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EN BANC CALENDAR

Before the Minnesota Supreme Court

September 2023

SUMMARY OF ISSUES

Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

 

State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Jaye William Snyder, Appellant – Case No. A22-0318: The State filed a complaint charging appellant Jaye Snyder with third-degree criminal sexual conduct. After a jury found him guilty as charged, Snyder argued the district court could not impose the lifetime conditional release mandated by Minn. Stat. § 609.3455, subd. 7 (2022), because the State charged him by complaint rather than by indictment. The district court rejected his argument, imposed a 140-month prison sentence, and directed the Commissioner of Corrections to place Snyder on conditional release for the remainder of his life when he is released from prison. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the imposition of a lifetime conditional release is not the equivalent of “life imprisonment” under Minn. R. Crim. P. 17.01, subd. 1.

 

The supreme court granted review on the following issue: whether Minn. R. Crim. P. 17.01, subd. 1, required the State to charge Snyder by indictment to authorize the district court to impose lifetime conditional release at sentencing, given that Minn. Stat. § 609.3455, subd. 8 (2022), authorizes the Commissioner of Corrections to imprison Snyder for the remainder of his life if at any point during the remainder of his life the Commissioner believes by a preponderance of the evidence that Snyder violated any term of his conditional release. (Sherburne County)

 

City of Elk River, Respondent, vs. Bolton & Menk, Inc., Appellant, Vessco, Inc. et al., Respondents, Schwing Bioset Incorporated, Respondent – Case No. A22-1771: The City of Elk River sued appellant Bolton & Menk, Inc. (BMI), alleging claims of breach of contract and professional negligence relating to a wastewater treatment project. BMI answered, denying liability, and filed a third-party claim against respondents Vessco, Inc., Rice Lake Contracting Corp., and Schwing Bioset Incorporated (collectively the Third Parties), alleging generally that BMI was entitled to contribution and indemnity from the Third Parties for any liability BMI had to the City. The Third Parties successfully moved to dismiss the third-party complaint (Dismissal Order). BMI then moved for entry of the Dismissal Order as a final partial judgment under Minn. R. Civ. P. 54.02 so that it could take an interlocutory appeal of that order. The City took the position that certification of a final partial judgment was appropriate, but the Third Parties opposed certification. The district court certified the final partial judgment, concluding that in its discretion “judicial economy is best served by permitting an immediate appeal.”

 

BMI then appealed the final partial judgment. The court of appeals questioned its jurisdiction and, after soliciting memoranda from the parties, dismissed the appeal, concluding that the district court abused its discretion in certifying the Dismissal Order for immediate appeal.

 

The supreme court granted review on the following issue: whether the district court acted within its discretion in certifying the partial judgment dismissing BMI’s third-party claims for contribution and indemnity as final under Minn. R. Civ. P. 54.02, where BMI and the City specifically requested certification, the case was in its early stages, and the district court reasoned allowing immediate appeal would avoid unnecessary time and expense and serve the interests of judicial economy. (Sherburne County)

 

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

 

In the Matter of the Otto Bremer Trust – Case No. A22-0906: Respondent the State of Minnesota, through the Attorney General’s Office (the AGO), serves as the primary regulator of Minnesota charitable trusts. After investigating actions taken by the three trustees of the Otto Bremer Trust (the Trust) in connection with their sale of trust assets and other activities, the AGO petitioned to remove all three trustees, alleging several categories of misconduct. After a bench trial, the court denied the petition as to two of the trustees, but granted the petition to remove appellant Brian Lipschultz as a trustee. The court concluded that Lipschultz engaged in misconduct that constituted multiple breaches and serious breaches of trust, collectively warranting removal under Minn. Stat. § 501C.0706(b)(1) (2022). And the court further concluded that removal best served the interests of the beneficiaries under Minn. Stat. § 501C.0706(b)(3) (2022), which authorizes removal for a trustee’s unfitness or persistent failure to administer the trust effectively.

 

Among other things, the district court concluded that Lipschultz violated the Trust’s policy prohibiting the use of office resources for non-office purposes, thereby engaging in self-dealing. In addition, the district court concluded that Lipschultz’s behavior during the conflict surrounding a particular transaction amounted to a breach of loyalty to the Trust “by putting his own frustration, aggression, and personal interest in revenge ahead of the important interests of the Trust.” The court reasoned that this behavior “displayed a crude, vulgar and otherwise offensive brashness that has no place in the charitable world.” Furthermore, the district court concluded that Lipschultz misused his grantmaking power under the Trust, in part by suggesting that a longtime beneficiary’s grants would be at risk unless the beneficiary supported the Trustees’ position in an unrelated dispute. Fourth, the district court concluded that Lipschultz acted in a deceitful and secretive manner when he refused to disclose the identity of his potential successor. The court of appeals affirmed.

 

The supreme court granted review on the following issues: (1) whether a trustee who is carrying out the written intent of the trust may be removed based on a judge-created standard that trustees’ conduct “has no place in the charitable world” and is thus contrary to Minn. Stat. § 501C.0706(b)(1) and (b)(3); and (2) whether Lipschultz’s conduct warrants the extraordinary remedy of removal as a trustee. (Ramsey County)

 

State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Henry Albert Allison, Jr., Appellant – Case No. A22-0793: The State of Minnesota charged appellant Henry Allison with several offenses, including second-degree criminal sexual conduct and use of a minor in a pornographic work, committed against the same victim. Allison pleaded guilty to the charged offenses, and the district court imposed a 91-month sentence. The minor’s mother submitted a restitution affidavit requesting reimbursements for mother’s lost wages and therapy expenses that she alleged were a direct result of the offenses Allison committed against her child. Finding that the alleged losses were a direct consequence of Allison’s illegal acts, the district court ordered Allison to pay the mother restitution for her lost wages and therapy expenses. The court of appeals affirmed.

 

The supreme court granted review on the following issue: where a child victim’s parent experiences emotional trauma upon learning of the defendant’s crime against her child, and this trauma causes the parent to miss work and attend therapy, are the parent’s lost wages and therapy costs directly caused by the crime and recoverable as restitution? (Traverse County)

 

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

 

Larry Jonnell Gilbert, Appellant, vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A21-1560: Police stopped a car registered to appellant Larry Gilbert. Gilbert was riding in the passenger seat, and there were three other people in the vehicle. An officer searched the trunk of the car and found a loaded semiautomatic handgun in a backpack. The State charged Gilbert with unlawful possession of a firearm.

At a jury trial, the State presented testimony from a forensic scientist with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (State’s expert). She had tested samples from a DNA swab of the handgun, as well as DNA samples from Gilbert and another passenger. The State’s expert testified that the handgun swab contained a DNA mixture from four or more individuals and that the major profile matched Gilbert’s DNA sample and did not match the passenger’s DNA sample. She also testified about DNA transfer, stating that she would not expect DNA transfer to be a major profile if there was not blood or saliva or some type of DNA-rich sample. The jury found Gilbert guilty. Gilbert’s conviction was affirmed on direct appeal.

 

Gilbert filed a petition for postconviction relief, asserting that he was entitled to a new trial based on the allegedly false trial testimony of the State’s expert. In response, the State argued, in part, that Gilbert’s claim was Knaffla-barred because it was known and could have been raised in his direct appeal.

 

Without expressly addressing whether Gilbert’s claim was Knaffla-barred, the district court ordered an evidentiary hearing. At this hearing, one witness testified: a forensic scientist (Gilbert’s expert). Gilbert’s expert testified about secondary DNA transfer and said some of the testimony of the State’s expert was inaccurate. The district court granted the petition for postconviction relief and ordered a new trial. It found that the testimony of the State’s expert about transfer DNA was false and that the jury might have reached a different conclusion without this testimony.

 

The State appealed. The court of appeals reversed.

 

The supreme court granted review on the following issues: (1) whether the court of appeals’ precedential decision conflicts with this court’s precedent deciding when the Knaffla bar applies, where Gilbert in the court of appeals opposed the State’s assertion of the bar, and the district court implicitly, if not explicitly, found fairness required consideration of Gilbert’s postconviction claim; and (2) whether the court of appeals erred in applying the Larrison false-testimony rule by characterizing testimony from the State’s expert about the major DNA profile found on the gun as not false, but instead creating only a difference of opinion between Gilbert’s expert and the State’s expert about whether the major DNA profile found on the gun arrived on it via a secondary transfer, thus making inapplicable this Court’s precedent that false testimony on a material matter requires a new trial. (Hennepin County)

 

Robert John Kaiser, Respondent, vs. State of Minnesota, Appellant – Case No. A22-0749: Following a trial, a jury found respondent Robert Kaiser guilty of two counts of second-degree felony murder for causing the death of an infant. The State’s theory of the case was that abuse by Kaiser caused the infant’s injuries, which led to the onset of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and the infant’s death. The State presented testimony from two medical experts suggesting that abusive head trauma was the only potential cause for the extensive retinal hemorrhages sustained by the infant. Two public defenders represented Kaiser. Kaiser’s theories were that (1) he was not responsible for the infant’s injuries, and (2) medical staff at the hospital caused NEC by improperly administering medication to combat the onset of seizures in the infant, and the NEC ultimately caused the infant’s death. Defense counsel consulted with multiple medical experts before trial, including experts on abusive head trauma, and two of the experts testified during the jury trial. Kaiser’s conviction was affirmed on direct appeal.

 

Kaiser petitioned for postconviction relief, alleging, in part, false testimony presented by two of the State’s expert witnesses that abusive head trauma was the definitive cause of some of the infant’s injuries and ineffective assistance of counsel based on the public defenders’ failure to consult with and present the testimony of an imaging expert. The district court granted Kaiser an evidentiary hearing and over the course of 8 days, heard testimony from multiple medical experts, including some of the same experts who testified during the trial, and one of the public defenders who represented Kaiser during the trial.

 

The district court granted Kaiser’s request for postconviction relief and ordered a new trial based on his claims of false testimony and ineffective assistance of counsel. Regarding the false testimony claim, the district court found that the testimony from two of the doctors called by the State was false because they inaccurately represented to the jury that, as a matter of medical fact, some of the infant’s injuries are only caused by abusive head trauma. The district court reasoned that without this testimony, the jury might have reached a different conclusion. Regarding the ineffective assistance of counsel claim, the district court found that Kaiser’s public defenders failed in their duty to conduct a reasonable investigation when they did not consult with imaging experts and that their failure to do so was prejudicial.

 

The State appealed. The court of appeals affirmed the district court.

 

The supreme court granted review on the following issues: (1) whether the court of appeals erred when it held the Larrison test for false testimony applies to unrecanted medical expert opinion testimony; and (2) whether the district court abused its discretion when it granted Kaiser a new trial for ineffective assistance of counsel based almost exclusively on the district court’s disagreement with trial counsel’s investigation and strategy. (Stearns County)

 

Monday, September 11, 2023

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

 

State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Kristi Dannette Mcneilly, Appellant – Case No. A22-0468: The State charged appellant Kristi Mcneilly, an attorney, with theft by swindle, alleging that she swindled a client out of $15,000 by mispresenting that she could make his potential criminal charges go away by paying funds to a police union. Before trial, Mcneilly filed a motion to suppress, arguing the investigating officers violated the Fourth Amendment when they conducted a warranted search of her law office and computers. The district court denied the motion, and a jury later found McNeilly guilty as charged. The court of appeals affirmed.

 

The supreme court granted review on the following issue: whether the warranted search of the law office and computers of a practicing criminal defense attorney, who became the subject of a criminal investigation, was constitutionally unreasonable when the police did nothing to protect the attorney-client and work product privileges and the warrants failed to particularize the items to be seized. (Hennepin County)

 

State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Deshawn Kejuan Woolridge Carter, Appellant – Case No. A22-0164: Appellant Deshawn Carter was charged with criminal sexual conduct and a jury found him guilty. At sentencing, the district court granted the State’s request to add a custody status point to Carter’s criminal history score because the offenses were committed while he was on probation for a prior offense. On appeal, Carter challenged the custody status point because he received a stay of adjudication for the prior offense and was not convicted of the offense. In a precedential opinion, the court of appeals concluded that the plain language of Minnesota Sentencing Guideline 2.B.2.a allowed the district court to add the custody status point to Carter’s criminal history score and therefore affirmed his sentence.

 

The supreme court granted review on the following issue: whether the district court should assign a custody status point to a defendant’s criminal history score if the defendant was on probation for a prior felony offense at the time of the charged offense where the defendant received a stay of adjudication and was not actually convicted of the prior offense. (Blue Earth County)

 

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

 

State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Rebecca Julie Malecha, Appellant – Case No. A22-1314: Law enforcement officers conducting a welfare check made contact with appellant Rebecca Malecha and then arrested her based on an outstanding warrant. The officers discovered bags of methamphetamine when they searched Malecha after her arrest, and the State charged her with third-degree controlled substance possession. Malecha filed a motion to suppress the evidence and dismiss the charges because the outstanding arrest warrant had been quashed before her arrest. The district court granted the motion and dismissed the complaint.

 

The State appealed, and in a split opinion, the court of appeals reversed.

 

The supreme court granted review on the following issue: whether evidence should be suppressed if it was obtained after an arrest on a warrant that was previously quashed but still shown as active to law enforcement. (Rice County)

 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

 

State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Dale Edward Lehman Jr., Appellant – Case No. A22-0200: Appellant Dale Lehman Jr. was charged with fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct and permitting a child to ingest methamphetamine under Minn. Stat. § 152.137, subd. 2(b) (2022). A jury found him guilty of permitting a child to ingest methamphetamine.

 

On appeal, Lehman argued that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction for permitting a child to ingest methamphetamine because the State failed to prove that he knew the victim was under the age of 18 when he offered her methamphetamine. In a precedential opinion, the court of appeals concluded that the plain language of the statute does not require the State to prove the defendant’s knowledge of the victim’s age and therefore affirmed Lehman’s conviction.

 

The supreme court granted review on the following issue: to convict a defendant of knowingly permitting a child to ingest methamphetamine under Minn. Stat. § 152.137, subd. 2(b), must the State prove that the defendant knew the person was under the age of 18. (Stearns County)

 

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Joseph Kaminsky, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0053351 – Case No. A21-1649: An attorney discipline matter that presents the question of what discipline, if any, is appropriate based on the facts of the case.