Before the Minnesota Supreme Court

September 2019


Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

Peter K. Butler, Appellant vs. City of Saint Paul, et al., Respondents – Case No. A18-0655: Appellant Peter Butler submitted a citizen-initiated petition, which contained over 7,600 signatures, to the Ramsey County Elections Office in support of a proposed amendment to the Saint Paul City Charter. After comparing the voter information on the petition to the voter information in the Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS), election officials determined that the petition did not contain the requisite number of signatures of registered voters in Saint Paul. See Minn. Stat. § 410.12 (2018).

Butler filed a petition in Ramsey County District Court under Minn. Stat. § 204B.44 (2018), which provides for the correction of “errors, omissions, or wrongful acts” in election matters. Among other arguments, Butler claimed that election officials should have accepted the signatures and associated residence addresses on the charter-amendment petition at face value. The district court granted summary judgment to respondents City of Saint Paul, et al., and the court of appeals affirmed. The court of appeals held that “a signatory’s residence is presumptively determined by where the person is registered” for purposes of Minn. Stat. § 410.12.

On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) when determining if a charter-amendment “petition is signed by a sufficient number of voters” under Minn. Stat. § 410.12, subd. 3, whether a signatory’s residence in the local government unit is determined by the place of residence recited on the face of the petition or the place of residence listed in the SVRS; and (2) whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists when a signatory identifies his or her residence on the face of the petition as being in the local government unit, but the SVRS lists a registration address outside of the local government unit. (Ramsey County)

Sheila Oliver, et al., Respondents vs. State Farm Fire and Casualty Insurance Company, Appellant – Case No. A18-0367: Appellant State Farm Fire and Casualty Insurance Company insured a home owned by respondents Sheila and William Oliver. The home was damaged by a fire. The parties were not able to agree on the measurement of the loss, and the Olivers demanded an appraisal under the terms of their insurance policy. They did not request preaward interest. The appraisal panel issued an award in favor of the Olivers in the amount of $1,143,778. State Farm promptly paid the appraisal award. More than one year later, the Olivers demanded $94,000 in preaward interest on the appraisal award under Minn. Stat. § 549.09, subd. 1(b) (2018). State Farm refused to pay preaward interest.

The Olivers filed a motion in district court, requesting that the court confirm the appraisal award under the Uniform Arbitration Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 572B.01–.31 (2018), and grant preaward interest. The district court confirmed the appraisal award, but denied preaward interest, concluding that the request for preaward interest was a request to modify the appraisal award, and was untimely. The court of appeals reversed and remanded, holding that “an appraisal panel lacks authority to grant preaward interest,” and the 90-day deadline to file a motion to modify an arbitration award under Minn. Stat. § 572B.24(a) does not apply to a motion for preaward interest.


On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether an appraisal panel may consider preaward interest, and if not, when and how an insured should request that interest be added to an appraisal award; and (2) whether the 90-day window under Minn. Stat. § 572B.24(a) applies to an insured’s request for preaward interest on an appraisal award. (Hennepin County)


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

Damon A. Ewing, Employee vs. Pine Craft, Inc., Relator, and Gallagher Bassett Services, Inc., Relator, and Optimal Recovery, Inc. /Ann Brown, Respondent – Case No. A19-0534: Damon Ewing suffered a work-related injury while working for Pine Craft, Inc. Pine Craft admitted liability for Ewing’s ankle-sprain injury. Ewing alleged other injuries as a result of the ankle injury. The compensation judge found that these other injuries were not casually related to the work injury and that the ankle sprain was resolved by April 20, 2016. The compensation judge denied all benefits after April 20, 2016, including rehabilitation benefits.

The qualified rehabilitation consultant (QRC), Optimal Recovery, Inc. and its owner Ann Brown, appealed the denial of rehabilitation benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) reversed. Relying on Minn. Stat. § 176.102, subd. 8 (2018), it concluded that an employer is liable for rehabilitation services until the employer files a plan amendment with a request to terminate those services. Because Pine Craft did not file that request until April 2017, the WCCA held that Pine Craft was liable for the QRC’s services from April 2016 through April 2017.

On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the WCCA erred in reversing the compensation judge, who denied the QRC’s bills once the temporary injury resolved and there was no primary liability for all other ailments and body parts; (2) whether the WCCA erred in applying Minn. Stat. § 176.102 (2018), and Minn. Rules 5220.0510 (2017), and in holding that an employer is required to pay for QRC services, even when those services were for denied ailments and body parts; and (3) whether the QRC forfeited and/or waived the arguments she made on appeal regarding an alleged violation of the statute or rule. (Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals)

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Chance Dechristian Adams, Appellant – Case No. A18-1485: A grand jury indicted appellant Chance Adams for first-degree murder while committing aggravated robbery and several other felonies. During voir dire, respondent the State of Minnesota used a peremptory challenge to strike Juror 9, who was African-American. Adams raised a Batson challenge to this strike, arguing the State had removed Juror 9 because of her race. The district court denied the challenge. Following a jury trial, Adams was convicted of first-degree murder and other offenses.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the district court erred by overruling Adams’ Batson challenge to the State’s peremptory strike of Juror 9. (Hennepin County)

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

John Schulz, et al., Appellants vs. Town of Duluth, Respondent, Charles Bille, et al., Respondents – Case No. A18-0845: Respondent Town of Duluth granted a zoning variance to Charles Bille and Carol Danielson-Bille, which allowed them to build a residence on their property. Neighboring property owners—appellants John Schulz, et al.—opposed the variance and sought to commence a district court action to obtain judicial review of the decision. Appellants ultimately admitted that their action against the Billes had to be dismissed due to untimely service of the summons and complaint. After the district court dismissed the Billes from the action, the district court granted the Township’s motion to dismiss the action in its entirety on the basis that the Billes are necessary and indispensable parties under Minn. R. Civ. P. 19. The district court reasoned that the challenged variance relates to the Billes’ property and that a “determination of the validity of the variance directly affects their interest and property.” The court of appeals affirmed.

On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether it was necessary to serve the summons and complaint on the property owners who obtained the variance; and (2) whether Minn. R. Civ. P. 19 applies when persons aggrieved by a decision of a township seek review of that decision in the district court. (St. Louis County)

William DeRosa, Appellant vs. Craig M. McKenzie, Respondent – Case No. A18-1171: Appellant William DeRosa was a member of the board of Dakota Plains Holdings, Inc. Respondent Craig McKenzie was Dakota Plains’ CEO and board chairman. DeRosa eventually resigned from the board. Dakota Plains sued DeRosa, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, and DeRosa counterclaimed. That litigation was eventually settled. In the meantime, Dakota Plains issued a press release stating that DeRosa violated his fiduciary duties, committed unlawful acts, and would “stand trial in court for his” alleged misconduct. Dakota Plains refused to retract the statement. Later, Dakota Plains went bankrupt.

DeRosa then sued McKenzie personally on theories of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress for allegedly “directing and publishing” the press release. DeRosa amended his complaint to allege that McKenzie “authorized and approved” the press release and “had control over” its publication. The district court granted McKenzie’s motion to dismiss, reasoning that DeRosa could not prevail without alleging (and eventually proving) that McKenzie himself made the allegedly defamatory statements in the press release.

The court of appeals affirmed in a unanimous, unpublished decision, rejecting DeRosa’s arguments that a defendant may be liable for another person or entity’s defamatory speech.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether a corporate officer may be personally liable for the defamatory statements of the corporation when the officer authorized and approved those statements. (Hennepin County)


Monday, September 9, 2019

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

Village Lofts at St. Anthony Falls Association, Respondent/Cross-Appellant, vs. Housing Partners III-Lofts LLC, Appellant/Cross-Respondent, Kraus-Anderson Construction Company, Appellant/Cross-Respondent, Kenneth Kendle, P.E., Respondent – Case No. A18-0256: Appellant/cross-respondent Housing Partners III-Lofts LLC (“Housing Partners”) was the developer of a condominium development in Minneapolis consisting of two buildings, A and B. The general contractor was appellant/cross-respondent Kraus-Anderson Construction Company. Respondent/cross-appellant Village Lofts at St. Anthony Falls Association (“Association”) is the condominium association representing the owners of units in the finished development. During the construction of the development, Building A was completed, and units therein were sold, before the corresponding steps were taken with respect to Building B. Respondent Kenneth Kendle, P.E. (“Kendle”) was a subcontractor with respect to Building B only.

The Association learned of defects in the HVAC system in Building A, and then in Building B. It proceeded to repair the defects in every unit in both buildings, at substantial cost. In August of 2015 it commenced a lawsuit that eventually encompassed Housing Partners, Kraus-Anderson, Kendle, and other defendants. The Association asserted two types of claims: common-law claims against all defendants, and statutory warranty claims under Chapter 327A of Minnesota Statutes against Housing Partners and Kraus-Anderson. Housing Partners filed cross-claims against its co-defendants for contribution and indemnity.

The district court granted summary judgment to all defendants based on the statutes of repose in Minn. Stat. § 541.051 (2018). The Association appealed. In a unanimous, published opinion, the court of appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The court concluded in part that Building A and Building B were separate “improvement[s] to real property” for purposes of the 10-year statute of repose in Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(a), and it therefore affirmed the district court’s conclusion that the statutes of repose had run for both buildings with respect to the common-law claims. Addressing the statutory warranty claims, the court of appeals concluded that for condominium developments, the “warranty date” for purposes of Minn. Stat. § 327A.02, subd. 1 (2018) and the statute of repose in Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 4, is to be determined with respect to each condominium unit, rather than each building as the district court had concluded. It therefore reversed and remanded for further proceedings on those claims.

On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the development in this case was one or two “improvements to real property” for purposes of Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(a); and (2) how the “warranty date,” as that term is used in Minn. Stat. § 327A.02, subd. 1 and Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 4, is to be determined for condominium developments. (Hennepin County)

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. David Michael Stay, Appellant – Case No. A18-0335: Appellant David Stay and D.T. spent the evening of May 13, 2016, at a bar. After closing time, the men got into an altercation outside of the bar. Stay punched D.T. once in the face. D.T. fell to the ground and was unresponsive. D.T. died later than night.

Respondent the State of Minnesota charged Stay with first-degree manslaughter based on misdemeanor assault, Minn. Stat. § 609.20(2) (2018), and other offenses. During trial, Stay requested that the district court instruct the jury that first-degree manslaughter requires that death or great bodily harm be reasonably foreseeable when the predicate offense is fifth-degree assault. The district court denied the request. The jury found Stay guilty of first-degree manslaughter and fifth-degree assault. The court of appeals affirmed Stay’s conviction.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue is whether the first-degree manslaughter statute, Minn. Stat. § 609.20(2), requires the State to prove that death or great bodily harm was reasonably foreseeable when the underlying crime is misdemeanor assault. (Mille Lacs County)


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. John Thomas Leonard, Appellant – Case No. A17-2061: In 2015, John Leonard was charged with two counts of check forgery after law enforcement officers conducting hotel interdictions reviewed guest registration records at a local hotel and discovered that Leonard had paid cash for a short-term room rental. Based on Leonard’s criminal history, the officers knocked on the hotel room door and a subsequent search of the room revealed evidence related to check forgery. Leonard filed a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that the statute allowing law enforcement officers to inspect hotel registration records, Minn. Stat. § 327.12 (2018), is an unconstitutional violation of his expectation of privacy. The district court denied the suppression motion, finding that Leonard does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when he voluntarily provides information to third parties, such as a hotel. The court of appeals affirmed.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue is whether the hotel registry statute in Minnesota, Minn. Stat. § 327.12, is an unconstitutional violation of individual privacy. (Hennepin County)

Frederick S. Fish, Respondent vs. Ramler Trucking, Inc., Appellant – Case No. A18-0143: Respondent Frederick Fish was employed by Albany Manufacturing, Inc. and Wells Concrete Productions Company, to which Albany had “loaned” Fish at the time that Fish suffered a workplace injury. The injury occurred while Fish was working aboard a flatbed trailer being pulled by a semi-tractor driven by an employee of appellant Ramler Trucking, Inc. Albany’s insurer paid Fish’s workers’ compensation benefits. Fish then sued Ramler for negligence, and Ramler brought third-party claims against Albany and Wells. Albany, its insurer, and Ramler settled their claims against each other in a “reverse-Naig” settlement in which Ramler’s claim for contribution against Albany was extinguished, as were any subrogation claims by Albany and its insurer against Ramler. A jury found Wells, Ramler, and Fish causally negligent, and it apportioned fault 75% to Wells, 20% to Ramler, and 5% to Fish. Because the Workers’ Compensation Act provides an employee’s exclusive remedy against his employer for workplace injuries, see Minn. Stat. § 176.031 (2018), however, an employee (here, Fish) may not recover from an employer (here, Wells) the employer’s share of fault.

In computing the judgment against Ramler, the district court followed the procedure in the comparative fault statute, Minn. Stat. § 604.02 (2018): it reduced the jury’s damage figure by applicable workers’ compensation benefits that Fish had already received and multiplied the resulting figure by 20% (Ramler’s percentage of fault).

Fish appealed, arguing that the district court should instead have followed the procedure described in Lambertson v. Cincinnati Welding Corp., 257 N.W.2d 679, 688 (Minn. 1977), and Minn. Stat. § 176.061, subd. 11 (2018), under which the employee recovers full damages from a third-party tortfeasor, which has a limited right to recover from the employer. The court of appeals agreed in a unanimous, published decision. It therefore reversed and remanded the case to the district court for entry of judgment against Ramler in the full amount of the jury verdict, subject to appropriate offsets and reduced by the 5% of fault the jury allocated to Fish.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the comparative fault statute, Minn. Stat. § 604.02, applies to the facts of this case. (Stearns County)

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Nonoral: Ryan David Petersen, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A19-0686: Respondent State of Minnesota charged appellant Ryan Petersen in a criminal complaint with second-degree intentional murder. Just before the second court appearance, Petersen told the State that he intended to enter a straight guilty plea to the second-degree intentional murder charge. In response, before the court appearance began, the State filed an amended complaint charging first-degree premeditated murder, and it notified the court that it would be convening a grand jury to consider that charge. During the scheduled court appearance, Petersen attempted to plead guilty to the second-degree murder charge in the original complaint. The district court did not accept Petersen’s plea. A grand jury later indicted Petersen for first-degree murder and other offenses.

Following a court trial, the district court found Petersen guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and illegal possession of a firearm. The district court convicted Petersen of first-degree murder and illegal possession of a firearm. It sentenced Petersen to life in prison without the possibility of release for first-degree murder and to a concurrent 60-month sentence for illegal possession of a firearm. The supreme court upheld Petersen’s convictions on direct appeal.

Petersen filed a petition for postconviction relief, arguing he had received ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The district court summarily denied the petition.

On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether appellate counsel was ineffective for not arguing that the amended complaint, which added a charge of first-degree murder, was defective; (2) whether appellate counsel was ineffective when she argued that the district court erroneously refused to allow Petersen to plead guilty to all charges in the original complaint but she did not argue that the amended complaint was defective; and (3) whether appellate counsel was ineffective because she did not argue that Petersen’s convictions and sentences violated Minn. Stat. §§ 609.035 or 609.04 (2018) or double jeopardy. (Ramsey County)