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Kirchner v. Jernell

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

May 13, 2013

Michelle Kirchner, et al., Appellants,
v.
Patricia Jernell, Respondent, Cassandra Volk, et al., Respondents, Turpen Realty, Defendant.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Anoka County District Court File No. 02-CV-10-4550

Scott A. Johnson, Todd M. Johnson, Johnson Law Group, Minnetonka, Minnesota (for appellants)

Anthony C. Palumbo, Anoka County Attorney, Robert D. Goodell, Assistant County Attorney, Anoka, Minnesota (for respondents)

Considered and decided by Larkin, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Rodenberg, Judge.

RODENBERG, Judge

Appellants challenge the district court's summary-judgment dismissal of their claim against respondents for malicious prosecution, arguing that the district court erred in determining that their claim is barred by the collateral estoppel effect of a probable cause finding in the prior criminal proceeding. Because we conclude that there was no final judgment on the merits in the criminal case, and the district court erred when it granted respondents' motion for summary judgment based on collateral estoppel principles, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

FACTS

Appellants were arrested on March 8, 2007, and appellant was later charged with a felony.[1] At a contested omnibus hearing, appellant challenged the probable cause underlying the criminal complaint. The district court denied appellant's motion to dismiss for want of probable cause.

Shortly before trial, appellant learned that the state had failed to disclose material evidence. The state later dismissed its case against appellant in the interests of justice. Appellant subsequently obtained expungement of the criminal file.

On July 12, 2012, appellants sued respondents, alleging malicious prosecution, among other claims. In the complaint, appellants alleged, among other things, that respondent Patricia Jernell's complaint was motivated by animus resulting from a prior dispute. The district court granted respondents' motion for summary judgment on appellants' malicious prosecution claim, concluding that collateral estoppel barred appellants from litigating whether the criminal complaint against appellant was brought without probable cause, an essential element of their malicious prosecution claim.[2] This appeal followed.

DECISION

Appellants argue that the district court erred in dismissing their malicious prosecution claim by summary judgment. To state a claim for malicious prosecution, a party must show that (1) the criminal action was brought without probable cause or reasonable belief that the plaintiff would ultimately prevail on the merits; (2) the action was instituted and prosecuted with malicious intent; and (3) the action terminated in favor of the party asserting the claim. Dunham v. Roer, 708 N.W.2d 552, 569 (Minn.App. 2006), review denied (Minn. Mar. 28, 2006). The district court concluded that collateral estoppel precluded appellants from proving the first requirement of their claim because the issue of probable cause had already been determined in a prior proceeding.

The issue on appeal is whether collateral estoppel precludes appellants' malicious prosecution action. Whether collateral estoppel is available is a mixed question of law and fact, which we review de novo. Care Inst., Inc.-Roseville v. Cnty. of Ramsey, 612 N.W.2d 443, 446 (Minn. 2000). Collateral estoppel applies as a bar to retrying an issue in a subsequent action when (1) the issue is identical to one in a prior adjudication; (2) there was a final judgment on the merits; (3) the party sought to be estopped was a party, or in privity with a party to the prior adjudication; and (4) the party sought to be estopped was given a full and fair opportunity to be heard on the adjudicated issue. Haavisto v. Perpich, 520 N.W.2d 727, 731 (Minn. 1994). We have previously held that "the collateral estoppel effect of a criminal judgment should be determined ...


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