Before the Minnesota Supreme Court

December 2008


Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office

Monday, December 1, 2008, 9:00 a.m.

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Daniel Leonard Anderson, Appellant – Case No. A07-1622:  Appellant Daniel Anderson was convicted of first-degree domestic abuse murder in the death of his girlfriend’s 19-month-old son.  See Minn. Stat. § 609.185(a)(6) (2006) (defining first-degree murder to include causing the death of a human being “while committing domestic abuse, when the perpetrator has engaged in a past pattern of domestic abuse upon the victim or upon another family or household member”).  Over Anderson’s objections, the district court allowed testimony from Anderson’s girlfriend, from Anderson’s brother, and from Anderson’s former girlfriend for the limited purpose of determining whether Anderson committed a past pattern of domestic abuse.  At issue in this direct appeal is whether the district court abused its discretion in admitting this testimony for the purpose of establishing a past pattern of domestic abuse.  Anderson raises additional issues in a pro se supplemental brief.  (Wilkin County)

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Jeremy Mark LeDoux, Appellant – Case No. A08-260:  Appellant Jeremy LeDoux has been in custody since August 2007 on charges of criminal sexual conduct, possession of child pornography, possession of a controlled substance, and furnishing alcohol to a minor.  Bail on these charges totals $263,000.  LeDoux petitioned for reduction in bail and, in preparation for the hearing, obtained subpoenas for several witnesses who had been interviewed for the county’s bail study.  The district court, on the county’s motion, quashed the subpoenas and denied LeDoux’s request to reconsider bail.  The court of appeals affirmed.  The supreme court is asked to decide three questions:  (1) whether the district court abused its discretion by refusing to allow LeDoux to call witnesses to testify at the bail reduction hearing; (2) whether the amount of bail was excessive; and (3) whether the district court abused its discretion in setting bail by failing to consider non-monetary conditions of release.  (Becker County)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008, 9:00 a.m.

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Chad Allen Rourke, Appellant – Case No. A07-937:  Appellant Chad Rourke pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and was sentenced to 128 months, an upward departure from the presumptive sentence of 98 months.  The court of appeals affirmed, but the supreme court vacated the court of appeals’ decision in light of Blakely v. Washington and remanded the matter to the court of appeals for reconsideration.  The court of appeals then remanded the matter to the district court for a sentencing jury trial.  On remand, a sentencing jury found that Rourke had treated the victim with particular cruelty but found that the state had not proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the victim was particularly vulnerable.  The district court rejected the sentencing jury’s finding, concluding that “particular cruelty” as grounds for sentencing departure was unconstitutionally vague.  The court re-sentenced Rourke to 103 months, the top of the presumptive sentencing range.  The state appealed and the court of appeals reversed and remanded for a new sentencing trial.  The court further held that double jeopardy prevented the state from arguing on remand that the victim was particularly vulnerable.  The case presents the following issues for the supreme court:  (1) is the portion of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines allowing for an upward departure in sentence if the jury finds that the victim was treated with “particular cruelty” unconstitutionally vague; (2) can the state appeal from a sentence and obtain review of the district court’s jury instructions; (3) did the district court abuse its discretion in its instructions to the sentencing jury; and (4) is the state barred from retrying to another jury on remand the question of whether the victim was particularly vulnerable.  (Stevens County)

In re the Matter of:  Elaine Irene Lee, petitioner, Respondent vs. Raymond Michael Lee, Appellant – Case No. A07-110:  The marriage between appellant Raymond Lee and respondent Elaine Lee was dissolved in 1993 and Raymond was ordered to pay spousal maintenance.  The marital portion of Raymond’s pension accounts was divided equally between the parties.  In 2005, Raymond moved to terminate spousal maintenance, citing his retirement.  The district court denied Raymond’s request to modify spousal maintenance.  The court of appeals reversed, holding that the district court erred in including in Raymond’s income for purposes of spousal maintenance the portion of his pension benefits attributable to premarital employment.  The court of appeals further held that pension payments may not be characterized as income for purposes of spousal maintenance until the obligor spouse has received payments equaling the full value of the marital portion of the pension received by the obligor in the dissolution.  The court of appeals concluded that, applying these principles, Raymond’s income was less than his reasonable monthly expenses, and therefore terminated all spousal maintenance.  On Elaine’s appeal, the following issues are before the supreme court:  (1) whether the district court was required to distinguish between using pension benefits to meet Raymond’s own needs and using them as a source of payment for maintenance itself; (2) whether the court of appeals erred in not pro-rating individual monthly pension benefits based on work before, during, and after marriage between property and income; (3) whether the court of appeals erred in concluding that premarital pension benefits must be treated as property and post-marital pension benefits as income for purposes of spousal maintenance; and (4) whether the court of appeals erred in not remanding the case to the district court for further findings.  (Washington County)

Monday, December 8, 2008, 9:00 a.m.

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

Catherine F. Peterka, Respondent vs. Stephen G. Dennis, Certified Public Accountant, et al., Appellants, Todd R. Haugen, Attorney at Law, Defendant – Case No. A07-165:  During marital dissolution proceedings involving respondent Catherine Peterka and her husband, the parties stipulated to the appointment of appellant Stephen Dennis as an independent neutral to provide an opinion as to the value of two businesses.  The district court approved the parties’ stipulation and appointed Dennis as an independent neutral.  After the judgment and decree of marital dissolution was entered, Peterka sued Dennis for negligence.  The district court ruled that Dennis was entitled to quasi-judicial immunity as a court-appointed neutral.  The court of appeals reversed and reinstated Peterka’s negligence claim.  The supreme court is asked to decide whether quasi-judicial immunity protects an independent neutral appointed by court order to value a business as part of marital dissolution proceedings.  (Hennepin County)

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Timothy James Peterson, Appellant – Case No. A08-117:  Appellant Timothy Peterson was convicted of murder in the first degree in the first phase of a bifurcated trial.  In the second phase of the trial, the district court found that Peterson failed to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he met the M’Naghten standard of mental illness, that is, that Peterson was laboring under a defect of reason due to mental illness or deficiency such that he either did not know the nature of his act or did not know that the act was wrong.  See Minn. Stat. § 611.026 (2006).  The district court sentenced Peterson to life in prison, stating that it was “without the possibility of release.”  On direct appeal, Peterson presents the following issues to the court:  (1) were his due process rights violated by the district court’s refusal to allow expert testimony during the guilt phase of the trial about the effect of Peterson’s mental illness on his ability to form the required criminal intent; (2) was the evidence presented during the second phase of the trial sufficient to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Peterson was so mentally ill at the time of the offense that he should be excused from criminal responsibility; and (3) should Peterson’s sentence be amended to life in prison with the possibility of release because the statute mandating life without release, Minn. Stat. § 609.106, subd. 2 (2006), went into effect after the date of his charged offense?  (Benton County)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008, 9:00 a.m.

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

Wayne J. Kratzer, Respondent vs. Welsh Companies, LLC, Appellant – Case No. A06-2284:  Appellant Welsh Companies, LLC, employed respondent Wayne Kratzer as a real estate broker.  In 2002, Welsh Companies terminated Kratzer’s employment.  Kratzer claims his employment was terminated in retaliation for his complaints that, in a transaction in which a Welsh entity purchased a shopping center from John Hancock, Welsh failed to disclose that its related entity paid another Welsh broker an additional commission for persuading John Hancock to lower its asking price for the property.  The district court dismissed Kratzer’s complaint on summary judgment, ruling that even if true, Kratzer’s allegations failed to demonstrate that Welsh Companies had violated any statute or rule and ruling that violations of common law are insufficient to violate the Whistleblower Act, Minn. Stat. § 181.932 (2006).  The court of appeals reversed and reinstated Kratzer’s whistleblower claim.  At issue on appeal to the supreme court is whether a claim under the Whistleblower Act can be based on alleged retaliation for reporting a purported violation of a common law duty.  (Hennepin County)

West Bend Mutual Insurance Company, Respondent vs. Allstate Insurance Company, Appellant, Thomas Oczak, et al., Appellants – Case Nos. A07-248 and A07-357:  Appellant Thomas Oczak owned and operated an automobile repair business.  While driving a customer’s car, Oczak was seriously injured in an accident.  The driver of the other vehicle, who was negligent, was underinsured.  Oczak received the policy limits under the underinsured motorist coverage of both the other driver’s and the customer’s policies.  Minnesota Statutes § 65B.49, subd. 3a(5) (2006), provides that if the injured person occupies a motor vehicle of which the injured is not an insured, the injured person may be entitled to excess coverage under a policy in which the injured person is otherwise insured.  At the time of the accident, Oczak’s business carried a Garage Business Owners Liability policy issued by respondent West Bend Mutual Insurance Company, which provided underinsured motorist coverage of $500,000.  Oczak and his wife, Connie, also carried a personal automobile insurance policy issued by appellant Allstate Insurance Company, with underinsured motorist coverage of $300,000.  Oczak claimed underinsured benefits under the West Bend policy because the car he was driving at the time of the accident was a customer’s car and he was operating it in the course and scope of his employment.  West Bend sought declaratory judgment to determine priority of coverage between it and Allstate.  The district court ruled that Oczak was not entitled to underinsured motorist coverage under the West Bend policy because the business, rather than Oczak, is the named insured under that policy.  The court of appeals affirmed.  Two issues are before the supreme court:  (1) whether the Oczaks are entitled to recover underinsured motorist benefits under the policy issued by West Bend; and (2) whether either West Bend or Allstate or both are required to provide excess underinsured motorist benefits to the Oczaks under the terms of the respective policies and Minn. Stat. § 65B.49.  (Ramsey County)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008, 9:00 a.m.

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

The Work Connection, Inc., Appellant vs. Son Q. Bui, Respondent, Department of Employment and Economic Development, Respondent – Case No. A07-348:  After respondent Son Bui was laid off from his job, he applied for and received unemployment benefits from respondent Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.  Appellant The Work Connection, Inc., a staffing agency that had placed Bui in the position from which he was laid off, appealed because it had offered Bui another position, which Bui declined because it was not on a bus line.  Under Minn. Stat. § 268.085, subd. 15(e) (2006), applicants for unemployment compensation must have “transportation throughout the labor market area” to be considered available for work and entitled to benefits.  An unemployment law judge affirmed the award of benefits; the court of appeals agreed that an applicant who has access to public bus routes satisfies the transportation requirement.  The issue for the supreme court is whether an applicant for unemployment benefits may rely on public bus routes to satisfy the requirement of “transportation throughout the labor market area.”  (Benton County)

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Patricia Jean Ryerson, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 216665 – Case No. A07-1390:  An attorney discipline case that presents the question of what discipline, if any, is warranted under the facts of the matter.