Before the Minnesota Supreme Court

April 2012


Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office

Monday, April 2, 2012

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

Amanda Tatro, Appellant vs. University of Minnesota, Respondent – A10-1440:  Appellant Amanda Tatro was a student in the Mortuary Science Program at respondent University of Minnesota in 2009 when she posted statements on Facebook, which she has described in court filings as “satirical commentary and violent fantasy about her school experience.”  Concerns were reported to University administrators, and the matter was referred to the University’s Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity.  A hearing was held before the Campus Committee on Student Behavior.  After finding that Tatro violated the Student Conduct Code and University rules, the Committee imposed a number of sanctions.  On administrative appeal, the University Provost affirmed the sanctions.  The court of appeals affirmed the Provost’s decision.      

On appeal to the supreme court, Tatro’s brief presents the following issues: (1) whether the University violated Tatro’s constitutional rights to free speech by imposing disciplinary sanctions for her Facebook posts; (2) whether the University had the authority to conduct a disciplinary hearing and impose sanctions that included changing a passing grade to a failing grade; and (3) whether the University presented sufficient evidence to support a determination that Tatro committed disciplinary offenses.  (University of Minnesota Office for Student Conduct & Academic Integrity)         

Idowu Odunlade, et al., Relators vs. City of Minneapolis, et al., Respondents, County of Hennepin, et al., Respondents – A11-1832:  Relators are residential property owners from several neighborhoods in Minneapolis who filed an amended complaint in district court alleging a putative class action.  Relators contend that property tax assessment practices in Minneapolis violate the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, Article X of the Minnesota Constitution, and several statutes.  The district court granted respondents’ motions to transfer the matter to the tax court.  Respondent City of Minneapolis filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, and respondent Hennepin County filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings.  The tax court granted these motions and dismissed relators’ amended complaint.

On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented:  (1) whether relators’ constitutional, declaratory judgment, and mandamus claims are challenges to the assessment or illegality of a property tax that must be brought under Minn. Stat. Ch. 278 (2010); and (2) whether the tax court erroneously dismissed relators’ claim for tax year 2010 because it included multiple petitioners and different properties.  (Minnesota Tax Court)

            Non-Oral:     De-Aunteze Lavion Bobo, petitioner, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case Nos. A11-0070, A11-1671:  In 2007, appellant De-Aunteze Bobo was convicted, following a jury trial, of first-degree murder.  The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed this conviction on direct appeal.  Bobo filed his second and third petitions for postconviction relief, and the district court summarily denied both petitions.

            On appeal to the supreme court, two issues are presented:  (1) whether Bobo was denied effective assistance of appellate counsel because appellate counsel failed to raise an ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim based on trial counsel’s failure to challenge the admissibility of cell phone evidence; and (2) whether Bobo was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on his claim of newly discovered evidence.  (Hennepin County)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

University of St. Thomas Law School

            Hardin County Savings Bank, et al., Appellants vs. Housing and Redevelopment Authority of the City of Brainerd, et al., Defendants, James H. Bedard, Inc., Respondent – Case No. A10-1854:  Respondent Housing and Redevelopment Authority of the City of Brainerd (HRA) issued revenue bonds to fund a proposed housing development.  In connection with the issuance of the revenue bonds, the HRA obtained a feasibility study and an appraisal of the proposed development from respondent James H. Bedard, Inc., which were provided to prospective bond purchasers.  The bonds went into default in 2007.  The HRA and appraiser Bedard were sued by appellants, a group of community banks that had purchased the revenue bonds.  The district court dismissed as insufficiently pleaded the banks’ claim against appraiser Bedard for negligent misrepresentation in connection with its appraisal and feasibility study.  The court of appeals affirmed. 

            At issue before the supreme court is whether the banks’ claim against Bedard for negligent misrepresentation was sufficiently pleaded for purposes of Minn. R. Civ. P. 9.02.  (Crow Wing County)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

            Midwest Family Mutual Insurance Company, Respondent vs. Michael D. Wolters, et al., Respondents, Charles E. Bartz, et al., Appellants, Jerry D. Larson, Defendant – Case No. A11-0181:  Appellants Charles Bartz and Catherine Brewster were injured when a boiler released carbon monoxide into Bartz’s recently constructed residence.  Appellants sued the general contractor, Michael Wolters, alleging negligence in the installation of the boiler and carbon monoxide detectors.  At the time of the injuries, Wolters was insured under an artisan contractor’s liability policy issued by respondent Midwest Family Mutual Insurance Company.

Midwest commenced a declaratory judgment action, claiming that it has no duty to defend or indemnify Wolters for the negligence claims.  Midwest moved for summary judgment.  Among other arguments, Midwest asserted that carbon monoxide is a “pollutant” within the meaning of the absolute pollution exclusion in the Midwest policy.  The district court denied Midwest’s motion for summary judgment and granted summary judgment to appellants and Wolters.  The court of appeals reversed and remanded.

            On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether absolute pollution exclusions in insurance policies are limited to traditional environmental pollutants, or whether such exclusions encompass carbon monoxide released in a home by a negligently installed boiler.  (Beltrami County)

Bakita Isaac, Respondent vs. Vy Thanh Ho, et al., Appellants/Cross-Respondents, Auto Club Insurance Association, Intervenor, Respondent/Cross –Appellant – Case No. A11-0011:  Bakita Isaac brought a negligence action following an accident with a motor vehicle that was driven by Vy Thanh Ho and owned by Lein Ho.  Progressive Preferred, the insurer of Ho’s vehicle, agreed to settle the action for $10,665.  Isaac sent a Schmidt-Clothier notice of the settlement to her underinsured motorist (UIM) carrier, Auto Club Insurance Association.  Auto Club elected to substitute its check for Progressive’s settlement payment and intervened in the negligence action.

Following a jury trial, the district court entered judgment in favor of Isaac in the amount of $45,765 and in favor of Auto Club in the amount of $11,152 (the amount of the substituted payment plus prejudgment interest).  On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part.  The court of appeals concluded that the district court did not err by concluding that the settlement agreement was nullified by the UIM carrier’s substituted payment, but that Auto Club was not entitled to recoup the payment to Isaac.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issues presented are:  (1) whether the courts below erred by concluding that a UIM substitution defeats a settlement agreement where the parties did not agree that the UIM carrier’s substituted payment would void the settlement; and (2) whether the court of appeals erred by concluding that the UIM carrier’s substituted payment was insufficient to preserve its subrogation rights.  (Hennepin County)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

Non-Oral:     Jack M. Singer, Relator, Estate of Ruth Singer, Appellant Below vs. Commissioner of Revenue, Respondent – Case No. A11-2282:  Ruth Singer passed away on May 26, 2008.  Relator Jack Singer, son of Ruth Singer and the personal representative of the estate, filed the estate’s tax return in February 2009.  Respondent Commissioner of Revenue issued a tax assessment order assessing the estate $65,178 in estate tax and $4,501 in interest.  In so doing, the Commissioner disallowed several deductions because of lack of substantiation.  The estate appealed the Commissioner’s order to the Minnesota Tax Court.  Following a trial, the tax court issued findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order for judgment affirming the Commissioner’s tax assessment order.  The tax court issued a subsequent order rejecting constitutional claims raised by the estate.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issues include:  (1) whether Minn. Stat.           § 291.215 (2010) is unconstitutional because it is regressive; (2) whether the estate was required to substantiate deductions from the corpus of the estate; (3) whether the federal estate tax system preempts the Minnesota estate tax system; and (4) whether the tax court had the jurisdiction to determine whether the property was taken by adverse possession prior to the date of death in order to determine the tax consequences.  (Minnesota Tax Court)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

Weavewood, Inc., Respondent vs. S & P Home Investments, LLC, Petitioner, Palladium Holdings, LLC, et al., Defendants, M. Jacqueline Stevenson, Respondent, Highland Bank, Respondent – Case Nos. A10-1762, A10-2113, A10-2221:  This matter involves real property registered in the name of respondent Weavewood, Inc.  In   1998, Weavewood, through its trustee, respondent M. Jacqueline Stevenson, granted a mortgage, in the amount of $100,000, against the property to James Malcolm Williams.  This mortgage was eventually assigned to petitioner S & P Home Investments, LLC.        S & P foreclosed its mortgage by advertisement and purchased the property for $152,184 at the foreclosure sale on September 1, 2009.

In February 2010, Weavewood filed a lawsuit against S & P, seeking damages and declaratory relief with respect to the validity and satisfaction of S & P’s mortgage.  The district court granted S & P’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that Weavewood’s claims were time-barred, and dismissed Weavewood’s case.  The court of appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether statutes of limitations apply to actions for declaratory judgment.  (Hennepin County)  

Non-Oral:     State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Timothy Patrick Chambers, Appellant – No. A11-1954:  In 1997, appellant Timothy Chambers was convicted of first-degree murder, and the district court sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of release.  Chambers was seventeen years old at the time of the murder.  The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed Chambers’ conviction and sentence on direct appeal.  In May 2010, Chambers filed his second petition for postconviction relief, in which he challenged the constitutionality of his life sentence without the possibility of release.  The district court denied the postconviction petition.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issues presented are:  (1) whether Chambers’ petition for postconviction relief is procedurally barred by State v. Knaffla, 309 Minn. 246, 243 N.W.2d 737 (1976); (2) whether the district court erred when it concluded that Graham v. Florida, __ U.S. __, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (2010), did not apply to Chambers’ life sentence for murder; and (3) whether the district court abused its discretion when it denied Chambers’ postconviction petition without an evidentiary hearing.  (Rice County)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Ryan Stanley Hurd, Appellant – Case No. A11-1057:            Following a jury trial, appellant Stanley Hurd was convicted of first-degree murder.  On direct appeal of that conviction, the issues presented are:  (1) whether there was sufficient evidence to prove that Hurd kidnapped the victim; (2) whether Hurd is entitled to a new trial because the district court denied his requested jury instruction on the level of confinement or removal necessary for a kidnapping; and (3) whether there was sufficient evidence to prove that Hurd premeditated the murder.  (Steele County)

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Stephen Vincent Grigsby, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 2911973 – Case No. A11-0976:  An attorney discipline case that presents the question of what discipline, if any, is appropriate based upon the facts of the matter.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Eastview High School

            State of Minnesota, Appellant vs. Christian Chi Ndikum, Respondent – Case No. A10-1728:            Respondent Christian Ndikum was charged with several firearm-related offenses after he entered the Hennepin County Justice Center with a briefcase containing a loaded handgun.  During a jury trial, there was testimony that Ndikum’s wife put his handgun in his briefcase and that Ndikum did not know the weapon was in his briefcase when he entered the courthouse.  Ndikum requested that the jury be instructed that he must have known that he was in possession of the gun to be convicted of the offenses of possessing a dangerous weapon in a courthouse and possessing a pistol in public.  The district court granted the request for the charge of possession of a dangerous weapon in a courthouse but denied it with regard to the charge of possessing a pistol in public.  The jury found Ndikum not guilty of possessing a dangerous weapon in a courthouse, but it found him guilty of possessing a pistol in public.  The court of appeals reversed Ndikum’s conviction for possessing a pistol in public.

            On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether Ndikum is entitled to a new trial because the district court failed to instruct the jury that the State must prove that Ndikum knew he possessed a pistol in order to convict him of gross-misdemeanor possession of  a pistol in public, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 724.714, subd. 1a (2010).  (Hennepin County)

            Non-Oral:     Federated Retail Holdings, Inc., Respondent vs. County of Ramsey, Relator – A11-2093:     Respondent Federated Retail Holdings, Inc. operates a Macy’s department store at the Rosedale Mall in Roseville, Minnesota.  Federated challenged the estimated market value that the Ramsey County assessor determined for this Macy’s department store for the January 2, 2006, and January 2, 2007, assessment dates.  The parties disputed whether a portion of the department store area, the leased basement space, should be included when determining the value of the property.  Following a trial, the tax court ordered the valuation reduced for both assessment dates. 

            On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented:  (1)  whether  the right under a lease to use the leased basement space adjacent to the subject tax parcel is a right that runs with the land and must be valued as part of the subject real property pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 272.03, subd. 1 (2010); (2) whether the tax court had jurisdiction to determine the value added to the subject property by the right to use the leased basement space.  (Minnesota Tax Court).