Looking ahead with the Minnesota Supreme Court

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Credit: the Minnesota Supreme Court

From employment law to environmental cases, the Minnesota Supreme court faces a number of issues that address Minnesota’s future. Among the key cases include the ongoing saga around sulfur mining in Northern Minnesota, a case about whether a pregnant worker who has not worked a full year is considered an “employee,” and a heartfelt saga around a dog named Oliver. 

Worker’s Comp case against Wal-Mart 

Coming on November 10, Wal-Mart Stores faces a former employee, Kristopher Ouellette, in court over a disputed worker’s comp claim. Ouellette, had been receiving 75 percent permanent partial disability for a work-related injury.  After surveilling him and alleging seeing him drive a vehicle, Wal-Mart filed a petition to discontinue payments, and were successful. Ouellete appealed, and the case now faces the Supreme Court. At issue is a concept called the doctrine of res judicata,  which basically means a court’s findings cannot be re-litigated, according to Cornell Law School’s legal definition.  

Polymet Legal battles 

The battle over a proposed copper and nickel mine in Northern Minnesota continues. In October, the Minnesota Supreme Court heard arguments by lawyers representing PolyMet copper-nickel mine as well as state regulators, whose goal was to overturn the Department of Natural Resource’s judgement and reinstating permits for the mine, according to Minnesota Public Radio

Over the past several years, environmental groups have challenged the sulfide mining in federal and state courts, including the PolyMet Mine as well as a different mining project called Twin Metals.  For the former, the Minnesota Court of Appeals have suspended a permit issued both by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and permits approved by the Minnesota DNR, essentially blocking the PolyMet project. 

In November, the Minnesota Supreme Court will hear arguments over a separate issue, whether the court of appeals made a mistake in sending permits back to the lower courts, in addition to addressing the accusation that the agency engaged in sham permitting, according to the Minnesota County Attorney’s Association

Dog Custody 

An emotional custody case over a dog named Oliver will decide whether a dog parent that abandoned their dog for three years is entitled to regain custody. Is abandoning your dog for several years the same as abandoning your personal property? The highest court in the state will decide. Here’s the appeals court decision. 

Angie Craig’s seat 

A third party candidate, Legal Marijuana Now Party candidate Adam Weeks, who was running for the seat currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Angie Craig died in September of a drug overdose. That triggered a Minnesota law, which then postponed the election until February. Craig sued, saying the postponement would mean her constituents would be without representation. A lower court ruled in her favor, but the Republican challenger in the case, Tyler Kistner appealed the ruling. 

Craig has announced an intention to appeal to the Supreme Court if necessary.  The court has not announced whether it will take up the case, according to Kare 11. 

Guns

Is a flare gun a dangerous weapon? An appeals court ruled that indeed it was, in the case of a 36-year-old man who attempted to rob a Kohl’s store last July. A district court dismissed a weapons charge, only to have the appeals court rule a flare gun, even if not intended so by the manufacturer, could be regarded as a dangerous weapon if that was its intended use. The man’s attorney has pledged to take the case to the Supreme Court, according to the Star Tribune

Pregnant Workers

A social worker became pregnant and requested accommodations ordered by her doctor. She was refused the accommodations and forced to take unpaid leave. Then, she was fired upon returning to work. The social worker is suing, and Hennepin County is asserting that she didn’t work for the county long enough to be considered an “employee.” Commenting on the case, to which they filed an amicus brief, Gender Justice wrote, “Pregnant employees are not burdens. They are, by law, deserving of the exact same right to equitable, safe workplaces as everyone else. We’ll keep fighting to make sure every employer recognizes that right.” 

The Battle over White Bear Lake 

An issue surrounding pollution to the groundwater surrounding White Bear Lake has bopped back and forth between the Minnesota Supreme Court and lower courts. Back in 2017, a Ramsey  County Judge found that the DNR didn’t properly protect the groundwater surrounding the lake, according to the Pioneer Press. This July, the Supreme Court agreed in part and disagreed in part with the Court of Appeals rulings, about whether the DNR was responsible for dropping water levels in the lake. According to the Pioneer Press article, the issue is likely to come back to the Supreme Court.  

Sheila Regan

Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis-based journalist. She's a regular contributor to The UpTake, and also contributes to TC Daily Planet and City Pages. Her work can also be found at mnartists, VitaMN, Classical MPR and in other local publications.

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