In the MATTER OF the Civil COMMITMENT OF: Steven Loren EDWARDS.
Denied October 15, 2019
court does not apply de novo review to a commitment appeal
panels 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 panels findings.
Commitment Appeal Panel, File No. AP18-9025
Ellison, Attorney General, Brandon Boese, Assistant Attorney
General, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant Minnesota
Commissioner of Human Services)
Backstrom, Dakota County Attorney, Heather Pipenhagen,
Assistant County Attorney, Hastings, Minnesota (for appellant
L. Thon, Steven D. Winkler, Warren J. Maas, Jones Law Office,
Mankato, Minnesota (for respondent Steven Edwards)
and decided by Larkin, Presiding Judge; Ross, Judge; and
challenge an order of a commitment appeal panel
(CAP) granting, in part, respondents
petition for a reduction in custody under Minn. Stat. §
253D.27. Because the evidence as a whole provides
insufficient support for the CAPs findings in support of
respondents transfer out of a secure treatment facility, we
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.
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). 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 MSOPs three-phase treatment program. Since 2016,
respondents 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.
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 respondents petition. The SRB recommended that
respondents request for provisional and full discharge be
denied, but recommended that respondents 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
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.
respondent presented his case, the commissioner moved to
dismiss respondents 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.
granted respondents request for transfer to CPS. The
commissioner and the county appeal.
this court apply de novo review to a CAPs decision on the
merits of a petition for a reduction in custody under Minn.
Stat. § 253D.27?
Did the CAP err by granting respondents petition for
transfer to CPS?
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 CAPs application of the
relevant statutory criteria de novo.
begin by addressing the standard that applies to our review
of a CAPs 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 tribunals] record but reviews the evidence and law
without deference to the [lower tribunals] rulings."
Blacks Law Dictionary 117 (10th ed. 2014).
argue that this court applies de novo review because a CAPs
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. Unpublished opinions of this court are
not precedential. Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2018);
seeDynamic 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 ...