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Court of Appeals Digest: Aug. 14, 2023

Minnesota Lawyer//August 17, 2023

The Minnesota Judicial Center stands in the Capitol complex in St. Paul. (File photo)

Court of Appeals Digest: Aug. 14, 2023

Minnesota Lawyer//August 17, 2023

Civil Precedential



County-Based Purchasing

Appellants, entities created to engage in county-based purchasing for Minnesota’s Medicaid program, challenged the summary-judgment dismissal of their claims for declaratory and injunctive relief against respondents Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) and Commissioner of Human Services. Appellants claimed that the District Court erred because (1) under Minn. Stat. § 256B.69, subd. 3a(c), DHS has no authority to implement a prepaid medical assistance program in counties that have elected county-based purchasing; (2) under Minn. Stat. § 256B.692, DHS must pay a county-based purchasing entity that meets all statutory and regulatory requirements; and (3) under Minn. Stat. § 256B.69, subd. 3a(d), appellants were entitled to mediation.

The Court of Appeals held that (1) DHS may not avoid complying with the unambiguous language of Minn. Stat. § 256B.69, subd. 3a(c), which concerns county-based purchasing in relation to the state’s Medicaid program, by asserting that it has not received federal approval under Minn. Stat. § 256B.692, subd. 9, if the federal government has not definitively prohibited county-based purchasing, and the department has implemented county-based purchasing in the past; (2) there is no irreconcilable conflict between Minn. Stat. § 256B.694 and Minn. Stat. § 256B.69, subd. 3a(c), they can be read in harmony, and § 256B.694 does not give the department discretion as to whether to comply with the county-based purchasing requirements of § 256B.69, subd. 3a(c); and (3) under the unambiguous language of Minn. Stat. § 256B.69, subd. 3a(d), an entity created by a joint-powers agreement, executed by its member counties to engage in county-based purchasing, is entitled to mediation as set forth in subd. 3a(d). Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-1643 S. Country Health All. v. Minn. Dep’t of Human Servs. (Ramsey County)




Civil Nonprecedential


Domestic Relations

Child Custody; Best Interests

Appellant-father appealed the District Court’s order for custody, parenting time, and child support. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not err in either its physical-custody, parenting-time, child-support, attorney-fees, or tax-dependency-exemption decisions. Furthermore, mother was entitled to $6,380 in need-based attorney fees for this appeal because she satisfied the statutory requirements. Affirmed.

A22-1546 Adetifa v. Pay-Bayee (Hennepin County)



Domestic Relations

Dissolution; Property Valuation

In this appeal from a marriage-dissolution judgment and decree, appellant challenged the District Court’s valuation of marital property and award of spousal maintenance. Noting that the valuation was based on weighing the evidence presented by competing experts and assessing their credibility, the Court of Appeals deferred to the District Court’s weighing of the evidence and credibility determinations and found no clear error. Furthermore, the District Court’s maintenance determination logically considered the tax and stability benefits of respondent’s plan to purchase a home. Affirmed.

A22-1368 Tennebaum v. Deshpande (Hennepin County)



Domestic Relations

Grandparent Visitation; Common Law

On appeal from the dismissal of their petition for grandparent visitation, appellants argued that (1) the District Court erred in dismissing their petition for failure to state a claim for relief when they asserted a common-law right to grandparent visitation; and (2) the grandparent-visitation statute was unconstitutional because it violates the equal-protection clause. Noting that appellants conceded that they did not, and never did, stood in loco parentis to these children, the Court of Appeals concluded that, even if some vestige of a common law right of grandparent visitation continued to exist after enactment of Minn. Stat. § 257C.08, appellants did not fit within scope of that right. Furthermore, the constitutional challenge was not properly raised. Affirmed.

A22-1329 Greshowak v. Greshowak (Dakota County)



Drivers’ License Revocation

Traffic Stops

On appeal from the District Court’s order denying appellant’s petition to rescind the revocation of his driver’s license, appellant argued that the District Court erred in finding that the deputy had reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop appellant’s vehicle based on a police bulletin that a vehicle similar to appellant’s was involved in a crime. The Court of Appeals concluded that the stop was reasonable, noting that appellant’s vehicle was the same color, make, and model of the vehicle described in the bulletin. Affirmed.

A23-0518 Orth v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety (Cass County)




Likelihood of Success

In this dispute over ownership of property, appellant argued that the District Court abused its discretion by granting respondents’ motion for a temporary injunction and issuing the injunction without a bond. Respondents purchased the property at a sheriff’s sale, and appellant purported to redeem the property as a creditor based on a mechanic’s lien filed the same day he performed painting work and filed his notice to redeem. Noting that the peculiar chain of events raised doubts as to whether appellant’s mechanic’s lien was valid, the Court of Appeals concluded that appellant failed to show that the District Court abused its discretion by determining that a temporary injunction was necessary to prevent irreparable harm to respondents. Affirmed.

A22-1318 Stangel v. Whipple (Cass County)



Landlord & Tenant


Appealing from the dismissal of an eviction action, appellant-landlord argued the District Court erred by (1) excluding a criminal complaint from evidence, (2) declining to draw an adverse inference from respondent-tenant’s invocation of his Fifth Amendment rights when questioned about allegedly criminal conduct in the apartment, and (3) determining landlord failed to meet its burden by proving the grounds for eviction by a preponderance of the evidence. The Court of Appeals concluded that landlord waived its evidentiary argument and the District Court did not abuse its discretion in declining to draw an adverse inference against tenant. Affirmed.

A22-1707 981 Props., LLP v. Mulokozi (Hennepin County)



Legal Malpractice

Expert Affidavits

Appellant sued respondent-attorney alleging breach of fiduciary duty as part of a multi-claim lawsuit involving a business dispute. In the claim against respondent, appellant alleged that he and respondent had an attorney-client relationship and that respondent breached fiduciary duties owed to appellant by failing to disclose respondent’s financial and business interest in a lease agreement involving appellant’s business and by drafting an agreement that was objectively unfair to appellant. This case was already before the Minnesota Supreme Court and was here back on appeal on appellant’s challenge to the District Court’s second judgment dismissing his claim against respondent. The current judgment was based on the District Court’s determination that expert testimony was necessary to establish a prima facie case on the first two elements of appellant’s breach-of-fiduciary-duty legal-malpractice claim—the existence of an attorney-client relationship and a breach of the standard of conduct established by that relationship. Based on that determination, the District Court dismissed the claim against respondent because appellant did not provide an expert affidavit to establish a prima facie case on those elements as required by Minn. Stat. § 544.42.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court applied an incorrect legal standard in assessing whether expert testimony is required. The standard applied by the District Court—the medical-malpractice standard—was expressly rejected by the Minnesota Supreme Court in the prior appeal of this case. Mittelstaedt v. Henney, 969 N.W.2d 634 (Minn. 2022). Applying the correct legal standard to the particular facts presented here, the Court of Appeals concluded that expert testimony is not required to establish a prima facie case concerning the first two elements of the fiduciary-duty claim. Reversed and remanded.

A23-0112 Mittelstaedt v. Maxim Mgmt., LLC (St. Louis County)



Public Employment

Veteran Preference

Appellants are honorably discharged veterans. They were employed as detention deputies at the county jail until the county was forced to substantially decrease the capacity of the jail during the construction of a new facility. The county eliminated all detention deputy positions, created new temporary shift commander positions, and allowed the former detention deputies to apply for the new positions. Appellants requested veterans-preference hearings to challenge the elimination of their detention deputy positions. A hearing panel conducted a hearing and concluded that the county did not violate appellants’ veterans-preference rights because the county made the decision to eliminate the detention deputy positions in good faith. Appellants sought judicial review in the District Court, which upheld the hearing panel’s decision. The Court of Appeals concluded that substantial evidence supported the board’s finding that the county’s decision to eliminate the detention deputy positions was made in good faith. Affirmed.

A22-1811, A22-1812 Wemette v. County of Winona (Winona County)


Real Property Sales


Appellant challenged the District Court’s order prohibiting him from exercising the option to purchase farmland as provided in his parents’ trusts. Appellant argued the District Court erred when it: (1) deprived him of due process by not holding an evidentiary hearing, (2) made findings of fact not supported by the record, and (3) ruled that the time to accept the option expired before he exercised that option. The Court of Appeals concluded that appellant was not deprived of due process, that respondent’s verified petition and appellant’s concession supported the District Court’s findings of fact, and that the plain language of the trust instrument and caselaw demonstrated the option was triggered when father passed away. Affirmed.

A22-1347 Stephens v. Goodwin (Mower County)




Civil Order Opinions



Deemed Dismissals

Appellant challenged the District Court’s dismissal of her lawsuit against her former employer based on appellant’s failure to file her action within one year of commencing it, as required under Minn. R. Civ. P. 5.04(a). The Court of Appeals concluded that, because respondent consented to service by email on its attorney, service was effected and the action commenced when the summons and complaint was delivered to respondent’s attorney by email more than a year before the action was filed, and thus dismissal was warranted. Affirmed.

A23-0066 Rausch v. Padilla Speer Bearsley Inc. (Hennepin County)





Criminal Nonprecedential



Best Evidence Rule

Defendant challenged his convictions of first-degree assault and attempted second-degree intentional murder, arguing that the District Court abused its discretion by (1) permitting the state to present his statement to police through an officer’s testimony because the recording of the statement was the best evidence and (2) imposing an upward durational departure. Noting that defendant did not claim that the officer misrepresented his statements, only that in an ideal world the whole recording would be played for completeness, the Court of Appeals concluded that the best evidence rule did not require admission of the original recording as the officer had first-hand knowledge of the conversation. Furthermore, the aggravated sentence was not an abuse of discretion. Affirmed.

A22-1287 State v. Dahir (Hennepin County)



Fleeing Police

Sufficiency of the Evidence

In this direct appeal from the judgment of conviction for fleeing police in a motor vehicle, fourth-degree assault of a peace officer, and refusal to submit to a chemical test for allegedly driving while impaired (DWI), defendant argued (1) that the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he fled police and that he refused to submit to a DWI breath test, and (2) that the prosecutor committed misconduct in closing argument by injecting improper character evidence and aligning himself with the jury. Noting that defendant pointed to no record evidence supporting the inferences that someone else was driving the vehicle or that he did not know that the officer was trying to stop the vehicle, the Court of Appeals concluded that sufficient evidence supported the jury’s guilty verdicts and the prosecutor did not commit misconduct. Affirmed.

A22-1334 State v. Tavarez (Chisago County)



Investigatory Stops

Reasonable Articulable Suspicion

Defendant appealed directly from his conviction for second-degree burglary, challenging the District Court’s pretrial denial of his motion to suppress evidence against him. Noting that police had a detailed description of defendant and his female passenger, their vehicle, and reasonably inferred that defendant might be driving near his registered address approximately one-and-one-half hours after responding officers discovered his vehicle had departed from the scene of the crime, the Court of Appeals concluded that police had a reasonable articulable suspicion justifying an investigative stop of defendant, as the police’s failure to observe the occupants of the vehicle prior to an investigative stop did not vitiate reasonable articulable suspicion. Affirmed.

A22-1326 State v. Eckman (Cass County)




Juror Misconduct

A jury found defendant guilty of a controlled-substance crime based on evidence that he possessed methamphetamine. After the verdict, defendant moved for a Schwartz hearing and a new trial. The District Court denied the motion. The Court of Appeals concluded that defendant made a prima facie case of juror misconduct by showing that one juror failed to disclose a prior criminal conviction during voir dire, and thus, a Schwartz hearing was warranted. Reversed and remanded.

A22-1317 State v. Davis (Beltrami County)



Plea Withdrawal


In an appeal from the District Court’s denial of his second petition for postconviction relief, petitioner challenged the validity of his guilty plea to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. Petitioner argued his guilty plea was inaccurate given intervening caselaw. The Court of Appeals agreed that the factual basis of petitioner’s guilty plea did not establish that petitioner knew or had reason to know the victim was mentally incapacitated. However, petitioner’s plea-hearing testimony sufficiently established that petitioner knew or had reason to know the victim was physically helpless, an alternative means of committing the offense of conviction. Affirmed.

A23-0136 Rolack v. State (Dakota County)



Prosecutorial Misconduct

Plain Error

In this direct appeal of two convictions of domestic assault, defendant argued that he was entitled to a new trial because the prosecutor engaged in prejudicial misconduct. The Court of Appeals concluded that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct that constitutes plain error by asking “were they lying” questions, by improperly aligning the prosecution with the jury, and by commenting on defendant’s failure to present evidence, but concluded the errors did not affect defendant’s substantial rights, as the evidence against defendant was strong, the errors were not pervasive, even when considered together, and any cumulative pervasiveness of the prosecutor’s misconduct was off-set by defense counsel’s opportunity to rebut the prosecutor’s questions and comments and by the District Court’s curative jury instructions. Affirmed.

A22-1373 State v. Schwabe (Chisago County)




Downward Departures

The state filed this sentencing appeal after the District Court departed from the guidelines sentence for defendant’s conviction for failure to register as a predatory offender. The state argued that the District Court abused its discretion by imposing (1) a downward durational departure based on insufficient offense-related factors and (2) a downward dispositional departure based on insufficient offender-related factors. The Court of Appeals found no abuse of discretion, noting that the District Court’s finding that defendant proactively reported to the police to update his registration was a mitigating factor upon which the downward durational departure was properly based. Affirmed.

A23-0442 State v. Scheldrup (Itasca County)




Upward Departures

On appeal after remand of her sentence for second-degree murder of a nine-month old who was placed in defendant’s care, defendant argued that the District Court abused its discretion by imposing an upward durational departure to her sentence because (1) the jury did not find that she abused her position of trust or authority as a caregiver of the victim and (2) her brief delay in calling 911 did not constitute “particular cruelty.” The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court erred by making independent findings about the abuse and existence of defendant’s position of trust or authority, and that the particular-cruelty finding was not supported, requiring imposition of the presumptive sentence. Reversed and remanded.

A22-1838 State v. Baldwin (Hennepin County)



Criminal Order Opinions


Exoneration Compensation


In this second appeal related to exoneration compensation for appellant, whose conviction for first-degree DWI was vacated by the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals concluded that, because appellant’s claim of innocence was not restricted to or based on facts and instead turned on an issue of legal significance—the requirement to prove a necessary element of the charged offense—he failed to establish any evidence of factual innocence. In so doing, the Court overruled its prior decision in this matter. Affirmed.

A22-1747 Smith v. State (Mille Lacs County)




Probation Revocation

Need for Confinement

Defendant appealed from the District Court’s order revoking his probation for theft of a motor vehicle. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court failed to convey its reasons for revocation and the evidence relied upon, as it did not provide a case-specific analysis of the third Austin factor and the Modtland subfactors. Reversed and remanded.

A23-0319 State v. McMillan (Carlton County)





Single Behavioral Incident

On appeal from convictions for two gross-misdemeanor driving-while-impaired (DWI) offenses for driving while under the influence of alcohol and driving with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court was not permitted to enter judgments of conviction for both crimes. Reversed and remanded.

A23-0227 State v. Klaysmat (St. Louis County)

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