EN BANC CALENDAR
Before the Minnesota Supreme Court
SUMMARY OF ISSUES
Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office
Monday, October 5, 2020
Minnesota Judicial Center
State of Minnesota ex rel. Robert Young, Appellant vs. Paul Schnell, Commissioner of Corrections, Respondent – Case No. A17-1741: In 2012, appellant Robert Young was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and sentenced to 32 months in prison plus a 10-year conditional release term. Young completed his prison term in 2016 and was released. Young’s conditional release was revoked and he was sent back to prison based on medical needs related to his epilepsy and behavioral issues. In 2017, Young filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under Minn. Stat. § 589.01 (2018) and argued that his medical condition was not a valid basis to incarcerate him indefinitely during his conditional release term. The district court denied Young’s petition. While his appeal was pending, Young was released from prison. The court of appeals determined that Young’s appeal was moot and affirmed the district court’s denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issues presented are: (1) whether a petition for a writ of habeas corpus is the proper method for appealing a decision made by a Department of Corrections hearing officer; (2) whether review hearings held by the Department of Corrections are lawful; and (3) whether the Department of Corrections violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by extending Young’s incarceration based on his medical needs. (Anoka County)
King’s Cove Marina, LLC, Appellant vs. Lambert Commercial Construction LLC, et al., Defendants, United Fire & Casualty Company, Respondent – Case No. A19-0078: Defendant Lambert Commercial Construction LLC performed construction work on a remodeling project for appellant King’s Cove Marina, LLC. The Marina brought claims against Lambert for negligence and breach of contract. Lambert was insured under policies issued by respondent United Fire & Casualty Company.
This appeal arises out of a $2 million Miller-Shugart settlement between Lambert and the Marina. “In a Miller-Shugart settlement, the insured, having been denied any coverage for a claim, agrees claimant may enter judgment against him for a sum collectible only from the insurance policy.” Alton M. Johnson Co. v. M.A.I. Co., 463 N.W.2d 277, 278 n.1 (Minn. 1990); see Miller v. Shugart, 316 N.W.2d 729 (Minn. 1982). Following the Miller-Shugart settlement, the Marina brought a garnishment action against United Fire. The district court determined that there is insurance coverage for the Marina’s claims against Lambert and that the Miller-Shugart settlement is reasonable and enforceable against United Fire.
The court of appeals reversed and remanded. The court of appeals concluded that a business-risk exclusion in the United Fire commercial general liability policy “excludes certain damages caused by Lambert’s work.” The court of appeals also concluded that the Miller-Shugart settlement is unreasonable and unenforceable against United Fire.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether a Miller-Shugart settlement that fails to allocate between covered and non-covered damages is unreasonable as a matter of law and unenforceable against the insurer. (Washington County)
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
Minnesota Judicial Center
In the Matter of Minnesota Power’s Petition for Approval of the EnergyForward Resource Package – Case No. A19-0688: Minnesota Power petitioned the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for approval of its “EnergyForward Resource Package,” which included affiliated-interest agreements between Minnesota Power and its Wisconsin affiliate, South Shore Energy, LLC. The affiliated-interest agreements provide that Minnesota Power will construct, operate, and take capacity from the Nemadji Trail Energy Center, a natural-gas power plant in Superior, Wisconsin.
Ultimately, the Commission was presented with two issues: whether to grant a petition for an environmental assessment worksheet under the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 116D.01–.11 (2018); and whether to approve the affiliated-interest agreements. The Commission concluded that the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act does not apply to the decision to approve the affiliated-interest agreements. The Commission also concluded that it lacks jurisdiction to order an environmental assessment worksheet for a power plant located in Wisconsin. The Commission approved the affiliated-interest agreements with conditions.
The court of appeals concluded that the Commission erred by approving the affiliated-interest agreements “without substantively addressing the criteria” that govern whether an environmental assessment worksheet is necessary. The court of appeals reversed and remanded for the Commission to determine whether the Wisconsin power plant “may have the potential for significant environmental effects and, if so, to prepare an [environmental assessment worksheet] before reassessing whether to approve the affiliated-interest agreements.”
On appeal to the supreme court, the issues presented are: (1) whether the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act applies to the decision of the Commission to approve the affiliated-interest agreements; and (2) whether the dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution allows application of the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act to the siting and permitting of the Wisconsin power plant. (Minnesota Public Utilities Commission)
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Minnesota Judicial Center
Max Carl Werlich, Appellant vs. Paul Schnell, et al., Respondents – Case No. A19-0829: In 2016, appellant Max Werlich was charged with kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and illegal possession of a firearm. During plea negotiations, the State dismissed the original charges and filed a new complaint charging Werlich with possession of a controlled substance, threats of violence, theft, and illegal possession of a firearm. Werlich pled guilty to the new charges and was sentenced to 71 months in prison. While incarcerated, the Department of Corrections determined that Werlich was required to register as a predatory offender under Minn. Stat. § 243.166, subd. 1b (2018), based on the initial charge for kidnapping. Werlich filed a civil action for injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and asked the district court for an injunction against the Department’s classification of him as predatory offender. The Commissioner of Corrections filed a motion to dismiss and the district court granted the motion. On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the predatory offender registration statute, Minn. Stat. § 243.166 (2018), is constitutional. (Washington County)
State of Minnesota by Smart Growth Minneapolis, et al., Appellants vs. City of Minneapolis, Respondent – Case No. A19-0999: Appellants Smart Growth Minneapolis, Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis, and Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds brought an action, alleging that the 2040 Comprehensive Plan adopted by respondent City of Minneapolis violates the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA), Minn. Stat. §§ 116B.01–.13 (2018). The district court granted the City’s motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(e).
The court of appeals affirmed. The court of appeals concluded that appellants failed to state a viable claim under MERA because the only relief they requested is environmental review that the City is exempt from conducting under the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), Minn. Stat. §§ 116D.01–.11 (2018). See Minn. R. 4410.4600, subps. 1, 26 (2019) (providing that the adoption and amendment of comprehensive plans are exempt from certain administrative rules implementing environmental review procedures under MEPA). The court of appeals also concluded that appellants failed to make a prima facie showing under Minn. Stat. § 116B.04(b) because “they did not allege any facts surrounding adoption of the plan that are likely to materially and adversely affect the environment.”
On appeal to the supreme court, the issues presented are: (1) whether appellants stated a viable claim under MERA in view of the exemption that applies to the adoption and amendment of comprehensive plans under MEPA; and (2) whether appellants made a sufficient showing that the City’s adoption of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan is conduct that is likely to materially adversely affect the environment under MERA. (Hennepin County)
Monday, October 12, 2020
Minnesota Judicial Center
Menard, Inc., Relator vs. Commissioner of Revenue, Respondent – Case No. A20-0241: This appeal from the Minnesota Tax Court involves the interpretation of the phrase “owed to the taxpayer” in Minn. Stat. § 297A.81, subd. 1 (2018). The taxpayer here, Menard, Inc., claimed an offset for its Minnesota sales-tax liability based on uncollectible debts from its private-label, bank-issued credit card. The Commissioner of Revenue disallowed the offset because the debt is owed to the bank, not to Menard (“the taxpayer” under the statutory language). The Tax Court upheld the commissioner’s decision.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the tax court erred by interpreting the phrase “debt owed to the taxpayer” inconsistently with Minn. Stat. § 289A.40, subd. 2 (2018), which allows guarantors eligible for a bad debt deduction under Internal Revenue Code § 166 to claim a bad debt sales tax offset. (Minnesota Tax Court)
Tyler Halva, Appellant vs. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, Respondent – Case No. A19-0481: Appellant Tyler Halva submitted a proposal in response to a March 2014 request for proposals by respondent Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU). MnSCU ultimately awarded the contract to a different vendor. Halva made a number of data requests to MnSCU regarding the contract proposals under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 13.01–.90 (2018) (MGDPA). Unsatisfied with the responses, Halva filed a data-practices complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). An administrative law judge concluded in January of 2017 that MnSCU failed to comply with the MGDPA, and the ALJ ordered MnSCU to provide Halva certain documents. MnSCU provided some documents in response to the ALJ’s order, but it did not provide him with a copy of electronic notes it had made regarding his proposal, because it had not retained them.
In June of 2018, Halva filed a complaint in the district court seeking, among other things, to compel MnSCU’s compliance with the MGDPA and the Minnesota Official Records Act, Minn. Stat. § 15.17 (2018) (MORA). He sought damages for MnSCU’s alleged violations, stating in his complaint that “Plaintiff has been aggrieved by these violations of the MGDPA and has suffered damages in an amount to be determined at trial, including costs, disbursements, and reasonable attorney’s fees.” The district court dismissed Halva’s MGDPA claims, concluding that the OAH proceeding barred a later action in district court for violation of the MGDPA. The court later granted judgment on the pleadings on the MORA claims, concluding that the MORA does not create a private cause of action.
The court of appeals affirmed, partly on different grounds. It rejected the district court’s conclusion that Halva could not commence an action in district court after prevailing at the OAH. But it concluded that Halva had not sufficiently pleaded damages for the MGPDA claims, instead stating mere “labels and conclusions,” and so dismissal of those claims was proper. The court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of the MORA claims, agreeing with the district court that the MORA does not create a private cause of action.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issues presented are: (1) whether petitioner’s complaint adequately pleaded damages; and (2) whether the MORA creates a private cause of action. (Ramsey County)
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Minnesota Judicial Center
In the Matter of the NorthMet Project Permit to Mine Application Dated December 2017 (A18-1952, A18-1958, A18-1959), and In the Matter of the Applications for Dam Safety Permits 2016-1380 and 2016-1383 for the NorthMet Mining Project (A18-1953, A18-1960, A18-1961) – Case No. A18-1952: Appellant Poly Met Mining, Inc., applied to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for a permit to mine, under Minn. Stat. ch. 93 (2018), and for dam safety permits, under Minn. Stat. ch. 103(G) (2018). The permits were sought in connection with Poly Met’s proposed NorthMet non-ferrous mining operation. Respondents Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, et al. and WaterLegacy filed petitions requesting a contested-case hearing on the permit applications, and submitted public comments during the comment period; respondent Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa also submitted public comments. DNR issued the permit to mine and the dam safety permits to Poly Met on November 1, 2018, and denied respondents’ petitions for a contested-case hearing. Respondents appealed by writ of certiorari to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, challenging DNR’s decisions to issue the permits and deny the petitions for contested-case hearings. The court of appeals concluded that DNR erred in denying the petitions for a contested-case hearing and erred in issuing the permit to mine without a fixed term. The court of appeals therefore reversed DNR’s decisions to issue the permit to mine and the dam safety permits, and remanded to DNR to hold a contested case hearing.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issues presented are: (1) whether respondents satisfied the requirements to file a petition for a contested-case hearing under Minn. Stat. § 93.483, subd. 1; (2) whether respondents are entitled to a contested-case hearing on PolyMet’s permits under the criteria in Minn. Stat. § 93.483, and if so, what issues must be addressed at that hearing; and (3) whether a permit to mine must have a fixed, definite term. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources)
Gary Paul Johnston, Appellant vs. State of Minnesota, Respondent – Case No. A19-0672: Appellant Gary Johnston is not a United States citizen. Johnston pleaded guilty to domestic assault, and the district court ordered a stay of adjudication and placed Johnston on probation. Johnston was discharged from probation. Three days later, Johnston received a notice of hearing in removal proceedings in federal immigration court. Johnston filed a petition for postconviction relief, seeking to withdraw his guilty plea due to ineffective assistance of counsel. Johnston submitted an affidavit explaining that his attorney failed to properly advise him of the immigration consequences of his plea and that he would not have pleaded guilty had he known the immigration consequences of his plea.
The district court summarily denied Johnston’s postconviction petition. It reasoned that Johnston could not obtain relief under the postconviction statute, Minn. Stat. §§ 590.01–590.06 (2018), because he had not been convicted of domestic assault. The court of appeals affirmed.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether a person who received a stay of adjudication and successfully completed probation may file a petition for postconviction relief to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel when entering a guilty plea based on the failure to be properly advised of the immigration consequences of the plea. (Olmsted County)
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Minnesota Judicial Center
State of Minnesota, Respondent/Cross-Appellant vs. Andrew Vernard Glover, Appellant/Cross-Respondent – Case No. A19-1656: Appellant/cross-respondent Andrew Glover is prohibited from possessing a firearm under Minnesota law. The State of Minnesota charged Glover with several offenses, including being an ineligible person in possession of a firearm, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 624.713, subds. 1(2), 2 (2018). The State alleged that Glover possessed a flare launcher.
Glover filed a motion to dismiss the unlawful-possession-of-a-firearm charge for lack of probable cause, arguing that a flare launcher is not a firearm within the meaning of Minn. Stat. § 624.713, subd. 1(2). Following a hearing, the district court dismissed the ineligible-person-in-possession-of-a-firearm charge for lack of probable cause. The district court concluded that a flare launcher is not a firearm because it is not designed to be used as a weapon and instead is designed to be used in emergency situations as an alert mechanism.
The court of appeals reversed and remanded. It held that a device is a firearm if the device propels a projectile by the combustion of gunpowder or other explosive and is used or intended to be used as a weapon. It further determined that the complaint alleged sufficient facts to support the conclusion that Glover intended to use the flare launcher as a weapon.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issues presented are: (1) does a flare launcher meet the definition of a firearm for purposes of Minn. Stat. § 624.713, subd. 1(2), because it fires a projectile by explosive force and may be used or intended to be used as a weapon; and (2) did the court of appeals incorrectly conclude that a person must use or intend to use a flare launcher as a weapon in order for it to be a firearm. (Hennepin County)
Rodney Tristan Miller, Respondent vs. Pamela Marie Miller, n/k/a Pamela Marie Spera, Appellant, Maria Molloy, Intervenor, Respondent – Case No. A19-0372: Appellant Pamela Spera and Rodney Miller were married in 1981 and had three children. They dissolved their marriage in 2004 through a stipulated judgment and decree. Although the marital dissolution judgment required the division of their retirement accounts, they failed to transfer the interests in their retirement accounts. In 2012, Miller had a daughter with respondent Maria Molloy. At some point Miller designated his four children as the beneficiaries of his retirement accounts. Miller died in February 2018.
In June 2018, Spera brought a motion to enforce the provisions of the marital dissolution judgment regarding the division of the retirement accounts. Molloy sought to intervene under Minn. R. Civ. P. 24, citing her daughter’s interest in Miller’s retirement accounts. The district court denied Molloy’s motion to intervene and granted Spera’s motion for enforcement of the marital dissolution judgment. The court of appeals reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether Molloy is entitled to intervene as a matter of right under Minn. R. Civ. P. 24.01 to protect her daughter’s interest in Miller’s retirement accounts. (Hennepin County)