the District Court’s decision invalidating a commercial lease under theories of undue influence and unconscionability. First, appellants contended that the District Court applied the wrong legal standard for a claim of undue influence. Second, they argued that the District Court applied the wrong legal standard for, and clearly erred in making factual findings concerning, its determination of unconscionability. The Court of Appeals concluded that, although the District Court expressly referenced an incorrect legal standard for undue influence, it was unclear whether and to what extent the District Court actually applied this standard. The Court also concluded that the District Court erred as a matter of both law and fact when it determined that the lease was unconscionable. Reversed and remanded.

A22-1781 In re Nelson Trust (Carver County)



Criminal Precedential


Postconviction Relief

Time Bar

Petitioner challenged the District Court’s decision to deny his petition for postconviction relief as time-barred. Following his convictions for two counts of felony domestic assault, petitioner was given a stayed 15-month prison sentence and was placed on probation. More than two years later, his probation was revoked and his sentence was executed. Within two years of the execution of his sentence, petitioner filed a petition for postconviction relief. He argued that, because his petition was filed within two years of the execution of his stayed sentence, the District Court erred by determining that it was time-barred.

The Court of Appeals held that, if no direct appeal is filed, the two-year statute of limitations for filing a petition for postconviction relief under Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subd. 4(a), does not restart when a District Court executes an imposed but stayed sentence. Affirmed.

A23-0020 Brouillette v. State (Scott County)



Probation Revocation

Need for Confinement

Defendant challenged the revocation of his probation and execution of his sentence, arguing that the District Court abused its discretion by failing to provide factual reasons and providing legally incorrect reasons for the revocation. The Court of Appeals held that, when a defendant convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct (penetration, victim under 16, significant relationship, multiple acts over time) has a probation condition of no contact with females under 18, and that defendant has repeated contact with a female under 18, a District Court does not abuse its discretion when it determines that the defendant’s need for confinement outweighs the policies favoring probation because confinement is necessary to protect the public from further criminal activity by the defendant. Affirmed.

A22-1715 State v. Smith (Stearns County)




Criminal Nonprecedential


Controlled Substance Crimes


Defendant appealed from his conviction for first-degree possession of methamphetamine, arguing the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he possessed the large bong containing the methamphetamine mixture. Noting that the evidence permitted a rational alternative inference that a witness observed defendant smoking from a different, smaller, and untested bong, the Court of Appeals concluded that the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant actually possessed the methamphetamine mixture found in the large bong. Furthermore, the area where defendant slept was a “party room” used by many people, and constructive possession was not proven. Reversed.

A22-1400 State v. Busch (Pipestone County)



Criminal Sexual Conduct

Sufficiency of the Evidence

Defendant challenged his convictions for first- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct, claiming that the state did not present sufficient evidence to prove his guilt and that the District Court abused its discretion by denying his pretrial Paradee motion and erred by determining that the state did not commit a Brady violation. Noting that the victim testified that she told defendant to stop multiple times, she did not speak quietly, and he heard the other things she said to him, the Court of Appeals concluded that the state presented sufficient evidence to support the jury’s guilty verdicts. Furthermore, the District Court did not abuse its discretion when it denied appellant’s pretrial Paradee motion or err by determining the state did not commit a Brady violation. But the District Court entered a conviction on a lesser-included offense. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-1008 State v. Lovestrand (Hennepin County)



Mental-Illness Defense


Defendant appealed convictions for first-degree arson, second-degree burglary, and theft of a motor vehicle following a court trial. He argued that his convictions must be reversed because the District Court erroneously denied him the opportunity to present a mental-illness defense. The District Court determined that defendant failed to make a prima facie showing that his inability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct was caused by his mental illness rather than his use of methamphetamine. Noting that the record did not show that defendant was suffering from a defect of reasoning caused by mental illness before he ingested methamphetamine, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in determining that defendant failed to satisfy the threshold requirement for presenting a mental-illness defense. Affirmed.

A22-1206 State v. Hinckley (Lyon County)



Search Warrants

Probable Cause

Defendant challenged his unlawful-possession-of-a-firearm conviction, arguing that the District Court erred by denying his motion to suppress the firearm because the search warrant lacked probable cause. The Court of Appeals concluded that there was a connection between the alleged crime and the vehicle because the confidential informant indicated that defendant sold drugs out of two vehicles and was commonly armed during drug sales, and thus the District Court appropriately denied the suppression motion. Affirmed.

A22-1695 State v. Washington (Hennepin County)




Predatory-Offender Registration

Appellant challenged summary judgment dismissing his civil claims related to his predatory-offender registration requirement. Appellant contended that the District Court erred because (1) based on promissory estoppel and procedural due process, he was entitled to specific performance of the state’s alleged promise that he would not be required to register, (2) respondent violated his procedural due-process rights by requiring him to register as a predatory offender, (3) the predatory-offender registration statute violated his substantive due-process rights, and (4) the predatory-offender registration statute was an unconstitutional bill of attainder. The Court of Appeals concluded that the promissory estoppel claim failed as the BCA and the state were not in privity, that appellant did not have a due-process right to specific performance of the prosecutor’s alleged promise, that the registration requirements do not violate appellant’s procedural or substantive due-process rights, and that the registration statute is not a bill of attainder. Affirmed.

A22-0729 Nickels v. Evans (Ramsey County)




According to a criminal complaint, defendant led a sheriff’s deputy on a high-speed before colliding with the pursuing squad car, leaping from his moving car, fleeing on foot, attempting to steal a utility vehicle, violently resisting arrest, being found in possession of methamphetamine, and refusing to comply with a warrant authorizing deputies to procure a sample of his blood or urine for chemical testing. Defendant pleaded guilty to refusing to submit to a chemical test in exchange for the state agreeing to the dismissal of eight other charges. The District Court ordered defendant to pay about $6,300 in restitution for damage to the squad car. Defendant appealed the restitution order, contending that his crime of conviction was not related to the conduct that damaged the squad car. The Court of Appeals concluded that, because defendant did not make this legal argument in the District Court, the challenge was beyond the scope of review on appeal. Affirmed.

A22-1831 State v. Smith (Faribault County)





A jury heard testimony that defendant and her boyfriend borrowed defendant’s friend’s car and kept it for one week (and then wrecked it while fleeing from police), despite the friend’s permitting them to use it only for 24 hours. The jury also heard testimony from defendant that, although her boyfriend drove the car for most of the week, she drove the car in the Twin Cities. The jury found defendant guilty of motor-vehicle theft. Defendant appealed from her conviction, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to prove the venue element of the offense. The Court of Appeals held that venue is appropriate in any county where the stolen property is or has been located. Affirmed.

A22-1275 State v. Lozier (Roseau County)



Traffic Stops

Expansion of Scope

Defendant appealed after he was convicted of second-degree possession of a controlled substance while possessing a firearm in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.022., subd. 2(a)(2)(i). He contended that the District Court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained during a pat-down search after a traffic stop because (1) the District Court erroneously found that law enforcement felt “rock-like” contents in his left pants pocket while conducting the pat-down search for weapons, and (2) law enforcement improperly expanded the scope of the search. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court’s factual findings were supported by the record and law enforcement had sufficient justification at each step of expanding the pat-down search. Affirmed.

A22-1079 State v. Hernandez Silva (Steele County)

Top News

See All Top News

Legal calendar

Click here to see upcoming Minnesota events

Expert Testimony

See All Expert Testimony