Before the Minnesota Supreme Court

March 2023


Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office

Monday, February 27, 2023

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

Bloomington Hotel Investors, LLC, Relator, vs. County of Hennepin, Respondent – Case No. A22-1201: Relator Bloomington Hotel Investors brought a challenge in tax court to respondent Hennepin County’s January 2, 2018 assessment of the Bloomington Doubletree hotel at a value of $31,586,400. Before the tax court, the Bloomington Doubletree’s expert appraiser valued the property at $15,000,000, while the County’s expert appraiser valued the property at $23,500,000. The tax court determined that the property’s indicated market value under the sales comparison approach was $26,500,000 and $24,500,000 under the income capitalization approach. The tax court ordered the assessed value of the property to be decreased to $25,500,000.

On appeal to the supreme court, relator’s brief presents the following issues: (1) whether the tax court’s income approach is not in conformity with the law and is clearly erroneous; (2) whether the tax court’s sales comparison analysis is clearly erroneous and not in conformity with the law; and (3) whether the tax court’s decision creates constitutionality issues involving the uniformity of taxation and equal protection of the law. (Minnesota Tax Court)

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor 

Byron Johnson, Respondent, vs. Kaija Freborg, Appellant – Case No. A21‑1531: Respondent Byron Johnson asserted a defamation claim against appellant Kaija Freborg after she made Facebook posts that accused him of sexual assault. The district court granted Freborg’s motion for summary judgment, ruling in part that the posts “reached a matter of public concern, namely, the #metoo movement and sexual abuse,” and Johnson could not establish actual malice. A divided panel of the court of appeals reversed the district court’s ruling on the public concern issue and remanded for a jury trial.

The supreme court granted review on the following issue: whether Freborg’s statement concerning Johnson involved a matter of public concern. (Hennepin County)


Nonoral: Stephen Carl Allwine, Appellant, vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A22-1378: Following a jury trial, appellant Stephen Carl Allwine was convicted of first-degree murder. Allwine filed a direct appeal, which was stayed to allow him to pursue postconviction relief. During the stay, Allwine filed two postconviction petitions, which the district court denied. After Allwine filed a postconviction appeal, this court lifted the stay, consolidated his appeals, and affirmed his conviction and the district court’s denial of postconviction relief. In 2022, Allwine filed several documents that sought postconviction relief, including requests for discovery and a Schwartz hearing, as well as a claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The district court denied the requests for postconviction relief without holding an evidentiary hearing.

On appeal to the supreme court, Allwine raises the following issues: (1) whether the district court abused its discretion when it denied his requests for discovery and a Schwartz hearing; (2) whether the appellate counsel provided him ineffective assistance of counsel; and (3) whether the district court abused its discretion when it denied his requests for postconviction relief without holding an evidentiary hearing. (Washington County)

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

In the Matter of Issuance of Air Emissions Permit No. 13700345-101 for PolyMet Mining, Inc., City of Hoyt Lakes, St. Louis County, Minnesota – Case No. A22-0068: Respondent PolyMet Mining, Inc. intends to build and operate a mine and associated facilities to extract and process copper, nickel, and platinum group metals from the NorthMet Deposit in northeastern Minnesota. Respondent Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued an air emissions permit for the project without holding a contested case hearing.

Appellants Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, and Sierra Club sought to challenge the permit by filing a certiorari appeal. PolyMet filed a motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction, arguing that appellants did not comply with the service requirements of the Minnesota Administrative Procedure Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 14.001–.69 (2022). The court of appeals dismissed the appeal, ruling that the certiorari petition “was not timely served on PolyMet’s counsel.”

The supreme court granted review on the following issues: (1) whether Minn. Stat. § 14.63 applies when a party seeks judicial review of a final agency decision not made pursuant to a contested case; (2) whether Minn. Stat. § 14.63 requires service of the certiorari petition on a party’s attorney within 30 days of receiving the final agency decision to establish appellate jurisdiction; and (3) whether the Minnesota Rules of Civil Appellate Procedure require service on a party’s attorney when a new certiorari appeal is instituted. (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency)

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

In re the Marriage of: Allison Catherine Buckner, Respondent, vs. Bernard Joseph Robichaud, Jr., Appellant – Case No. A21-1549: Following their divorce, appellant Bernard Robichaud, Jr., and respondent Allison Buckner had a disagreement regarding a certain college savings account. They reached a mediated settlement, under which Robichaud agreed to turn the account over to their daughter when she turned 21 years old in August 2019. No party took any action regarding the account until June 2020, when Buckner and the daughter began requesting that Robichaud execute documents that would affect the transfer of the account to the daughter. Thereafter, Robichaud began many months of non-cooperation with Buckner and Buckner’s attorney before finally transferring the account to the daughter in February 2021. During this period, Robichaud made disparaging remarks, insults, accusations of fraud, and baseless demands for payment, including that he be compensated for his services in effectuating the transfer and that the daughter gift back half the funds in the account. The transfer eventually became effective only after Buckner’s counsel contacted the district court to request dates for a hearing on a motion to enforce the mediated settlement agreement, and only a day before a scheduled phone conference with the court.

Buckner then moved the district court for $11,017 in conduct-based attorney fees and costs, invoking Minn. Stat. § 518.14 (2022). The district court granted the motion. It found that Robichaud “unreasonably contributed to the length and expense” of Buckner’s attempts to enforce the mediated settlement agreement, but it concluded that conduct-based attorney fees under section 518.14 were improper because the behavior occurred “outside the litigation process.” The court therefore relied on its inherent authority, rather than the statute, to award the full amount of requested attorney fees and costs, finding the fee-and-cost award to be the only available remedy that could fully cure the harm done by Robichaud’s “bad faith conduct” and deter future misconduct. The court of appeals affirmed.

The supreme court granted review on the following issues: (1) whether a district court has the inherent authority to award attorney fees based on conduct occurring prior to a proceeding; and (2) whether a district court can award attorney fees without a detailed showing that the fees were reasonable and necessary. (Hennepin County)

Nonoral: Jerry B. Darvell, Relator, vs. Wherley Motors, Inc. and Minnesota Insurance Guaranty Association, Respondents – Case No. A22-1574: Relator Jerry Darvell, while employed by respondent Wherley Motors in 1980, was involved in a work-related rollover motor vehicle accident. Darvell suffered injuries, including injuries to his shoulder and wrist. He has had a number of surgeries and treatments over the years. In 1999, the parties executed a settlement—approved by a compensation judge—which provided Darvell with a payment of $150,000, in exchange for a full, final, and complete settlement of any and all claims arising out of the 1980 motor vehicle accident. Permanent total disability and permanent partial disability benefits were closed out, but future medical care for physical injuries remained open subject to defenses of reasonableness, necessity, and causation.

Darvell continued to receive various forms of medical attention subsequent to the stipulation. In September 2021, Darvell filed a petition to vacate the 1999 award on stipulation. The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) denied the petition, concluding that the settlement amount was commensurate with Darvell’s disability and that the evidence did not establish good cause under the relevant statute to set aside the award on stipulation.

On appeal to the supreme court, relator’s brief presents the following issues: (1) whether the WCCA abused its discretion in denying Darvell’s petition to vacate by concluding that Darvell did not have a substantial change in his condition; and (2) whether the WCCA abused its discretion by concluding that the 1999 award on stipulation compensated Darvell in proportion to the degree and duration of his present disability. (Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals)