EN BANC CALENDAR
SUMMARY OF ISSUES
Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office
Monday, March 1, 2010, 9:00 a.m.
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol
Scott Sayer, et al., Appellants vs. Minnesota Department of Transportation, Respondent, Flatiron-Manson, Respondent – Case Nos. A08-1584 and A08-1994: After the August 1, 2007, collapse of the bridge carrying Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) used its authority under Minn. Stat. §§ 161.3410 - .3428 (2008) to contract for construction of a replacement bridge. Minnesota Statutes § 161.3412, subd. 1, allows the state to award a design-build contract for a project on the basis of a “best value selection process.” Under this process, technical proposals are scored by a technical review committee, which “shall” reject any proposal it “deems” nonresponsive. Minn. Stat § 161.3426, subd. 1(a). The design-builder selected must be “that responsive and responsible design-builder” whose price, adjusted for technical merit and time to complete the work, is the lowest. Id., subd. 1(b).
On August 23, 2007, MnDOT delivered a request for proposal (RFP) to four teams of contractors who had been pre-qualified for the project. After proposals were reviewed and scored by the technical review committee, on October 8, 2007, MnDOT awarded the contract to respondent Flatiron-Manson. Appellants Scott Sayer and Wendell Phillippi filed suit on October 16, 2007, seeking declaratory judgment that because Flatiron‑Manson’s proposal was not responsive to the request for proposal, MnDOT’s award of the contract to Flatiron-Manson was contrary to law. Appellants sought a temporary injunction stopping work on the project. The district court denied appellants’ request for a temporary injunction and later dismissed appellants’ claims. The court of appeals affirmed.
There are three issues before the supreme court: (1) whether a technical review committee has discretion under Minn. Stat. § 161.3426 (2008) to determine whether a contractor’s proposal is responsive to a request for proposal; (2) whether the district court erred in granting summary judgment to Flatiron-Manson and dismissing appellants’ claims; and (3) whether a contractor that enters into a contract resulting from a public procurement process that is contrary to law is entitled to the contract price or only the fair market value of its services. (Ramsey County)
Michael Jon Staunton, petitioner, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A09-782: Appellant Michael Staunton was convicted after a jury trial of first-degree murder. Staunton appealed his conviction, and the appeal was stayed so that Staunton could petition for post-conviction relief. Staunton’s first two post-conviction petitions were each dismissed without prejudice. The direct appeal was dismissed as well. The district court limited Staunton’s third petition for post-conviction relief to the question of whether Staunton received effective assistance of counsel at trial. After an evidentiary hearing on that question, the district court denied the petition. Staunton raises three issues before the supreme court: (1) whether the district court erred in limiting the legal issues that could be raised during the third post-conviction proceeding; (2) whether Staunton received effective assistance of counsel at trial; and (3) whether the testimony of two alleged accomplices to the murder was sufficiently corroborated. Staunton raises additional issues in a pro se supplemental brief. (St. Louis County)
Tuesday, March 2, 2010, 10:10 a.m.
University of Minnesota Law School – Room 25
In re: Minnesota Asbestos Litigation – Case No. A08-2222: In 1987, the Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court appointed a single judge in Ramsey County to “hear and decide all matters, including all pretrial and trial proceedings, in all presently pending and future actions before Minnesota state trial courts, whether relating to personal injury, death or property damage, that arise from or seek recovery for the manufacture, distribution, use or exposure to asbestos and asbestos-containing products.” In 2008, attorneys representing Joyce Rock obtained a subpoena from a Wisconsin Circuit Court seeking documents and information from Bucyrus International, Inc. Mrs. Rock’s late husband, Dona, was employed by Bucyrus between 1948 and 1951 and had been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer linked to exposure to asbestos. To obtain the subpoena in Wisconsin, Mrs. Rock’s attorneys obtained a commission from the Ramsey County District Court using the case caption and court file number of the consolidated asbestos cases. However, Mrs. Rock had not yet commenced litigation against Bucyrus International.
Bucyrus International asked the Ramsey County District Court to quash its commission. The district court denied Bucyrus International’s motion to quash; the court of appeals affirmed. Three issues are before the supreme court: (1) whether the pre-litigation discovery sought by Mrs. Rock is permitted under the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure; (2) if not, whether the pre-litigation discovery is permitted under the case management orders issued in the consolidated asbestos cases; and (3) whether the pre-litigation discovery is barred by Article VI, § 3 of the Minnesota Constitution, which gives the district courts original jurisdiction “in all civil and criminal cases,” because there is no case pending. (Ramsey County)
Wednesday, March 3, 2010, 9:00 a.m.
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol
State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Michael John Anderson, Appellant – Case No. A09-1141: Appellant Michael John Anderson was convicted after a jury trial of first-degree murder. On appeal from his conviction, Anderson presents the following issues to the supreme court: (1) whether exclusion of evidence relating to Asperger’s Syndrome, a developmental disorder related to autism with which Anderson has been diagnosed, denied him a fair trial, including because it effectively precluded Anderson from testifying in his own defense; (2) whether a person with Asperger’s Syndrome can form the particular subjective state of mind that is required to have a criminal intent; (3) whether the district court erred in excluding certain testimony; (4) whether the exclusion of evidence of mental disability violated Anderson’s right to due process; (5) whether the district court correctly instructed the jury on premeditation; and (6) whether Anderson knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived his Miranda rights. (Scott County)
State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Stafon Edward Thompson, Appellant – Case No. A09-1077: Appellant Stafon Thompson was convicted after a jury trial of two counts of aiding and abetting premeditated murder. On appeal from that conviction to the supreme court, Thompson raises two issues: (1) whether the district court erred by not suppressing statements Thompson made to police officers shortly after the offenses occurred; and (2) whether the district court erred in admitting computer-generated animations of the crime scene during trial. (Hennepin County)
Monday, March 8, 2010, 9:00 a.m.
Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center
Lance J. Johnson, Respondent vs. Cook County, Appellant – Case No. A08-1501: In 2001, respondent Lance Johnson petitioned Cook County for rezoning of one real estate parcel and a portion of a second. Under Minn. Stat. § 15.99, subd. 2 (2008), an agency “must approve or deny within 60 days a written request relating to zoning. . . . Failure of an agency to deny a request within 60 days is approval of the request.” Section 15.99 further provides that if the agency denies the zoning request, “it must state in writing the reasons for the denial at the time that it denies the request.” The county Board of Commissioners timely considered the request at a public meeting and, according to the minutes of the meeting, denied the request by a vote of four to one. No written statement of the reasons for denial was issued.
In 2006, Johnson sued the county, seeking a declaration that the county had erroneously denied his 2001 rezoning request. The county moved for summary judgment on grounds that judicial review of the 2001 zoning decision was barred by laches. Johnson argued that he was entitled to summary judgment because the county failed to issue written reasons for its denial, making approval of his 2001 zoning request automatic. The district court granted the county’s motion for summary judgment; the court of appeals reversed. Two issues are before the supreme court on the county’s appeal: (1) whether a zoning request is deemed automatically approved under Minn. Stat. § 15.99 if the municipality timely denies the request but does not issue written reasons for its denial; and (2) whether Johnson’s challenge to the county’s 2001 zoning decision is time-barred. (Cook County)
J.E.B., et al., Appellants vs. Debora Danks, Respondent – Case No. A08-2175: Respondent Debora Danks reported to child protection authorities and to another person that appellants’ daughter had been sexually abused by her older brother and that appellants knew of the abuse but had done nothing about it. An investigation by a Ramsey County child abuse investigator determined that Danks’ report was false and there had been no abuse. Appellants sued Danks under Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 5 (2008), for knowingly or recklessly making a false report, and for defamation and intrusion upon seclusion. Danks moved for summary judgment on grounds that she was immune from civil liability. Under Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 4(a)(1) (2008), certain persons are immune from civil or criminal liability for reporting suspicions of child neglect or abuse “if they are acting in good faith.” The district court granted Danks’ motion for summary judgment; the court of appeals affirmed. Three issues are before the supreme court: (1) whether the district court improperly resolved factual disputes as to Danks’ “good faith” in granting Danks’ motion for summary judgment; (2) whether the district court erred in extending statutory immunity under Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 4(a)(1), to common-law claims; (3) whether the district court erred in awarding Danks attorney fees under Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 4(d) (2008); and (4) if such an award was permitted under Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 4(d), whether the district court erred in awarding Danks attorney fees for defending against appellants’ common-law, as well as statutory, claims. (Ramsey County)
Tuesday, March 9, 2010, 9:00 a.m.
Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center
Robert Daniel Gassler, Jr., petitioner, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A09-1534: Appellant Robert Gassler was convicted in 1992 of first-degree murder; his conviction was affirmed on appeal. State v. Gassler, 505 N.W.2d 62 (Minn. 1993). Gassler’s petition for post-conviction relief was denied. Gassler v. State, 590 N.W.2d 769 (Minn. 1999). In 2008, Gassler again petitioned for post-conviction relief, claiming that he had been convicted on the basis of false scientific evidence, namely, a comparative analysis by the FBI of the lead found in the shotgun pellets that killed the victim with shotgun pellets found among Gassler’s belongings, which Gassler argued the FBI later disavowed.
By then, Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subd. 4 (2008), required that petitions for post-conviction relief be filed within two years of the appellate disposition of the petitioner’s direct appeal or, in cases like Gassler’s that became final before the statute was enacted, by July 31, 2007. The state moved to dismiss the 2008 petition for post-conviction relief as untimely. Gassler argued that his situation fell within an exception to the time limit for newly-discovered evidence and in addition should be considered in the interest of justice. See Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subds. 4(b)(2), (5). The district court found that, although Gassler asserted the existence of newly-discovered scientific evidence, Gassler had not established by clear and convincing evidence that he was innocent, as the statute required. The district court therefore denied the petition for post-conviction relief as untimely.
Three issues are before the supreme court: (1) whether the time limit on post-conviction petitions under Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subd. 4, should bar consideration of the petition; (2) if the time limit under Minn. Stat. § 590.01 applies, whether the exception for newly-discovered evidence applies and whether the petition should have been considered in the interests of justice; (3) whether the district court properly analyzed the newly-discovered evidence exception; and (4) whether the district court erred in denying Gassler’s motion to obtain discovery from the FBI to aid his post-conviction petition. (Todd County)
EN BANC NONORAL: Kevin Terrance Hannon, petitioner, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A09-1380: Appellant Kevin Hannon was convicted after a jury trial of first-degree murder committed during a kidnapping; his conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal. State v. Hannon, 703 N.W.2d 498 (Minn. 2005). Hannon’s first petition for post-conviction relief was denied; the supreme court affirmed the denial. Hannon v. State, 752 N.W.2d 518 (Minn. 2008). The district court denied Hannon’s second petition for post-conviction relief, filed in January 2009, as time-barred by Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subd. 4(a) (2008) (barring petitions for post-conviction relief filed more than two years after disposition of the petitioner’s direct appeal). On appeal from that denial, Hannon (acting pro se) presents several issues for the supreme court’s consideration, including whether his petition for post-conviction relief falls within the exception to Minn. Stat. § 590.01 for newly-discovered evidence, whether Hannon received effective assistance of counsel at trial, and whether Hannon’s lawyer failed to inform him of a plea offer. (Stearns County)
Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 9:00 a.m.
Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center
In re Petition for Reinstatement of Nuro B. Dedefo, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 309989 – Case No. A09-691: A lawyer discipline case that presents the question of whether petitioner Nuro Dedefo should be reinstated to the active practice of law.
EN BANC NONORAL: State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Timothy Clyde Askland, Defendant, Howe Bonding, Appellant – Case No. A08-1630: Timothy Askland was charged with driving after license cancellation and with felony failure to pay child support. Askland was released on a $10,000 appearance bond issued by appellant Howe Bonding. Askland’s bond was revoked on June 15, 2007, after he failed to appear for a court hearing. At Howe Bonding’s request, the deadline for payment of the forfeiture penalty was extended by 45 days. On November 16, 2007, the bonding company paid the forfeited bond to Mower County Court Administration. On November 28, 2007, the forfeited sum was paid to Mower County Human Services, which paid it to the mother of Askland’s child for child support. Howe Bonding later apprehended Askland and, on December 6, 2007, Askland appeared in the district court. The following day, the bonding company petitioned pursuant to Minn. R. Gen. Prac. 702(f) for reinstatement and discharge of the bond. The bonding company’s request for reinstatement of the bond was denied; the court of appeals affirmed. Two issues are before the supreme court on Howe Bonding’s appeal: (1) whether the district court abused its discretion in denying the bonding company’s motion for reinstatement and discharge of the bail bond; and (2) whether the district court erred as a matter of law in directing payment of the bond to Askland’s child support obligee within 180 days of the date of forfeiture and, if so, whether the error was harmless. (Mower County)
EN BANC NONORAL: Andrew P. Hohmann, Relator vs. Commissioner of Revenue, Respondent – Case No. A09-2030: In 2008, the Commissioner of Revenue assessed relator Andrew Hohmann additional income taxes, penalties, and interest for the tax years 2005 through 2007. Hohmann filed an administrative appeal. The Commissioner affirmed the original determination by an order issued on February 27, 2009. Minnesota Statutes § 271.06, subdivision 2 (2008), provides that an appeal to the Minnesota Tax Court from an order of the Commissioner must be filed within 60 days. Hohmann’s appeal was mailed on April 27, 2009, and received and filed by the tax court on April 30, 2009. The tax court dismissed Hohmann’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction. On Hohmann’s pro se appeal to the supreme court, the issue is whether Hohmann’s appeal to the tax court was timely filed. (Minnesota Tax Court)
Monday, March 15, 2010, 9:00 a.m.
Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center
Deanna Brayton, et al., Respondents vs. Tim Pawlenty, Governor of the State of Minnesota, et al., Appellants – Case No. A10-64: During the 2009 legislative session, the Legislature enacted a Health and Human Services appropriations bill that included funding for the Minnesota Supplemental Aid—Special Diet Program. Appellant Governor Tim Pawlenty signed the bill into law. On the last day of the legislative session, the Legislature enacted a bill to increase revenues needed to pay for the appropriations already approved by the Governor, but the Governor vetoed the revenue bill after the end of the legislative session. Relying on Minn. Stat. § 16A.152, subd. 4 (2008), the Governor then “unallotted” funding previously appropriated by the Legislature to bring the state budget into balance. Among the funding unallotted was $5.33 million appropriated for the Minnesota Supplemental Aid—Special Diet Program.
Respondents are low-income residents who receive funding from the Special Diet program. Respondents filed suit in Ramsey County, seeking to enjoin implementation for the unallotment of funds for the program. The district court granted respondents motion for a temporary restraining order and ordered that funding for the Special Diet program be reinstated pending final outcome of the litigation. The supreme court granted accelerated review. Two issues are before the court: (1) whether the unallotment of funding for the Minnesota Supplemental Aid—Special Diet Program is authorized by Minn. Stat. § 16A.152; and (2) whether the unallotment of funds for the Minnesota Supplemental Aid—Special Diet Program violated the separation of powers under the Minnesota Constitution. (Ramsey County)