Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

In re Civil Commitment of Edwards

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

July 22, 2019

In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of: Steven Loren Edwards.

          Commitment Appeal Panel File No. AP18-9025

          Keith Ellison, Attorney General, Brandon Boese, Assistant Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant Minnesota Commissioner of Human Services)

          James Backstrom, Dakota County Attorney, Heather Pipenhagen, Assistant County Attorney, Hastings, Minnesota (for appellant Dakota County)

          Jennifer L. Thon, Steven D. Winkler, Warren J. Maas, Jones Law Office, Mankato, Minnesota (for respondent Steven Edwards)

          Considered and decided by Larkin, Presiding Judge; Ross, Judge; and Bratvold, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         This court does not apply de novo review to a commitment appeal panel's decision on the merits of a petition for a reduction in custody under Minn. Stat. § 253D.27 (2018), unless the panel has ordered dismissal under Minn. R. Civ. P. 41.02(b). Instead, we review such a decision for clear error, examining the record to determine whether the evidence as a whole sustains the panel's findings.

          OPINION

          LARKIN, JUDGE.

         Appellants challenge an order of a commitment appeal panel (CAP)[1] granting, in part, respondent's petition for a reduction in custody under Minn. Stat. § 253D.27. Because the evidence as a whole provides insufficient support for the CAP's findings in support of respondent's transfer out of a secure treatment facility, we reverse.

         FACTS

         Respondent Steven Loren Edwards is a 47-year-old man with a history of alleged and proven criminal sexual conduct. In December 2000, a woman reported that respondent tried to rape her in a gas-station restroom. Respondent denied the allegation, and the state did not file charges. In July 2001, a woman reported that respondent masturbated in front of her and touched her breasts. Respondent admitted that conduct, but the state did not file charges. Also in July 2001, respondent physically and sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl. He was later convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct for that offense. In September 2001, respondent held a pair of scissors to the neck of a 16-year-old girl, forced her to perform oral sex on him, and penetrated her vaginally and anally. He was convicted of kidnapping and first-degree criminal sexual conduct for that offense.

         In October 2011, respondent was civilly committed as a sexually dangerous person (SDP) under the Minnesota Commitment and Treatment Act: Sexually Dangerous Persons and Sexual Psychopathic Personalities (MCTA: SDP/SPP), Minn. Stat. §§ 253D.01-.36 (2018).[2] In May 2012, his indeterminate commitment at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) was finalized. Since August 2013, respondent has been in Phase II of MSOP's three-phase treatment program. Since 2016, respondent's participation in treatment has been sporadic. In May 2017, respondent stopped participating in treatment, with the exception of a conflict-resolution program. Respondent started participating in treatment again in July 2018.

         In June 2017, respondent petitioned the special review board (SRB) for transfer to community preparation services (CPS), provisional discharge, or full discharge. See Minn. Stat. § 253B.18, subd. 4c (2018) (establishing special review board); Minn. Stat. § 253D.27 (setting forth procedure by which persons civilly committed as sex offenders may petition the special review board for a "reduction in custody," which means transfer out of a secure treatment facility, a provisional discharge, or a discharge from commitment). Appellants Minnesota Commissioner of Human Services (the commissioner) and Dakota County (the county) opposed respondent's petition. The SRB recommended that respondent's request for provisional and full discharge be denied, but recommended that respondent's request for transfer to CPS be granted. The commissioner petitioned the CAP for rehearing and reconsideration on the issue of transfer, and respondent petitioned the CAP for rehearing and reconsideration on the issues of provisional and full discharge. See Minn. Stat. § 253D.28, subd. 1 (authorizing petition to the CAP for rehearing and reconsideration of a recommendation of the SRB under section 253D.27).

         In September 2018, the CAP heard the matter. At the beginning of the hearing, respondent withdrew his request for full discharge, leaving the transfer and provisional-discharge issues before the CAP. Respondent presented testimony from CPS Operations Manager Michelle Sexe and Forensic Evaluator Jennifer Tippett, Psy.D., in support of his request for a reduction in custody. See Minn. Stat. § 253D.28, subd. 2(d) (stating that a petitioner seeking provisional discharge bears the burden of going forward with the evidence). Sexe provided general information about CPS and did not opine regarding whether transfer was appropriate. Dr. Tippett opined that respondent meets the statutory criteria for transfer to CPS. Respondent withdrew his request for provisional discharge at the close of his evidence.

         After respondent presented his case, the commissioner moved to dismiss respondent's petition under Minn. R. Civ. P. 41.02(b), and the CAP denied the motion. The commissioner then presented testimony from MSOP Clinical Director Peter Puffer, M.A., L.P., and court-appointed examiner Mary Kenning, Ph.D., L.P. Puffer testified that MSOP clinical leadership believes that a transfer to CPS would be premature. Dr. Kenning opined that respondent does not meet the statutory criteria for transfer to CPS.

         The CAP granted respondent's request for transfer to CPS. The commissioner and the county appeal.[3]

         ISSUES

         I. Does this court apply de novo review to a CAP's decision on the merits of a petition for a reduction in custody under Minn. Stat. § 253D.27?

         II. Did the CAP err by granting respondent's petition for transfer to CPS?

         ANALYSIS

         I.

         Appellants argue that this court should reverse because the CAP erred in concluding that respondent met his burden to show that transfer to CPS should be granted. Appellants alternatively argue that this court should remand because the CAP did not provide sufficient factual findings to enable this court to effectively review the CAP's application of the relevant statutory criteria de novo.

         We begin by addressing the standard that applies to our review of a CAP's decision on the merits of a petition for a reduction in custody under Minn. Stat. § 253D.27. Appellants contend that our review is de novo. An "appeal de novo" is one in which "the appellate court uses the [lower tribunal's] record but reviews the evidence and law without deference to the [lower tribunal's] rulings." Black's Law Dictionary 117 (10th ed. 2014).

         Appellants argue that this court applies de novo review because a CAP's decision on the merits of a petition for a reduction in custody is based on the application of statutory criteria to facts found. Appellants rely on two unpublished decisions of this court as support.[4] Unpublished opinions of this court are not precedential. Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2018); see Dynamic Air, Inc. v. Bloch, 502 N.W.2d 796, 800-01 (Minn.App. 1993) (noting that although persuasive, "[t]he legislature has unequivocally provided that unpublished opinions are not precedential"). However, respondent agrees that our standard of review is de novo, citing In re Civil Commitment of Kropp for the proposition that this court applies de novo review to a CAP's application of law to the facts of a particular case. 895 N.W.2d 647, 650 (Minn.App. 2017), review denied (Minn. June 20, 2017).

         The parties' suggestion that this court should review the CAP's ultimate decision on the merits of respondent's petition de novo is inconsistent with language in this court's published opinions indicating that we do not apply de novo review. But we recognize that language in some of those opinions mentions de novo review. We therefore take this opportunity to clarify our standard of review.[5]

         We begin with a review of the relevant caselaw. In Johnson v. Noot, the Minnesota Supreme Court reviewed a CAP's decisions regarding requests for full discharge from two individuals committed as mentally ill and dangerous. 323 N.W.2d 724, 725 (Minn. 1982); see Minn. Stat. § 253B.18 (2018) (describing process for the civil commitment of persons as mentally ill and dangerous); Minn. Stat. § 253B.18, subd. 7 (providing for provisional discharge); Minn. Stat. § 253B.18, subd. 15 (providing for full discharge). The supreme court described the applicable standard of review as follows:

The final issue we address is whether the [CAP's] findings in either 81-460 or 81-696 were clearly erroneous. The function of this court is not to weigh the evidence as if trying the matter de novo, but to determine from an examination of the record if the evidence as a whole sustains the [CAPs'] findings. If it does so, it is immaterial that the ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.