EN BANC CALENDAR
SUMMARY OF ISSUES
Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol
State of Minnesota, Respondent v. Calvin Ferguson, Appellant – Case No. A10-499: Appellant Calvin Ferguson was convicted after a jury trial of first-degree murder. On appeal from that conviction, Ferguson presents the following issues: (1) whether the trial court abused its discretion by admitting hearsay evidence; (2) whether the district court abused its discretion by allowing the State to offer evidence of prior bad acts committed by Ferguson; (3) whether the prosecutor committed misconduct by eliciting improper evidence, misstating evidence, and shifting the burden of proof during closing argument; (4) whether the trial court abused its discretion by prohibiting Ferguson from calling an expert witness on eyewitness identifications; (5) whether the district court abused its discretion by precluding Ferguson from offering alternative-perpetrator evidence and from offering evidence regarding the victim’s fear of her boyfriend; (6) whether the trial court abused its discretion by limiting Ferguson’s ability to impeach a witness; (7) whether the district court abused its discretion by denying Ferguson’s requested jury instruction regarding circumstantial evidence; and (8) whether the cumulative effect of the alleged errors in this case deprived Ferguson of his right to a fair trial. (Hennepin County)
In re the Estate of: Patrick W. Butler, Deceased– Case No. A09-1208: Appellant Maureen Kissack is the daughter of decedent Patrick Butler, who died in February 2008. Butler’s second wife, Viola Sandahl, died in May 1997. Butler and Sandahl executed reciprocal wills that left each spouse’s estate to the other and, thereafter, to their surviving children in equal shares. At the time of his death, Butler had surviving children and stepchildren other than Kissack.
After Butler’s death, Kissack, who was the personal representative of her father’s estate, discovered that in 2000 her father had purchased five certificates of deposit (CDs) and opened each in his name and hers as joint tenants with right of survivorship. Kissack filed a petition to probate Butler’s will. Kissack did not include the CDs as assets of the estate.
A jury trial was eventually held to determine whether the CDs were assets of the estate or whether they belonged to Kissack as the surviving joint tenant. The jury found that there was clear and convincing evidence that Butler had an intent other than for Kissack to become the owner of the funds upon his death. A divided court of appeals affirmed the jury’s verdict.
On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether Kissack is entitled to judgment notwithstanding the verdict because there was insufficient evidence of Butler’s intent to rebut the presumption of joint tenancy with a right of survivorship created by Minn. Stat. § 524.6-204(a) (2008); (2) whether there must be evidence of the decedent’s actual intent at or around the time the joint account was created to rebut the presumption of joint tenancy with a right of survivorship created by Minn. Stat. § 524.6-204(a); (3) whether the court of appeals misapplied Rutchick v. Salute, 179 N.W.2d 607 (Minn. 1970); and (4) whether Kissack is entitled to a new trial because of the improper admission of irrelevant evidence. (Cass County)
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol
Alice Ann Staab, Appellant v. Diocese of St. Cloud, Respondent – Case No. A09-1335: Appellant Alice Staab was injured when she fell from her wheelchair as it went over an unmarked four to five inch drop-off at the Holy Cross Parish School. At the time, Staab’s wheelchair was being pushed by her husband, Richard Staab.
Staab sued respondent the Diocese of St. Cloud for negligence. A jury trial was held. The jury found the Diocese and Richard Staab were each 50% at fault for Staab’s injuries and awarded total damages of in excess of $200,000. The district court ordered the Diocese to pay the entire damages award. The court of appeals reversed the district court’s order requiring the Diocese to pay the entire damages award.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether under Minn. Stat. § 604.02, subd. 1 (2008), a party defendant found at fault by a jury should have its damages liability to the plaintiff reduced by the percentage of fault attributed by the jury to a non-party. (Stearns County)
State of Minnesota, Respondent v. Danny Ortega, Jr., Appellant – Case No. A10-507: Appellant Danny Ortega, Jr. was convicted after a jury trial of first-degree murder. On appeal from that conviction, Ortega presents the following issues: (1) whether the district court committed reversible error by allowing the State to admit into evidence statements Ortega made that were obtained in violation of his right to counsel and his right to remain silent; (2) whether there was sufficient evidence that Ortega committed first-degree felony murder; and (3) whether Ortega is entitled to a new trial on the charge of first-degree felony murder under a plain-error analysis because the trial court erroneously instructed the jury on the elements of burglary. (Dodge County)
Monday, December 6, 2010
Judicial Center, Courtroom 300
Western National Insurance Company, Respondent v. Bruce Thompson, et al., Appellants – Case No. A09-1506: Appellants Bruce and Cindy Thompson are insured under a no-fault automobile insurance policy issued by respondent Western National Insurance Company. In September 2007, the Thompsons were injured in a car accident. The Thompsons filed claims with Western National for no-fault benefits, and Western National paid insurance benefits to the Thompsons.
Western National subsequently notified the Thompsons that it intended to conduct “examinations under oath” of each of them as provided in their insurance policy. The Thompsons objected to the reasonableness of Western National’s request. Western National treated the Thompsons’ refusal to submit to depositions as a failure to cooperate and therefore a breach of the insurance contract and denied all further benefits.
After that, the Thompsons each filed for no-fault arbitration. Western National moved to stay the arbitration and commenced a declaratory judgment action in district court. The arbitrators denied Western National’s motion to stay and eventually issued arbitration awards favorable to the Thompsons. The district court denied Western National’s summary judgment motion and confirmed the arbitration awards, concluding that the Thompsons’ refusal to submit to the depositions represents an issue of reasonableness, which is a fact issue to be determined by the arbitrator. The court of appeals reversed the district court.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the reasonableness of an insurer’s request for an examination under oath under the terms of an insurance contract is a fact question for the arbitrator or a legal issue for the court to decide. (Hennepin County)
Frederick Farms, Inc., Relator v. County of Olmstead, Respondent – Case No. A10-1089: Relator Frederick Farms, Inc., owns 300 acres, which consist of four parcels, in Olmstead County. These parcels contain grain bins and no property improvements. James Frederick is the sole owner and shareholder of Frederick Farms. James and Rae Frederick own two 40-acre parcels in Olmstead County that are contiguous to the parcels owned by Frederick Farms. These parcels contain a residence and storage and equipment repair space. Respondent Olmstead County had previously classified the parcels owned by Frederick Farms as “Agricultural-Homestead” until the valuation assessed in 2008 for taxes payable in 2009, when it changed the classification for these parcels to “Agricultural-Non-Homestead.” Frederick Farms appealed. The Minnesota Tax Court denied Frederick Farms’ motion for summary judgment and entered judgment in favor of Olmstead County. On appeal to the supreme court, the issue raised is whether contiguous parcels of farm land, farmed as a single farm, are properly classified for property-tax purposes as “Agricultural-Homestead,” even though part of the land is owned by an individual and the rest is owned by his family-farm corporation. (Tax Court)
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Judicial Center, Courtroom 300
State of Minnesota, Respondent v. Christopher George Gaiovnik, a/k/a Christopher George Gaiounik, Appellant – Case No. A09-190: Appellant Christopher Gaiovnik was convicted of robbery following a jury trial. The evidence at trial established that an employee of Hollister Clothing Company was robbed and that the store’s cash deposit totaling $19,200 was taken from her. The district court ordered Gaiovnik to pay $19,200 in restitution to Hollister Clothing Company. The court of appeals affirmed the restitution order. On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether a district court can order a defendant to pay restitution when no victim requested restitution and the procedural requirements of Minn. Stat. § 611A.04 (2008) were not followed. (Ramsey County)
State of Minnesota, Respondent v. Brent Theodore Kuhlmann, Appellant– Case No. A09-915: Appellant Brent Kuhlmann was charged with felony domestic assault and gross-misdemeanor test refusal. In order to prove each offense, respondent State of Minnesota was required to prove that Kuhlmann had a certain number of prior convictions. Kuhlman stipulated to having the required number of prior convictions for each offense charged, but he did not personally waive his right to a jury trial on the conviction-related element of each offense charged. Kuhlmann was convicted of felony domestic assault and gross-misdemeanor test refusal following a jury trial. The court of appeals affirmed Kuhlmann’s convictions. On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether Kuhlmann is entitled to a new trial because he did not personally waive his right to a jury trial on the conviction-related element for each offense charged after stipulating that he had the requisite number of prior convictions for each offense charged. (Stearns County)