EN BANC CALENDAR
Before the Minnesota Supreme Court
SUMMARY OF ISSUES
Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office
Monday, April 3, 2023
University of St. Thomas School of Law
State of Minnesota, Appellant, vs. Adam Lloyd Torgerson, Respondent – Case No. A22-0425: Following the search of his motor vehicle, the State charged respondent Adam Torgerson with several criminal offenses, including the possession of a controlled substance. Torgerson filed a motion to suppress the controlled substance found in his vehicle, arguing that the odor of burnt marijuana, by itself, failed to provide the law enforcement officers with sufficient probable cause to search his vehicle. The district court granted Torgerson’s motion, and the State appealed. The court of appeals affirmed the district court.
The supreme court granted further review of the following issue: whether law enforcement officers who smell the odor of burnt marijuana emanating from a lawfully stopped vehicle have sufficient probable cause to search the vehicle under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. (Meeker County)
Tuesday, April 4, 2023
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor
State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Rarity Shemeire Abdul Lampkin, Appellant – Case No. A20-0361: In 2018, appellant Rarity Lampkin was charged with felony domestic assault under Minn. Stat. § 609.2242, subd. 4 (2018), based on allegations that he threw his pregnant girlfriend to the ground during an altercation. The case proceeded to a jury trial and Lampkin requested a jury instruction on self-defense. The jury found him guilty. On appeal, Lampkin argued that the district court improperly instructed the jury on self-defense. In a precedential opinion, the court of appeals agreed with Lampkin that the jury instruction given by the district court was not accurate, but concluded that the error was not plain because the statutory language and the jury instruction have never been clarified in case law.
The supreme court granted further review of the following issue: whether a district court commits plain error when it instructs the jury on a self-defense claim that the defendant could be justified in using force only to resist an assault. (Dakota County)
In re Petition for Reinstatement of Michelle MacDonald, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0182370 – Case No. A21-1636: An attorney reinstatement matter that presents the issue of whether suspended attorney Michelle MacDonald should be reinstated to the practice of law.
Thursday, April 6, 2023
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor
In the Matter of the Trust of Robert W Moreland a/k/a Robert William Moreland – Case No. A22-0144: In 2002, Robert W. Moreland (“Grantor”) executed a Trust that was properly notarized and witnessed. He named one of his sons, respondent Robert Scott Moreland (“Robert”), as the trustee. The Trust document provided that Grantor could amend the Trust by delivering a written instrument to the trustee; it included no requirement that any amendment be witnessed or notarized. The Trust incorporated a schedule listing all seven of Grantor’s children as beneficiaries: respondent, appellant Dean William Moreland (“Dean”), and five others. The schedule specified the portion of Grantor’s estate that each was to receive, all being between 12% and 16%.
In 2015, Robert began living with Grantor and providing daily care and support for him. Eventually, Grantor signed two amendments to the Trust, neither of which was signed by any witness nor notarized. The First Amendment was made in 2016, increasing Robert’s share to 31% and reducing the share of the other beneficiaries to either 10% or 13%, among other changes. The Second Amendment, executed in 2019, again changed the benefit schedule, this time increasing Robert’s share to 94% and reducing each of the other children’s shares to “1% or $5,000.00.” A comment (the “Penalty Provision”) provided that “[t]he above percentages will only be paid out if they start acting li[ke] family again to my son Robert. Failure to accomplish this will result in the dollar amount listed next to the percentages being paid.” Grantor died in 2020 with an estate of over $1 million.
Dean commenced this action to construe the original Trust, invalidate the Amendments because they were not signed or notarized and because of the language of the Penalty Provision, and remove Robert as trustee because of alleged undue influence and because of failure to satisfy his duties as a trustee. The district court denied the request to invalidate the First Amendment, rejecting Dean’s argument that witnessing and notarization were required. Among other things, it concluded that Grantor’s method of executing the First Amendment substantially complied with the terms of the Trust, as permitted by Minn. Stat. § 501C.0602(c) (2022). It granted the motion to invalidate the Second Amendment, concluding that the meaning of “li[ke] family again” was inherently subjective and ambiguous and could not be enforced. It found no evidence of undue influence or fraud by Robert, but it granted the request to remove him as trustee because he failed to satisfy duties as trustee after Grantor’s death.
Robert then moved for partially amended findings, seeking that the court reform the Second Amendment by striking only the Penalty Provision. The district court granted the motion, concluding that Grantor’s intention to further reduce the amount received by his children (other than Robert) was clear and that if the Penalty Provision were struck, the language of the Second Amendment would be unambiguous. But the district court made no specific finding regarding whether the Grantor’s method of executing the Second Amendment substantially complied with the terms of the Trust.
The court of appeals affirmed. It agreed with the district court’s conclusion that nothing in current trust law requires all amendments to a trust to be witnessed or notarized, and it agreed with the district court’s specific finding that the First Amendment was adopted by a method in substantial compliance with the terms of the Trust. As to the Second Amendment, the court of appeals concluded that the district court’s failure to make an express finding that it was adopted in substantial compliance with the Trust did not require reversal. And the court of appeals concluded that the district court’s reformation of the Second Amendment was authorized, under Minn. Stat. § 501C.0415 (2022), because “the record reflects that a mistake of law occurred because Grantor was mistaken about the legal effect of the penalty provision; he believed the penalty provision was legally enforceable, but it was not.”
The supreme court granted further review of the following issues: (1) whether the court of appeals erred in upholding the district court’s determination that the Second Amendment to the trust was valid, despite any findings by the district court that the Second Amendment “substantially complied” with the terms of the underlying trust; (2) whether the court of appeals erred by finding sua sponte that there was a mistake of fact or law to affirm the district court’s reformation of the Second Amendment when the district court failed to make any such finding; and (3) whether the court of appeals erred by holding that when a district court reforms trust terms, a mistake of fact or law is implied, thereby making the Legislature’s requirement in Minn. Stat. § 501C.0415 of a “mistake of fact or law” superfluous, unnecessary, and meaningless. (Dakota County)
Monday, April 10, 2023
Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center
Dr. Eric Ringsred, Respondent, vs. City of Duluth, et al., Appellants, Duluth News Tribune, et al., Respondents – Case No. A22-0374: Respondent Eric Ringsred initiated an action against appellant City of Duluth and other defendants. The complaint asserted several claims, including a claim against the City for retaliation in violation of Ringsred’s First Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court dismissed this claim for failure to state a claim under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(e), ruling that the claim is time-barred and Ringsred failed to state an actionable claim.
The parties appealed several issues to the court of appeals. As relevant here, the court of appeals reinstated the First Amendment retaliation claim. Applying the continuing violations doctrine, the court of appeals concluded that Ringsred had alleged a pattern of conduct—“a 20-year ‘running battle’ of direct and indirect retaliatory conduct—which is sufficient to toll the statute of limitations.” The court of appeals also concluded that the complaint sufficiently asserts a First Amendment retaliation claim.
The supreme court granted further review of the following issue: whether the continuing violations doctrine tolls the statute of limitations in Minnesota for First Amendment retaliation claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (St. Louis County)
Non-oral: Lashazo Reese Jr., Appellant, vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A22-1817: In 2003, appellant Lashazo Reese Jr. was convicted of first-degree murder for the shooting death of an adult male in Saint Paul. The district court sentenced Reese to life in prison without the possibility of release. The supreme court affirmed on direct appeal. State v. Reese, 692 N.W.2d 736 (Minn. 2005).
In 2007, Reese filed a petition for postconviction relief asserting several claims. The district court denied the petition and Reese did not file an appeal.
In 2022, Reese filed a second petition for postconviction relief asserting a constitutional claim. The district court denied the petition as untimely.
On direct appeal to the supreme court, the issues listed in appellant’s brief are as follows: (1) whether his double jeopardy claim is not procedurally barred; and (2) whether the district court erred by refusing to treat State v. Cox, 779 N.W.2d 844 (Minn. 2010), as binding precedent. (Ramsey County)
Tuesday, April 11, 2023
Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center
In the Matter of the Surveillance and Integrity Review (SIRS) Appeal by Nobility Home Health Care, Inc. – Case No. A21-1477: Appellant Nobility Home Health Care, Inc., is a provider of personal care assistance services. In this administrative appeal, Nobility challenged a final decision by respondent Minnesota Commissioner of Human Services, which concluded that Nobility had committed recordkeeping abuses that resulted in improper reimbursements for services. The Commissioner ordered the monetary recovery of over $300,000 in overpaid funds. The court of appeals affirmed.
The supreme court granted further review of the following issues: (1) whether the Commissioner has the authority to recover sanctions due to “paperwork errors” under Minn. Stat. § 256B.064 (2022); (2) whether the documentation errors of Nobility constitute “abuse” under the statute; and (3) whether the Commissioner offered a sufficient explanation and factual support for the decision. (Minnesota Department of Human Services)
In the Matter of the Surveillance and Integrity Review (SIRS) Appeals by Trinity Home Health Care Services and Etyane Ayana – Case No. A22-0183: Appellant Trinity Home Health Care Services is a health-services vendor owned by appellant Etyane Ayana. In this administrative appeal, appellants challenged a final decision by respondent Minnesota Commissioner of Human Services, which concluded that appellants engaged in abuse resulting in improper reimbursements for nursing services, personal care assistance services, and homemaker services. The Commissioner ordered the monetary recovery of over $1 million in overpaid funds and terminated their participation in the Minnesota Health Care Programs. The court of appeals affirmed.
The supreme court granted further review of the following issues: (1) whether the Commissioner could extend the 90-day deadline for a decision under the Minnesota Administrative Procedure Act, Minn. Stat. § 14.62 (2022), by remanding the matter to the administrative law judge; and (2) whether the Commissioner’s decision is arbitrary or capricious. (Minnesota Department of Human Services)
Wednesday, April 12, 2023
University of Minnesota Law School
Bradley D. Fordyce, Appellant, vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A21-1619: Following a jury trial, appellant Bradley Fordyce was convicted of gross-misdemeanor indecent exposure under Minn. Stat. § 617.23, subd. 2(2) (2022). At his trial, a neighbor who lived across the alley from him testified that one morning in July 2019, she observed Fordyce standing naked in his backyard while she was standing inside her enclosed porch.
In June 2021, Fordyce filed a petition for postconviction relief. He argued, in part, that his conviction should be reversed because the State failed to prove an element of his offense—that it occurred in a “public place.” The district court denied the postconviction petition and the court of appeals affirmed.
The supreme court granted further review of the following issues: whether the private property of a partially enclosed backyard of a single-family home is a “public place” under the indecent-exposure statute, and whether a person inside a different home across an alley is “present” in that backyard under the indecent-exposure statute. (Crow Wing County)