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Court of Appeals Digest: Sept. 5, 2023

Minnesota Lawyer//September 7, 2023

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

Court of Appeals Digest: Sept. 5, 2023

Minnesota Lawyer//September 7, 2023

Civil Precedential


Personal Jurisdiction

Specific Jurisdiction

The State sued appellant claiming that appellant—along with six other defendants—owned, rented, and managed over 600 rental properties in Minnesota. The amended complaint alleged that the defendants sought to profit from lease agreements by intentionally failing to make promised repairs on their rental properties. Appellant appealed the District Court’s denial of its motion to dismiss the amended complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(b). Appellant is a nonresident, private-investment-management firm that focuses on residential real estate; its principal place of business is in New York. Appellant owns property-management firms that control and operate many Minnesota rental homes. Appellant offered evidence in support of its motion to dismiss, arguing that its limited contacts with Minnesota postdated the statutory violations alleged in the complaint and were remedial, and therefore, they did not subject it to specific personal jurisdiction in Minnesota.

The Court of Appeals held that (1) a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction is properly denied on claims asserted by the state against a nonresident defendant with interests in Minnesota rental homes when the state presents prima facie evidence that the defendant held itself out as the owner of the homes and had multiple contacts with Minnesota related to maintenance of the homes that were of such a nature, quantity, and quality that the defendant could expect to be subject to suit in Minnesota; and (2) when specific evidence of a nonresident defendant’s contacts with Minnesota tends to prove, if accepted as true, that the nonresident’s contacts continued the wrongful conduct alleged in the complaint, this evidence may be considered in determining specific personal jurisdiction, even if the same contacts may also be viewed as remedial. Affirmed.

A23-0244 State by Ellison v. HavenBrook Homes, LLC (Ramsey County)



Civil Nonprecedential


Domestic Relations

Child Protection; CHIPS

In this appeal from a child-in-need-of-protection-or-services (CHIPS) proceeding, mother argued that the District Court (1) abused its discretion by admitting hearsay; (2) made several clearly erroneous findings of fact; and (3) erred by adjudicating the child as CHIPS. The Court of Appeals concluded that any alleged error by the District Court admitting testimony of a child protection special investigator as an opposing-party statement did not prejudice mother, the only erroneous finding of fact was harmless, and there was no abuse of discretion in adjudicating child as CHIPS. Affirmed.

A23-0270 In re Welfare of Children of J.C.H. (Clay County)



Domestic Relations

Dissolution; Judgments

Appellant challenged the District Court’s order vacating a judgment arising from a 2006 marital-dissolution judgment and decree and denying her motion for need-based attorney fees. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not err in ruling that appellant’s judgment had expired under the ten-year statute of limitation. But the District Court did not make findings related to appellant’s motion for need-based attorney fees. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A23-0330 Chazin v. Chazin (Hennepin County)


Real Property Sales

Required Disclosures

Appellant challenged summary judgment dismissing his statutory nondisclosure, misrepresentation, and contract claims arising from his purchase of a methamphetamine-contaminated home from respondent. Concluding that a home’s association with methamphetamine is a material fact that could adversely and significantly affect an ordinary buyer’s use and enjoyment of the property, the Court of Appeals held that evidence that respondent was told the home was associated with methamphetamine use—to the extent he himself referred to it as a “meth house”—presented issues for the jury as to whether respondent violated the general disclosure statute, misrepresented the completeness of his disclosure statement, and breached the purchase agreement. Reversed and remanded.

A23-0279 Dowd v. Slordal (St. Louis County)



Unemployment Benefits

Employment Misconduct

Relator appealed from the determination of an unemployment-law judge that he was ineligible for unemployment benefits because he was discharged for employment misconduct. Noting testimony from respondent’s owner that relator’s conduct included making inappropriate comments to female customers, engaging in a verbal altercation with a warehouse employee, bringing a female customer into an employees-only produce cooler, confronting and threatening another employee for speaking to owner about relator’s behavior, and leaving work early on a busy holiday when he was scheduled to work until close, the Court of Appeals concluded that substantial evidence supported the unemployment-law judge’s factual findings and the relator’s conduct constituted employment misconduct under the law. Affirmed.

A22-1253 Vang v. Mo’s Tropical Market (Dep’t of Emp’t & Econ. Dev.)




Conditional Use Permits

Relator county applied to respondent neighboring county board of commissioners for a conditional use permit (CUP) to install a subsurface tile outlet that would draw water downstream from a lake to stabilize high water levels and prevent roadway flooding. The board granted county’s application, and county now appealed by writ of certiorari. County contended that the board lacked authority to issue the CUP because (1) the proposed use was permitted, not conditional, and (2) the CUP application was not reviewed by the board’s Planning Advisory Commission before approval. Alternatively, county argued that the conditions of the CUP were unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious, and unsupported by the record. The board responded that county’s appeal was not properly before the court because county failed to exhaust the remedies provided under the applicable ordinance. The Court of Appeals concluded that the board had authority to issue the CUP, but the second condition of the CUP, which required county to commit to a road construction project, was unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious, and unsupported by the record. Furthermore, the Court rejected the board’s exhaustion argument. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A23-0159 In re Stevens County for Conditional Use Permit (Grant County Bd. of Comm’rs)



Civil Order Opinions


Real Property

Marketable Title

On remand from the Supreme Court after vacation of a published opinion involving a dispute over the interests of appellant-landowners and respondent-township in the portions of unopened, platted streets abutting landowners’ lots, the Court of Appeals concluded that the Minnesota Marketable Title Act (MTA) did not operate to extinguish the township’s interest in the disputed streets. Additionally, the District Court abused its discretion by implicitly determining that the township was not the prevailing party and denying costs and disbursements on that basis. Affirmed in part and reversed in part.

A21-1714 Lundstrom v. Twp. of Florence (Goodhue County)



Criminal Precedential




On appeal from his convictions for one count of second-degree intentional murder and one count of second-degree unintentional murder while committing a felony, defendant argued that the District Court abused its discretion in awarding restitution to the Minnesota Crime Victims Reparations Board (CVRB) on behalf of the crime victim without reducing that award to account for private funds donated for the benefit of the crime victim and otherwise erred in not including a payment schedule in its final restitution order.

The Court of Appeals held that (1) Minn. Stat. § 611A.54 applies only to the issuance of reparations, not restitution; and (2) Minn. Stat. § 611A.045, subd. 2a, requires a District Court to include in every restitution order a payment schedule or structure. Affirmed in part and remanded.

A23-0213 State v. Cotton (Hennepin County)




Criminal Nonprecedential


Criminal Sexual Conduct

Position of Authority

Defendant argued that (1) he was entitled to a new trial because the District Court committed reversible error by admitting the victim’s out-of-court testimonial statement in violation of defendant’s confrontation rights and (2) his conviction of first-degree criminal sexual conduct must be reversed for insufficient evidence because he was not in a position of authority over the victim, who was the teenage daughter of his neighbor. The Court of Appeals concluded that the evidence was insufficient to prove that defendant was in a position of authority over the victim, noting that there was no evidence in the record that defendant was acting in the place of the victim’s parent or was charged with or assumed any of the rights, duties, or responsibilities for the health, welfare, or supervision of the victim. However, the introduction of the victim’s recorded Cornerhouse interview did not violate defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights, as the jury had the opportunity to observe the victim’s demeanor under cross-examination. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-1235 State v. Mueller (Morrison County)




Excited Utterances

A jury found defendant guilty of third-degree criminal sexual conduct based on evidence that he engaged in sexual penetration of a woman while she was asleep. Defendant argued, inter alia, that the District Court erred by admitting the three body-cam video-recordings under the excited-utterance exception to the hearsay rule. Noting the District Court’s specific findings about the victim’s actual demeanor at the time of the out-of-court statements, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion by ruling that the three video-recordings are admissible under the excited-utterance exception to the hearsay rule, even though it did not expressly state that the victim’s out-of-court statements were made in response to an officer’s questions, which was obvious from the video-recordings. Affirmed.

A22-1146 State v. Robinson (Hennepin County)



Ineffective Assistance of Counsel


A jury found petitioner guilty of second-degree intentional murder, second-degree murder while committing assault with a dangerous weapon, first-degree assault, and second-degree arson for his role in the shooting of two individuals and in a related vehicular arson, and his conviction was affirmed in a prior appeal. Petitioner here appealed the District Court’s denial of his petition for postconviction relief without a hearing, arguing, inter alia, that his appellate counsel was ineffective for not properly raising his Sixth Amendment claim that his right to an impartial jury was violated. The Court of Appeals concluded that, because the record included no evidence on which the District Court would ever conduct a Schwartz hearing, petitioner’s appellate counsel in the direct appeal was not ineffective for having failed to argue that the District Court abused its discretion by not holding one. Affirmed.

A22-1848 White v. State (Benton County)



Plea Withdrawal

Manifest Injustice

Petitioner challenged the District Court’s denial of his petition for postconviction relief without an evidentiary hearing, arguing that new exculpatory witness statements support withdrawal of his guilty plea to first-degree criminal sexual conduct to correct a manifest injustice. The Court of Appeals concluded that it had no authority to exercise supervisory powers over the District Court reserved to the Supreme Court. Affirmed.

A23-0189 Davis v. State (Itasca County)



Probation Revocation

Need for Confinement

Defendant challenged the revocation of his probation for first-degree driving while impaired (DWI), arguing that the District Court abused its discretion when it found that the need for defendant’s confinement outweighed the policies favoring probation. Noting that defendant did not follow the District Court’s orders to complete a chemical-dependency assessment and to remain law abiding, the Court of Appeals found no abuse of discretion. Affirmed.

A23-0306 State v. English (Beltrami County)



Prosecutorial Misconduct

Burden Shifting

A jury found defendant guilty on two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct because he molested his nine-year-old daughter. Defendant moved the District Court for a downward dispositional departure from the presumptive sentence under the sentencing guidelines. The District Court denied the motion, entered convictions on both counts, and sentenced defendant on one. Defendant cited three alleged errors on appeal: improper burden shifting by the prosecutor; improper denial of his departure motion; and the improper entry of two convictions. The Court of Appeals concluded that the prosecutor’s comments on defendant’s silence did not improperly shift the burden or otherwise involve defendant’s constitutional right to silence. And the District Court did not abuse its discretion by denying the motion for a downward dispositional sentencing departure. However, the District Court wrongly entered convictions on both counts. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-1581 State v. Bartz (Carlton County)



Warrantless Searches

Dog Sniffs

Defendant argued that the District Court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence discovered in his vehicle because law enforcement lacked the necessary reasonable, articulable suspicion to conduct a drug-dog sniff. Noting that the record demonstrated that each identified fact was independently weak and did little to substantiate an objectively reasonable basis to infer that illegal drugs were in the vehicle, and that the circumstances were also insufficient in their totality to constitute reasonable, articulable suspicion of present, drug-related criminal activity, the Court of Appeals concluded that the objective facts did not establish reasonable, articulable suspicion to infer that drugs were in the vehicle. Reversed.

A22-1436 State v. Garding (Wright County)

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