Before the Minnesota Supreme Court

September 2009


Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office

Monday, August 31, 2009, 9:00 a.m.

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

Pamela Krueger, Appellant, Diamond Dust Contracting, LLC, Plaintiff vs. Zeman Construction Company, Respondent – Case No. A08-206:  Appellant Pamela Krueger is the sole owner of Diamond Dust Contracting, LLC.  In 2005, Diamond Dust contracted with respondent Zeman Construction Company to perform labor and furnish materials to a construction project in Wabasha.  Krueger and Diamond Dust allege that employees of Zeman treated Krueger and other Diamond Dust employees in a discriminatory and harassing manner because of Krueger’s gender and created an abusive, hostile, and threatening work environment.  Krueger and Diamond Dust filed suit against Zeman Construction under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minn. Stat. § 363A.17, subd. 3 (2008), alleging sexual harassment and gender discrimination.  The district court dismissed Krueger’s complaint for lack of standing because she personally had no contract with Zeman Construction.  A divided court of appeals affirmed.  On appeal to the supreme court, the issue is whether a plaintiff seeking recovery under the Minnesota Human Rights Act must allege privity with the defendant to state a claim for relief under the Act.  (Hennepin County)

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Philander Jenkins, Appellant – Case No. A08-1269:  Appellant Philander Jenkins was convicted after a jury trial of first-degree murder.  On appeal from that conviction, Jenkins asks the supreme court to decide:  (1) whether the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence taken from his home after his arrest; (2) whether Jenkins was denied due process and fundamental fairness by the conduct of the trial; and (3) whether the district court violated Minn. Stat. § 609.035, subd. 1 (2008), by sentencing Jenkins to two consecutive life sentences without possibility of parole.  (Hennepin County)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009, 9:00 a.m.

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

Moorhead Economic Development Authority, Respondent vs. Roger W. Anda, et al., Appellants, Kjos Investments, Respondent-Below – Case Nos. A07-1918 and A07-1930:  Appellant Roger Anda purchased the Holiday Office Park in Moorhead in 1995.  In 2001, respondent Moorhead Economic Development Authority acquired the Holiday Office Park under a quick-take eminent domain action for development of a hotel on the property.  Anda appealed the commissioners’ award of about $489,000 to the district court. 

During demolition of the existing office building, the developer discovered environmental contamination beneath the parking lot, apparently stemming from an underground fuel tank.  The parties disputed which underground tank was responsible for the contamination.  The development authority sued Anda for damages caused by the contamination to adjacent properties.  A jury found that the fair market value of the office park, had it not been contaminated, was $455,000; the jury further found that because the property was contaminated, its fair market value was zero.  The district court awarded damages to the development authority of about $475,000 for the cost of remediation.  The court of appeals affirmed. 

Appellants present eight issues to the supreme court:  (1) whether the fair value paid for property in a quick-take eminent domain action can be reduced for contamination discovered after a taking; (2) whether a property owner who is not in exclusive control of the property can be held strictly liable for latent environmental problems discovered after a taking; (3) whether forcing a property owner to pay to remediate contamination discovered after a taking violates due process; (4) whether the district court erred in finding Anda negligent; (5) whether the district court erred in finding that Anda created a nuisance; (6) whether the district court should have instructed the jury on comparative fault; (7) whether the district court correctly denied Anda’s motions for summary judgment and for judgment as a matter of law; and (8) whether the district court correctly denied Anda’s motion for a new trial.  (Clay County)

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Revelle NMN Loving, Appellant – Case No. A08-1492:  Appellant Revelle Loving was convicted after a jury trial of two counts of first-degree premeditated murder in the deaths of his former girlfriend and another man.  On appeal from his conviction, Loving presents the following issues to the supreme court:  (1) whether the trial court erred in denying Loving’s motion to suppress gunshot residue evidence found on clothing from a bag in the trunk of Loving’s car because the test in this case was unreliable; and (2) whether the trial court abused its discretion under Minn. Stat. § 634.20 (2008) by allowing evidence of domestic abuse between Loving and the female victim to be admitted at trial because the prejudicial effect of this evidence outweighed its probative value.  (Hennepin County)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009, 9:00 a.m.

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

Patricia Ann Langston, Appellant vs. Wilson McShane Corporation, as Administrators for the Twin Cities Carpenters and Joiners Pension Fund, et al., Respondents – Case No. A07-2034:  Under ERISA, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, retirement benefits can be assigned in marital dissolution proceedings only by a court order that is determined to be “qualified” under that federal law.  29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(1), 3(A) (2000).  The marriage between appellant Patricia Langston and her former husband, Gary, was dissolved in 1993.  The judgment and decree of dissolution awards Langston an interest in the pension payments to be paid to Gary and requires that Gary elect survivor benefits under the plan, if available, and name Patricia as the survivor beneficiary.  However, no order directed to the pension plan in which Gary was a participant was entered until July 2005.  The administrator of Gary’s pension plan rejected the district court’s July 2005 order because Gary had remarried, named his second wife as the survivor beneficiary, and had already retired.  Gary Langston died in October 2005.  Patricia filed a motion in the 1993 marital dissolution proceeding for an order requiring the plan to honor the order, which motion was denied. 

Patricia then began this lawsuit seeking a declaration that the July 2005 order is a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) under ERISA.  Respondents Twin Cities Carpenters and Joiners Pension Fund and Wilson McShane Corporation, the plan administrator, initially defaulted, but later moved to vacate the default judgment.  Respondents argued that under ERISA, the federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction to determine whether a domestic relations order is “qualified.”  See 29 U.S.C. §§ 1132(a)(1)(B), 1132(e)(1) (2000).  The district court denied respondents’ motion.  The court of appeals reversed, holding that only the federal courts have jurisdiction over the question of whether a domestic relations order is “qualified” under ERISA.  The issue on appeal to the supreme court is whether Minnesota state courts have concurrent jurisdiction with federal courts over a claim that a domestic relations order entered by a Minnesota state court is “qualified” under ERISA.  (Anoka County)

Nancy M. Meyer, as Trustee for the heirs of Margaret Mphosi, deceased, et al., and Nancy M. Meyer, as guardian ad litem for Lucas M. Mphosi, injured, et al., Appellant, and Bunmi Obembe, et al., Intervenors vs. Bibian Nwokedi, Defendant, Enterprise Rent A Car Co. of Montana/Wyoming, d/b/a Enterprise Rent A Car of the Dakotas/Nebraska, Respondent – Case No. A08-250:  In 2004, a car driven by Bibian Nwokedi was involved in a single-car rollover in which Margaret Mphosi and one of her children were killed; four others in the car were injured.  The car involved in the accident was rented from respondent Enterprise Rent A Car.  Under a provision in its rental agreement, Enterprise paid $60,000, the minimum limits for residual liability insurance in Minnesota under Minn. Stat. § 65B.49, subd. 3(1) (2008). 

Under federal law known as the Graves Amendment, rental car companies are generally not vicariously liable for damage arising out of the operation of a rented vehicle.  49 U.S.C. § 30106 (2006).  However, the Graves Amendment does not preempt state laws imposing financial responsibility or insurance standards on vehicle owners, or state laws imposing liability on rental car companies for failing to meet state financial responsibility or liability insurance requirements.  49 U.S.C. § 30106(b).  Under Minnesota law, a vehicle owner is liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior for damages arising from the operation of a motor vehicle with the consent of the owner.  Minn. Stat. § 169.09, subd. 5a (2008).  Minnesota Statutes § 65B.49, subd. 5(a)(i)(2) (2008), states that an owner of a rental car is not vicariously liable for legal damages resulting from the operation of the rental vehicle in an amount greater than $100,000 because of bodily injury to one person in any one accident, or $300,000 because of injury to two or more persons in any one accident. 

The district court dismissed damage claims brought against Enterprise by Nancy Meyer, as trustee for the heirs of passenger killed and for the passenger injured in the accident, on grounds that the Graves Amendment preempted Minnesota law.  The court of appeals affirmed.  The question before the supreme court is whether 49 U.S.C. 30106 (2008) preempts Minn. Stat. §§ 65B.49, subd. 5a(i)(2) and 169.09, subd. 5a (2008), insofar as they require rental car owners to provide residual liability coverage in the specific amounts prescribed by Minn. Stat. § 65B.49, subd. 5a(i)(2).  (Otter Tail County)

Thursday, September 3, 2009, 10:00 a.m.

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Albert A. Garcia, Jr., a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 218462– Case No. A09-877:  An attorney discipline case that presents the question of whether, under the facts of the matter, respondent Albert A. Garcia, Jr., should be temporarily suspended from the practice of law pending a final determination in the case. 

EN BANC NONORAL - Brett Randall Walen, petitioner, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A09-183:  Appellant Brett Walen was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder; his conviction and the denial of his first petition for postconviction relief were affirmed on appeal.  State v. Walen, 563 N.W.2d 742 (Minn. 1997).  In July 2007, Walen filed a second petition for postconviction relief, claiming that a previously undisclosed ballistics report from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, produced in response to Walen’s postconviction request for documents, “failed to show an identification” in a comparison of bullet fragments recovered from the victim and bullets fired from a gun attributed to Walen.  A later ballistics report that was produced to Walen before trial was “inconclusive.”  The district court permitted Walen to file supplemental motions to compel discovery but denied Walen’s petition without addressing the motions for additional discovery.  On appeal to the supreme court, Walen presents three issues:  (1) whether the postconviction court abused its discretion by summarily denying Walen’s petition without addressing Walen’s discovery motions; (2) whether the newly discovered ballistics report requires that Walen be given an evidentiary hearing on the petition for postconviction relief; and (3) whether the failure to disclose the ballistics report denied Walen a fair trial.  (Rice County)

EN BANC NONORAL - Henry J. Langer, Relator, Patricia K. Langer, Appellant Below vs. Commissioner of Revenue, Respondent – Case No. A09-414:  On April 8, 2008, the Commissioner of Revenue issued an order assessing Henry and Patricia Langer for unpaid income tax, interest, and penalties for the tax years 2003 through 2006.  Under Minn. Stat. § 271.06, subd. 2 (2008), the Langers had 60 days in which to appeal the commissioner’s order.  The Langers sought and received a 30-day extension of the deadline to July 7, 2008.  The Langers served a notice of appeal on the Commissioner but the notice of appeal was not received by the Minnesota Tax Court by the July 7 deadline.  The Langers produced evidence that the notice of appeal was mailed on July 2 and contend that it was lost either by the postal service or the Tax Court.  The Tax Court dismissed the Langers’ appeal for lack of jurisdiction.  On appeal to the supreme court, the issue is whether the Tax Court erred in dismissing the Langers’ appeal.  (Minnesota Tax Court)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009, 6:30 p.m.

William Mitchell College of Law, Room 245

Andrew Tyler Jones, Appellant vs. Steven C. Borchardt, Respondent – Case No. A08-556:  Minnesota Statutes § 641.12, subd. 3 (2008), allows the county to require that “an offender convicted of a crime and confined in the county jail” pay the cost of the offender’s room and board.  Appellant Andrew Jones was arrested for aggravated robbery on March 31, 2004.  Unable to make bail, Jones remained in the Olmsted County jail until he pled guilty to the charges on November 22, 2004.  Respondent Steven Borchardt, the Olmsted County sheriff, sent Jones a bill for $7,150, representing $25 for each day Jones spent in the county jail.  The district court granted judgment to the sheriff; the court of appeals affirmed.  On appeal to the supreme court, Jones presents three issues:  (1) whether Minn. Stat. § 641.12 permits the sheriff to bill an offender for time spent in the county jail before conviction; (2) whether by billing Jones but not similarly situated inmates who were financially able to make bail, the sheriff violated Jones’ rights to due process and equal protection; and (3) whether the sheriff abused his discretion by not considering Jones’ ability to pay before assessing the costs.  (Olmsted County)