EN BANC CALENDAR
Before the Minnesota Supreme Court
SUMMARY OF ISSUES
Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office
Monday, October 2, 2017
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor
Nichole Cox, Appellant vs. Mid-Minnesota Mutual Insurance Company, et al., Respondents – Case No. A16-0712: Appellant Nichole Cox sought to commence a breach-of-contract action against respondents Mid-Minnesota Mutual Insurance Company and North Star Mutual Insurance Company. Cox faxed the summons and complaint to the sheriff’s departments in Benton and Lyon Counties for service on the insurers pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. P. 3.01(c). The sheriff’s departments acknowledged the timely receipt of the summons and complaint and personally served the insurers.
The insurers moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing in part that the facsimile transmissions of the summons and complaint to the sheriffs’ departments did not effectively commence the action under Minn. R. Civ. P. 3.01(c), which provides that a civil action is commenced “when the summons is delivered to the sheriff.” The district court denied the motion to dismiss. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the “action was never properly commenced because [Cox] failed to personally deliver the summons and complaint to the sheriff’s departments.”
On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether “delivery” of a summons and complaint to the sheriff for service under Minn. R. Civ. P. 3.01(c) requires personal delivery in order for the subsequent service to be effective; and (2) whether the court of appeals had subject matter jurisdiction over the appeal. (Stearns County)
Brian Lee Flowers, Respondent vs. State of Minnesota, Appellant – Case No. A17-0750: Following a jury trial, respondent Brian Lee Flowers was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder. The district court imposed two mandatory sentences of life in prison without the possibility of release (LWOR) to be served consecutively. Six years later, in September 2015, Flowers filed a petition for postconviction relief seeking a resentencing hearing in accordance with Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). The district court granted Flowers’ request for a resentencing hearing and the parties submitted sentencing memoranda. According to Flowers, the district court could not impose consecutive sentences because the passage of time since his 2009 sentencing precluded a fair and meaningful opportunity to present mitigating evidence. The State, on the other hand, argued permissive consecutive sentences were authorized because Flowers had murdered more than one person. The district court sentenced Flowers to two life sentences with the possibility of release after 30 years, to be served concurrently.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the district court erred in concluding that it was legally prohibited from imposing consecutive sentences for two first-degree murder convictions involving two separate victims. (Hennepin County)
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor
James Linn, et al., Respondents vs. BCBSM, Inc., Appellant – Case No. A16-0986: Respondent James Linn had a health-plan contract with appellant BCBSM, Inc. (Blue Cross). Linn learned that he had a tumor on his thoracic spine in March 2014; the pathology report indicated chondrosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. Linn’s doctors recommended proton beam radiation therapy (PBRT). Blue Cross denied coverage on the ground that PBRT is not medically necessary under the health-plan contract for thoracic chondrosarcoma. In February 2015, Linn requested an external review of Blue Cross’s decision pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 62Q.73 (2016). An external-review organization concluded in April 2015 that PBRT is medically necessary for the treatment of Linn’s condition. Blue Cross then agreed to pay for the PBRT.
Linn and his wife commenced a district court action, seeking damages from Blue Cross for the delay in authorizing coverage. The district court granted summary judgment to Blue Cross on the Linns’ breach-of-contract claim, concluding that (a) the health-plan contract does not cover PBRT for chondrosarcoma located in the thoracic spine, and (b) Blue Cross cooperated with the appeals process and ultimately paid the claim. The court of appeals reversed and remanded. “[B]ecause the external-review determination binds the insurer with respect to medical necessity,” the court of appeals concluded that “the district court erred by interpreting the health-plan contract with respect to that issue.” The court of appeals remanded “for further consideration of whether the insurer’s failure to approve coverage when first requested constituted a breach of the timeliness provision of the contract and caused compensable damages to the insured.”
On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether Minn. Stat. § 62Q.73 establishes that decisions of external-review organizations related to medical necessity are binding on insurers with respect to the legal interpretation of health-plan contracts, and (2) whether Minnesota law permits insurers to be held liable for breach of contract based on the decisions of an external-review organization. (Ramsey County)
Timothy Hall, Jr., et al., Appellants vs. State of Minnesota, et al., Respondents – Case No. A16-0874: Appellants each owned property that was presumed abandoned under the Minnesota Uniform Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act (“MUPA”), Minn. Stat. §§ 345.31–.60 (2016). Pursuant to MUPA, appellants’ property was remitted to respondent Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Commerce and held by respondent the State of Minnesota in its general fund. Each appellant claims they did not receive notice from the original holder of the property, or from the State, that their property had been remitted by the property holder to the State. Some of the appellants submitted claims for the return of their property and received refunds of the value of the property that did not include interest accrued during the time the State held the property.
Appellants filed a proposed class-action complaint against respondents, claiming the State failed to provide adequate notice that it had taken custody of the property, in violation of the Due Process Clauses of the United States and Minnesota Constitutions, and that the State’s refusal to pay interest accrued on the property while it was in the State’s custody violated the Takings Clauses of the United States and Minnesota Constitutions. Respondents move to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, which the district court denied. But the district court certified two questions related to the constitutionality of MUPA as important and doubtful for appellate review under Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 103.03(i). The court of appeals accepted those questions for review and reversed, holding that MUPA satisfies due-process requirements and does not create an unconstitutional taking.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issues presented are (1) whether the notice and process provided under MUPA violated appellants’ procedural due process rights, and (2) whether remittance of presumptively abandoned property to the Commissioner pursuant to MUPA effects an unconstitutional taking of the property. (Ramsey County)
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor
Tyler Lee Johnson, Respondent vs. Commissioner of Public Safety, Appellant – Case No. A16-0502: On November 9, 2015, a North Branch police officer arrested respondent Tyler Johnson on suspicion of driving while under the influence of a controlled substance, then transported Johnson to a local emergency room. At the hospital, the officer read Johnson an implied-consent advisory, informing him that Minnesota law required him to take a test to determine if he was under the influence of alcohol or a hazardous or controlled substance and that he had the right to speak with an attorney before deciding whether to take a test. The officer also told Johnson that refusal to take a urine test is a crime. Johnson spent over an hour attempting to contact an attorney before the officer asked Johnson to submit to a urine test or a blood test. Johnson did not agree to either test. Appellant Commissioner of Public Safety revoked Johnson’s driver’s license based on his refusal to submit to a chemical test.
Johnson filed a petition for judicial review of his license revocation. Johnson claimed that his right to due process was violated because the officer did not properly inform him of the consequences of test refusal when he stated that refusal of a urine test is a crime. The district court rescinded the revocation of Johnson’s driver’s license, concluding that Johnson’s due process rights were violated. The court of appeals affirmed.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the parties raise the following issues in their briefs: (1) whether Johnson’s right to due process was violated because the officer mislead Johnson during the implied-consent advisory when he stated that refusal of a urine test is a crime; (2) whether a warrantless search of Johnson’s blood or urine would have been permissible under the Fourth Amendment because Johnson could have consented to the search; and (3) whether the Commissioner of Public Safety may revoke the driver’s license of a driver who refuses a warrantless blood or urine test because chemical testing done under the implied-consent law is a reasonable and constitutionally permissible search. (Chisago County)
Mitchell Edwin Morehouse, Appellant vs. Commissioner of Public Safety, Respondent – Case No. A16-0277: On August 30, 2015, a state trooper arrested appellant Mitchell Morehouse for driving while under the influence. At the jail, the trooper read Morehouse an implied-consent advisory, part of which informed Morehouse that Minnesota law required him to take a chemical test to determine if he was under the influence of alcohol and that refusal to submit to chemical testing is a crime. Morehouse was provided a phone and a phone book in order to contact an attorney. After approximately 1 hour, Morehouse said that he was done using the phone. The trooper asked Morehouse to provide a urine sample. Morehouse declined, but he agreed to submit to a blood test, which revealed an alcohol concentration of 0.149. Respondent Commissioner of Public Safety revoked Morehouse’s driver’s license.
Morehouse filed a petition for judicial review of his license revocation. The district court concluded that Morehouse’s consent to the blood test was voluntary under the totality of the circumstances and sustained the revocation. It did not address Morehouse’s argument that his due process rights were violated because the implied-consent advisory threatened criminal charges the State could not bring.
The court of appeals reversed and remanded. The court rejected Morehouse’s argument that his due process rights were violated because he was read an inaccurate implied-consent advisory. It remanded to the district court to reconsider whether Morehouse voluntarily consented to the blood test, based on Birchfield v. North Dakota, ___ S. Ct. ___, 136 S. Ct. 2160 (2016).
On appeal to the supreme court, the parties raise the following issues in their briefs: (1) whether Morehouse’s right to due process was violated because the officer mislead Morehouse during the implied-consent advisory when he stated that refusal to submit to chemical testing is a crime; (2) whether the warrantless search of Morehouse’s blood violated the Fourth Amendment; and (3) whether application of the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule is appropriate in this case. (Kanabec County)
Thursday, October 5, 2017
Alexandria High School
State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Erik John Heinonen, Appellant – Case No. A16-0229: Respondent State of Minnesota charged petitioner Erik John Heinonen with possession of a firearm by an ineligible person. Before trial, Heinonen moved to suppress the firearm, arguing the police failed to scrupulously honor his assertion of his right to remain silent when, two or three hours later, an officer asked Heinonen if he would consent to a DNA swab. The district court denied the motion to suppress. Following a jury trial, Heinonen was convicted of the charged offense and the district court imposed a presumptive sentence. The court of appeals affirmed.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issue is whether the police failed to scrupulously honor Heinonen’s assertion of his right to remain silent. (Sherburne County)
Monday, October 9, 2017
Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center
Jetaun Helen Wheeler, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A16-0835: Respondent State of Minnesota charged appellant Jetaun Wheeler with second-degree intentional murder. The State disclosed that two of Wheeler’s children had stated that they had witnessed the murder. At a pretrial hearing, the district court commented that Wheeler’s children having to testify against their mother was a serious situation for both sides and told the parties to make an attempt to resolve the case. The prosecutor later e-mailed the district court that the case was unlikely to settle and explained that Wheeler had offered to plead guilty to second-degree manslaughter and the State had countered with an offer of second-degree intentional murder and a sentence at the top of the presumptive sentencing range. In a reply e-mail, the district court told the parties that Wheeler’s offer was not “something the court is willing to do” and that “a plea to unintentional 2nd degree murder with a prison term the parties can agree on” was “more realistic.”
After the first day of trial, the district court said it understood that Wheeler had declined the State’s offer to plead guilty to second-degree unintentional murder. Wheeler’s counsel indicated that she would be discussing the offer with Wheeler over the weekend. When the parties returned to court the following Monday, Wheeler pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder.
Wheeler filed a petition for postconviction relief, arguing that she was entitled to withdraw her guilty plea because the district court had improperly participated in the plea negotiations. The district court denied Wheeler’s petition for postconviction relief without holding an evidentiary hearing. The court of appeals affirmed.
On appeal to the supreme court, the parties raise the following issues in their briefs: (1) whether the district court’s intervention in Wheeler’s plea negotiations rendered her plea invalid; and (2) whether Wheeler is entitled to an evidentiary hearing before a different judge on the claim she raised in her postconviction petition. (Hennepin County)
Nonoral: Birch Benjamin Hansen, Appellant vs. Suzanne Christine Todnem, Respondent – Case No. A16-0698: Appellant Birch Hansen and respondent Suzanne Todnem are the parents of a child born in 2010. Shortly after the parents negotiated a comprehensive parenting plan, which the district court adopted, Hansen made a request to provide care for the child before and after school on Todnem’s parenting days, rather than placing the child in the child-care program at his school. The district court denied Hansen’s request.
Hansen argued on appeal that the district court erred by failing to evaluate his request for additional parenting time under the best interest factors set forth in Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a) (2016). The court of appeals affirmed. “[U]nder these circumstances in which a minimal change in parenting time is at issue and where the district court’s decision was supported by a number of best interests findings,” the court of appeals concluded that “the district court did not abuse its discretion simply because it did not make explicit best interests findings on all the enumerated factors listed in Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a).”
On appeal to the supreme court, the following issue is presented: whether the district court should have considered and made findings on all the best interest factors in Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a), including “the benefit to the child in maximizing parenting time with both parents,” when deciding a parent’s request to care for the child while the other parent is working. (Ramsey County)
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Mitchell Hamline Law School
State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Lionel Lopez, Appellant – Case No. A16-0947: Appellant Lionel Lopez rented a room in a motel. He entered another room in the motel and took that guest’s cell phone and wallet. Respondent State of Minnesota charged Lopez, in part, with first-degree burglary. In order to commit first-degree burglary, a person must, among other things, “enter a building without consent.” Minn. Stat. § 609.582, subd. 1 (2016). Following a court trial, the district court found appellant guilty of first-degree burglary. A divided court of appeals panel affirmed.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether a motel room is a building for purposes of the burglary statute. (Kandiyohi County)
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center
State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Tchad Tu Henderson, Appellant – Case No. A16-0575: Appellant Tchad Tu Henderson was the front-seat passenger in a vehicle driven by Haji. Haji had consumed no alcohol, but Henderson was under the influence. There were two passengers in the back seat. During an argument with Haji about how to get to their destination, Henderson grabbed the steering wheel and turned it abruptly, causing the vehicle to leave the roadway and crash. Haji and the two back-seat passengers were seriously injured. Henderson was charged with multiple counts of criminal vehicular operation resulting in great bodily harm, Minn. Stat. § 609.21, subd. 1 (2012). He waived a jury trial and was tried to the court. The only issues were whether Henderson was “operating” the vehicle at the time and, if he was, whether he did so in a negligent or grossly negligent manner. The court found Henderson guilty of all charges.
On direct appeal, Henderson argued that the evidence at trial was insufficient to prove he was “operating” the vehicle at the time of the accident. He maintained that the State’s evidence established at most that he was in “physical control” of the vehicle, but that “operating” has a much narrower meaning. The court of appeals affirmed in a published opinion. The court held that Henderson’s act of moving the steering wheel fell within the plain meaning of the word “operated.”
On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether Henderson’s act of manipulating the steering wheel constitutes “operation” of a motor vehicle within the meaning of the criminal vehicular operation statute. (Anoka County)
Tracy Elizabeth Thompson and o/b/o Minor Child, petitioner, Appellant vs. John Patrick Schrimsher, Respondent – Case No. A16-0378: Appellant Thompson and respondent Schrimsher are the parents of a minor child. In 2012 the parties were living together in Georgia until Thompson took the minor child and moved to Minnesota. Schrimsher continued to live in Georgia, but later moved to California. Although Schrimsher physically abused Thompson in Georgia, she does not claim that he has either physically abused her or threatened physical abuse since she moved to Minnesota in 2012. In 2015, Thompson filed a petition for an order for protection (OFP), testifying that she and her family were frightened of Schrimsher and that she believed that he was still trying to exert control over her. Thompson’s father testified that Thompson was being threatened on the internet by a woman he believed was associated with Schrimsher.
Acting under Minn. Stat. § 518B.01, subd. 4 (2016), the district court found that Schrimsher had committed domestic abuse against Thompson. It granted a 2-year OFP against Schrimsher and in favor of Thompson and the minor child. The court of appeals reversed, reasoning that a finding of past domestic abuse alone is insufficient to support the issuance of an OFP without a showing of a present intent to cause or inflict fear of imminent physical harm.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether a finding of past domestic abuse is sufficient to support the issuance of an OFP. (Ramsey County)