Habitat 67, Montreal, Canada

Habitat 67, Montreal, Canada

Update (June 29, 2015): Earlier this month the Minnesota Supreme Court granted the Defendants’ petition for further review of the Court of Appeals decision, described below. The Court of Appeals in the Jaeger case affirmed a district court ruling after trial that a defendant in a foreclosure proceeding was never properly “served” “process” (that is, he did not receive “a notice of association lien foreclosure sale” on his condo) because the the notice was delivered personally to the adult son of Jaeger, the condo owner, at the condo. Jaeger claimed he never had notice or knowledge of the foreclosure sale. The district court declared the sheriff’s sale void and pronounced Jaeger the rightful owner of the property.

The adult son allegedly did not “reside” in the property but he “checked on the property about 25 times per year, stayed overnight at the property perhaps a couple of times…”  The process server, on the other hand, testified that “unless [Jaeger’s son had] said he lived at the property, the notice would not have been left with him.” How much effort, how much of a burden, does the law impose to give notice of a foreclosure sale? How much should it?

Original post (April 9, 2015): Let’s say that you have a tenant in your condo who is basically never there and who has failed to keep current on condo fees. When you go to foreclose on the property to get the money owed to you, how are you supposed to serve the absent tenant with notice of the foreclosure, which is required by law?

It might be more difficult than you think.

Someday, maybe service of process via Facebook will suffice


HourglassUpdated post (June 26, 2015): Hourly billing lawyers generally remember to record the time that they work as they work. Otherwise, they smartly reason, they cannot bill and they cannot get paid. (To my consternation, some hourly billing lawyers actually fail to enter their time diligently. Law firms go nuts if they have these foot-dragging procrastinating lawyers on the pay-roll (and they all do, in my experience). Seriously, it’s like taking a siesta at mile 25 in a marathon (a 26.2 mile race for those of you who pay no mind to that kind of thing). WTF?)

Contingent fee lawyers, more understandably, get sloppy when it comes to entering their time because (1) their case-loads are often very different (and often they have exponentially more irons in the fire); and (2) since the vast majority of contingent fee cases have negotiated settlements, most often there is never a need to submit billing records for review to anyone.

But Minnesota litigator, Leo Épée, appears to have walked away without any fee award after being on the team of a winning employment discrimination case (partially winning, at least) because he appears to have “failed to submit any contemporaneous record of his time spent” on the matter in which he sought a fee award. Be forewarned.haircut-33187_640

Here we go again with a most extreme version of “the Minnesota hair-cut,” which is what I call it when lawyers ask courts for fee awards and the lawyers get fraction of the fees that thesiy seek. (See here and here and here, for instance.)


Eggs in CartonUpdate (June 26, 2015): The post below noted a recent commercial dispute with high-powered lawyers on both sides to deal with an issue as to whether a large machine functioned as promised and, if not, who’s responsible and how do the parties allocated the losses. It looks like the dispute may be off to arbitration. The parties have agreed to negotiate as to whether they can agree to arbitrate…

“The only problem with arbitration,” one seasoned lawyer told me years ago, “is that it’s arbitrary.” This is, of course, a cynical generalization and a controversial opinion. In any event, let’s hope that LEI Packaging of Chisago and Emery Silfurtun of Ontario can cheaply return full-time to their main preoccupations, their profit centers rather than their “legal spend,” that is, selling eggs and carton making machines.

Original post (May 18, 2015): “Can it box pasta or not?” I asked nearly five years ago. “There has to be a better way,” I suggested about resolving a different commercial dispute back in 2013. More recently, Minnesota Litigator has covered (or maybe I should say “coated”?) “Sugar v. Sugar,” which appeared to be a commercial dispute that boiled down to the simple syrup of defendant regretting and re-negging on its commitment to buy sugar from the Plaintiff at a very high price. (Note to clients: Regret = OK. Re-neg ≠ Ok.)

Apparently when commercial transactions of a certain magnitude — a large magnitude — go wrong, there just is no better way in this day and age: businesses have to call in lawyers to settle up.


Update (June 25, 2015): To quote this week’s Minnesota Court of Appeals decision in “Drewitz V” (or is this “Drewitz VI”? I can’t keep count.): this has been “incredibly protracted litigation…much of which was due to adverse district court rulings that he three times successfully appealed.” To be clear, Plaintiff Drewitz and his bulldog lawyer brought this case ELEVEN YEARS ago and over that time, the Hennepin County District Court Judge (Marilyn Brown Rosenbaum, since retired), kept ruling against plaintiff’s claims and being reversed on appeal.

The next stop, of course, will be Motorwerk’s (that is, Jack Walser’s) yet another petition to the Minnesota Supreme Court, presumably.

Call me crazy but I get the feeling that the Walsers REALLY don’t want to pay Mr. Drewitz his share as a previous part owner of BMW Motorwerks. Congratulations to Plaintiff and his tenacious bulldog (for now)…

Update (January 31, 2013): (under the headline: Bull Dog Finally Done in 13 Year Dog-Fight?) This week the Minnesota Supreme Court denied a petition for further review in this epic struggle.

Original Post (11/21/2012):  Twin Cities area litigator, Paul W. Chamberlain, owns “bulldoglaw.com” but he makes clear on his website that the qualities of the animal that he wants to evoke are “loyalty, persistence, an even temper and tenacity,” and not aggression and anger.

There can be little doubt that those qualities have been called upon in the epic saga of John Drewitz v. Motorwerks, Inc., a piece of shareholder litigation that has been on-going for 13 years, in which Drewitz’s case has been up and down the appellate courts five times.  Throughout, Drewitz has lost at the trial court, had his case revived on appeal, and then lost again at the trial court.


Photo by Thomas Pompernigg

Photo by Thomas Pompernigg


For example, an employer might discriminate against a woman employee by way of “pregnancy discrimination,” which is unlawful, even when the employer does not actually know the employee is pregnant.

Thus held the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit this month, partially reversing U.S. District Court Judge Joan N. Ericksen’s grant of summary judgment for defendant Fairview Health Services. “Title VII, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, … prohibits an employer from discriminating against a woman because of her capacity to become pregnant.”

Hal9000The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review an 8th Circuit “donning and doffing” case in which the Court may review or refine its 2011 Walmart v. Dukes decision.

I have often thought that civil litigation would be a part of our commerce that would be least vulnerable to replacement by machines but I wonder how “trial by formula,” in which large numbers of individual claims are aggregated and resolved through statistical sampling and analysis, is not a large stride in that direction?

Stuurmans Jan-1

Picture from Jan Stuurmans Star Tribune Obituary

The Star Tribune noted the death of Jan Stuurmans this past Friday. Few who knew Jan Stuurmans will be surprised that there are not very many photos of him on-line. Jan was most definitely from the pre-digital age. (I only knew him to have an “aol.com” email address.) And few will be surprised to hear that he died from lung cancer since, as far as I could tell, Jan was a life-long smoker.


Jan Stuurmans, Washburn High, Class of 1959

Many, if not most, who had the good fortune of encountering Jan professionally, will miss him and long enjoy their memories of him.

Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to work with Jan Stuurmans a lot. But I retained him as an expert in a legal malpractice case some years ago. He certainly had the requisite expertise to offer an opinion on the appropriate standard of care in the community of Minnesota civil litigators. In addition, he was generous, gentle, knowledgeable, methodical, and thorough. But maybe the greatest of his attributes was his cool, level-headed, “seen-it-all” disposition. He seemed to take everything in stride and with a touch of humor. I hope many of us can and will emulate Jan for years to come. At least I can celebrate the chance I got to learn a bit from him.

skyscrapersAll civil litigators know that there is a means under the federal rules of civil procedure (and, to the best of my knowledge, all 50 states) for a civil litigant to depose a corporation, a partnership, an LLC, or any other kind of business organization. In the federal rules, the applicable rule is Rule 30(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

I imagine a corporate executive saying, “Get Exxon (or Google, or “The Treasury”) on the phone…”

It would seem to be an awesome, even overwhelming power — to be able to sit NBC or any other Fortune 1,000 company a in a conference room chair next to a court reporter and question it under oath — would it not? (“Moving on from Brian Williams, I want to touch briefly on Leno, then discuss corporate relations with parent company G.E., and then spend a few hours dealing with Willard Scott…”)

Of course, in practice, Rule 30(b)(6) depositions are a lot more limited, difficult, and complicated to take than that. On they other hand, they can still be big challenges for businesses, when the businesses themselves have to offer a designated witness to speak for the entity. Rule 30(b)(6) depositions can be a powerful tool for the examining party.


Photo by Gerry Thomasen

Photo by Gerry Thomasen

The Minnesota Supreme Court recently issued a split decision on the discipline of Duane Kennedy, a Minnesota lawyer, with the majority of the Court finding that Duane Kennedy’s zealous advocacy for his client crossed the ethical boundaries that circumscribed the separate ethical obligations he owed to the legal system.

In the abstract, it is not difficult to see how or why our legal system imposes duties on lawyers not only with respect to their clients but also more broadly to the integrity of the legal system. In many instances, it would be in the best interests of the client for her lawyer to lie to the court, to lie to opposing counsel, to help clients commit criminal acts or cover up criminal acts etc. etc. This would complicate if not destroy our legal system.

On the other hand, focusing more closely on more subtle circumstances, things get murky quickly.


Sounds of Silence

“The Sounds of Silence,” Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel

We rarely stop to think about it but legal opinions are a unique literary form. They are non-fiction narratives. There is generally a common structure, “Here are the facts. Here is the law. Here is how we believe the laws apply to these facts.”

Legal opinions are very often insanely boring and inaccessible to most people. On occasion, they are master-pieces both of clear writing and penetrating reasoning. Sometimes they are over-the-top silly. Sometimes they are intriguing for what they DON’T say.

Lawyers spend a lot of time reading them but very little time critiquing them (as works of literature, that is), appreciating them, or talking about the legal opinion as a genre. This makes sense, of course. Neither do we have many connoisseurs of cookbook writing, technical manual writing, patent writing, or the many other writing forms that are non-literary. We only focus on the subtleties and beauty of a tiny fraction of peoples’ writings. But legal opinions are often interesting, often puzzling, and, in rare instances, beautiful. Sometimes they’re mysteries (sometimes inadvertently)…