Before the Minnesota Supreme Court

May 2024


Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office

Monday, April 29, 2024

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

Uline, Inc., Relator, vs. Commissioner of Revenue, Respondent – Case No. A23-1561: Congress passed a federal law which provides that if a company’s only activity in a state is the “solicitation of orders,” that state cannot impose income taxes. See 15 U.S.C. § 381. The U.S. Supreme Court in Wisconsin Dep’t of Revenue v. William Wrigley, Jr., Co., interpreted the scope of the term “solicitation of orders” and also concluded that there is a de minimis exception to otherwise unprotected activity. 505 U.S. 214 (1992). The State of Minnesota incorporated this federal law into its tax statutes, providing that if taxation is precluded by that federal law, that person is likewise not subject to Minnesota’s income or franchise tax. Here, the Commissioner of Revenue determined that relator Uline Inc., an S Corporation with its headquarters and principal place of business in Wisconsin, maintained sufficient minimum contacts in Minnesota to be subject to the State’s taxation. Uline challenged this, and the tax court held, applying Wrigley, that Uline’s regular and systematic preparation of Market News Notes accessible to non-sales personnel went beyond mere solicitation of orders for purposes of immunity from taxation.

On appeal to the supreme court, Uline’s brief presents the following issues: (1) When Uline’s sales representatives prepared and shared written reports of information they learned on sales calls that was useful for soliciting future sales, did that activity fall within the process of soliciting orders under 15 U.S.C. § 381? (2) In the alternative, if any aspect of preparing and sharing written reports of such information fell outside the process of soliciting orders, did it make only a de minimis change to Uline’s connections to Minnesota, leaving the application of 15 U.S.C. § 381 unchanged? (Minnesota Tax Court)

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Earley Romero Blevins, Appellant – Case No. A22-0432: The State charged appellant Earley Romero Blevins with three counts of second-degree assault. Blevins waived his right to a jury trial. The district court found Blevins guilty of two of the counts, concluding that Blevins intended to cause the victims to fear immediate bodily harm when he swung a machete at them and that his self-defense claim failed because he had a duty to retreat from the confrontation when he had a reasonable opportunity to do so, and did not choose to do so. The court of appeals affirmed.

The supreme court granted review on the following issues: (1) Under Minnesota law, does an individual who has been threatened with deadly force have a duty to retreat before resorting to non-physical force? (2) If there is a duty to retreat before resorting to non-physical force, at what point in a conflict is the duty triggered? (Hennepin County)

David Carl Hepfl, Respondent, vs. Jodine Patrice Meadowcroft, Appellant – Case No. A22‑1706: Appellant Jodine Meadowcroft and respondent David Hepfl were involved in an on-and-off romantic relationship. During their relationship, Hepfl made contributions to Meadowcroft’s cabin in Becker County and their residence in Waseca. After they separated, Hepfl brought an action against Meadowcroft. Following a bench trial, the district court ruled that Hepfl is entitled to damages for unjust enrichment. The court of appeals affirmed.

The supreme court granted review on the following issue: What factors should be reviewed when determining that an act is immoral or illegal to meet the standards for an unjust enrichment claim? (Waseca County)

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Ryan James Martens, Appellant – Case No. A22-1349: Appellant Ryan Martens told his therapist that he had been having an affair. Based on this conversation, the therapist believed that Martens first engaged in sexual intercourse with this person (the complainant) when she was 17 years old. But when Martens made this statement to his therapist, the complainant was 18 years old. The therapist submitted maltreatment reports to county authorities.

Respondent the State of Minnesota charged Martens with third-degree criminal sexual conduct for engaging in sexual penetration with the complainant. Prior to trial, Martens moved to exclude testimony from his therapist, arguing his statements to his therapist were protected by the therapist-client privilege. The State claimed Martens’ statements fell within the exception to the statutory therapist-client privilege for “evidence relating to the maltreatment of a child.” Minn. Stat. § 260E.04 (2022). The district court denied the motion. It relied on the mandated-reporter statute, Minn. Stat. § 260E.06 (2022), which states that a mandated reporter “who knows or has reason to believe a child is being maltreated . . . or has been maltreated within the preceding three years shall immediately report the information.” The district court concluded that the mandated-reporter statute required the therapist to submit a maltreatment report and that as a result, the therapist-client privilege did not apply to the required information in the report. At a jury trial, Martens’ therapist testified about Martens’ disclosure that he had sexual intercourse with the complainant when she was 17 years old. The jury found Martens guilty.

The court of appeals affirmed. At the court of appeals, Martens argued that all the statements he made to his therapist were privileged because the mandated-reporter statute does not apply when the alleged victim of the maltreatment is an adult at the time of the report. Because the court of appeals determined that Martens had forfeited this statutory interpretation argument by not raising it in the district court, it applied a plain-error standard of review. The court of appeals concluded that the mandated-reporter statute requires the submission of a maltreatment report regarding a person who is an adult at the time of the report when that person was maltreated as a child if the maltreatment occurred within 3 years of the disclosure. Based on this interpretation of the mandated-reporter statute, the court of appeal held that the district court did not err by admitting the therapists’ testimony.

The supreme court granted review of the following issues: (1) Did Martens forfeit his argument about the application of the mandated-reporter statute? (2) Did the court of appeals correctly interpret the mandated-reporter statute? (Kanabec County)

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Michael B. Padden, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0177519 – Case No. A23-0080: An attorney discipline matter that presents the question of what discipline, if any, is appropriate based on the facts of the case.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Frank James Bigbear, Appellant – Case No. A22-1104: After a jury trial, appellant Frank James Bigbear was convicted of one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. During the trial, the district court allowed, over Bigbear’s objection, the State to present evidence of a video-recorded interview of the victim. The court of appeals concluded that the district court erred by admitting the video at trial. The court of appeals nonetheless affirmed Bigbear’s conviction, finding the error was harmless.

The supreme court granted review on the following issue: Can a reviewing court deem an error admitting evidence harmless on the basis that “the jury could have reached the same verdict based on the other evidence presented,” or must the court consider how the erroneously admitted evidence may have influenced the jury’s decision? (Saint Louis County)

Cambria Company, LLC, Respondent, vs. M&M Creative Laminants, Inc. dba M&M Creative Laminates, Inc., Appellant, Leland P. Schermer, Respondent– Case Nos. A22-0723, A22-0724: Appellant M&M Creative Laminants and respondent Cambria Company had a nearly-10-year business relationship in which Cambria cut quartz slabs, finished or fabricated the slabs into countertops according to M&M’s orders, and sold them to M&M, which installed the countertops into homes and other settings. When Cambria terminated the relationship, litigation ensued. Among other claims raised by both sides, M&M argued that Cambria’s termination of the relationship violated the Minnesota Franchise Act (MFA), which requires good cause for termination of a franchise and 90 days’ notice of the reasons for termination. See Minn. Stat. § 80C.14, subd. 3 (2022).

The district court dismissed the MFA claim on summary judgment, concluding that there was no franchise relationship between the parties because M&M did not pay Cambria a franchise fee. Among other things, a franchise fee may be “any payment for goods or services,” but “the purchase of goods or agreement to purchase goods at a bona fide wholesale price” is not considered a franchise fee. Minn. Stat. § 80C.14, subd. 9 (2022). M&M argued that Cambria charged it for “fabrication services” to cut and prepare the quartz slabs to order, and that this constituted a franchise fee. The district court rejected this argument, concluding that paying for a product with some added service “does not transform a contract of sale into a contract for services,” and therefore M&M had not paid a franchise fee.

The court of appeals affirmed dismissal of the MFA claim. It concluded, first, that “a payment for a customized or fabricated good at a bona fide wholesale price is not a franchise fee . . . when the predominant purpose of the parties’ contracts is a finished product and not services.” Second and in the alternative, it concluded that the MFA protects only potential franchisees within Minnesota, and that M&M, a Pennsylvania company that does not operate in Minnesota, is therefore not entitled to the protections of the MFA.

The supreme court granted review on the following issue: Did the court of appeals err in affirming the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Cambria on M&M’s MFA claim, finding that the MFA (a) could not be enforced by M&M because M&M is not physically located in Minnesota, and (b) does not apply because, although M&M paid Cambria substantial fees for fabrication services on every order, the court held that M&M did not make “any payment . . . for services,” within the definition of “franchise fee” under the MFA, since the court utilized the Uniform Commercial Code’s “predominant purpose” test to the MFA, and determined that the predominant purpose was to sell goods, not services? (Le Sueur County)

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Madsen Marcellus, Jr., a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0344643 – Case No. A23-1218: An attorney discipline matter that presents the question of what discipline, if any, is appropriate based on the facts of the case.

Nonoral: Adam Strege, Relator, vs. Commercial Drywall, Inc. and Federal Mutual Group, Respondents – Case No. A23-1741: In 2006, a compensation judge issued findings and an order awarding Adam Strege temporary total disability benefits through July 15, 2004 for a work-related temporary strain to his neck, but denied all other claims, including a claim that a traumatic brain injury and emotional injuries were caused by a March 2004 work incident. In March 2023, Strege filed a petition to vacate the 2006 finding and order. The workers’ compensation court of appeals denied the petition to vacate.

On appeal to the supreme court, Strege challenges the decision by the workers’ compensation court of appeals. (Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals)

Wednesday, May 8, 2024 – Mora High School

State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Almanzo Ousley Cotton, Appellant – Case No. A23-0213: Following a jury trial, appellant Almanzo Ousley Cotton was convicted of second-degree murder. At sentencing, the district court ordered Cotton to pay restitution in the amount of $2,362 to the Crime Victims Reparations Board (CVRB) for reparations the board awarded to the victim’s adult daughter to reimburse her for the cost of cremating her mother’s remains. Cotton challenged the restitution order, arguing that the daughter did not have an out-of-pocket loss because the funds she received from a GoFundMe campaign exceeded the cremation costs. Following a contested hearing, the district court concluded that the purpose of the GoFundMe campaign was to pay for certain expenses of the daughter related to her mother’s murder: legal expenses, memorial expenses, room and board, travel expenses, and medical and mental health care expenses. The listed expenses did not include cremation of her mother’s remains. The court of appeals affirmed the restitution order.

The supreme court granted review on the following issues: (1) Crime victims may seek reparations for their economic losses from the CVRB, which then seeks reimbursement from the defendant. Section 611A.54 requires the CVRB and courts to reduce the victim’s reparations award if the loss is recouped from collateral sources like donations or gifts. Is the reimbursement the CVRB seeks from the defendant properly deemed restitution instead of reparations so that the collateral-source statute does not apply? (2) If the defendant’s reimbursement to the CVRB is deemed to be reparations and the collateral-source statute applies, must the CVRB and courts consider GoFundMe donations as a collateral source when calculating the reparations to award a crime victim? (Hennepin County)