Before the Minnesota Supreme Court

October 2009


Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office

Monday, October 5, 2009, 9:00 a.m.

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Moua Her, Appellant – Case No. A06-1743:  Appellant Moua Her was convicted of first-degree domestic abuse murder of his wife.  Her’s conviction was based, in part, on testimony from a police officer about a conversation in which Her’s wife accused him of assaulting her.  The state argued that such testimony about an out-of-court statement, although hearsay, should be admitted because a defendant who procures the absence of a witness is precluded from asserting the right to confront and cross-examine that witness at trial.  The conviction was affirmed on direct appeal, State v. Her, 750 N.W.2d 258 (Minn. 2008), and Her petitioned the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari.  While that petition was pending, the Supreme Court decided Giles v. California, 128 S. Ct. 2678 (2008), in which the Court clarified that the doctrine of forfeiture-by-wrongdoing applies only if the state proves that the defendant’s conduct was intended to prevent the witness from testifying or cooperating in a criminal prosecution.  The Court then remanded the Her case to the Minnesota Supreme Court for further consideration in light of Giles.  The issue before the state supreme court on remand is whether, in light of the Giles intent requirement, the district court violated Her’s rights to confront the witnesses against him by admitting testimony from the police officer about Her’s wife’s allegations of abuse.  (Ramsey County)

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Jonard Brandon McDaniel, Appellant – Case No. A07-2160:  Appellant Jonard Brandon McDaniel was convicted after a jury trial of aiding and abetting first-degree murder under Minn. Stat. § 609.05, subd. 2 (2008), and crime committed for the benefit of a gang and was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.  On appeal from his conviction and from the denial of postconviction relief, McDaniel raises the following issues:  (1) whether the district court erred in allowing the prosecution to introduce evidence that he tried to hide from the police, in the absence of evidence that McDaniel knew that he was a suspect in the crime; (2) whether the district court erred in allowing the prosecution to introduce evidence about gangs and their criminal behavior, evidence that McDaniel contends was extremely prejudicial and completely unnecessary; (3) whether prosecutorial misconduct deprived McDaniel of a fair trial; and (4) whether the district court imposed cruel or unusual punishment by sentencing McDaniel to life in prison without parole for a crime that requires the state to prove that murder was reasonably foreseeable as a probable consequence of the intended crime but does not require the state to prove that McDaniel’s acts were premeditated or intentional.  McDaniel raises additional issues in a pro se supplemental brief.  (Hennepin County)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009, 9:00 a.m.

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

State of Minnesota, Appellant vs. Ricky J. Carufel, Respondent – Case No. A07-1711:  After respondent Ricky J. Carufel sold cocaine to police informants at his residence, he was charged under Minn. Stat. § 152.022, subd. 1(6) (2008), with second-degree controlled substance crime for selling drugs in “a park zone.”  Minnesota Statutes § 152.01, subd. 12a (2008), defines “park zone” to include not only the area designated as a public park but “the area within 300 feet or one city block, whichever distance is greater, of the park boundary.”  After being instructed that there is no legal definition of a “city block,” the jury convicted Carufel of second-degree controlled substance crime.  The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the drug sales did not occur within one city block of the park, and ordered that Carufel be sentenced instead to third-degree controlled substance crime.  Three issues are before the supreme court on the prosecution’s appeal:  (1) whether the phrase “one city block” in Minn. Stat. § 152.01 is ambiguous where city streets are laid out on a grid system; (2) whether the determination that a drug crime occurred within “one city block of a park” is a question of sufficiency of the evidence, requiring that an appellate court defer to the jury’s verdict; and (3) whether the evidence at trial was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict.  (Winona County)

In the Matter of the Denial of Certification of the Variance Granted to David Haslund by the City of St. Mary’s Point – Case No. A08-427:  Appellant David Haslund was granted a variance by the City of St. Mary’s Point from the lot size requirements of the city’s Bluffland/Shoreland Management Ordinance to allow him to construct a residence on his property along the St. Croix River.  Respondent Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) denied certification of the variance because it was inconsistent with the Lower St. Croix Wild and Scenic River Act and DNR regulations enacted to implement that legislation.  The court of appeals affirmed respondent’s denial of certification.  The issues before the supreme court are: (1) whether the Department of Natural Resources has authority under Minn. Stat. § 103F.351 (2006) to deny certification of a municipality’s zoning decision based on inconsistency with the Department’s administrative regulations; and (2) whether, under the facts of this case, the DNR is equitably stopped from applying its rules in place of a municipal ordinance where it had previously approved the language of the ordinance.  (Washington County)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009, 9:00 a.m.

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

Jonathon L. Goodman, Respondent vs. Best Buy, Inc., Appellant – Case No. A07-1820:  Appellant Best Buy, Inc., terminated the employment of respondent Jonathan Goodman.  Goodman sued Best Buy in state court, asserting a federal law claim under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and a state law claim under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA).  Best Buy removed the case to federal district court.  The federal district court granted summary judgment for Best Buy on Goodman’s federal law claim and dismissed the state law claim without prejudice.  Goodman then re-commenced his MHRA action against Best Buy in state court.  The district court granted Best Buy’s motion for summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds, because the one-year statute of limitations under the MHRA had expired and Goodman did not start his new state court action within 30 days of the federal court dismissal, as allowed by 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d).  Goodman appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed.  The following issues are presented for review in the supreme court: (1) whether the tolling language in 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d) suspends the running of the statute of limitations for a state law claim over which a federal court exercises supplemental jurisdiction so that any portion of the limitations period that had not passed when the initial state court action was begun remains available after dismissal of the state law claim in federal court and is added to the 30 days section 1367(d) otherwise allows for a state law claim to be recommenced; and (2) whether under the paramount authority doctrine, a statute of limitations is tolled during the period between the date a state law claim is removed to federal district court and the date the federal district court dismisses the claim without prejudice.  (Hennepin County)

State of Minnesota, Appellant vs. Mohammed Gazizamil Al-Naseer, Respondent – Case No. A07-2275:  Respondent Mohammed Al-Naseer was convicted after a jury trial of two counts of criminal vehicular homicide.  Both convictions were reversed on appeal and the matter was remanded for a new trial.  State v. Al-Naseer, 678 N.W.2d 679, 695-96 (Minn. App. 2004), rev’d on other grounds, 690 N.W.2d 744 (Minn. 2005).  After a second trial, Al-Naseer was convicted of criminal vehicular homicide for leaving the scene of an accident under Minn. Stat. § 169.09, subd. 1 (2008) and of careless driving.  The court of appeals concluded that section 169.09, subdivision 1, requires that the driver stop only if the driver knew or had reason to know that the accident caused bodily injury to or the death of a person, reversed the conviction for criminal vehicular homicide, and remanded the matter to the district court for additional findings.  State v. Al-Naseer, 721 N.W.2d 623 (Minn. App. 2006).  On appeal, the supreme court held that a conviction of criminal vehicular homicide for leaving the scene of an accident requires knowledge that the driver’s vehicle was in an accident involving a person or another vehicle.  State v. Al-Naseer, 734 N.W.2d 679, 687-89 (Minn. 2007).  The court remanded the matter to the district court to reconsider its verdict and make amended findings based on the existing factual record.  On remand, the district court again found Al-Naseer guilty of criminal vehicular homicide for leaving the scene of an accident.  The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the restrictions imposed on the district court on remand denied Al-Naseer the full exercise of his fundamental trial rights.  The court remanded the matter for a new trial.  State v. Al-Naseer, No. A07-2275, 2009 WL 304738 (Minn. App. Feb. 10, 2009).  On the prosecution’s appeal to the supreme court, the issue is whether the district court erred in amending its findings based on the existing factual record, without taking additional testimony or receiving additional evidence.  (Clay County)

Thursday, October 8, 2009, 9:00 a.m.

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

David Swanson, Respondent vs. Rebecca Brewster, et al., Appellants – Case No. A08-806:  Respondent David Swanson was injured in an accident with a car driven by appellant Rebecca Brewster.  Swanson’s medical expenses were paid by HealthPartners, his health insurer.  Swanson’s health care providers billed HealthPartners approximately $62,000 for Swanson’s care and treatment after the accident, but under its agreements with those health care providers, HealthPartners resolved the charges by paying approximately $17,600.  A jury awarded Swanson $62,000 for past medical expenses.  Under Minn. Stat. § 548.251 (2008), the court is to reduce an award of damages by “payments related to the injury . . . made to the plaintiff, or on the plaintiff’s behalf,” by insurance.  Brewster sought an offset against the jury’s damages award for the full amount billed to HealthPartners.  The district court offset the damages award by the amount actually paid by HealthPartners.  The court of appeals affirmed.  The issue before the supreme court is whether medical expenses charged but written off by the plaintiff’s medical providers, pursuant to their contractual agreements with the plaintiff’s medical insurer, should be deducted from a damage award under the collateral source offset statute.  (Hennepin County)

Middle-Snake-Tamarac Rivers Watershed District, Appellant vs. James Stengrim, Respondent – Case No. A08-825:  Appellant Middle-Snake-Tamarac River Watershed District settled litigation against landowners whose property the District sought to obtain as part of a flood-control project. The settlement agreement included a provision in which the landowners agreed to address no further challenges against the project.  The District later sued respondent James Stengrim, alleging that his continuing efforts to oppose the project violated the settlement agreement.  Stengrim moved to have the lawsuit dismissed under Minnesota’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) law, Minn. Stat. §§ 554.01-.05 (2008).  The anti-SLAPP law is intended to protect people who participate in advocacy related to public issues from the lawsuits intended to chill that participation.  The district court denied Stengrim’s motion, holding that the protections of the anti-SLAPP law do not apply to an action to enforce a settlement agreement.  The court of appeals reversed and remanded.  The issues before the supreme court are whether the court of appeals correctly ruled that the anti-SLAPP law does apply to litigation brought to interpret and enforce a settlement agreement and whether the procedures established for remand in this case failed to protect the responding party rights protected by Minn. Stat. § 554.05.  (Marshall County)

Monday, October 12, 2009, 9:00 a.m.

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

In the Matter of the Denial of Certification of the Variance Granted to Robert W. Hubbard by the City of Lakeland – Case Nos. A07-1932 and A07-2006:    Respondent City of Lakeland granted respondent Robert Hubbard a bluffline setback variance to build a home along the St. Croix River.  The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued a notice of nonapproval of the variance.  Hubbard and Lakeland challenged the DNR action.  After oral argument in the supreme court on issues concerning application of the 60-day rule established in Minn. Stat. § 15.99, subd. 2 (2008), the supreme court allowed supplemental briefing on the following issues that were not reached by the court of appeals:  (1)  did the DNR have statutory authority under Minnesota’s wild and scenic river legislation to overturn the City’s variance decision; (b) did the 2004 amendments to the Municipal Planning Act, which expressly authorize landowners to “replace” but not expand nonconformities, entitle Hubbard to replace the nonconforming structure on his property with new construction set further back from the bluffline; and (c) did the DNR apply the wrong legal standards for a variance from a dimensional or area zoning requirement?  (Washington County)

Dean and Delores Oliver, Respondents vs. State of Minnesota, by its Commissioner of Transportation, Appellant – Case No. A08-646:  Respondents Dean and Delores Oliver own property near, but not adjacent to, Trunk Highway 10, and used a private road connected to Highway 10 over adjoining properties as a haul road for their gravel business.  Appellant State of Minnesota, through the Department of Transportation (MnDOT), closed the private road’s access to Highway 10 as part of a project to build a new interchange.  The Olivers began this inverse condemnation action to compel MnDOT to compensate them for the taking of their access to Highway 10.  The district court dismissed the Olivers’ claim for compensation because the Olivers retained reasonably convenient and suitable access from their property to Highway 10 by an alternate route despite the closing of the private road.  The court of appeals agreed with the finding of reasonably convenient and suitable access, but remanded for a determination whether the Olivers have a prescriptive easement in the private road, and if so, whether the closing of that road is a compensable taking.  The issue on appeal to the supreme court is whether the closing of the private road can constitute a compensable taking in light of the alternative access available to the property.  (Clay County)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009, 9:00 a.m.

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

S.M. Hentges & Sons, Inc., Appellant vs. Richard Mensing, et al., Respondents, Land Geeks, L.L.C., et al., Defendants, Short Elliott Hendrickson, Inc., Respondent, City of Cannon Falls, Respondent – Case Nos. A08-418 and A08-569:   Appellant S.M. Hentges & Sons, Inc. (Hentges), was hired as the general contractor to develop a residential subdivision in Cannon Falls. Appellant hired respondent Short Elliot Hendrickson, Inc. (SEH), to perform engineering and survey work for the project.  The project was never completed, and neither Hentges nor SEH were fully compensated for the work it performed.  Hentges began a foreclosure action against the property owners and SEH filed a mechanic’s lien foreclosure claim as part of the case.  The district court held that SEH did not have a valid mechanic’s lien because it did not provide the landowners with prelien notice required by Minn. Stat. § 514.011, subd. 4b (2008).  The court of appeals reversed that ruling, holding that an exception in the prelien notice statute for improvements to real property “consisting of or providing for more than four family units when the improvement is wholly residential in character” applies to this project.  The issue before the supreme court is whether that exception applies only to multi-unit residential buildings.  Alternatively, SEH argues that the prelien notice requirement does not apply to those performing only engineering services.   (Goodhue County)

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Bent Karlsen, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 254344 – Case No. A08-623:  An attorney discipline case that presents the question of what discipline, if any, is appropriate under the facts of the matter. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009, 9:30 a.m.

Hibbing High School

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Adolphus Brown, Appellant – Case No. A07-599:  Appellant Adolphus Brown was convicted after a jury trial of attempted second-degree murder and possession of a pistol without a permit.  His convictions were affirmed by the court of appeals.  On Brown’s appeal to the supreme court, two issues are before the court.  The first issue is whether a statement used to impeach Brown’s testimony at trial was made during discussion of a plea agreement at the omnibus hearing, entitling Brown to a new trial.  Under Rule 410 of the Minnesota Rules of Evidence, statements made “in connection with” an offer to plead guilty are not admissible in a criminal case.  The second issue before the court is whether Brown’s conviction must be vacated because the evidence at trial failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Brown shot with intent to kill.  (Hennepin County)