Daniel J. Engstrom, Appellant,
Whitebirch, Inc., et al., Respondents.
of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts
E. Christensen, Christensen Law Office PLLC, Minneapolis,
Minnesota; and Prentiss Cox, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for
W. VonKorff, Nicholas R. Delaney, Rinke Noonan, Saint Cloud,
Minnesota, for respondents.
Grundman, Galen Robinson, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus
curiae Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid.
Burke, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Minnesota
Elder Justice Center.
Rheingold, Washington, D.C.; and Kai H. Richter, Nichols
Kaster, PLLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae
National Association of Consumer Advocates.
person who pays an attorney to investigate his liability in
response to allegedly unlawful demand letters under the
Minnesota Consumer Fraud Act, Minn. Stat. § 325F.69
(2018), has been "injured" within the meaning of
the private attorney general statute, Minn. Stat. §
8.31, subd. 3a (2018).
GILDEA, Chief Justice.
case requires that we interpret the private attorney general
statute, Minn. Stat. § 8.31, subd. 3a (2018). This
statute provides that "any person injured by a violation
of" certain laws the attorney general is tasked with
enforcing can bring that person's own civil action.
Specifically, we are asked to decide whether appellant Daniel
Engstrom's payments to an attorney to investigate what
appellant contends were fraudulent demands constitute an
"injury" under the statute. The district court and
court of appeals dismissed appellant's claim, concluding
that he had not alleged "injury." Because we
conclude that a person who is targeted by a fraudulent demand
and consequently pays an attorney to investigate his
liability in response to that demand has been
"injured" within the meaning of the private
attorney general statute, we reverse and remand for
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
to Engstrom's complaint, his mother, Debra, purchased a
timeshare interest in a property in the Brainerd area
sometime between July 2001 and August 2002. Respondents
("Whitebirch") manage and own the timeshare
died intestate on July 17, 2015. A little over a year after
Debra's death, on August 26, 2016, Whitebirch sent
Engstrom a letter claiming that he had a property interest in
his mother's timeshare. Specifically, Whitebirch wrote
that it had gone through the paperwork on the timeshare and
"noticed Debra Engstrom added your name to the Deed in
2001." Whitebirch asserted that the deed ...