EN BANC CALENDAR
SUMMARY OF ISSUES
Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office
Monday, April 4, 2011
Judicial Center, Courtroom 300
State of Minnesota, Respondent v. Danny Ortega, Sr., Appellant – Case No. A10-765: Appellant Danny Ortega was convicted after a jury trial of first-degree murder. On appeal from that conviction, two issues are presented: (1) whether the district court committed reversible error by admitting statements Ortega made to police after he invoked his right to counsel; and (2) whether the trial court committed prejudicial error by allowing the prosecutor to ask individual jurors during voir dire whether they thought there was anything more valuable than human life. (Dodge County)
State of Minnesota, Appellant v. Michael James Ferguson, Respondent – Case No. A10-540: Respondent Michael Ferguson was convicted after a jury trial of one count of drive-by shooting toward an occupied building and eight counts of second-degree assault, which was one count for each of the building’s occupants. The district court imposed an aggregate sentence of 75 months by sentencing Ferguson on each of the assault convictions but not on the drive-by-shooting conviction. Ferguson appealed his convictions and sentence to the court of appeals, which affirmed his convictions but reversed and remanded for resentencing in light of State v. Franks, 765 N.W.2d 86 (Minn. 2009). The court concluded that the district court had erred because it had not sentenced Ferguson on the drive-by-shooting conviction, which was the most serious of the offenses. The court of appeals also ruled that on remand, Ferguson’s new sentence could not exceed his initial total sentence of 75 months.
On remand, the district court sentenced Ferguson on all nine convictions to a total sentence of 75 months. Ferguson received: a 39-month sentence for the drive-by-shooting conviction, which was a downward durational departure; seven 36-month sentences for seven of the assault convictions, to be served concurrently with each other and the drive-by-shooting sentence; and one 36-month sentence on the remaining assault conviction, to be served consecutively to the drive-by-shooting sentence. The court of appeals vacated Ferguson’s sentences on all of his assault convictions and remanded for Ferguson to be resentenced on the drive-by-shooting conviction to a sentence of not more than 75 months.
On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether Minn. Stat. § 609.035 (2010) permitted the district court to sentence Ferguson on eight of his nine convictions because there were eight victims to Ferguson’s crimes; and (2) whether the court of appeals erred by reversing Ferguson’s sentence for drive-by-shooting because the State did not file a notice of appeal to challenge that sentence and waived any challenge to that sentence. (Ramsey County)
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol
City of St. Paul, Respondent v. William A. Eldredge, Appellant, Nancy Dudley Kelly, et al., Respondents – Case No. A10‑528: Appellant William Eldredge is employed as a firefighter by respondent City of St. Paul. Eldredge also is a veteran entitled to protection under the Veterans Preference Act (VPA), Minn. Stat. § 197.46 (2010). In February 2009, the City sent Eldredge a notice of intent to terminate his employment. Pursuant to the VPA, Eldredge requested a hearing before the St. Paul Civil Service Commission. On July 31, 2009, the Commission granted Eldredge’s motion for summary disposition and dismissed the termination proceeding.
On September 18, 2009, which was 49 days after the Commission’s order, the City petitioned the district court for a writ of certiorari under Minn. Stat. § 484.01, subd. 2 (2010), which provides a 60-day period to seek judicial review of a final decision or order of a civil service commission. The district court issued a writ of certiorari. Eldredge moved to dismiss the writ, asserting that the proceeding was governed by the VPA and that the City’s request for judicial review was untimely under the 15-day appeal period in Minn. Stat. § 197.46. The district court granted Eldredge’s motion to dismiss. The court of appeals reversed the district court’s order granting Eldredge’s motion to dismiss.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the VPA’s 15-day limitations period applies to the City’s appeal of the Commission’s order. (Ramsey County)
State of Minnesota, Respondent v. Keonne Alexander Palmer, Appellant – Case No. A10-1356: Appellant Keonne Palmer was convicted after a court trial of first-degree premeditated murder. On appeal from that conviction, Palmer argues that his conviction for first-degree murder must be reversed because the circumstantial evidence failed to establish that he killed the victim with premeditation. (Stearns County)
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
University of St. Thomas Law School
In re William Allan Jacobs, Petitioner. State of Minnesota, Respondent v. William Allan Jacobs, Appellant – Case No. A10-1400: Respondent State of Minnesota charged appellant William Jacobs in Hennepin County District Court with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Jacobs filed a motion with the chief judge of the district pursuant to Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.03, subd. 14(3), seeking to remove the assigned district court judge. Jacobs argued that the district court judge’s impartiality could reasonably be questioned because his wife is an attorney with the civil division of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting him for the current charges. The chief judge denied the motion.
Jacobs filed a petition for a writ of prohibition with the court of appeals, arguing that his motion to remove the district court judge was improperly denied. The court of appeals denied Jacobs’ petition for a writ of prohibition.
On appeal to the supreme court, two issues are presented: (1) whether the Minnesota Code of Judicial Conduct requires that a district court judge disclose that his or her spouse works as an attorney for the prosecuting authority that is prosecuting the defendant; and (2) whether the district court judge’s failure to disclose that his or her spouse works as an attorney for the prosecuting authority that is prosecuting the defendant, coupled with the marriage relationship, is sufficient to show that the district court’s judge’s impartiality could reasonably be questioned. (Hennepin County)
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Judicial Center, Courtroom 300
Michael D. Frazier, as Trustee for the Next-of-Kin of Brian L. Frazier, deceased, Appellant v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation, et al., etc. Respondents – Case Nos. A09-2212, A09-2213, A09-2214, A09-2215: On September 26, 2003, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe locomotive struck a car at a railroad crossing in Anoka, Minnesota, killing the four occupants of the car. The decedents of the people killed brought wrongful death actions against respondent BNSF Railway Company. In June 2008, a jury found BNSF 90% negligent in its maintenance of the crossing and awarded each of the estates of the occupants of the car $6 million in damages. A divided court of appeals remanded the case to the district court for a new trial on liability, based on an error in the court’s instructions to the jury.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issues presented are: (1) whether BNSF waived any argument that it was entitled to a new trial based on how the district court instructed the jury on the standard of care because the district court used jury instructions proposed by and agreed to by BNSF; (2) whether BNSF’s arguments regarding errors in the jury instructions can be reviewed under a plain-error analysis when BNSF invited the errors; and (3) if available, is BNSF entitled to a new trial under a plain-error analysis because of errors in how the district court instructed the jury on the standard of care. (Anoka County)
NONORAL: Justin Lamont Buckingham, petitioner, Appellant v. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A10-2240: Appellant Justin Buckingham was convicted after a jury trial of first degree premeditated murder, two counts of attempted first-degree premeditated murder, and three counts of attempted first-degree drive-by-shooting murder. His convictions were affirmed on direct appeal to the supreme court. Buckingham subsequently filed a pro se petition for postconviction relief, arguing that his convictions should be overturned for three reasons: (1) he received ineffective assistance of counsel or was denied his right to counsel with respect to an unrecorded custodial interrogation; (2) the prosecutor or defense counsel failed to fully disclose his medical records as part of a Rule 20 competency evaluation; and (3) the district court erred when instructing the jury on liability for aiding and abetting another person’s crime. The district court summarily denied Buckingham’s petition for postconviction relief.
On appeal from the district court’s order denying Buckingham’s petition for postconviction relief, the issue presented is whether the claims raised in Buckingham’s petition for postconviction relief are procedurally barred by State v. Knaffla, 243 N.W.2d 737 (Minn. 1976), because they were or could have been raised in his direct appeal. (Hennepin County)
Monday, April 11, 2011
Judicial Center, Courtroom 300
In re: Individual 35W Bridge Litigation: These two separate appeals arise from the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge on August 1, 2007. Jacobs Engineering Group is the successor in interest to the engineering firm that designed the bridge in the 1960s, Sverdrup & Parcel and Associates. Sverdrup furnished design services pursuant to a 1962 contract with the State of Minnesota that contained an indemnification provision. Sverdrup certified the final bridge design in March 1965, and construction of the bridge was substantially completed in 1967. URS Corporation is the engineering company that contracted with the State in 2003 to provide consulting services—specifically, a fatigue evaluation and redundancy analysis of the bridge.
In 2008, the Legislature appropriated approximately $37 million to compensate victims of the bridge collapse in return for their releases of liability against the State, its municipalities, and their respective employees. See Minn. Stat. §§ 3.7391-.7395 (2010) (the Compensation Statutes). The State subsequently entered into settlement agreements with 179 individuals who made claims for compensation, paying them $36,640,000 through the Compensation Statutes and $398,984 from an emergency relief fund.
In addition, more than 100 separate wrongful death and personal injury actions related to the collapse of the bridge were filed in Hennepin County District Court. The district court consolidated these actions for pretrial purposes. The plaintiffs in these cases, some of whom settled with the State, sued URS for negligence and breach of contract. URS brought third party-claims for indemnification and contribution against Jacobs. The State was impleaded into the Hennepin County cases and asserted cross-claims against Jacobs for contribution and indemnity and reimbursement pursuant to the Compensation Statutes.
Case Nos. A10‑87, A10-89, A10-90, A10-91: These cases, consolidated on appeal, involve the State’s cross-claims against Jacobs. Jacobs moved to dismiss the State’s cross-claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The district court denied the motion to dismiss. The court of appeals affirmed the denial of Jacobs’ motion to dismiss.
On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the State’s claims against Jacobs are barred by the repose provision of Minn. Stat. § 541.051 (2010), and whether 2007 amendments to Minn. Stat. § 541.051 or the Compensation Statutes revived the State’s claims; (2) whether statutory revival of the State’s claims against Jacobs violates Jacobs’ right to due process under the United States and Minnesota Constitutions; (3) whether the Compensation Statutes, if interpreted to permit the State to assert a reimbursement claim against Jacobs, impairs Jacobs’ contractual rights in violation of the United States and Minnesota Constitutions; (4) whether the State’s releases from the victims preclude any liability of Jacobs to the State; and (5) whether the State’s claims are precluded to the extent the State’s payments to victims were made voluntarily and in the absence of a legal duty.
Case Nos. A09-1776, A09-1778: These cases, consolidated on appeal, involve URS’s third-party claims against Jacobs. Jacobs brought a motion to dismiss URS’s third-party claims for failure to state a claim. The district court denied Jacobs’ motion. The court of appeals reversed.
On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether URS has a claim for contribution against Jacobs under Minnesota common law; (2) whether URS is entitled to pursue a contribution claim against Jacobs under Minn. Stat. § 541.051; and (3) whether interpreting the 2007 amendments to Minn. Stat. § 541.051 to allow URS’s contribution claim against Jacobs would violate Jacobs’ constitutional due process rights. (Hennepin County)
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Judicial Center, Courtroom 300
Michelle A. Kern, et al., Appellants v. Cody S. Janson, et al., Respondents, Jennifer Torborg, et al., Respondents – Case No. A10-355: In November 2003, appellant Michelle Kern was involved in an accident with a car driven by respondent Cody Janson. In September 2004, Kern rolled her car after a car driven by respondent Jennifer Torborg pulled out in front of her. Under Minn. Stat. § 65B.51, subd. 3 (2010), a plaintiff cannot sue for personal injury until her medical expenses exceed $4,000, the injury is permanent, or the injury results in death or in disability lasting for at least 60 days. Kern sued Torborg and her father, the owner of the car, in conciliation court and was awarded judgment of about $3,400 in December 2004.
In October 2006, Kern’s medical expenses exceeded $4,000, and she learned that she had suffered permanent injuries. In August 2009, Kern and her husband sued the drivers involved in both accidents, alleging the other drivers were jointly and severally liable. The Torborgs argued that the lawsuit was barred against them by the conciliation court judgment.
The Kerns moved to vacate the conciliation court judgment under Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02(f). The district court granted the motion to vacate and denied the Torborgs’ motion for summary judgment. The Torborgs appealed this district court’s decision to the court of appeals, which reversed and remanded the matter for entry of summary judgment in favor of the Torborgs.
On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the district court abused its discretion when it vacated the conciliation court judgment, because Kern was unaware of the preclusive effect of the judgment or the thresholds for a personal-injury claim and did not have a ripe personal injury claim at the time of judgment; (2) whether a party represented by counsel prior to a conciliation court hearing is not allowed to vacate the judgment to avoid res judicata; and (3) if the district court abused its discretion in vacating the conciliation court judgment, is the appropriate remedy remand to the district court for a decision whether to apply res judicata. (Morrison County)
State of Minnesota, Respondent v. Nicole Marie Beecroft, Appellant – Case Nos. A09-390, A10-1604: Appellant Nicole Beecroft was convicted after a court trial of first-degree murder. Beecroft appealed her conviction, and that appeal was stayed in order for Beecroft to pursue a petition for postconviction relief. Beecroft then filed a petition for postconviction relief, which the district court denied. After Beecroft appealed the district court’s order denying her petition for postconviction relief, the stay was vacated, and Beecroft’s direct and postconviction appeals were consolidated. On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether Beecroft was denied her due process right to present a defense because government actors prevented her from calling two expert witnesses who would have provided testimony favorable to the defense; and (2) whether the trial court erred by denying Beecroft’s motion to suppress the statement she gave police at the hospital because she was in custody and the Miranda warnings given were inadequate. (Washington County)
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Judicial Center, Courtroom 300
State of Minnesota, Respondent v. Mahdi Hassan Ali, Appellant – Case No. A10-1737: A grand jury indicted appellant Mahdi Ali for three counts of first-degree premeditated murder and three counts of first-degree felony murder for the shooting deaths of three men on January 6, 2010. Ali is a Somali refugee who was born in Kenya. The State contended that Ali was born on January 1, 1993, and that he was 17 years old at the time of the shooting.
The criminal proceedings against Ali were held in district court. Ali filed a motion to dismiss the indictment for lack of jurisdiction, claiming that he was 15 years old at the time of the offenses and that the juvenile court, not the district court, had jurisdiction over him. After holding an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied Ali’s motion. Ali filed a notice of appeal of the district court’s order. The court of appeals dismissed Ali’s appeal.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the appellate courts have jurisdiction of an interlocutory appeal as of right from an order denying a motion to dismiss an indictment for lack of jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine. (Hennepin County)
U.S. Bank N.A., et al., Appellants v. Cold Spring Granite Company, et al., Respondents, Patrick D. Alexander, Respondent – Case No. A10-252: Appellants are co-trustees of eight family trusts of the Moore family. Through these trusts, the Moore family used to own approximately 7% of Class A common stock of respondent Cold Spring Granite Company. After a reverse stock split and redemption approved by Cold Spring’s board of directors, the Moore family’s stock was redeemed in January 2006. Cold Spring’s board of directors then determined the value of the company’s common stock pre-split, based on an appraisal done by an expert the company hired, and paid the Moore family approximately $5 million for their stake in the company.
The Moore family filed suit, claiming breach of fiduciary duty, promissory estoppel, and the fraudulent transfer of property. The case was tried to a special master. The special master concluded that the Moore family had failed to prove that the share valuation adopted by the Cold Springs’ board was fraudulent, and that in the absence of fraud, the Moore family was not entitled to dissenters’ rights under Minn. Stat. § 302A.471 (2010), to a valuation proceeding under Minn. Stat. § 302A.751 (2010), or to vote on the reverse stock split under Minn. Stat. § 302A.402 (2010). The district court adopted the special master’s findings and conclusion of law. The court of appeals affirmed the district court.
On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether minority shareholders in a Minnesota closely held, nonpublic corporation that are squeezed out of the company pursuant to a reverse stock split and redemption are entitled to a judicially determined buyout, pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 302A.571, if their reasonable expectations to receive the fair value of their shares are frustrated; (2) whether respondents breached their fiduciary duty to appellants; (3) whether the district court erred by denying appellants the fair value of their shares, pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 302A.471; (4) whether Cold Spring’s determination of the value of the company’s shares was not conclusive, pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 302A.423, because appellants proved the valuation was fraudulent; (5) whether the methodology used by Cold Springs to determine the value of the company’s shares was flawed as a matter of law; and (6) whether it was error to refuse to award interest to appellants. (Stearns County)