EN BANC CALENDAR
SUMMARY OF ISSUES
Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office
Monday, April 6, 2009, 9:00 a.m.
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol
McLane Minnesota, Inc., Relator vs. Commissioner of Revenue, Respondent – Case No. A08-1632: Relator McLane Minnesota, Inc., distributes tobacco products to grocery and convenience stores in Minnesota and seven other states. McLane purchases most of its tobacco products from UST Sales and Conwood Sales. UST Sales in turn purchases tobacco products from UST Manufacturing, a related entity; Conwood Sales purchases tobacco products from Conwood Manufacturing, also a related entity. In June 2005, McLane filed for refund of taxes paid on its purchases of tobacco products between 2002 and 2005. McLane claimed that it had erroneously calculated the tobacco products tax on the prices it paid to purchase tobacco products, rather than on the prices paid by UST Sales and Conwood Sales to purchase tobacco products from the respective manufacturers. Minnesota Statutes § 297F.05, subd. 3 (2008), imposes a tax on tobacco products “at the rate of 35 percent of the wholesale sales price of the tobacco products.” “Wholesale price” is defined in Minn. Stat. § 297F.01, subd. 23 (2008). Until June 30, 2003, section 297F.01, subd. 23, defined “wholesale price” as “the established price for which a manufacturer or person sells a tobacco product to a distributor, exclusive of any discount or other reduction.” Effective July 1, 2003, subdivision 23 was amended to define “wholesale sales price” as “the price stated on the price list in effect at the time of sale for which a manufacturer or person sells a tobacco product to a distributor, exclusive of any discount, promotional offer, or other reduction.” Subdivision 23 further defines “price list” as “the manufacturer’s price at which tobacco products are made available for sale to all distributors on an ongoing basis.” The Commissioner of Revenue denied McLane’s request for a refund of tobacco products taxes paid; the Minnesota Tax Court affirmed. Two questions are presented by McLane’s appeal: (1) whether the base for calculation of the tobacco products tax is the manufacturer’s list price or the list price of McLane’s suppliers; and (2) whether calculation of the tobacco products tax based on the list price of McLane’s suppliers imposes an undue burden on interstate commerce, in violation of the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. (Minnesota Tax Court)
David Lee Laase, Respondent vs. 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe, Appellant – Case No. A07-2023: In May 2006, Jean Laase, wife of respondent David Laase, pleaded guilty to refusal to submit to chemical testing. At the time of her arrest, Jean Laase was driving a 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe. Isanti County sought forfeiture of the Tahoe under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 6(a) (2008). Under section 169A.63, a vehicle is subject to forfeiture if it was used in conduct resulting in the revocation of a drivers license for, among other things, refusal to submit to chemical testing. The Tahoe is registered in the names of both Jean and David Laase. David Laase challenged the forfeiture under the “innocent owner” defense of Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 7(d) (2008). Subdivision 7(d) provides that a vehicle is not subject to forfeiture “if its owner can demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the owner did not have actual or constructive knowledge that the vehicle would be used or operated in any manner contrary to law or that the owner took reasonable steps to prevent use of the vehicle by the offender.” Subdivision 1(h) of section 169A.63 provides that, if the vehicle is owned jointly by two or more people, “each owner’s interest extends to the whole of the vehicle and is not subject to apportionment.” The district court denied the county’s motion for forfeiture of the Tahoe, finding that David Laase had established by clear and convincing evidence that he had not known that Jean Laase intended to consume alcohol. The court of appeals affirmed. The question for the supreme court is whether the “innocent owner” defense of section 169A.63 applies when the vehicle is jointly registered. (Isanti County)
Tuesday, April 7, 2009, 10:00 a.m.
University of St. Thomas Law School
State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Amani Jamalludin Fardan, Appellant – Case No. A08-1425: Appellant Amani Jamalludin Fardan was convicted after a jury trial of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, the sentence to run consecutively to a 486-month sentence imposed earlier for robbery, kidnapping, assault, burglary, and rape committed after the murder. On appeal to the supreme court from his murder conviction, Fardan presents five issues for the court’s consideration: (1) whether Fardan’s conviction for first-degree felony murder must be reversed because the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he intended to kill the victim; (2) whether the district court erred by admitting Fardan’s statement to police because the state failed to prove that Fardan validly waived his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966); (3) whether the district court’s decision to admit evidence of other crimes Fardan committed after the murder deprived Fardan of his right to a fair trial; (4) whether the district court’s decision to impose a life sentence to run consecutively to Fardan’s 486-month sentence for subsequent felonies made the life sentence disproportionate to the offense and unfairly exaggerated his criminality; and (5) whether the district court erred by adjudicating Fardan guilty of first-degree murder while committing first-degree aggravated robbery, as well as the lesser offenses of intentional second-degree murder and first-degree aggravated robbery. (Hennepin County)
Wednesday, April 8, 2009, 9:00 a.m.
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol
State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Myon Demarlo Burrell, Appellant – Case No. A08-1271: Appellant Myon Burrell was convicted in 2003 of first-degree murder and first-degree murder committed for the benefit of a gang and sentenced to life plus 12 months in prison. The supreme court reversed his conviction and remanded for a new trial. State v. Burrell, 697 N.W.2d 579 (Minn. 2005). On remand, Burrell was again convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree murder committed for the benefit of a gang and sentenced to life in prison plus 60 months. On appeal from that conviction, Burrell presents the following issues: (1) whether the district court erred by admitting, over Burrell’s objections, evidence of four earlier instances in which Burrell allegedly shot at members of rival gangs; (2) whether the district court erred in admitting, over Burrell’s objections, testimony by an expert on gangs as to certain aspects of their activities; (3) whether the district court erred by admitting the testimony given by a witness, who died before the second trial, before the grand jury that indicted Burrell; and (4) whether the district court erred in imposing a sentence more onerous than that imposed after Burrell’s first trial. (Hennepin County)
State of Minnesota, Appellant vs. Sara Ruth Peck, Respondent – Case No. A08-579: During a search of the home of respondent Sara Peck, narcotics agents discovered a glass bong containing 37.17 grams of a pink fruity-smelling liquid. The liquid tested positive for the presence of methamphetamine. Peck was charged with first-degree controlled substance crime under Minn. Stat. § 152.021, subd. 2(1) (2008). Subdivision 2(1) of section 152.021 makes it first-degree controlled substance crime to possess “one or more mixtures of a total weight of 25 grams or more containing cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine.” “Mixture” is defined in Minn. Stat. § 152.01, subd. 9a (2008), as “a preparation, compound, mixture, or substance containing a controlled substance, regardless of purity.” A narcotics officer testified at the omnibus hearing that drug users may drink water from a meth bong or inject it intravenously. The district court granted Peck’s motion to dismiss the first-degree possession charge, noting that a water-filled bong is used “to cool hot vapors before inhaling the controlled substance” rather than to mix or combine the controlled substance with water to form a compound. The court of appeals affirmed. The issue before the supreme court is whether the combined weight of the water and the methamphetamine in the bong found in Peck’s home is sufficient to support a charge of first-degree possession of a controlled substance. (Rice County)
Thursday, April 9, 2009
EN BANC NONORAL: In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Vang Pao Lee, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 308614 – Case No. A07-1902: An attorney discipline case that presents the question of what discipline, if any, is appropriate under the facts of the matter.
EN BANC NONORAL: In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Sungtaek Cho, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 338461 – Case No. A07-1591: An attorney discipline case that presents the question of what discipline, if any, is appropriate under the facts of the matter.
EN BANC NONORAL: In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Joshua Lee Kammerer, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 295061 – Case No. A07-1856: An attorney discipline case that presents the question of what discipline, if any, is appropriate under the facts of the matter.
Monday, April 13, 2009, 9:00 a.m.
EN BANC NONORAL: Otha Eric Townsend, petitioner, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A08-1664: Appellant Otha Townsend was convicted of first-degree murder; his conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. State v. Townsend, 546 N.W.2d 292 (Minn. 1996). In this, Townsend’s fourth petition for post-conviction relief, Townsend claimed the district court erred in admitting evidence of another crime he had allegedly committed. The district court denied Townsend’s petition, without an evidentiary hearing, as barred under State v. Knaffla, 309 Minn. 246, 243 N.W.2d 737 (1976). On appeal to the supreme court, the question is whether Townsend’s petition, together with the files and records of the proceeding, conclusively showed that Townsend was entitled to no relief. (Ramsey County)
EN BANC NONORAL: David James Doppler, petitioner, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A08-1782: Appellant David Doppler was convicted of first-degree murder; his conviction and the district court’s denial of Doppler’s first petition for post-conviction relief were affirmed on appeal. State v. Doppler, 590 N.W.2d 627 (Minn. 1999). The district court’s denial of Doppler’s second petition for post-conviction relief was also affirmed on appeal. Doppler v. State, 660 N.W.2d 797 (Minn. 2003). In 2007, Doppler filed a third petition for post-conviction relief, claiming his conviction was based on an inaccurate confession and failed to take into account his intoxication on the night of the murder. Doppler also claimed he was entitled to a new trial based upon newly-discovered evidence. The district court conducted a limited evidentiary hearing after which it denied Doppler’s petition and motion for new trial. On appeal to the supreme court from that denial, Doppler presents the following issues: (1) whether evidence of another man’s role in the murder is newly-discovered evidence that requires a new trial; (2) whether the district court properly limited the scope of the evidentiary hearing on Doppler’s third post-conviction petition; (3) whether the evidence presented at the hearing proved the testimony of a witness at trial was false; and (4) whether the newly-discovered evidence demonstrates that Doppler is innocent of the murder. (Crow Wing County)
Tuesday, April 14, 2009, 9:00 a.m.
Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center
Midwest Pipe Insulation, Inc., d/b/a MPI, Inc., Respondent vs. MD Mechanical, Inc., Defendant, Minneapolis Pipefitters Union, Local 539, Appellant – Case No. A07-1706: In June 2006, respondent Midwest Pipe Insulation, Inc., submitted a bid to defendant MD Mechanical, Inc., for work on a new elementary school in the St. Michael-Albertville school district. Midwest Pipe’s bid was accepted but MD Mechanical later withdrew the contract, allegedly under pressure from appellant Local 539 of the Minneapolis Pipefitters Union. In May 2007, Midwest Pipe filed suit against MD Mechanical and Local 539, alleging that MD Mechanical’s withdrawal of the contract was in response to a threat by the union to withhold funds promised to MD Mechanical under a “market recovery program” if it awarded the contract to a contractor that would use union labor. Midwest Pipe’s complaint alleged that the union’s market recovery program violated the federal Davis-Bacon Act, 40 U.S.C. §§ 3141-48 (Supp. II 2002), to the extent that it was funded by deductions from employees’ wages paid on federal construction projects subject to the Davis-Bacon Act, and amounted to unfair competition and tortious interference with its contract with MD Mechanical. The Davis-Bacon Act requires that workers on federal construction projects be paid the prevailing wage “without subsequent deduction or rebate on any account.” 40 U.S.C. § 3142 (c)(1). The district court dismissed Midwest Pipe’s complaint as preempted by the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 151-69 (2000), under the United States Supreme Court’s decision in San Diego Building Trades Council Local 2620 v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236 (1959). The court of appeals reversed and reinstated the complaint. The issue before the supreme court is whether Midwest Pipe’s claims of tortious interference and unfair competition against Local 539 are preempted by federal labor law. (Hennepin County)
State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Don Jones, Appellant – Case No. A07-1168: Appellant Don Jones was charged with three felony counts of forgery and theft by swindle. Jones’s application for a public defender was denied on financial grounds and Jones’s trial was delayed several times to allow him to retain counsel. Jones ultimately appeared for trial without counsel and was convicted on all three counts. His convictions were affirmed on appeal by the court of appeals. On appeal to the supreme court, four questions are presented: (1) whether the district court erred in denying Jones’s application for a public defender; (2) whether Jones effectively waived his right to counsel by his conduct; (3) whether the district court erred in not appointing standby or advisory counsel for Jones; and (4) whether Jones’s convictions should be reversed due to prosecutorial misconduct. (Scott County)
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
EN BANC NONORAL: HealthEast, Relator, University of Minnesota Physicians, Intervenor vs. County of Ramsey, Respondent – Case No. A08-2190: Relator HealthEast owns the Bethesda Clinic, which it leases to intervenor University of Minnesota Physicians. Respondent Ramsey County assessed real property taxes against the clinic for the years 2002, 2003, and 2004, which the Minnesota Tax Court affirmed over HealthEast’s claim that the property was exempt from taxation under Minn. Stat. § 273.19 (2008). Under section 273.19, subd. 1, tax-exempt property that is leased to another is considered for tax purposes as the property of the person holding it. But section 273.19 limits the property that may be considered under that provision to property owned by, among others, “any religious, scientific, or benevolent society or institution.” HealthEast argued that it qualified as a “benevolent society or institution” because the HealthEast system, of which it is a part, operates four hospitals and several healthcare clinics. The supreme court held that before determining that the property was exempt under section 273.19, the tax court should have considered whether the separate legal status of HealthEast could be disregarded because HealthEast could have no purpose or existence apart from the operations of the larger HealthEast care system. HealthEast vs. County of Ramsey, 749 N.W.2d 15 (Minn. 2008). On remand, the tax court determined that HealthEast had not met its burden to show that it had no purpose or existence apart from the larger HealthEast care system, and therefore the property at issue did not qualify as the property of a “benevolent society or institution” under Minn. Stat. § 273.19. Three questions are before the supreme court: (1) whether the tax court erred in holding that the separate legal status of an entity with only de minimis revenue from outside sources cannot be disregarded; (2) whether the tax court erred in determining that HealthEast had a purpose or existence apart from the HealthEast care system by virtue of HealthEast’s relationship with the HealthEast Foundation, the HealthEast employee pension fund, and Portico HealthNet; and (3) whether the tax court erred in determining that HealthEast had a purpose or existence apart from the HealthEast care system by virtue of its leasing of the Bethesda Clinic to intervenor University of Minnesota Physicians. (Minnesota Tax Court)
EN BANC NONORAL: Timothy Patrick Chambers, petitioner, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A08-1588: Appellant Timothy Chambers was convicted of first-degree murder, and his conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. State v. Chambers, 589 N.W.2d 466 (Minn. 1999). In 2007, Chambers petitioned for post-conviction relief, citing ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel. Chambers also claimed that the district court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on lesser-included offenses and in admitting post-mortem photographs of the victim. Finally, Chambers claimed that he had been denied the right to counsel and due process during officers’ questioning of him at the hospital after the incident. The district court denied Chambers’s petition without an evidentiary hearing. The issue before the supreme court is whether Chambers’s petition, together with the files and proceedings in the case, conclusively showed that Chambers was not entitled to relief. (Rice County)