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Court of Appeals Digest: Sept. 25, 2023

Minnesota Lawyer//September 28, 2023//

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

Court of Appeals Digest: Sept. 25, 2023

Minnesota Lawyer//September 28, 2023//

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Civil Precedential



Charter Schools

In this certiorari appeal, relator challenged a decision by the commissioner of education ordering a downward adjustment to the amount of state education aid received by relator after an audit by respondent Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) found that relator had overreported the number of students attending its charter school. Relator principally argued that MDE lacked authority to conduct the audit and order adjustments to relator’s state aid because (1) MDE conducted the audit under Minn. Stat. § 127A.41, subd. 3, which relator contended was inapplicable to charter schools, and (2) the audit was an investigation of a violation of law that MDE could only pursue under a different statutory provision, Minn. Stat. § 127A.42. In the alternative, relator argued that the commissioner’s decision to reduce relator’s state aid was arbitrary and not supported by substantial evidence.

The Court of Appeals held that (1) Minn. Stat. § 127A.41, subd. 3, when read in conjunction with § 124E.16, subd. 1(a), authorizes the commissioner of education to conduct audits of charter school records “for the purpose of verifying” pupil counts and state aid entitlements; and (2) the authority of the commissioner under § 127A.41, subd. 3, to conduct audits and to order “increases or decreases” in state aid based on audit results is separate from and is not limited by the authority of the commissioner to “reduce or withhold” state aid for violations of law under § 127A.42. Affirmed.

A23-0064 Minn. Internship Ctr. v. Minn. Dep’t of Educ. (Minn. Dep’t of Educ.)




Civil Nonprecedential


Domestic Relations

Parenting Time; Modification

Appellant-father challenged a District Court order declined to modify the approach for calculating income for child support and modifying the vacation schedule. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion by altering the vacation provision to disallow vacation during the child’s winter break from school, did not abuse its broad discretion in deciding parenting time questions, and did not err by making the child-support obligation retroactive to the date of father’s motion. Affirmed.

A22-1203 Brandt-Rucker v. Rucker (Olmsted County)



Domestic Relations

Parenting Time; Reunification Therapy

Appellant challenged the District Court’s order denying his motion for reunification therapy and reinstatement of parenting time with his child, arguing that the District Court abused its discretion by denying the motion without an evidentiary hearing. Noting that appellant never requested an evidentiary hearing, either by motion as mandated by rule or at any other time, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion by not holding an evidentiary hearing absent such a request. Affirmed.

A22-1513 Walker v. Elavsky (Hennepin County)




Selection of Contractor

Appellant was injured when the truck he was driving collided with a truck driven by driver, an employee of hauler, which was hired by respondent to haul sugar beets. Appellant and his wife sued respondent and its owner, alleging a claim of negligent selection of an independent contractor. The District Court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court did not err by granting the motion because appellants’ theory was not recognized by Minnesota law and, furthermore, because there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether respondent negligently selected hauler to be an independent contractor. Affirmed.

A22-1796 Alonzo v. Menholt (Clay County)





Appellants challenged an order requiring the current trustees of two related trusts to decide how to apportion respondent-trustee’s costs, disbursements, and fees. Appellants first contested certain factual findings made by the District Court. Second, appellants argued that the District Court erroneously failed to limit its order only to the trust that respondent-trustee was appointed to administer. The Court of Appeals concluded that, because the record reasonably supported a finding that an investigation was required for trustee to fulfill his court-appointed duties, it was not left with the firm conviction that the District Court made a mistake. Additionally, in the absence of an explanation of how appellants were prejudiced by the District Court order directing apportionment of fees between the trusts, the Court declined to conclude the order was inequitable. Affirmed.

A23-0197 Wilson v. Schwagerl Family Farm, LLC (In re Schwagerl Trust) (Big Stone County)




Criminal Nonprecedential



Sufficiency of the Evidence

Defendant challenged his judgments of conviction for first- and second-degree burglary along with the sentence imposed. Defendant raised four issues: (1) whether the record evidence was sufficient to support his convictions; (2) whether his convictions should be reversed and remanded for a new trial because the prosecutor committed plain, prejudicial misconduct during closing argument by referring to facts not in evidence; (3) whether the District Court erred in calculating defendant’s criminal-history score; and (4) whether the District Court erred by convicting defendant of a lesser-included offense. The Court of Appeals concluded that evidence that defendant stood outside the victim’s house, kicked open a locked interior door, and kicked the damaged door and splintered the doorframe, sending pieces of wood into the home, before walking in the home, was sufficient to support his burglary convictions. Furthermore, the prosecuting attorney did not commit prejudicial misconduct during closing arguments. However, the District Court erred in calculating defendant’s criminal-history score and by convicting defendant of two counts of burglary. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

A22-1341 State v. West (Chippewa County)



Failure to Register

Knowing Violation

Defendant argued that the state failed to present sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knowingly violated Minn. Stat. § 243.166 by failing to register as a predatory offender. Defendant contested that he did not knowingly violate the registration requirement by regularly or occasionally staying at an unreported apartment overnight. The Court of Appeals concluded that the circumstances proved supported the District Court’s implied rejection of defendant’s testimony that he only stayed overnight at his primary residence. Affirmed.

A22-1474 State v. Carlson (Polk County)



Postconviction Relief

Motions to Correct Sentence

Defendant argued that the District Court erred when it treated his motion to correct his sentence as a time-barred petition for postconviction relief. Then, assuming his motion was timely, he argued that his sentence was not authorized by law because it was based on an incorrect criminal-history score. Noting that the record indicated the state made clear that it would be seeking a 432-month sentence in exchange for forgoing a possible Blakely enhancement, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court therefore properly construed the motion as a time-barred petition for postconviction relief. Affirmed.

A23-0045 Gilles v. State (Stearns County)




Criminal Order Opinions


Postconviction Relief

Newly Discovered Evidence

In this appeal from the denial of petitioner’s tenth postconviction petition, in which petitioner asserted that a PSI was newly discovered evidence, the Court of Appeals found no error, noting that petitioner was present when the District Court ordered a PSI following the verdict at trial. Affirmed.

A23-0283 Lowe v. State (Hennepin County)

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