EN BANC CALENDAR
Before the Minnesota Supreme Court
SUMMARY OF ISSUES
Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office
Wednesday, January 4, 2023
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor
State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Amber Kay Barrow, Appellant – Case No. A21-0776: Appellant Amber Barrow was riding in a car that was stopped by a police officer for a traffic violation. While speaking with the occupants, the officer smelled marijuana coming from inside the car. The officer asked the occupants to get out of the car. After Barrow exited the car, she reached back and grabbed her purse. The officer noticed that Barrow was carrying her purse, and he asked her to leave her purse. Barrow set the purse on the car’s trunk. The officer placed the purse back inside the car and began to search. The officer found a controlled substance inside Barrow’s purse.
Respondent State of Minnesota charged Barrow with fifth-degree controlled substance crime. Barrow filed a motion to suppress the evidence found in her purse, arguing that her purse was an extension of her person, not a container in the car, and was therefore not subject to the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. The district court denied the motion. Barrow waived her right to a jury trial and stipulated to the State’s evidence, and the parties agreed that the pretrial issue was dispositive. The district court found Barrow guilty of fifth-degree controlled substance crime. The court of appeals affirmed.
The supreme court granted review on the following issue: whether a worn shoulder purse of a passenger who exits a car is akin to an abandoned container in a car and subject to warrantless search under the automobile exception, or whether the purse is an extension of the person akin to pockets or outer clothing and not subject to warrantless search under that exception. (Stearns County)
Thursday, January 5, 2023
Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor
State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Noah Anthony Charles King, Appellant – Case Nos. A19-0362, A22-0290: A grand jury indicted appellant Noah King with several offenses, including first-degree felony murder (burglary) under an aiding-and-abetting theory of criminal liability. King pleaded not guilty, waived his right to a jury trial, and submitted his case to the district court. During the bench trial, the prosecutor impeached a recanting co-defendant with a prior inconsistent statement. The district court found King guilty of first-degree felony murder (burglary). King filed a direct appeal, which was stayed to allow him to pursue postconviction relief. In his postconviction petition, King alleged that his attorney failed to adequately explain the State’s plea offer. The district court denied the petition. King appealed the postconviction order, and his appeals were consolidated.
On appeal to the supreme court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the district court abused its discretion when it allowed the prosecutor to impeach the recanting co-defendant with his prior inconsistent statement; (2) whether the State presented insufficient evidence; (3) whether King’s postconviction petition established that his attorney did not explain an Alford plea to him and that he would have accepted an Alford plea to a lesser charge had his attorney done so; and (4) whether King is entitled to relief based on the claims raised in his pro se supplemental brief. (Saint Louis County)
In the Matter of the Estate of: Mathew Joseph Tomczik, Deceased – Case No. A21-1420: This appeal involves a dispute over the interpretation of a will. Mathew Tomczik died in 2021. His will, executed in 1995, named his then-wife Sara as the primary beneficiary of the residue of his estate, but if she did not survive him, the residue was to be distributed “one half (1/2) to [his] heirs-at-law and one-half (1/2) to [his] wife’s heirs-at-law.” The marriage was dissolved in 2019. At the time of his death, Mathew was not married, and he had no children.
When the personal representative of the estate petitioned for formal probate of the will, Sara’s parents, Calvin and Patricia Headley, claimed that they were Sara’s heirs and had been wrongfully omitted as devisees. Sara herself did not claim to be a devisee. See Minn. Stat. § 524.2-804, subds. 1-2 (2022) (stating that a former spouse who remains named in a will is deemed to have died immediately before the marriage was dissolved). The district court ruled that the devise to the Headleys as Sara’s heirs failed.
A divided court of appeals reversed. The court of appeals held that when a wife is named as a devisee in a will, a devise to the wife’s heirs does not fail solely because the marriage was dissolved and the wife’s devise was revoked under the Minnesota Uniform Probate Code. The court of appeals remanded for further proceedings “to include the Headleys as devisees.”
The supreme court granted review on the following issue: whether a testator intends an ex-spouse’s heirs to receive under a devise to a class defined in the will as “my [spouse]’s heirs-at-law”—none of whom are identified by name—if the marriage dissolves after execution of the will. (Hennepin County)
Monday, January 9, 2023
Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center
Aaron Wesser, Respondent vs. State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, Appellant – Case No. A21-1587: Respondent Aaron Wesser sued appellant State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, asserting that he is entitled to preaward interest under Minn. Stat. § 549.09 (2022), based on an appraisal award of replacement cost value for fire damage to his home. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court granted summary judgment to State Farm and denied preaward interest. The district court relied on an interest provision in the State Farm policy, which stated that “[n]o interest accrues on the loss until after the loss becomes payable.” Under the circumstances here, the policy provided that the loss did not become payable until after the “filing of an appraisal award.”
The court of appeals reversed and remanded “for the computation of preaward interest.” The court of appeals concluded that “the relevant policy language is ambiguous.” Specifically, the court of appeals determined that the term “the loss” in the interest provision may be reasonably interpreted as the actual cash value, the repair cost value, or the replacement cost value for the damaged part of the property. Construing the policy language in favor of the insured, the court of appeals ruled that “the policy does not exclude preaward interest under Minn. Stat. § 549.09 for an appraisal award of replacement cost value.”
The supreme court granted review on the following issue: whether language that State Farm added to the interest provision of the insurance policy after Poehler v. Cincinnati Insurance Co., 899 N.W.2d 135 (Minn. 2017), is “clear and effective” or “ambiguous and not enforceable.” (Hennepin County)
Nonoral: Lisa Marie Winkowski, Respondent vs. J. Vincent Winkowski, Appellant – Case No. A21-1115: Appellant J. Vincent Winkowski and respondent Lisa Winkowski are the parents of two children, whom they see in accordance with a court-ordered parenting time schedule. On the afternoon of June 25, 2021, appellant believed that he was entitled to pick up the children from respondent for parenting time. He drove to her home, parked in her driveway, and texted her that he was there to pick up the children. Respondent sent a message back stating that appellant did not have parenting time that weekend.
Appellant then stayed at respondent’s home, most of the time inside his vehicle, for approximately 2 hours. He engaged in harassing behavior during much of this time. At one point he honked the car horn repeatedly. He came to the door of the home, repeatedly knocking on the door and ringing the doorbell for approximately 6 minutes. And from his car outside respondent’s home, appellant called respondent’s phone some 27 times in approximately 22 minutes. There were several periods during which appellant and respondent had no communications: one period of 20 minutes and two periods of 30 minutes. At some point respondent called the police, but appellant drove away before a police officer arrived.
Respondent petitioned for a harassment restraining order (HRO). Following a hearing, the district court granted the motion, issuing a 6-month HRO. It concluded that appellant’s conduct during the 2-hour period amounted to “repeated incidents” of harassment as required by Minn. Stat. § 609.748 (2022). The court of appeals affirmed in an order opinion, stating that the question whether a person has engaged in “repeated incidents” of harassment rather than a single incident is “a case-specific determination that depends on the facts and circumstances of the case.”
On appeal to the supreme court, the issues include: (1) whether the appeal is moot because of the expiration of the 6-month HRO; and (2) whether a parent’s conduct constituted “repeated incidents of harassment” as defined by Minn. Stat. § 609.748 when the parent was present at the other parent’s premises for 2 hours, honking the horn, texting the other parent, calling the children, and ringing the doorbell. (Olmsted County)
Tuesday, January 10, 2023
Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center
Pamela Maslowski, Respondent vs. Prospect Funding Partners LLC, et al., Appellants vs. James Schwebel, Esq., et al., Respondents – Case No. A21-1338: This appeal involves the enforceability of a litigation financing agreement between appellant Prospect Funding Partners LLC and respondent Pamela Maslowski, who was injured in a car accident in 2012. While her personal injury claim was pending, she needed money to pay her living expenses. In 2014, Prospect paid her $6,000 for the right to receive a portion of the proceeds from any recovery under a “Sale and Repurchase Agreement.” She settled her personal injury claim in 2015.
Maslowski initially sought to void the litigation financing agreement under the common-law prohibition against champerty. The supreme court abolished Minnesota’s common-law prohibition against champerty. Maslowski v. Prospect Funding Partners LLC, 944 N.W.2d 235, 241 (Minn. 2020). The supreme court remanded the matter to the district court to determine the enforceability of the agreement, explaining that “district courts may still scrutinize litigation financing agreements to determine whether equity allows their enforcement.” Id.
On remand, the district court declared the litigation financing agreement enforceable in part and unconscionable in part. Among other rulings, the district court concluded that the 60 percent annual repurchase rate in the agreement is unconscionable as a violation of Minnesota’s usury statute, Minn. Stat. § 334.01 (2022). The district court revised the agreement to be enforceable, ordering Maslowski to pay Prospect the amount advanced, the processing fee, and simple interest at an annual rate of 8 percent. The district court specified that interest began to accrue on the date of the supreme court’s decision. The court of appeals affirmed.
The supreme court granted review on the following issues: (1) whether the repurchase rate in the litigation financing agreement is subject to Minnesota’s usury laws; and (2) whether the agreement is enforceable only after the date of the supreme court’s decision abolishing the doctrine of champerty. (Hennepin County)
1300 Nicollet LLC, Relator vs. County of Hennepin, Respondent – Case No. A22-0671: Relator 1300 Nicollet LLC owns real property in downtown Minneapolis which it operates as a hotel. At issue in this appeal are the tax assessments of respondent Hennepin County for the subject property in years 2016 through 2018. Prior to trial, 1300 Nicollet brought a motion to compel discovery of the financial information of several other downtown hotels for the use of its appraisal expert. The tax court ordered that, in general, the information sought was not discoverable because 1300 Nicollet had sufficient access to information to credibly determine the value of the subject property. But with respect to information that the County had already provided to its own appraisal expert, and that the expert had relied on to prepare his appraisal report, the court ordered production of this limited set of third-party hotel financial data. At trial, 1300 Nicollet sought to introduce affidavits from the third-party hotels to prove that the County had provided its appraisal expert with a biased sample of hotel financial data. The tax court sustained the County’s objection to such evidence as irrelevant.
Only the value of 1300 Nicollet’s real estate—not the value of personal property or other, intangible assets of the hotel business—is taxable. To separate the value of the real estate from the value of the business, each party relied on an appraisal expert at trial. The tax court adopted the “parsing income method” used by 1300 Nicollet’s expert, but it differed from 1300 Nicollet’s expert as to the allocation of some of the values of income and expenses. Eventually the tax court determined a value for the subject property in each of the tax years.
On appeal to the supreme court, relator’s brief presents the following issues: (1) whether the tax court erred by adding adjustments to certain valuation deductions; and (2) whether the tax court erred by denying in part the motion to compel discovery, and then at trial granting respondent’s motion to exclude the third-party hotel affidavits. (Minnesota Tax Court)