Justia Minnesota Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The case revolves around the legality of the Emergency Management Act (the Act) in Minnesota, which allows the Governor to declare a peacetime emergency in response to a pandemic. The appellants, led by Drake Snell, challenged the Act, arguing that it did not authorize the Governor to declare a peacetime emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and that it violated the nondelegation doctrine.Previously, the district court had dismissed Snell's case, concluding that the Act was a constitutional delegation of power to the Governor. The court of appeals affirmed this decision, stating that the Act granted the Governor the authority to declare a peacetime emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The court of appeals declined to consider Snell's argument that the Act violated the nondelegation doctrine, holding that it was not within the scope of remand.The Supreme Court of Minnesota affirmed the decision of the court of appeals. The court concluded that the Act does authorize a governor to declare a peacetime emergency in response to a public health crisis such as a pandemic. Furthermore, the court found that Governor Walz was authorized under the Act to declare a peacetime emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lastly, the court rejected Snell's contention that the Act violates the nondelegation doctrine, stating that the Act does not represent an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority. The court noted that the Act places durational limits on the powers and subjects them to termination by the Legislature, thus providing a check on the Governor's powers. View "Procaccini vs. Walz" on Justia Law

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The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the Legal Marijuana Now Party (LMNP) does not meet the requirements to be classified as a major political party under Minnesota law. The case was initiated by Ken Martin, the chair of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, who filed a petition arguing that the LMNP failed to comply with certain requirements for major political parties. Specifically, Martin claimed that the LMNP did not maintain a state central committee subject to the state convention’s control, as required by Minnesota law.The case was referred to a referee, who concluded that the LMNP had indeed failed to meet the requirements to be a major political party. The LMNP objected to these findings and argued that the relevant statutes unconstitutionally infringed upon its First Amendment associational rights.The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected the LMNP's arguments. It found that the LMNP's single committee, The Head Council, was not subject to the control of the LMNP’s state convention, as required by law. The court also rejected the LMNP’s constitutional challenge, finding that the party failed to demonstrate how the statutory requirements specifically burdened its associational rights. As a result, the court held that the LMNP does not meet all the statutory requirements to maintain its status as a major political party for the upcoming state primary and general elections. View "Martin vs. Simon" on Justia Law

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The case involves a wrongful death claim filed by Judith Rygwall, the mother of Amy Rygwall, against ACR Homes, Inc. Amy, a profoundly vulnerable woman with intellectual and physical disabilities, was under the care of ACR Homes. On New Year's Eve 2015, Amy aspirated (inhaled food into her lungs) and began showing signs of respiratory distress. A member of ACR's staff was informed of these signs but did not seek immediate emergency care for Amy. Instead, she searched online for an urgent care clinic that accepted Amy's insurance with the shortest wait time. Amy's condition worsened, and she died 13 days later from related complications. Rygwall filed a wrongful-death action, asserting that ACR should have immediately called 911 upon learning of Amy's respiratory distress and that failure to do so caused Amy's death.ACR moved for summary judgment on the issue of causation. The district court granted ACR's motion, and the court of appeals affirmed. The district court concluded that Rygwall did not establish that Amy would not have died even if she had received emergency care soon after she exhibited respiratory distress and aspirated after lunch at Rise. The court of appeals agreed, reasoning that Rygwall's expert's report did not explain how Amy's treatment would have progressed had she been seen sooner or how immediate treatment would have prevented her condition from becoming fatal.The Supreme Court of Minnesota reversed the decision of the court of appeals and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. The Supreme Court held that Rygwall raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether ACR caused her daughter's death. The court concluded that based on the record, a reasonable jury could find in Rygwall's favor on the issue of causation, and therefore summary judgment for ACR was inappropriate. View "Rygwall vs. ACR Homes, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case involves Anthony James Trifiletti, who was convicted of second-degree unintentional felony murder. The conviction followed a second trial after the first ended in a mistrial due to a deadlocked jury. During the second trial, one of the State’s witnesses was exposed to COVID-19 and was deemed unavailable to testify in person. The district court allowed the transcript of her testimony from the first trial to be read into the record instead of live testimony. Trifiletti appealed, arguing that this violated his right to confrontation under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 6, of the Minnesota Constitution.The Minnesota Supreme Court held that the district court erred in determining that the witness was unavailable under the Confrontation Clause. The court found that the State failed to establish that the witness would not have been available to testify in person at some reasonable point in time during the trial. The court also rejected the State's argument that Trifiletti invited the error by choosing to have the witness's prior testimony read aloud for the jury rather than having her testify via video. However, the court concluded that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, as the jury's determination that Trifiletti did not act in self-defense was surely unattributable to the witness's testimony. Therefore, the court reversed the decision of the court of appeals. View "State of Minnesota vs. Trifiletti" on Justia Law

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Michael Joseph Letourneau was charged with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. He was already incarcerated for unrelated reasons, which made him subject to the Uniform Mandatory Disposition of Detainers Act (UMDDA). This act allows incarcerated individuals to demand the speedy disposition of any pending criminal charges. Letourneau signed a formal request for his trial to commence within 6 months, as provided by the Act. However, during pretrial proceedings, Letourneau had multiple changes of counsel and a continuance due to defense counsel’s conflict that delayed resolution of pretrial matters. The district court found good cause to begin his trial in October, past the deadline otherwise required by the Act.The district court's decision to delay the trial was appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which affirmed the lower court's decision. The appellate court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding good cause for a continuance because the delay was minimal and because Letourneau did not allege any prejudice caused by the delay.The case was then brought before the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in delaying the trial. The court noted that the district court had found good cause for the delay, citing changes of counsel, administrative delays, and scheduling issues. The court also noted that Letourneau's counsel did not object to the new trial date or the district court's finding of good cause to continue the trial date. The Supreme Court concluded that Letourneau’s right to a speedy disposition under the Act was not violated, and the district court’s reasonable continuance of the trial was not an abuse of its discretion. View "State of Minnesota vs. Letourneau" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case revolves around the beneficiaries of a trust established by John Demskie, the founder of Remote Technologies, Inc. (RTI). The trust's principal asset was John Demskie’s 90 percent ownership interest in RTI. After his death in 2016, the beneficiaries alleged that U.S. Bank, the sole trustee, became the controlling shareholder of RTI and took actions that severely diminished the value of RTI and frustrated their reasonable expectations as owners of beneficial interests in RTI. The beneficiaries brought claims against U.S. Bank for breach of fiduciary duty and unfairly prejudicial conduct under the Minnesota Business Corporation Act, seeking damages and a buy-out of their interests in RTI.The district court granted U.S. Bank's motion for judgment on the pleadings, ruling that the beneficiaries could not bring a shareholder action against U.S. Bank under the Minnesota Business Corporation Act because the allegations in the complaint were not sufficient to establish that either the beneficiaries or U.S. Bank were shareholders of RTI. The court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of both claims.The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court held that the beneficiaries sufficiently pleaded the shareholder status of U.S. Bank under the notice pleading standard, reversing the dismissal of their breach-of-fiduciary-duty claim. However, the court was evenly divided on the issue of whether owners of beneficial interests in a corporation may initiate an action for a buy-out of their interests, affirming the decision of the court of appeals dismissing their claim for buy-out relief. The case was remanded to the court of appeals for further proceedings. View "Demskie vs. U.S. Bank National Association" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the 1986 murder of Nancy Daugherty. The defendant, Michael Allan Carbo Jr., was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. The prosecution's case was based on DNA evidence collected from the crime scene and Carbo's garbage, which matched Carbo's DNA. Carbo sought to suppress this evidence, arguing that the collection and analysis of his DNA violated his Fourth Amendment rights. He also sought to introduce evidence suggesting that another individual, B.E., was the actual perpetrator.The district court denied Carbo's motion to suppress the DNA evidence, ruling that Carbo had abandoned his expectation of privacy by leaving his semen at the crime scene and his garbage in a communal bin. The court also denied Carbo's motion to introduce alternative-perpetrator evidence, concluding that the proffered evidence did not have an inherent tendency to connect B.E. to the crime.The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision regarding the DNA evidence. It held that Carbo had indeed abandoned his subjective expectation of privacy in the genetic information gathered from the crime scene and his garbage. However, the court reversed the lower court's decision on the alternative-perpetrator evidence. It found that the district court had abused its discretion by holding Carbo's evidentiary proffer to an unobtainable legal standard, thereby violating his constitutional right to present a complete defense. The court concluded that the error was not harmless and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "State of Minnesota vs. Carbo" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the appellant, Said Sharif Maye, who was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder for the death of Idris Yussuf in August 2020. Prior to the trial, the district court denied Maye's motion to exclude testimony that the State's main eyewitness received several threatening phone calls before the trial, instructing him not to testify. The State argued that the evidence was relevant to the witness's credibility, showing that he was willing to testify despite threats. The district court allowed the evidence, reasoning that it was probative of the witness's credibility and that the prejudicial effect of the evidence would be mitigated by the State's suggested clarifying questions.The court of appeals affirmed Maye's conviction, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of the threatening phone calls. The court of appeals reasoned that the evidence was relevant to the witness's credibility, the State's use of the evidence was minimal, and the evidence was admitted with sufficient safeguards to protect against unfair prejudice. The court of appeals also held that even if the evidence was erroneously admitted, its admission was harmless.The Supreme Court of Minnesota held that the district court abused its discretion by admitting the threat evidence on direct examination. The court reasoned that the probative value of the evidence was minimal, and the risk of unfair prejudice to the defendant was substantial. However, the court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals, agreeing that the admission of the evidence was harmless. The court concluded that there was no reasonable possibility that the wrongfully admitted evidence significantly affected the verdict, given the strong evidence of Maye's guilt. View "State of Minnesota vs. Mcneilly" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case involves Jerry Arnold Westrom, who was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder and second-degree intentional murder. The victim, Jeanie Childs, was found stabbed to death in her apartment in 1993. The case went cold until 2018 when police began working with the FBI to review Childs’ murder. They sent a DNA sample from the crime scene to DNA Solutions, Inc. to create a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) profile that could be compared with profiles on commercial genealogical databases to identify the source’s relatives. A potential match was located on MyHeritage that appeared to be a first cousin to the source of the crime scene DNA. Law enforcement then used the match to construct a family tree that identified Westrom as the likely source.The district court denied Westrom’s motion to suppress all evidence stemming from the police’s comparison of the SNP profile created from DNA gathered from the crime scene with other profiles on commercial genealogical databases. His motion also contested the admissibility of evidence obtained through the STR analysis of DNA taken from his discarded napkin. The district court concluded that no search had occurred because Westrom held no expectation of privacy in the information contained within his DNA when police only used his DNA for the purpose of identification.The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed Westrom’s conviction of first-degree premeditated murder. The court found that the district court did not err in concluding that the genetic analysis of a napkin discarded by Westrom was not a search under the United States or Minnesota Constitutions. The court also found that the circumstantial evidence was sufficient to support Westrom’s convictions. However, the court reversed the second-degree murder conviction and remanded to the district court to vacate that conviction, as it was an error to convict Westrom of both first-degree felony murder and the lesser-included offense of second-degree intentional murder. View "State of Minnesota vs. Westrom" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the appellant, Said Sharif Maye, who was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder for the death of Idris Yussuf in August 2020. Before the trial, the district court denied Maye’s motion to exclude testimony that the State’s main eyewitness received several threatening phone calls before trial telling him not to testify. At trial, the State questioned the eyewitness about the threats at the end of direct examination. The court of appeals affirmed Maye’s conviction and held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of the threatening phone calls.The Minnesota Supreme Court was tasked with determining whether the district court abused its discretion in admitting evidence on direct examination that a witness received threatening phone calls from an unknown caller and, if so, whether any such error was harmless. The court found that the district court did abuse its discretion by admitting the threat evidence on direct examination. However, the court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals because it agreed that the admission of the evidence was harmless. The court concluded that there was no reasonable possibility that the erroneously admitted threat evidence significantly affected the verdict. View "State of Minnesota vs. Maye" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law