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EN BANC CALENDAR

Before the Minnesota Supreme Court

January 2021

SUMMARY OF ISSUES

Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office

Monday, January 4, 2021

Minnesota Judicial Center

 

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Kevin Russel Serbus, Appellant – Case No. A19-1921: Respondent State of Minnesota charged appellant Kevin Serbus with several offenses, including violating Minn. Stat. § 624.7142 (2018). This statute prohibits “carry[ing] a pistol on or about the person’s clothes or person in a public place” while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. Minn. Stat. § 624.7142, subd. 1. The State alleged that Serbus drove his car on a county road while under the influence of alcohol and that there was a handgun in the center console of the car.

Serbus filed a motion to dismiss for lack of probable cause, arguing that a private motor vehicle is not a public place. The district court granted the motion. The court of appeals reversed.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the interior of a car is a public place for purposes of Minn. Stat. § 624.7142, subd. 1. (Renville County)

Nonoral: Douglas Williams, Relator vs. Airport Taxi, d/b/a Transportation Plus and Western National Insurance Group, Respondents – Case No. A20-1154: Relator Douglas Williams filed a claim petition for workers’ compensation benefits, alleging an injury to his head and neck. Respondents Airport Taxi and Western National Insurance Group filed an answer, which denied primary liability for any injury and denied any employment relationship. During the proceedings, the compensation judge issued a discovery order, which required Williams to sign a limited medical release. Williams appealed. The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) dismissed the appeal, concluding that the interlocutory discovery order is not an appealable order. The WCCA also noted that Williams had not paid the $25 filing fee required by Minn. Stat. § 176.421, subd. 4(2) (2018).

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the WCCA erred by dismissing the appeal. (Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals)

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Minnesota Judicial Center

 

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Dylan Roger Sutter, Appellant – Case No. A19-1045: Respondent State of Minnesota charged appellant Dylan Sutter with theft of a firearm. Sutter pleaded not guilty. On the day of trial, the State advised the district court that it no longer intended to call Sutter’s co-conspirator as a witness. Instead, the State intended to offer the recorded police interview of the co-conspirator to establish that Sutter and the co‑conspirator gave the police different accounts of their whereabouts, thereby suggesting a guilty conscience and a cover up. Defense counsel objected, asserting a Confrontation Clause violation. Citing State v. Brist, 812 N.W.2d 51 (Minn. 2012), the State argued that the admission of the recorded interview did not violate the Confrontation Clause because a co-conspirator’s statement made in the furtherance of the conspiracy is generally nontestimonial. The district court overruled the objection. The jury found Sutter guilty as charged.

Sutter appealed, arguing that his case is fundamentally different than Brist because, unlike the statements of his co-conspirator, the statements of the co-conspirator in Brist were clearly nontestimonial because they were unwittingly made to a government informant. The court of appeals affirmed.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether Brist stands for the proposition that a testimonial co-conspirator statement is admissible without violating the Confrontation Clause. (Olmsted County)

Nonoral: Kevin Terrance Hannon, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A20-0396: In 2003, appellant Kevin Hannon was convicted of first-degree murder for killing his girlfriend Deborah Tolhurst and sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. State v. Hannon, 703 N.W.2d 498 (Minn. 2005).

In 2020, Hannon filed his fourth petition for postconviction relief and alleged multiple claims, including legal errors during his jury trial, prosecutorial misconduct, and the subsequent recantation of witness statements. Hannon also requested correction of his sentence under Minn. R. Crim. P. 27.03, subd. 9. The district court denied Hannon’s request for postconviction relief and correction of his sentence.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the district court committed error by denying Hannon’s request for postconviction relief and sentence correction. (Stearns County)

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Minnesota Judicial Center

 

Mark Jerome Johnson, Respondent vs. State of Minnesota, Appellant – Case No. A19-1147: Respondent Mark Johnson was convicted in 2010 of test refusal. Johnson filed a petition for postconviction relief in 2016. He argued that Birchfield v. North Dakota, 579 U.S. __, 136 S. Ct. 2160 (2016), State v. Trahan, 886 N.W.2d 216 (Minn. 2016), and State v. Thompson, 886 N.W.2d 224 (Minn. 2016), announced a new, substantive rule of federal constitutional criminal law that was retroactively applicable to his conviction on collateral review. Under the Birchfield rule, Johnson maintained that his conviction for refusing to submit to a warrantless blood and urine test violated the Constitution and must be vacated.

The supreme court eventually ruled that the Birchfield rule—that “the State may not criminalize refusal of a blood or a urine test absent a search warrant or a showing that a valid exception to the warrant requirement applies”—is a substantive rule that applies retroactively to final cases on collateral review. Johnson v. State, 916 N.W.2d 674, 679, 684 (Minn. 2018), cert. denied, 139 S. Ct. 2745 (2019). Although the Birchfield rule applied retroactively to Johnson, the court also concluded that the reversal of Johnson’s conviction was not automatic; the court remanded to the district court to apply the Birchfield rule and decide if the test-refusal statute is unconstitutional as applied to Johnson. 916 N.W.2d at 684.

On remand, the parties disputed what standard should be used to determine if the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement applied to Johnson’s test‑refusal conviction. Johnson argued that the standard from Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U.S. 141, 156 (2013)—that exigent circumstances had to be determined based on a totality of the circumstances—applied retroactively to his case. The State argued that the pre‑McNeely standard—a per se, single factor exigent circumstance based on the rapid dissipation of alcohol in the body—applied. See State v. Shriner, 751 N.W.2d 538, 546 (Minn. 2008), abrogated by McNeely, 569 U.S. at 156.

The district court granted Johnson’s petition for postconviction relief. The court of appeals reversed and remanded.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the rule announced in Missouri v. McNeely applies retroactively to a final test-refusal conviction being challenged on collateral review. (Ramsey County)

Nonoral: Luis Aguilar-Prado, Respondent vs. W. Zintl Construction, Inc., Relator, and SFM Mutual Insurance Company, Relator – Case No. A20-0833: Respondent Luis Aguilar-Prado worked as a union taper for relator W. Zintl Construction, Inc. The employee filed a workers’ compensation claim, asserting that he sustained an injury in March 2016 after he left the worksite while trying to reach his parked vehicle. As the employee walked across a residential street, the side mirror of a passing truck struck him on the back of his left shoulder. The employer denied liability, asserting that the employee’s injury did not arise out of and in the course of his employment.

The collective bargaining agreement between the employee’s union and the employer called for any work-related injury disputes to be resolved through arbitration under the Union Construction Workers’ Compensation Program. See Minn. Stat. § 176.1812 (2018). Among other findings, the arbitrator found that the employee’s left shoulder injury arose out of and in the course of his employment; however, the arbitrator declined to consider a report of a surgeon regarding the need for surgery because the surgeon was not on the approved list of physicians for the Union Construction Workers’ Compensation Program. The arbitrator also denied the intervention claim of Minneapolis Orthopedics.

The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) concluded that substantial evidence supports the arbitrator’s finding that the left shoulder injury arose out of and in the court of employment. But the WCCA concluded that the arbitrator erred by not considering the surgeon’s report, reasoning that the approved list of physicians “does not limit the evidence the arbitrator may consider.” The WCCA also reversed the denial of the intervention claim of Minneapolis Orthopedics.

On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the WCCA erred as a matter of law in concluding that the employee sustained a compensable left shoulder injury arising out of and in the course of his employment; (2) whether the WCCA erred as a matter of law in reversing the arbitrator’s decision to exclude the surgeon’s report; and (3) whether the WCCA erred as a matter of law in reversing the denial of the outstanding balance from Minneapolis Orthopedics. (Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals)

Monday, January 11, 2021

Minnesota Judicial Center

 

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Roosevelt Mikell, Appellant – Case No. A19-0732: Following a jury trial, appellant Roosevelt Mikell was convicted of domestic assault. At the sentencing hearing, Mikell demanded a speedy trial in a related case that alleged violations of a domestic abuse no-contact order (DANCO). A week before trial, Mikell demanded a final disposition of the untried DANCO charges under the Uniform Mandatory Disposition of Detainers Act (UMDDA), Minn. Stat. § 629.292 (2018). The State dismissed the DANCO charges on the day of trial. The court of appeals subsequently reversed Mikell’s domestic assault conviction and remanded for a new trial.

On remand, the State filed a new complaint that re-alleged the DANCO violations. Mikell filed a motion to dismiss the new DANCO complaint, claiming that the State violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial and his right to a speedy trial under the UMDDA. The district court denied the motion to dismiss. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the four factors articulated in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972), applied to both of Mikell’s claims and that the prejudice factor weighed against Mikell.

On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the State violated Mikell’s constitutional right to a speedy trial; and (2) whether the State violated Mikell’s right to a speedy trial under the UMDDA. (Hennepin County)

Nonoral: Lori Schallock, Respondent vs. Battle Lake Good Samaritan Center and Sentry Insurance Group, Relators – Case No. A20-0917: Respondent Lori Schallock worked as a certified nursing assistant for respondent Battle Lake Good Samaritan Center. The employee injured her lower back at work in July 2016. In 2017, the employer petitioned to discontinue the employee’s temporary total disability benefits. On remand following an initial appeal, the compensation judge denied the petition, finding that “the employee’s work injury is a substantial contributing factor to her ongoing symptoms and disability.” The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) affirmed. The WCCA concluded that the compensation judge’s findings are supported by substantial evidence.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the compensation judge’s findings are supported by substantial evidence and sufficient reasoning. (Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals)

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Minnesota Judicial Center

 

Vermillion State Bank, Respondent vs. Tennis Sanitation, LLC, Appellant – Case No. A19-1421: This appeal involves a claim that appellant Tennis Sanitation, LLC, breached an oral contract with respondent Vermillion State Bank to purchase the tangible and intangible assets of another sanitation company. A jury found that an oral contract existed, that the predominant purpose of the contract was for the sale of customer routes, and that Tennis Sanitation breached the contract. The district court denied Tennis Sanitation’s post-trial motions.

The court of appeals affirmed the denial of the post-trial motions. The court of appeals concluded that the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard applies to prove the existence of an alleged oral contract to purchase the assets of a business. The court of appeals also concluded that, under Minnesota’s version of the Uniform Commercial Code, Minn. Stat. ch. 336 (2018), the predominant factor test applies to hybrid contracts involving the sale of goods and non-goods. In addition, the court of appeals rejected Tennis Sanitation’s constitutional challenge to the statute governing the award of postjudgment interest, Minn. Stat. § 549.09, subd. 1(c) (2018).

On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the oral contract is enforceable; (2) whether the clear-and-convincing evidence standard applies to the contract; (3) whether the statute of frauds, Minn. Stat. § 336.2–201, applies to the contract; (4) whether the jury was properly instructed on the law; and (5) whether Minn. Stat. § 549.09, subd. 1(c)(1)–(2), violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States or Minnesota Constitution. (Dakota County)