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EN BANC CALENDAR

Before the Minnesota Supreme Court

December 2020

SUMMARY OF ISSUES

Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office

Monday, November 30, 2020

Minnesota Judicial Center

William Jepsen, as Trustee for the Heirs and Next of Kin of Eric Parker Dean, Appellant vs. County of Pope, et al. – Case No. A19-0271: This appeal arises out of the tragic death of Eric Parker Dean. When Eric was 4 years old, he died from internal injuries after his father’s girlfriend threw him against a wall. The trustee for Eric’s heirs and next of kin brought a wrongful death action against Pope County and three child-protection workers (collectively, the County). The trustee alleged that the County was negligent in failing to protect Eric and failing to cross-report suspected child abuse to law enforcement. The County asserted various immunity defenses.

The district court granted summary judgment to the County. The district court concluded that the County is immune from liability for the screening and handling of the reports of suspected child abuse, based on official immunity, vicarious official immunity, and statutory immunity. The district court also concluded that the evidence is insufficient as a matter of law to establish that the failure to cross-report suspected child abuse to law enforcement was a proximate cause of Eric’s death. The court of appeals affirmed without reaching the issue of statutory immunity.

On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the immunity provisions in the Maltreatment of Minors Act, Minn. Stat. § 626.556 (2018), abrogate the defenses of official immunity and vicarious official immunity for claims arising under the Act; and (2) whether the evidence is insufficient as a matter of law to establish that the failure to cross-report suspected child abuse to law enforcement was a proximate cause of Eric’s death. (Pope County)

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Michael James Schwartz, Jr., Appellant – Case No. A19-0786: In 2017, Michael Schwartz was charged with operating a motor vehicle with any amount of a schedule I or II substance in his body in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 1(7) (2016). Schwartz entered a guilty plea and admitted that a blood sample taken after he was arrested on suspicion of impaired driving revealed the presence of amphetamine and lorazepam in his body. On appeal, Schwartz asserted that his guilty plea was invalid and asked to withdraw his plea under Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 1, based on his failure to admit during the plea hearing that he knew or had reason to know that amphetamine was in his body. The court of appeals determined that a charge under Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 1(7), is a general intent crime and does not require the State to prove that the operator of the vehicle knew or had reason to know that a schedule I or II controlled substance was present in his or her body. Therefore, the court of appeals denied the plea withdrawal request.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether a charge under Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 1(7), requires the State to prove that the operator of the vehicle knew or had reason to know that a schedule I or II controlled substance was present in his or her body. (Hennepin County)

 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Minnesota Judicial Center

Eric Reetz, Respondent vs. City of St. Paul, Appellant – Case No. A19-1425: Appellant City of Saint Paul employs respondent Eric Reetz as a police officer. Reetz also provided off-duty security services for the Dorothy Day Center in Saint Paul under an independent contractor agreement between Reetz and Catholic Charities. During one of Reetz’s off-duty shifts, an individual smuggled a knife into the Center. Shortly after Reetz’s shift ended, the individual with the knife stabbed another individual at the Center.

The stabbing victim sued Catholic Charities, the Dorothy Day Center, and Reetz. The stabbing victim alleged, among other claims, that Reetz had negligently allowed the attacker to enter the Center with a knife. Reetz tendered the defense of the lawsuit to the City under Minn. Stat. § 466.07 (2018), which generally requires a municipality to defend and indemnify an employee if the employee was “acting in the performance of the duties of the position.” The City determined that it had no obligation to defend or indemnify Reetz because he was not acting in the performance of his duties as a police officer while providing off-duty security services at the Center.

Reetz appealed by writ of certiorari. The court of appeals reversed in a 2-1 decision. Reviewing de novo whether the City “erred in applying the law to the facts of this case,” the court of appeals concluded that Reetz is “statutorily entitled to defense and indemnity” because he was “ ‘acting in the performance’ of his duties as a police officer” under Minn. Stat. § 466.07, subd. 1.

On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether Reetz was “acting in the performance of the duties of the position” of a police officer under Minn. Stat. § 466.07, subd. 1, while providing off-duty security services at the Center; and (2) whether the court of appeals applied the proper standard of review. (City of Saint Paul)

 

In the Matter of: The Year 2019 Salary of Freeborn County Sheriff – Case No. A19-1363: Appellant Kurt Freitag is the sheriff for respondent Freeborn County. In 2018, Freitag requested that his 2019 salary be set at $113,952, which represented a 23 percent increase from his 2018 salary. The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners set Freitag’s 2019 salary at $97,020.

Freitag appealed the salary determination to the district court under Minn. Stat. § 387.20 (2018), which provides for judicial review of the salary determination “in a hearing de novo.” If the district court finds that “the board acted in an arbitrary, capricious, oppressive or unreasonable manner or without sufficiently taking into account the extent of the responsibilities and duties of the office of the sheriff, the sheriff’s experience, qualifications, and performance,” the district court may set the amount of the sheriff’s salary. Minn. Stat. § 387.20, subd. 7. Following a trial, the district court ruled in favor of Freitag and set his 2019 salary at $113,952. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the County Board acted in accordance with the statute and “[t]he district court’s findings and legal conclusions to the contrary are clearly erroneous.”

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the court of appeals erred in reversing the district court’s determination that the County Board acted in an arbitrary manner in setting Freitag’s salary and failed to sufficiently consider the extent of the responsibilities and duties of the sheriff’s office. (Freeborn County)

 

Monday, December 7, 2020

Minnesota Judicial Center

 

Margaret Leuthard, Respondent vs. Independent School District 912 – Milaca and Berkley Risk Administrator, Relators – Case No. A20-0893: Respondent Margaret Leuthard was employed by relator ISD 912 – Milaca and suffered a work-related injury to her spine in 2004. In 2008, Leuthard began receiving facet-joint injections at the site of the injury. Although the applicable treatment parameters permit only three such injections, Leuthard received more. A medical request seeking approval of additional facet-joint injections was filed; the Department of Labor and Industry denied the request. Leuthard requested a formal hearing, and the matter proceeded to a compensation judge, who found that the facet-joint injections exceeded the treatment parameters and were not reasonable and necessary under Minn. Stat. § 176.135, subd. 1(a) (2018). The compensation judge likewise found that there was no basis under Minn. R. 5221.6050, subp. 8 (2019), for departing from the treatment parameters.

Leuthard appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals. The WCCA affirmed the compensation judge’s findings that the facet-joint injections exceeded the treatment parameters and that there was no basis under Minnesota Rules to depart from the treatment parameters, but remanded for the compensation judge to consider applying the “rare case” exception recognized in Jacka v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 580 N.W.2d 27, 34 (Minn. 1998) (stating, “in recognition of the fact that the treatment parameters cannot anticipate every exceptional circumstance,” that the “compensation judge may depart from” the parameters “in those rare cases in which departure is necessary to obtain proper treatment”), and vacated the compensation judge’s finding that the treatments were not reasonable or necessary under Minn. Stat. § 176.135, subd. 1(a).

On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the compensation judge’s finding that the proposed injections were not reasonable or necessary was supported by substantial evidence; (2) whether respondent forfeited consideration of the “rare case” exception by not raising it before the compensation judge; (3) whether the compensation judge was required to consider application of the “rare case” exception sua sponte; and (4) whether application of the “rare case” exception can be proper when the proposed treatment is not reasonable or necessary under the workers’ compensation act or the treatment parameters. (Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals) 

William H. Johnson, Respondent vs. Darchuks Fabrications, Inc. and Harleysville Insurance, Relators – Case No. A20-0963: Respondent William H. Johnson was employed by relator Darchuks Fabrications, Inc., and suffered a work-related injury in 2002, resulting in a diagnosis of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). Johnson has been receiving treatment for CRPS ever since. In July of 2016 relators’ claim representative sent a letter to Johnson’s attorney stating their position that Johnson had fully recovered and no further treatment was necessary. In November of 2016 Johnson sought payment for medications prescribed for his diagnosis, including an opiate called Endocet. Relators denied that Endocet was appropriate.

After additional proceedings, including a previous appeal to this court, see Johnson v. Darchuks Fabrication, Inc., 926 N.W.2d 414 (Minn. 2019), a compensation judge in September of 2019 concluded that Johnson’s use of Endocet was not in compliance with Minn. R. 5221.6110 (2019), and that Johnson had not complied with the treatment parameters, but that Johnson’s use of Endocet qualified for the “rare case” exception recognized in Jacka v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 580 N.W.2d 27, 34 (Minn. 1998) (stating, “in recognition of the fact that the treatment parameters cannot anticipate every exceptional circumstance,” that the “compensation judge may depart from” the parameters “in those rare cases in which departure is necessary to obtain proper treatment”). The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals affirmed the compensation judge’s findings, concluding that they were supported by substantial evidence in the record.

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether the “rare case” exception should apply when an employee’s use of a medication is not in compliance with Minnesota treatment parameters. (Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals)

 

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Minnesota Judicial Center

 

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Samuel A. McCloud, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0069693 – Case No. A20-0089: An attorney discipline matter that presents the question of what discipline, if any, is appropriate based on the facts of the case.

In re Petition for Reinstatement of Randall D. Tigue, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0110000 – Case No. A19-1603: An attorney reinstatement matter that presents the issue of whether suspended attorney Randall Tigue should be reinstated to the practice of law.

 

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Minnesota Judicial Center

 

State of Minnesota, Appellant/Cross-Respondent vs. Eric Joseph Coleman, Respondent/Cross-Appellant – Case No. A19-0708: A grand jury indicted respondent Eric Coleman on several offenses, including third-degree murder, Minn. Stat. § 609.195(a) (2018). Coleman pleaded not guilty and demanded a jury trial. After the parties presented their evidence, the district court instructed the jury using the pattern jury instruction for third-degree murder. Coleman did not object to the instruction. The jury found Coleman guilty as charged.

Coleman appealed, arguing the district court committed plain error when it used the pattern jury instruction. The court of appeals affirmed Coleman’s conviction of third-degree murder, concluding that although the pattern jury instruction failed to accurately explain one of the elements of third-degree murder, the error was not plain.

On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the pattern jury instruction fails to accurately explain the elements of third-degree murder; and (2) if so, whether the district court’s use of the erroneous instruction constitutes a plain error. (Chisago County)

Nonoral: Jeffrey Olson, Relator vs. Commissioner of Revenue, Respondent – Case No. A20-1048: In September 2017, respondent the Commissioner of Revenue assessed relator Jeffrey Olson with a sales and use tax liability stemming from his sole proprietorship construction business in Thief River Falls. The order resulted from Olson’s failure to respond to multiple audit notices from the Department of Revenue. Olson did not respond to the assessment order. Thereafter in January 2018, the Department began to collect on the assessed tax liability.

In December 2019, Olson filed an appeal with the Tax Court, challenging “all amounts” assessed and asserting that he had never received the Commissioner’s tax orders. The Tax Court later granted Olson’s motion to amend, allowing him to assert a procedural due process challenge to the Department’s use of mail to notify him of his tax liability. The Tax Court then dismissed the appeal, concluding that it was untimely and also rejecting the constitutional claim, noting that mailed notice of a tax liability is sufficient to satisfy due process, see Turner v. Comm’r of Revenue, 840 N.W.2d 205, 209 (Minn. 2013) (explaining that due process requires “notice reasonably calculated” to apprise the person of the pending action and the opportunity to present objections).

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether mail notice of the Commissioner’s tax orders satisfies procedural due process. (Minnesota Tax Court)

 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Minnesota Judicial Center

 

Hibbing Taconite Company, J.V. et al., Respondents vs. Commissioner of Revenue, Relator – Case No. A20-0977: Respondents Hibbing Taconite Company, J.V. and United Taconite LLC owned and operated taconite mines in Minnesota for tax years 2012 and 2013. Minnesota imposes an occupation tax on the taxable income of those engaged in that business in the state. See Minn. Stat. § 298.01, subd. 4 (2012). The occupation tax “is determined in the same manner as” the franchise tax imposed on corporations by section 290.02 of the Minnesota Statutes. Id. Respondents, which are organized as partnerships for Minnesota and federal income tax purposes, filed occupation tax returns for the years 2012 and 2013. In those returns, respondents claimed percentage depletion deductions pursuant to Internal Revenue Code section 613, without applying the 20 percent reduction to those deductions applicable to corporations under Internal Revenue Code section 291(a)(2). After auditing respondents’ returns, relator the Commissioner of Revenue made adjustments, including applying the 20 percent reduction. Respondents filed an administrative appeal, and the Commissioner affirmed the adjustments.

Respondents appealed the Commissioner’s determinations to the Minnesota Tax Court, which granted summary judgment in favor of respondents, effectively reversing the Commissioner’s determinations. The tax court rejected the Commissioner’s argument that because the occupation tax is determined in the same manner as the corporate franchise tax, the non-corporation respondents should be treated as corporations for purposes of the 20 percent reduction in IRC § 291(a)(2).

On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether respondents are required to use the reduced corporate depletion deduction, because the occupation tax statute requires the tax to be determined in the same manner as the franchise tax on corporations. (Minnesota Tax Court)