Before the Minnesota Supreme Court

February 2012


Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner�s Office

Monday, February 6, 2012

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

����������� County of Washington, Respondent vs. City of Oak Park Heights, Appellant � Case No. A11-0067:Appellant City of Oak Park Heights provides water and sewer services to the law enforcement center of respondent Washington County.In 2009, the County determined that the City had overcharged it for water and sewer services and requested a refund of $114,000.The City Council denied the request for a refund.

The County initiated an unjust enrichment action in district court.The City moved for summary judgment, arguing that the district court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction because the County is challenging a quasi-judicial decision of the City Council.The district court denied the motion, concluding that it has jurisdiction because the City was acting in the capacity of a private corporation, not a governmental entity.The court of appeals affirmed.

����������� On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the City Council�s decision to deny a refund of sewer and water charges is a quasi-judicial decision that is reviewable only by a writ of certiorari.(Washington County)

����������� Minh Nguyen, Relator vs. Audio Communications and SFM Mutual Insurance Company, Respondents � Case No. A11-1784:While working for respondent Audio Communications, relator Minh Nguyen suffered a work-related injury.In October 2008, Nguyen sought workers� compensation benefits for permanent and total disability from and after March 2008.In March 2009, a compensation judge awarded Nguyen benefits for permanent total disability from March 2008 as requested.The employer appealed to the Workers� Compensation Court of Appeals, challenging the date on which Nguyen became permanently and totally disabled, but the appeal was dismissed because the issue of the date of onset of Nguyen�s permanent and total disability had not been raised before the compensation judge.Audio Communications then sought a determination that Nguyen became permanently and totally disabled as of either March 15, 2006, or January 23, 2007.A compensation judge found the date of onset of Nguyen�s permanent total disability to be March 1, 2007, which allowed Audio Communications to recover some workers� compensation benefits already paid to Nguyen.Had Audio Communications prevailed on its argument that Nguyen was permanently and totally disabled as of March 15, 2006, it would have been entitled to recover an additional year�s worth of benefits paid to Nguyen.Nguyen�s attorney sought an order requiring Audio Communications to pay the attorney fees Nguyen incurred in the proceedings to determine the date of onset of permanent total disability, but the compensation judge declined to order the employer to pay Nguyen�s attorney fees.The Workers� Compensation Court of Appeals affirmed.On appeal to the supreme court, the issue is whether employer Audio Communications should be required to pay Nguyen�s attorney fees.��

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

����������� State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Jeffrey Arthur Krause, Appellant � Case No. A10-1091:Appellant Jeffrey Krause was charged with three counts of fourth-degree controlled-substance crime and possession of a firearm by an ineligible person.Krause was appointed a public defender.The chief public defender filed a motion asking the district court to find Krause had forfeited his right to counsel by threatening his counsel during a meeting in an attempt to manipulate the court process and have a different attorney assigned to his case.After a motion hearing at which Krause appeared but was not represented by counsel, the district court ruled that Krause had forfeited his right to counsel.Krause was convicted after a jury trial on all counts.The court of appeals affirmed Krause�s convictions.

����������� On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented:(1) whether the district court abused its discretion by finding that Krause had forfeited his right to counsel; and (2) whether the district court violated Krause�s right to due process by ruling that Krause had forfeited his right to counsel without providing Krause an evidentiary hearing at which he was represented by counsel.(Otter Tail County)

����������� Steven Abrahamson, et al., Respondents vs. The St. Louis County School District No. 2142, et al., Appellants, Office of Administrative Hearings, ����Respondent � Case No. A10-2162:In December 2009, residents in the St. Louis County School District, ISD # 2142, voted on whether to authorize the issuance of general obligation bonds to fund certain capital improvements in the school district.In advance of the referendum, the school board issued newsletters and other materials promoting passage of the bond issue.In November 2010, respondents Steve Abrahamson and Tim Kotzian filed a complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings, alleging that the school district and its board members had violated Minnesota�s campaign finance reporting requirements by failing to file the financial reports required by Minn. Stat. ch. 211A (2010).Respondents also alleged that the school district and its board members had violated Minnesota�s fair campaign practices act, Minn. Stat. ch. 211B (2010), by making false or misleading statements in the materials disseminated in support of the referendum.An administrative law judge dismissed the complaint without a hearing, concluding that the school board and its board members are not subject to the reporting requirements of chapter 211A and that none of the statements listed in the complaint were either demonstrably false or disseminated with a high degree of awareness of its probable falsity.The court of appeals reversed.

����������� Two issues are before the supreme court:(1) whether school districts and school boards are subject to campaign finance reporting requirements under Minn. Stat. ch. 211A; and (2) whether the administrative law judge properly dismissed respondents� claims of unfair campaign practices under Minn. Stat. ch. 211B.(Office of Administrative Hearings)

Wednesday, February 8, 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) ��������

����������� Roger A. Giersdorf, Respondent vs. A & M Construction, Inc., Respondent, and The Hartford, Relator, and Merrimac Construction Company, Inc. and General Casualty Insurance Company, Respondents, and Rivers Edge Hospital & Clinic, New River Medical Clinic, Mayo Clinic, Minneapolis Clinic of Neurology, Minnesota Department of Labor & Industry/VRU, Minnesota Department of Human Services/BRS, Hennepin Faculty Associates, Consulting Radiologists, HealthPartners, Inc., intervenors, Respondents A11-1841: Relator The Hartford canceled workers compensation coverage of respondent A & M Construction, Inc., in December 2008 for nonpayment of a lump-sum premium increase. A & M Construction contends that a provision in its policy allowed it to pay premium increases in installments. In January 2009, after the cancellation of the policy, respondent Roger Giersdorf suffered an allegedly work-related injury. A & M Construction petitioned the Office of Administrative Hearings under Minn. Stat.  176.291 (2010) for a declaration of insurance coverage. The Hartford moved to dismiss the petition, arguing that the workers compensation courts lack jurisdiction to address a breach of contract claim. A compensation judge denied The Hartfords motion to dismiss without determining whether The Hartfords policy was actually in effect on the date of injury. The Workers Compensation Court of Appeals affirmed.

The issue before the supreme court on The Hartfords appeal is whether the workers compensation courts impermissibly assumed subject-matter jurisdiction over a breach of contract claim between an employer and its insurer. (Workers Compensation Court of Appeals)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

Oluf Johnson, et al., Respondents vs. Paynesville Farmers Union Cooperative Oil Company, Appellant Case Nos. A10-1596 and A10-2135: Respondents Oluf and Debra Johnson are organic farmers who brought claims for trespass, nuisance, and negligence per se against appellant Paynesville Farmers Union Cooperative Oil Company. The Johnsons allege that Paynesville caused chemical pesticides to drift onto fields they were using or intending to use in the production of organic crops. The district court granted summary judgment to Paynesville on all claims, concluding that Minnesota law does not recognize trespass by particulate matter and that the Johnsons did not present sufficient evidence of damages to sustain their nuisance and negligence per se claims. The court of appeals reversed and remanded.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issues presented are: (1) whether the Johnsons can sustain a claim for trespass based upon allegations of drift of pesticide spray; (2) whether the Johnsons established a prima facie case for damages under their nuisance and negligence per se claims; and (3) whether the district court erred in dismissing the Johnsons claim for permanent injunctive relief and denying leave to amend their complaint. (Stearns County)

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Jerrell Michael Brown, Appellant Case Nos. A10-0992 and A11-1293: Appellant Jerrell Brown was convicted after a jury trial of first-degree murder. Browns appeal of his conviction was stayed in order to allow Brown to pursue postconviction relief. Brown filed a petition for postconviction relief, which the district court denied. Browns appeals of his conviction and of the order denying postconviction relief were consolidated on appeal.

On appeal to the supreme court, five issues are presented: (1) whether the district court committed reversible error by closing the courtroom to the public without making any findings regarding the necessity for the closure; (2) whether Brown is entitled to a new trial because the district court admitted evidence about a prior shooting incident involving Brown; (3) whether Brown is entitled to a new trial because the district court gave the jury an erroneous aiding and abetting instruction; (4) whether Brown is entitled to a new trial because the district court erroneously admitted gang expert testimony; and (5) whether Brown is entitled to a new trial because the State failed to disclose Brady material. (Hennepin County)