Before the Minnesota Supreme Court

March 2008


Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office

Monday, March 3, 2008

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

In re Continental Casualty Company and Continental Insurance Company, Petitioners.  Continental Casualty Company, et al., Appellants vs. 3M Company, Respondent, ACE Bermuda Insurance, Ltd., et al., Defendants, Transamerica Premier Insurance Company, n/k/a Fairmont Premier Insurance, Respondent – Case No. A07-784:  The parties in this appeal are 3M Company and more than 60 insurance companies that provided excess liability insurance to 3M since the 1960s.  Appellant Continental Casualty Company, one of the insurers, began a declaratory judgment action in Hennepin County in January 2007, to determine the extent of its liability and that of the other insurers for claims of personal injury and product liability relating to various products manufactured and marketed by respondent 3M.  Some of those claims involve exposure to asbestos.  In 1987, the Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court issued an order consolidating before a single judge in Ramsey County “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.”  On 3M’s motion, the Hennepin County District Court transferred venue of Continental Casualty’s declaratory judgment action to Ramsey County, based on the Chief Justice’s 1987 order and in the interests of justice.  Continental Casualty petitioned the court of appeals for a writ of mandamus to overturn the order transferring the matter to Ramsey County; Continental Casualty’s petition was denied.  Before the supreme court, the questions are:  (1) whether the district court erred in transferring the case based on the 1987 order; and (2) whether the district court erred in determining that transfer of venue to Ramsey County would serve the interests of justice.  (Hennepin County).

State of Minnesota, Appellant vs. Charles Howard McCray, II, Respondent – Case No. A06-857:  Respondent Charles McCray was charged with first-degree and second-degree criminal sexual conduct, after a seven-year-old girl told police that McCray had digitally penetrated her.  The jury was shown a videotape of the girl’s interview with police, in which she indicated that penetration had occurred, but during her testimony at trial, the girl denied that penetration had occurred.  The district court dismissed the charge of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and told the jury “[n]either the attorneys nor I will address these matters further.”  In closing argument, the prosecutor referred to the girl’s videotaped statement and offered several explanations for the difference between the videotaped statement and her testimony at trial.  McCray was convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct.  The court of appeals reversed McCray’s conviction, concluding that the prosecutor’s statements constituted misconduct that mandated a new trial.  On appeal to the supreme court, the issues are whether the prosecutor’s references to penetration during closing argument constituted misconduct and, if so, whether McCray is entitled to a new trial.  (Stearns County).

Tuesday, March 4, 2008, 9:00 a.m.

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

Aaron R. Carlson, et al., Appellants vs. Allstate Insurance Company, Respondent, and Allstate Insurance Company, defendant and third-party plaintiff, Respondent vs. Michael J. Fay, et al., third-party defendants, Respondents – Case No. A06-1664:  After appellant Aaron Carlson alighted from a car leased for him by his father, he was struck by an uninsured motorist.  Carlson obtained a judgment against the driver for his injuries, and then sought payment under his father’s uninsured motorist coverage with respondent Allstate Insurance Company.  The policy listed Carlson as a driver of the vehicle but not as a “named insured.”  Allstate denied coverage, and its denial was upheld by the district court and the court of appeals.  Three issues are before the supreme court:  (1) whether the language of the Allstate policy covers Carlson; (2) whether the policy should be deemed to cover Carlson under the doctrine of “reasonable expectations”; and (3) whether the policy should be reformed to cover Carlson because uninsured motorist coverage is mandated by Minnesota’s No-Fault Act, Minn. Stat. § 65B.49 (2006).  (St. Louis County).

Judy Frieler, Appellant vs. Carlson Marketing Group, Inc., Respondent – Case No. A06-1693:  Appellant Judy Frieler sued her former employer, respondent Carlson Marketing Group, Inc., for creating a hostile environment and for vicarious liability after the alleged sexual assault of Frieler by another employee.  Frieler’s suit was dismissed on summary judgment after the district court ruled that Carlson Marketing Group neither knew, nor had reason to know, of the employee’s actions.  The court of appeals affirmed.  Two issues are before the supreme court:  (1) whether the legislature’s 2001 amendments to the Minnesota Human Rights Act, and specifically the definition of “sexual harassment” under Minn. Stat. § 363A03, subd. 43 (2006), eliminated the “knew or should have known” standard in favor of the federal standard for vicarious liability of an employer for acts of sexual harassment committed by another employee under Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 807 (1998), and Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 765 (1998); and (2) whether, to preserve her claim of vicarious liability for assault and battery, Frieler was required to present expert testimony that the other employee’s sexual assault of her was foreseeable.  (Hennepin County).

Wednesday, March 5, 2008, 9:00 a.m.

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

David Torgelson, Renville County Attorney, Appellant vs. Real Property known as 17138 880th Avenue, Renville County, Minnesota, Defendant, Kent Feigum, Respondent (Case No. A06-1507) and Thomas G. Kramer, Yellow Medicine County Attorney, Appellant vs. Property Located at 860 10th Avenue, Granite Falls, Minnesota 56241 (Lot 7, Block Eighteen, Lathrop’s First Addition to the City of Granite Falls, Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota), Defendant, Luverne W. Johnson, owner, Respondent (Case No. A06-1757):  Respondents Kent Feigum (Case No. A06-1507) and Luverne W. Johnson (Case No. A06-1757) each pleaded guilty to controlled substance crimes.  Minnesota Statutes § 609.5311, subd. 2 (2006), makes real property used in the unlawful manufacturing of controlled substances subject to forfeiture.  In each of these cases, consolidated before the supreme court for argument, the property subject to forfeiture is homestead property under Minn. Stat. § 510.01 (2006).  In each case, the district court ruled that the forfeiture of homestead property does not violate Article I, § 12 of the Minnesota Constitution, which exempts a reasonable amount of property from seizure “for the payment of any debt.”  The court of appeals reversed in each case, holding that the forfeiture of homestead property based on the criminal acts of the property owner is a seizure for the payment of a liability which is prohibited by the constitution.  The issue for the supreme court is whether Minnesota’s drug forfeiture statute is unconstitutional as applied to the forfeiture of a homestead.  (Renville and Yellow Medicine Counties).

Beth McGlothlin, Respondent vs. State Farm Insurance Companies a/k/a State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, garnishee, Appellant – Case No. A06-1016:  While working in Hopkins, respondent Beth McGlothlin stayed during the week with her half-sister, Dawn Steinmetz, and Steinmetz’s husband in Eagan; on weekends, McGlothlin returned to her parents’ home in Wisconsin.  After the Steinmetzes’ dog bit McGlothlin in the face, she sued the Steinmetzes for her injuries.  The parties entered into a Miller-Shugart agreement, under which the district court entered judgment against the Steinmetzes and McGlothlin agreed to seek payment only from the Steinmetzes’ insurer, appellant State Farm Insurance Companies.  State Farm denied coverage on grounds that McGlothlin was a resident of the Steinmetz household at the time of the incident.  McGlothlin then sought to add State Farm to her lawsuit against the Steinmetzes by means of a supplemental complaint and notice of garnishment under Minn. Stat. § 571.75 (2006).  The district court denied McGlothlin’s motion, concluding that McGlothlin could not show probable cause, as the garnishment statute requires, that the State Farm policy covered her injuries.  The court of appeals reversed and remanded the matter to the district court for trial on grounds that a reasonable fact-finder could determine that McGlothlin was not a resident of the home.  Two questions are before the supreme court:  (1) whether the court of appeals correctly reviewed the district court’s ruling using a de novo standard; and (2) whether the court of appeals erred in not addressing the district court’s finding that McGlothlin was a dual resident of the Steinmetz home and her parents’ home.  (Dakota County).

Thursday, March 6, 2008, 9:00 a.m.

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Grant Benjamin Everson, Appellant – Case No. A07-752:  Appellant Grant Everson was convicted after a jury trial of aiding first-degree premeditated murder, second-degree intentional murder, and attempted first‑degree murder, and of aiding attempted first-degree premeditated murder.  During their deliberations, the jury asked to replay an audio recording of a statement made by one of Everson’s accomplices and a videotaped statement by another accomplice, both of which had been introduced as exhibits during the trial.  After the parties conferred with the court about the procedures to be used, the statements were replayed for the jury on the prosecutor’s laptop computer by the court clerk and an employee of the county attorney’s office, outside the presence of the judge, the attorneys, and Everson.  There are two issues before the supreme court:  (1) whether the district court abused its discretion in allowing the jury to replay the statements; and (2) whether it was plain error to replay the exhibits for the jury in Everson’s absence.  (Carver County).

Buddie Greene, Appellant vs. Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, and Aitkin County Health and Human Services, Respondents – Case No. A06-804:  Appellant Buddie Greene is a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.  Under an agreement between the Tribe and the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the Tribe provided employment services to its members.  After Greene failed to participate in employment and training programs offered by the Tribe, the Tribe requested that Greene’s benefits under the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) be reduced as a sanction.  Greene objected, arguing that she should be able to participate in employment services offered by the county instead.  Greene further argued that Minn. Stat. § 256J.66, subd. 4 (2006), which requires counties to refer a tribal member receiving MFIP benefits to his or her tribe for employment services, was unconstitutionally racially discriminatory.  Respondent Commissioner of the Department of Human Services reduced Greene’s benefits under MFIP and reiterated that Greene could access employment services only through the Tribe.  The district court affirmed the department’s actions, as did the court of appeals.  The issue before the supreme court is whether the denial of state employment services to tribal members under section 256J.66 is impermissible discrimination.  (Aitkin County).

Monday, March 10, 2008, 9:00 a.m.

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Steven Allen Gauster, Appellant – Case No. A07-488:  Appellant Steven Gauster was stopped on the side of the road as he waited for friends following him in another vehicle.  A sheriff’s deputy stopped to offer assistance and determined that Gauster’s driver’s license had been suspended, he had no proof of insurance, and had an open container of alcohol in the car.  Based on Gauster’s suspended license and lack of insurance, the deputy radioed for a tow truck and, while waiting for the tow truck to arrive, searched the car.  The search found methamphetamine; Gauster was charged with first-degree controlled substance crime.  The district court, concluding that the deputy should have given Gauster the opportunity to arrange for his car to be towed, suppressed the results of the deputy’s search.  The court relied on State v. Goodrich, 256 N.W.2d 506, 510 (Minn. 1977), in which the supreme court stated that if impoundment of a vehicle is not necessary, then a police search of that vehicle is unreasonable.  The court of appeals reversed and remanded the matter for trial.  The issue before the supreme court is whether the deputy’s search of the car was unconstitutional because impoundment of the vehicle was not necessary.  (Otter Tail County).

Charles Risdall, et al., Appellants vs. Brown-Wilbert, Inc., et al., Defendants, Christopher C. Brown, et al., Respondents – Case No. A06-1233:  Appellants Charles Risdall, Len Dozier, and John Risdall (personal representative of the estate of Mary Risdall) all purchased common stock in respondent funeral.com, inc., in response to the first of three private placement memoranda.  The stock was not registered with either the Securities and Exchange Commission or the State of Minnesota, and respondent Christopher Brown represented that the stock was exempt from federal registration under Regulation D, 17 CFR §§ 230.501 - .508 (2006).  Regulation D exempts from regulation sales of unregistered securities “not involving any public offering.”  A second private placement memorandum was posted on the Internet and mailed to various prospective investors; a third private placement memorandum involved preferred, rather than common, stock.  The district court granted summary judgment to appellants under the Minnesota Securities Act, Minn. Stat. ch. 80A (2006), on grounds that an exemption under Regulation D is available only to issuers who actually comply with all aspects of the regulation.  The district court further ruled that the private placement memorandum under which appellants purchased their shares should be integrated with the second private placement memorandum, which was a prohibited solicitation involving unregistered securities.  The court of appeals reversed.  Two issues are before the supreme court:  (1) whether the three offerings should be integrated; and (2) whether federal securities laws preempt enforcement of the Minnesota Securities Act when the issuer asserts that its offering is exempt but does not actually comply with the requirements for exemption.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008, 9:00 a.m.

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs Kelvin Jackson, Appellant – Case No. A06-1001:  Appellant Kelvin Jackson was convicted after a jury trial of aggravated robbery.  A sentencing jury found as aggravating factors that the robbery occurred in the victim’s home and that the victim sustained multiple blows to the head and a fracture of the orbital bone.  Based on these aggravating factors, Jackson was sentenced to 210 months, a double upward durational departure from the presumptive sentence.  Jackson appealed to the court of appeals, arguing that:  (1) the district court erred in relying on the findings of the sentencing jury because those findings demonstrated other uncharged offenses, namely, burglary and assault; and (2) his 210-month sentence is disproportionate because it exceeds the presumptive sentence the district court could have imposed had he been convicted of those uncharged offenses.  The court of appeals affirmed the district court’s sentence.  At issue before the supreme court is whether Jackson’s sentence was an abuse of the district court’s discretion.  (Ramsey County).

EN BANC NONORAL—Jairam Ganpat, petitioner, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A07-1733:  Petitioner pro se Jairam Ganpat was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder, second-degree intentional murder, and second-degree unintentional murder; his convictions were affirmed on direct appeal, the supreme court rejecting Ganpat’s claims that he was mentally incompetent to stand trial.  State v. Ganpat, 732 N.W.2d 232 (Minn. 2007).  Ganpat petitioned for post-conviction relief, arguing that:  (1) the district court committed plain error in allowing psychological evaluations of Ganpat to be conducted at the Dakota County jail, rather than at the state security hospital; (2) the jury should have heard the testimony of the three psychologists who examined him and who testified at the competency hearing before the district court judge; (3) his equal protection rights were violated because of a mental disorder; and (4) his two convictions of second-degree murder constituted double jeopardy.  The issue before the supreme court is whether the district court erred in denying Ganpat’s petition for postconviction relief without an evidentiary hearing.  (Dakota County).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008, 9:00 a.m.

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Johnny Rambahal, Appellant – Case No. A07-512:  After a series of robberies in Dakota County in 2006, an informant told police that appellant Johnny Rambahal was involved and that the gun used in the robberies belonged to another man.  Based on the informant’s information, police stopped Rambahal on the street and found ammunition on his person and a pistol on the ground nearby like the one used in one of the robberies.  Rambahal was charged with possession of a firearm by an ineligible person.  On Rambahal’s motion, the district court ordered the prosecutor to disclose the identity of the informant.  The court of appeals reversed.  Rambahal asks the supreme court to decide whether, in ordering disclosure of the identity of the informant, the district court abused its discretion.  (Dakota County).

State of Minnesota, Appellant vs. Janet Sue Shriner, Respondent – Case No. A07-181:  Respondent Janet Shriner left the scene of a motor vehicle accident in which the other driver was injured, but was arrested shortly thereafter and driven to a local hospital.  At the direction of the police, hospital employees drew a sample of Shriner’s blood, which showed a blood alcohol content of .33.  Police did not obtain a warrant before the blood sample was taken, nor did police read Shriner the implied consent advisory or obtain her consent.  Although the district court found police had probable cause to administer the blood alcohol test, the court suppressed the results of the test on grounds that the presence of alcohol, and the fact that alcohol naturally dissipates in the body over time, alone does not constitute an exigent circumstance that excuses the need for a search warrant or consent before obtaining a blood sample from a driver.  The court of appeals affirmed.  At issue before the supreme court is whether the evanescent nature of alcohol alone is a sufficient exigency to justify a warrantless blood draw.  (Dakota County).