In Reversal, Minnesota Supreme Court Finds State Law Does Not Preempt Proposed City Charter Amendment On Municipal Waste Collection System

In Jennissen v. City of Bloomington, 913 N.W.2d 456 (2018), the Minnesota Supreme Court recently held that Minn. Stat. § 115A.94 (2016) does not preempt local ordinances concerning municipal waste collection systems, finding that the Legislature did not intend to occupy the field but instead left room for supplemental municipal regulation.  In reversing decisions by the Hennepin County District Court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals, the Minnesota Supreme Court specifically found that Minn. Stat. § 115A.94 does not preempt Bloomington residents’ passage of a charter amendment that would prevent the City of Bloomington from implementing an organized waste collection ordinance without prior voter approval. On remand, the Court of Appeals held that the residents’ proposed charter amendment was an improper referendum.  The Minnesota Supreme Court granted review on January 15, 2019. Continue Reading

Minnesota Supreme Court Clarifies The Disproportionate Forfeiture Doctrine

The Minnesota Supreme Court recently clarified the application of the doctrine against disproportionate forfeiture under Minnesota contract law in Capistrant v. Lifetouch Nat’l Sch. Studios, Inc., 916 N.W.2d 23 (Minn. 2018).  Minnesota courts (and other jurisdictions) have long relied on the disproportionate forfeiture doctrine as a way to prevent inequitable penalties in contracts, although the doctrine is not uniformly interpreted.  In Capistrant, while the court confronted the specific question of “whether a former employee’s delay in returning his employer’s property excuses the employer from paying a commission otherwise due to the employee,” its interpretation of the disproportionate forfeiture doctrine may have wider application.

Factual background

Capistrant worked as a photography and sales representative for Lifetouch, a photography services company that contracts with schools and other organizations.  After he retired, Capistrant filed this action seeking to recover unpaid commissions based on his employment contract.  The parties entered that contract in 1986, when Capistrant managed certain territory for Lifetouch and was compensated entirely with commissions, including “residual commissions” owed after his employment with Lifetouch ended.  The contract also contained a term by which Lifetouch could terminate its obligation to make any unpaid payments of residual commissions to Capistrant if “at any time” Capistrant “breached” certain provisions.  Included among those provisions was a “restriction against competition” wherein Capistrant was required, in one part, to “immediately deliver to Lifetouch all of Lifetouch’s property” at the end of his employment.  The Minnesota Supreme Court referred to this as the “return-of-property” clause.

During the discovery period, Capistrant revealed that he had retained a large number of Lifetouch’s proprietary documents in violation of the return-of-property clause.  Capistrant quickly returned the documents to Lifetouch and its forensic expert determined Capistrant had not disseminated the documents to outside sources.  Regardless, Lifetouch argued Capistrant’s failure to comply with the return-of-property clause excused it from paying him residual commissions.  Continue Reading

Trespass To Noncommercial Trees: No Effect On The Land’s Market Value? Then No Timber Trespass Claim, Says The Oregon Court Of Appeals

In Harshbarger v. Klamath County, No. A163379, the Oregon Court of Appeals addresses timber trespass claims involving noncommercial, ornamental trees.  In such cases, the court holds, the plaintiff must prove either (1) that damage to the trees diminished the market value of the real property, or (2) that the effect on the property’s value cannot be determined.  According to the court, if the evidence shows that the land’s market value is not affected, then the plaintiff cannot substitute evidence of the value of the trees or costs related to the trespass.  The timber trespass claim simply fails.

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Oregon Supreme Court Allows Appeal from Voluntary Dismissal with Prejudice

In Gist v. Zoan Management, No. S064925, the Oregon Supreme Court clarifies the circumstances under which a party can appeal from a judgment of voluntary dismissal.  More than 50 years ago, the Oregon Supreme Court held that “a party may not appeal from a judgment which he voluntarily requested.” Steenson v. Robinson, 236 Or 414, 416-17 (1963).  Now, in Gist, the court announces that the Steenson rule does not apply if the judgment was a voluntary dismissal with prejudice.

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Can an Orthodontist Tell the Oregon Board of Dentistry to Go Fly a Kite? Not Under ORS 679.170(6)

Angle v Board of Dentistry, No. A162472, decided by the Oregon Court of Appeals on October 17, 2018, is a statutory interpretation case about nonresponsive responses.

ORS 679.170(6) provides that no person shall “fail to respond” to a written request from the Board of Dentistry for information.  Does a “nonresponsive” reply count as a failure to respond?  In this case, the Oregon Court of Appeals decides that just saying something is not sufficient to comply with ORS 679.170(6).  Instead, responses must be responsive.  According to the court, telling the board to go fly a kite or writing a letter about the history of Rome will not pass muster.  However, a “curt and not overly helpful” response may work.

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Oregon Court of Appeals Questions Trial Court’s Authority to Dismiss Case as Sanction for Prelitigation Spoliation

Markstrom v Guard Publishing Co., No. A163317, decided by the Oregon Court of Appeals on October 10, 2018, is about the prelitigation destruction of evidence.  The plaintiff, as an employee of the defendant, had been reprimanded and placed on a performance improvement plan, and she had submitted a notice of grievance through her union.  Then, while out on a pregnancy-related medical leave, she deleted emails on her work account, against her supervisor’s instructions.  She also destroyed text messages between her and her union representative.  Ultimately, the plaintiff was fired, and she sued her former employer.  The trial court, relying on ORCP 46 D and its inherent authority, dismissed her case as a sanction for her intentional prelitigation destruction of evidence.  But the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed that dismissal.  In addition to questioning whether the trial court even had any discretion to dismiss for prelitigation spoliation, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court here had failed to sufficiently consider the effect of the plaintiff’s conduct in the context of the case as a whole.     Continue Reading

Pending Motion to Dismiss Does Not Prevent Filing Answer & Counterclaims

In Wells Fargo v Clark, No. A162461, the Oregon Court of Appeals held that defendants may file an answer and counterclaim even while their ORCP 21 A motion to dismiss is still pending.  In this case, on the morning of the hearing on the defendants’ motion to dismiss, the defendants filed an answer to the plaintiff’s complaint and counterclaims.  The same morning, the plaintiff filed a notice of voluntary dismissal.  The trial court ruled that the answer and counterclaims were “a legal nullity,” on the theory that parties are not allowed to file a motion to dismiss and an answer at the same time.  The Oregon Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that nothing in the Oregon Rules of Civil Procedure prevents a defendant from filing a responsive pleading or counterclaim while its motion to dismiss is still pending.

This opinion has potential implications in any case in which the plaintiff may seek to voluntarily dismiss its claims without the defendant’s consent while a motion to dismiss is pending. ORCP 54 A(1) provides that a plaintiff can voluntarily dismiss its claims without order of the court merely by filing and serving a notice of dismissal “if no counterclaim has been pleaded.”

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Mootness of a Public Meetings Law Challenge

Wood v Wasco County, No. A161351, addresses how to apply mootness principles to an alleged public records violation.  In 2014, allegedly without giving proper notice under Oregon’s Public Meetings Law, the Wasco County Board of Commissioners voted to give notice of the county’s intent to withdraw from an intergovernmental agreement.  After the Plaintiff sued to have the notice declared void and also for equitable relief to ensure future compliance with the Public Meetings Law, the Board of Commissioners voted to rescind the notice.  According to the Oregon Court of Appeals, that vote mooted the Plaintiff’s suit.

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Reminder: Amendments to the Idaho Appellate Rules and Idaho Rules of Civil Procedure go into effect July 1, 2017

In May, we wrote about amendments to the Idaho Appellate Rules that go into effect July 1, 2017. You can link to the blog post here. The changes impact I.A.R. 11.1, 12.1, 12.2, 25, 27(f), 28(g), 32(b), 33, 34(a), 34.1, and 40. Key amendments address the submission of electronic briefs (they are now mandatory), the reporter’s standard transcript in criminal appeals (the contents have changed), and magistrate appeals involving child custody (the rules have largely been streamlined).

You should also be aware of recent amendments to the Idaho Rules of Civil Procedure that go into effect on July 1. Pursuant to I.R.C.P. 3(d)(1), both the initiating and responding party must file a case information sheet in all new civil cases (other than small claims actions). Under the prior rule, a case information sheet was only required of the initiating party in certain cases such as guardianships and adoptions. In addition, the Idaho Supreme Court has a created new forms for summons and garnishments. More information on the changes can be found here.

Cases of First Impression Part Three: Statute of Limitations for Foreclosure

In Baughman v. Wells Fargo Bank, 2017 Opinion 50 (May 26, 2017) (slip op.), the Supreme Court addressed a matter of first impression related to the statute of limitations in Idaho Code § 5-214A. In this case, the plaintiffs filed suit to prevent foreclosure by arguing that the foreclosure proceeding was barred by the statute of limitations. Idaho Code § 5-214A provides: “An action for the foreclosure of a mortgage on real property must be commenced within five (5) years from the maturity date of the obligation or indebtedness secured by such mortgage.” (emphasis added).  The district court concluded that despite the listed maturity date of March 2047 in the deed of trust, the bank’s recording of a notice of default in January 2009, which expressly declared that all sums secured by the deed of trust were immediately due and payable, triggered the five-year statute of limitations. The Supreme Court disagreed, concluding that a notice of default rendering amounts immediately due did not modify the expressly stated maturity date of March 2047. Slip op. at 6. Therefore, the five-year statute of limitations for foreclosure would not begin to run until the listed maturity date on the deed of trust: March 2047.