Minnesota Environmental Rights Act Minnesota Statutes, secs. 116B.01 and 116B.02, subds. 4 and 5 Election Ballots Minnesota Statutes, sec. 204B.41 Preemption of Medical Assistance Lien, Assignment, and Subrogation Laws Minnesota Statutes, secs. 256B.042, subd. 1; 256B.056, subd. 6; and 256B.37, subd. 1 Spousal Signature Requirement to Convey Homestead Minnesota Statutes, sec. 507.02 Defining Value of Homestead Exemption Minnesota Statutes, sec. 510.02 Calculating Child Support Payments Minnesota Statutes, sec. 518.551, subd. 5, para. (f) Patterned Sex Offender Sentence Enhancement Minnesota Statutes, sec. 609.108, subd. 2 Overlapping Criminal Acts in Pattern Harassment Minnesota Statutes, sec. 609.749, subd. 5 Unconstitutional Restriction on Minors in the Courtroom Minnesota Statutes, sec. 631.04
Minnesota Statutes, secs. 116B.01 and 116B.02, subds. 4 and 5
Minnesota Environmental Rights Act
Stansell v. City of Northfield
Minnesota Court of Appeals
November 7, 2000
Review Denied January 26, 2001
The city of Northfield adopted a rezoning ordinance that, in effect, allowed a large commercial retail establishment to build a store near the city's central business district. The district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Some city residents brought suit arguing, inter alia, that the construction would result in a violation of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA), Minnesota Statutes, chapter 116B. The residents argued that (1) the act protects ". . . natural resources located within the state from pollution, impairment, or destruction" under Minnesota Statutes, sections 116B.01 and 116B.02, subdivision 5, (2) the buildings in the city's central business district are protected historical resources, (3) historical resources, while not defined in MERA, are a type of natural resource listed in Minnesota Statutes, section 116B.02, subdivision 4, and are protected under MERA, and (4) the "new . . . store 'is likely to materially adversely affect' those buildings," in violation of Minnesota Statutes, section 116B.02, subdivision 5, because of the resulting adverse economic disadvantages to the central business district merchants.
The court of appeals noted that the term "historical resources" is not defined in MERA and, therefore, is ambiguous. The court found that the state supreme court had previously identified certain criteria to be considered when determining what constituted historical resources, which primarily addressed "buildings or other places, which we note are the criteria for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places." In determining the legislature's intent for MERA and similar laws "to accomplish environmental ends, not economic ones," the court concluded:
[I]t appears that the best interpretation of "historical resources" excludes the economic and cultural factors the Northfield residents seek to protect in the Central Business District.
In addition, the court found the appellants' argument alleging essentially a resulting decline in the central business district was "too attenuated as a matter of law" because allowing MERA to be based:
on the possible remote effects of economic forces would convert the statute from an environmental protection law to an economic regulation. The Northfield residents' interpretation of the statute is unreasonable and produces a result that is plainly at variance with the policy of the statute considered as a whole. We need not consider such an interpretation.
Minnesota Statutes, sec. 204B.41
Erlandson et al. v. Kiffmeyer et al.
Minnesota Supreme Court
October 31, 2002
ORDER (Opinion to Follow)
Following the death of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party nominee for the U. S. Senate, Erlandson and others brought a petition for relief under Minnesota Statutes, section 204B.44, clause (d), alleging that certain election officials did not properly "administer the instructions, the absentee ballots and the supplemental ballots for the general election scheduled for November 5, 2002." The vacancy occurred after absentee ballots had been mailed and "after the 16th day before the general election" under Minnesota Statutes, section 204B.41, which states:
When a vacancy in nomination occurs through the death . . . of a candidate after the 16th day before the general election, the officer in charge of preparing the ballots shall prepare and distribute a sufficient number of separate paper ballots which shall be headed with the words "OFFICIAL SUPPLEMENTAL BALLOT." This ballot shall contain the title of the office for which the vacancy in nomination has been filled and the names of all the candidates nominated for that office. The ballot shall conform to the provisions governing the printing of other official ballots as far as practicable. The title of the office and the names of the candidates for that office shall be blotted out or stricken from the regular ballots by the election judges. The official supplemental ballot shall be given to each voter when the voter is given the regular ballot or is directed to the voting machine. Regular ballots shall not be changed nor shall official supplemental ballots be prepared as provided in this section during the three calendar days before an election. Absentee ballots that have been mailed prior to the preparation of official supplemental ballots shall be counted in the same manner as if the vacancy had not occurred. Official supplemental ballots shall not be mailed to absent voters to whom ballots were mailed before the official supplemental ballots were prepared.
The court held a hearing on October 31, 2002, and issued an order (with opinion to follow) which stated in pertinent part related to Minnesota Statutes, section 204B.41:
2. If a voter has already cast a regular absentee ballot and requests, in any manner, an official supplemental ballot, the county election official shall provide the official supplemental ballot and a second regular absentee ballot, as a set, by mail using methods authorized for mailing of absentee ballots in Minn. Stat. ch. 204B, or in person if requested in person, to be utilized by the voter. Instructions shall accompany the ballot set clearly stating that if the voter wishes to vote in the races on the regular ballot the second regular absentee ballot must be completed and returned, and the second regular absentee ballot will replace the first regular absentee ballot cast by the voter.
* * *
9. Minnesota Statutes ... 204B.45 (2000) provides that voters residing in municipal areas with fewer than 400 registered . . . [voters] may vote by mail. Mail balloting is a procedure different than absentee balloting. If a voter has already submitted a "mail ballot" and requests, in any manner, an official supplemental ballot, the local election official shall provide the official supplemental ballot and a second regular ballot, as a set, by mail using methods authorized for mailing of absentee ballots in Minn. Stat. ch. 204B or in person if requested in person, to be utilized by the voter. Instructions shall accompany the ballot set clearly stating that if the voter wishes to vote in the races on the regular ballot the second regular ballot must be completed and returned, and that the second regular ballot will replace the first regular ballot cast by the voter.
(Full text of the order may be found in the appendix. In the absence of the opinion, it is unclear whether or not the court found any statutory language to be unconstitutional or ambiguous, or merely interpreted it. When the opinion is issued, the revisor's office will review it and, if constitutionality, ambiguity, or other legal problems are identified, we will supplement this report.)
Minnesota Statutes, secs. 256B.042, subd. 1;
256B.056, subd. 6; and 256B.37, subd. 1
Preemption of Medical Assistance Lien, Assignment, and Subrogation Laws
Martin ex rel. Hoff, and State v. City of Rochester et al.
Minnesota Supreme Court
March 21, 2002
Martin settled a personal injury suit brought against alleged third-party tortfeasors on behalf of her disabled son, Hoff, for $220,000. About six years earlier, to be eligible to receive medical assistance pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, section 256B.056, subdivision 6, Martin, as Hoff's authorized representative, assigned to the state all of Hoff's rights to payment for medical care from any third party liable for Hoff's injuries. The state filed a lien on Hoff's causes of action arising out of the accident that caused Hoff's disability. The lien was for medical costs already paid through state medical assistance and for future medical assistance benefits. The state asserted its medical assistance lien under Minnesota Statutes, section 256B.042, subdivision 1, and a claim for subrogation under Minnesota Statutes, section 256B.37, subdivision 1, to obtain a portion of the settlement proceeds as reimbursement for its expenses in providing Hoff with medical care, which by that time exceeded $600,000.
The district court granted Martin's motion to dismiss the state's claim against the settlement proceeds finding that "Hoff's right to recover medical expenses was completely assigned to the state, leaving Martin . . . with no right to collect for medical expenses. Hoff's remaining rights to recover included all of his claims for personal injury damages except for medical expenses. Martin settled . . . remaining claims . . . for $220,000. The state released . . . defendants . . . , apparently relying only on its lien and subrogation rights to recover medical expenses paid on Hoff's behalf . . . . [T]he state was not entitled to . . . the settlement funds . . . . [T]he state's lien and subrogation rights were preempted by federal law."
The state appealed. The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed, holding generally that state statutes did not conflict with the federal Medicaid scheme, that the statutes were not preempted by federal law, and that the state's lien and subrogation claims were valid.
On further appeal, the Minnesota Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, reversed the court of appeals and remanded the case to the district court for further action.
The court phrased the issues as "whether Minnesota's medical assistance lien, assignment, and subrogation statutes are preempted by the federal anti-lien statute."
Federal Anti-lien Law
The federal anti-lien law provides that ". . . no lien may be imposed against the property of any individual prior to his death on account of medical assistance paid . . . ." The court found the language to be unambiguous and found that it operated in harmony with other federal Medicaid provisions to accomplish ". . . dual objectives: first, protection of the recipient's limited assets from encroachment by the state for reimbursement for medical expenses paid; second, requiring recovery and reimbursement from third parties liable for the recipient's medical expenses that were paid by Medicaid."
State Lien Statute
The state's medical assistance lien statute, Minnesota Statutes, section 256B.042, subdivision 1, reads in pertinent part:
When the state . . . provides . . . medical care, it shall have a lien for the costs of the care upon any and all causes of action . . . for health care or injury, which accrue to the person to whom the care was furnished . . . .
The court found that the federal anti-lien statute prohibited a lien being placed on a medical assistance recipient's property before the recipient's death and held that "section 256B.042, . . . is preempted to the extent that it allows a lien for medical assistance paid to be placed on a medical assistance recipient's cause of action before a recipient's death.
State Assignment Statute
The state's assignment statute, Minnesota Statutes, section 256B.056, subdivision 6, reads in pertinent part:
To be eligible for medical assistance a person must . . . agree to apply all proceeds received or receivable by the person . . . from any third person liable for the costs of medical care . . . . The state . . . shall require from any applicant or recipient of medical assistance the assignment of any rights to medical support and third party payments. * * * By signing an application for medical assistance, a person assigns . . . all rights the person may have to medical support or payments for medical expenses from any other person or entity . . . and agrees to cooperate with the state in . . . obtaining third party payments.
The court found that to interpret "for the costs of medical care" to modify "third party liable" would allow the state to recover proceeds for more than just the costs of medical care allowed under the federal law. To resolve this conflict, the court held that the phrase, instead, modified "all proceeds" in order for the state statute to conform with federal law (i.e., ". . . all proceeds . . . for the costs of medical care . . . ."). The court held "when a medical assistance recipient has a cause or causes of action against potentially liable third parties for his injuries, the medical assistance assignment statute grants to the state an assignment right to all claims for medical care, but it does not grant an assignment right to any other claims or the recovery therefrom."
State Subrogation Statute
The state's subrogation statute, Minnesota Statutes, section 256B.37, subdivision 1, reads in pertinent part:
Upon furnishing medical assistance to any person who . . . has a cause of action arising out of an occurrence that necessitated the payment of medical assistance, the state . . . shall be subrogated, to the extent of the cost of medical care furnished, to any rights the person may have . . . under the cause of action.
Since the statute is not limited to causes of action to recover medical assistance costs, the court felt that "allowing a subrogation right outside of the state's assigned right to medical expenses would be an obstacle to the purposes of the federal Medicaid scheme." The court held "that the state subrogation provision is preempted to the extent that it allows the state to assert a subrogation right against causes of action or settlements for other than medical expenses."
Minnesota Statutes, sec. 507.02
Spousal Signature Requirement to Convey Homestead
Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Inc. v. Newton
Minnesota Court of Appeals
July 9, 2002
Newton entered into a contract for deed to purchase a house. About two years later she married Witkowski, after which they resided in the house as their homestead. Subsequently, they separated and Newton began divorce proceedings. Before the divorce was final, Newton borrowed $116,600 and executed a promissory note and a mortgage on the property as security for the note. Witkowski did not sign the note or the mortgage and was not named as a mortgagor. Newton used $55,034.74 to pay off the contract for deed and the remaining $61,565.26 to pay closing costs and personal expenses. Subsequently, Newton failed to make mortgage payments and Wells Fargo (appellant) brought an action against Newton and Witkowski for money owed, for property foreclosure, and for a declaration that the appellant's claim is superior to that of any other claimant.
Wells Fargo contended that the money was owed under a purchase money mortgage, which is an exception to the signature requirement for married persons to make a valid conveyance of the homestead under Minnesota Statutes, section 507.02. That section states, in part: "If the owner is married, no conveyance of the homestead, except a mortgage for purchase money unpaid thereon, . . . shall be valid without the signatures of both spouses." The district court disagreed, finding in favor of Newton and Witkowski that the mortgage was not a purchase-money mortgage and was invalid because it was not signed by both Newton and Witkowski.
The court found the statute to be ambiguous and phrased the issue as a determination whether Minnesota Statutes, section 507.02 "applies to a mortgage when funds obtained with the mortgage are used partly to refinance a contract for deed and partly to pay personal expenses." The court of appeals stated that the policy objective of the statute is to "ensure a secure homestead for families" and to protect against "the alienation of the homestead without the willing signatures of both spouses" but not to preserve the property against even just "demands for unpaid purchase money."
The court concluded that under the statute "to the extent that the mortgage Newton signed secures amounts other than the unpaid purchase price under Newton's contract for deed, the mortgage is invalid. But to the extent that the mortgage secures the $55,034.74 unpaid purchase price under the contract for deed, it is a mortgage for purchase money unpaid on the homestead. Therefore, the spousal-signature requirement in Minn. Stat. ..., section 507.02, does not apply to that portion of the mortgage, and the mortgage is a valid mortgage for $55,034.74 even though it was not signed by Witkowski."
Minnesota Statutes, sec. 510.02
Defining Value of Homestead Exemption
Baumann, et al. v. Chaska Building Center, Inc.
Minnesota Court of Appeals
January 23, 2001
In a creditor-debtor dispute, the district court interpreted the value of the debtor's homestead under the homestead-exemption statute as being its fair market value. Baumann (the debtor) appealed, arguing that "value of the homestead exemption" referred to the debtor's equity in the property. The homestead-exemption statute, Minnesota Statutes, section 510.02, reads in pertinent part:
*** The value of the homestead exemption . . . may not exceed $200,000 or, if . . . used primarily for agricultural purposes, $500,000 . . . .
The court found the statute to be susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation and, therefore, ambiguous.
After an analysis of statutes related to the homestead-exemption statute, the legislative history of the statute, and public policy reasons, the court held that its analysis supported the meaning of "value of the homestead exemption" as referring to "the value of the debtor's equity in the property," not the property's fair market value.
Minnesota Statutes, sec. 518.551, subd. 5, para. (f)
Calculating Child Support Payments
Svenningsen v. Svenningsen
Minnesota Court of Appeals
March 26, 2002
John Svenningsen, appellant, appealed the decision of the district court regarding his child support obligation. The appellant incurred a debt of more than $130,000 in student loans for medical school. The divorce agreement provided that the debt would be considered in determining the appellant's support obligation under Minnesota Statutes, section 518.551, subdivision 5, paragraphs (d) through (f). The appellant's salary increased to $116,160 per year and the parties agreed that the support should increase but that a downward departure from the guidelines was warranted because of the debt. However, the parties disagreed over the duration of the downward departure.
Minnesota Statutes, section 518.551, subdivision 5, paragraph (f), reads in pertinent part:
Any further departure below the guidelines that is based on . . . debts owed to private creditors shall not exceed 18 months in duration, after which the support shall increase automatically to the level ordered by the court. [Emphasis added.]
The court stated that "it is unclear exactly what the phrase 'further departure' references." Before 1986, the sentence including the phrase "further departure" was preceded by a sentence that read "The court shall order child support in accordance with the guidelines and any departure therefrom." Even though the preceding sentence had been removed, the appellant argued the two words assume some other departure from the guidelines has occurred, not the case in this instance. Therefore, since this downward departure is not a "further departure," the 18-month duration limitation does not apply.
The court found that case law and commentators had consistently ignored the word "further" and had held that a downward departure for private debt was limited to 18 months, even when that was "the only basis for departure." The court considered the word superfluous and held that paragraph (f) "prohibits any departure below the guidelines based on a consideration of private debts to exceed 18 months."
Minnesota Statutes, sec. 609.108, subd. 2
Patterned Sex Offender Sentence Enhancement
State v. Grossman
Minnesota Court of Appeals
December 13, 2001
Grossman was convicted of six felony counts, including first-degree criminal sexual conduct, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years' imprisonment. The trial court judge found that Grossman qualified under Minnesota Statutes, section 609.108, subdivision 1, as a patterned sex offender and, pursuant to the sentencing enhancement provisions of subdivision 2 of that statute, sentenced Grossman to 40 years' imprisonment. The Minnesota Supreme Court had previously held that the findings required in subdivision 1 of the statute to support a determination that a convicted person is a patterned sex offender need only be based on a preponderance of the evidence. State v. Christie, 506 N.W.2d 293 (Minn. 1993). Minnesota Statutes, section 609.108, subdivision 2, reads in pertinent part:
If the factfinder determines, at the time of the trial or the guilty plea, that a predatory offense was motivated by, committed in the course of, or committed in furtherance of sexual contact or penetration, . . . and the court is imposing a sentence under subdivision 1, the statutory maximum imprisonment penalty for the offense is 40 years, notwithstanding the statutory maximum imprisonment penalty otherwise provided for the offense.
Grossman appealed, claiming the sentence violated due process in light of the U. S. Supreme Court's holding in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000). The court in Apprendi held:
Other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
The court found that the sentencing court necessarily had to make findings under subdivision 1, under a preponderance of the evidence standard, to impose a penalty greater than authorized by the jury's verdict, which was based on the reasonable doubt standard. In addition, the court relied on the Apprendi analysis that "the relevant inquiry is one not of form, but of effect—does the required finding expose the defendant to a greater punishment than that authorized by the jury's guilty verdict?" Under this analysis, it is irrelevant whether the findings are traditionally those made by a sentencing court and the court concluded:
The effect of the sentencing court's findings, when coupled with the jury's finding of sexual penetration, was to increase by 10 years the prison sentence to which Grossman was exposed. Due process requires that each of these findings be made by a jury based on proof beyond a reasonable doubt. *** Thus, Minn. Stat. . . . 609.108, subd. 2, as applied to Grossman, is unconstitutional.
The court also stated in a footnote:
While Grossman has not made a facial challenge to Minn. Stat. . . . 609.108, subd. 2, we feel compelled to note our doubts as to whether there are any circumstances under which subdivision 2 could be constitutionally applied.
Minnesota Statutes, sec. 609.749, subd. 5
Overlapping Criminal Acts in Pattern Harassment
State v. Richardson
Minnesota Court of Appeals
October 2, 2001
Richardson was convicted of eight felony counts of patterns of harassing conduct toward four victims. Minnesota Statutes, section 609.749, subdivision 5, paragraph (b), reads in pertinent part ". . . a 'pattern of harassing conduct' means two or more acts . . . that violate the provisions of . . . [various statutes prohibiting criminal acts]…."
The defendant argued that, at most, the statute allowed for only three counts to be charged because each pattern of harassing conduct required at least two distinct unlawful acts separate from two other, different acts used as the basis for each additional count of harassing conduct. The trial court convicted the defendant of eight counts of pattern harassment, consisting of (1) counts that had as a basis an underlying act that "overlapped" against one victim, in which, for example, the second underlying act of one count was used as the first underlying act of a second count against the same victim and (2) counts that "overlapped" against more than one victim in which, for example, an underlying criminal act was used to form not only a basis for a count against one victim but also a basis for a count against a second victim.
The court of appeals determined that the phrase "two or more acts" was "open to at least two interpretations" and, thus, ambiguous. Because it was interpreting a penal statute, the court stated that it must "strictly construe . . . [the ambiguous language] in favor of Richardson." The court concluded that each count required "at least two separate and discrete criminal acts" as a basis for the offense as to each victim, so that a specific criminal act used in forming the basis for one count of pattern harassment could not "overlap" and be used to also form the basis for another count of pattern harassment directed at the same victim. However, the same criminal act perpetrated against two or more individuals may be used as a basis for two or more counts and the specific act "would not be overlapping when applied to each victim."
Minnesota Statutes, sec. 631.04
Unconstitutional Restriction on Minors in the Courtroom
State v. Lindsey
Minnesota Supreme Court
August 23, 2001
Based on Minnesota Statutes, section 631.04, which was originally enacted in 1891, the trial court refused to allow two minors to remain in the courtroom during Lindsey's trial for murder. The minors were neither parties nor witnesses, nor did they have any other direct interest in the trial. Minnesota Statutes, section 631.04, reads in pertinent part:
A minor under the age of 17 who is not a party to, witness in, or directly interested in a criminal prosecution or trial before a . . . court, may not be present at the trial. ***
Lindsey sought a new trial under his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. The court found that "it was error for the trial court to rely on section 631.04 to exclude the two children from the courtroom" but concluded that "the regulation of spectators in the courtroom during a criminal trial is procedural and has nothing to do with the substantive aspects of the offense or punishment," and that "the values sought to be protected by a public trial were in fact protected."
The court held that "the exclusion of two children on the facts presented did not violate Lindsey's right to a public trial."
However, the court also held that Minnesota Statutes, section 631.04, "unconstitutionally encroaches upon a judicial function in violation of the separation of powers doctrine."