Before the Minnesota Supreme Court

December 2007


Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office

Monday, November 26, 2007, 9:00 a.m.

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

City of Morris, Respondent vs. Sax Investments, Inc., et al., Appellant – Case No. A06-1188:  Appellant Michael Sax owns residential rental property in the City of Morris.  Respondent City of Morris inspected the property in January 2005 and noted various violations of the city’s ordinance governing the condition of rental property, which it ordered Sax to correct.  Sax refused to do so, on grounds that the property complied with the state building code and the city could not enact a local ordinance that conflicted with the state building code.  Minnesota Statutes § 16B.62, subd. 1 (2006), provides that the state building code “supersedes the building code of any municipality.”  But subdivision 1 of section 16B.62 also states that “[n]othing in this section prohibits a municipality from adopting ordinances relating to zoning, subdivision, or planning” unless the ordinance conflicts with a provision of the state building code that “regulates components or systems of any residential structure.”  The district court enjoined Sax from renting the property until it was in compliance with the city ordinance.  The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that although the state building code preempts local ordinances that regulate construction, remodeling, alteration or restoration of structures, it does not preempt local ordinances that establish habitability standards in rental housing.  The issue before the supreme court is whether the state building code preempts the city’s rental housing ordinance.  (Morris County)

EN BANC NONORAL - Donald Albin Blom, petitioner, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A07-782:  Donald Blom was convicted of first‑degree murder; his conviction was affirmed on direct appeal.  State v. Blom, 682 N.W.2d 568 (Minn. 2004).  Blom, acting pro se, appeals from the denial of his third petition for post-conviction relief.  Among the issues raised are:  (1) whether Blom was denied the right to present certain evidence at trial; (2) whether prosecutors tricked Blom into making a statement concerning the allegations against him; (3) whether prosecutors wrongfully released Blom’s statement to the public; (4) whether the district court erred in denying Blom’s petition for post-conviction relief without an evidentiary hearing; (5) whether Blom was prejudiced by conflicting rulings of the state and federal courts that were simultaneously hearing criminal charges against him; and (6) whether the state imprisoned Blom in Pennsylvania in order to deny him meaningful access to Minnesota’s courts.  Respondent State of Minnesota contends Blom’s claims are procedurally barred under Knaffla because he knew or should have known of them at the time of his direct appeal.  (Carlton County)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007, 9:00 a.m.

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

In the Matter of the Welfare of the Child of:  T.P. and P.P., Parents.  In the Matter of the Welfare of the Child of:  T.P. and D.W., Parents – Case No. A07-16:  A daycare center noticed bruises on K.P.’s face when she was about five months old.  Father attributed the bruising to a fall from the bed while mother was at work.  Tests showed K.P. had also recently suffered a broken ankle and broken wrist, which likely did not cause K.P. substantial pain.  Both parents’ rights to their infant daughter were terminated under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(6) (2006) (“that a child has experienced egregious harm in the parent’s care”); only the termination of mother’s parental rights is at issue here.  The district court made no express finding that mother inflicted K.P.’s injuries or was even aware of her broken bones, but terminated mother’s parental rights on grounds that K.P.’s injuries occurred “at a time when she was in the care of [mother and father] either jointly or individually.”  The court of appeals affirmed the termination of mother’s parental rights over mother’s argument that termination of parental rights under subdivision 1(b)(6) requires that the parent have either inflicted the child’s injuries or consciously disregarded injuries inflicted by another.  At issue before the supreme court is the meaning of the phrase “in the parent’s care” in Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(6).  (Otter Tail County)

Erin J. Osborne, individually and as parent and natural guardian of Alexia Ray Osborne Riley, et al., Appellants vs. Twin Town Bowl, Inc., d/b/a Jerry Dutler Bowl, Respondent – Case No. A06-1007:  During the evening of August 21, 2001, Michael Riley had several drinks at the Jerry Dutler Bowl.  After Riley left the bowling alley, a state trooper stopped him on a bridge over the Mississippi River for speeding.  The trooper smelled alcohol on Riley’s breath and, after Riley failed a field sobriety test, the trooper placed him under arrest for driving while intoxicated.  But instead of following the trooper to the squad car, Riley jumped over the bridge into the river and drowned.  Riley’s family, appellants here, sued respondent Twin Town Bowl, Inc., which operated the bowling alley, on grounds that respondent illegally served Riley after he was obviously intoxicated.  The suit was dismissed by the district court on grounds that there was insufficient evidence that Riley’s intoxication caused his death.  The court of appeals affirmed.  Two issues are before the supreme court:  (1) whether Riley’s decision to jump from the bridge was an intervening act that broke the causal chain of events; and (2) whether a report prepared by appellants’ expert concerning the effects of alcohol on Riley’s decision-making processes was sufficient to create an issue for trial.  (Blue Earth County)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007, 9:00 a.m.

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

In the Matter of the Welfare of the Children of:  N.F. and S.F., Parents – Case No. A07-152:  Father S.F. struck his twelve-year old son approximately 12 times on the back of the upper thighs with a wooden paddle as punishment for leaving the house without permission, then another 12 times for being disrespectful.  After the second set of blows, the son grabbed a knife and threatened to kill himself.  After disarming the boy, father struck the boy with the paddle another 12 times.  The district court adjudicated the boy as in need of protection or services under Minn. Stat. § 260C.007, subd. 6(2) (“a victim of physical or sexual abuse”) (2006).  The court of appeals reversed the CHIPS adjudication.  The court concluded that “physical abuse” under section 260C.007, subd. 6(2), requires, like malicious punishment of a child under Minn. Stat. § 609.377, subd. 1 (2006), “unreasonable force or cruel discipline that is excessive under the circumstances.”  The court further concluded that the discipline administered in this case was not excessive under the circumstances.  The issue for the supreme court is the definition of “physical abuse” under section 260C.007, subdivision 6(2).  (Hennepin County)

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Timothy Kenbert Engle, Appellant – Case No. A05-2423:  Appellant Timothy Engle was employed as a security guard at an apartment building in St. Paul.  During the early morning hours of November 2, 2003, Engle and another security guard were questioning a man suspected of breaking into a resident’s vehicle when the man ran away from them and jumped into a waiting car.  Engle and the other guard gave chase, drew their weapons, and ordered the vehicle to stop.  As Engle pulled the man from the car, Engle’s firearm discharged, hitting the man.  The state agreed at trial that Engle did not intend to fire his gun.  Engle was convicted after a court trial of reckless discharge of a firearm in a municipality, a violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.66, subd. 1a(a)(3) (2006).  At issue before the supreme court is whether a conviction under Minn. Stat. § 609.66, subd. 1a(a)(3), requires that the firearm be intentionally discharged. 

Thursday, November 29, 2007, 9:00 a.m.

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. C. Dennis Simion, Appellant – Case No. A06-83:  Appellant Dennis Simion was employed as an over-the-road truck driver.  In a dispute with his then-employer, Simion removed from the employer’s truck a custom driver’s seat, damaging the truck in the process.  Simion testified at trial that he removed the seat while the truck was parked at his home in Wisconsin; Simion’s then-employer was headquartered in Minnesota.  Simion was convicted after a jury trial of felony theft and misdemeanor damage to property.  The court of appeals affirmed the convictions.  Simion presents four issues for determination by the supreme court:  (1) whether Minnesota had jurisdiction over the charged offenses; (2) whether the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction of felony theft; (3) whether Simion is entitled to a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct; and (4) whether the district court erred in ordering him to pay restitution to his former employer.  (Hennepin County)

In the Matter of the Welfare of the Children of:  S.E.P. and J.W.P., Parents – Case No. A07-25:  Appellants’ two children were placed in foster care after father pleaded guilty to malicious punishment of a child in connection with a spanking of one of the children.  Mother’s case plan required her to maintain safe and stable housing and to not allow father “on the premises or in the home,” but mother admitted that father was still living with her.  The district court terminated the parental rights of both parents on grounds that they had each failed to correct the conditions that led to out-of-home placement.  The court of appeals affirmed the termination of father’s parental rights but reversed the termination of mother’s parental rights, noting that because the couple’s children were in foster care, mother’s decision to continue living with father “could not have put the children at risk.”  At issue before the supreme court is whether the evidence was sufficient to terminate mother’s parental rights under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5) (failure to correct the conditions leading to out-of-home placement).  (Itasca County) 

Monday, December 3, 2007, 9:00 a.m.

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Prentis Cordell Jackson, Appellant – Case No. A07-395:  Prentis Jackson appeals from his conviction of first-degree murder based, in part, on the testimony of several witnesses who were alleged to be Jackson’s fellow gang members.  At trial, Jackson denied any participation and asked the court to instruct the jury that it could not convict him on the basis of testimony of accomplices unless that testimony was corroborated.  An accomplice is, for this purpose, a person who could have been convicted of the crime with which the accused is charged.  State v. Palubicki, 700 N.W.2d 476, 487 (Minn. 2005).  The district court denied Jackson’s request to instruct the jury on accomplice testimony on two grounds:  first, that based on the testimony at trial none of the witnesses could have been charged with the crime; and second, that because Jackson denied all involvement, there could be no accomplices.  The supreme court is asked to decide whether the district court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on accomplice testimony and, if so, whether that error entitles Jackson to a new trial.  (Hennepin County)

EN BANC NONORAL - Gary Lee Cooper, petitioner, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A07-1038:  Petitioner pro se Gary Cooper’s conviction of first-degree murder was affirmed on direct appeal.  State v. Cooper, 561 N.W.2d 175 (Minn. 1997).  During trial, the jury asked to review the testimony of a particular witness.  The trial court judge responded by telling the jury no transcript was available and that jurors would have to rely on their own memories.  On appeal from the denial of his fourth petition for post-conviction relief, Cooper asks whether the district court should have granted an evidentiary hearing on the petition for post-conviction relief because the trial court’s response to the jury’s request:  (1) denied him the right to be present at every critical stage of the trial; (2) constituted improper ex parte communication with jurors; and (3) constituted an improper denial of jurors’ request to review certain evidence.  Also at issue are whether Cooper received the effective assistance of counsel at trial and on appeal and whether the trial court committed reversible error by not declaring a mistrial due to prosecutorial misconduct.  (Hennepin County)