Lawsuits

Lackie v. Students United

On May 9, the Liberty Justice Center and the Upper Midwest Law Center jointly filed a lawsuit against a group called Students United, the St. Cloud State University, and SCSU’s responsible administrators for violating college students’ First Amendment rights by requiring them to pay fees to fund Students United’s political speech.

Policies of the state university system’s Board of Trustees require all students attending any of the seven universities in the Minnesota State system to be members of and pay fees to Students United—a private political organization that takes stances on controversial issues about which many students disagree.

  • The Liberty Justice Center’s legal filings in Lackie v. Students United are available here.
Public Interest Legal Foundation, Upper Midwest Law Center v. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon

On May 1, the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) with Upper Midwest Law Center as local counsel, filed a federal lawsuit against Minnesota Secretary of State, Steve Simon to have the state’s exemption from the National Voter Registration Act’s (NVRA) Public Disclosure Provision declared invalid. The complaint alleges that Minnesota’s exemption violates the principle of equal state sovereignty. 

If applied, the NVRA would require Minnesota to make its voter roll available to the public at a reasonable cost regardless of the requestor’s residency. Minnesota law currently prohibits out-of-state residents or organizations from purchasing the voter roll.

  • The case filings and documents in Public Interest Legal Foundation v. Steve Simon can be found here. A factsheet on the case is available here
  • Additionally, the Foundation filed a similar federal lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s exemption from the NVRA’s Disclosure Provision. 
Alpha News v. City of Detroit Lakes; Detroit Lakes Police Department

On April 26, The Upper Midwest Law Center filed a complaint on behalf of Alpha News asking the Becker County District Court to authorize the release of the body and dash camera footage related to the arrest of Senator Nicole Mitchell on April 22, 2024.

The complaint asks the Becker County District Court to authorize the release of the body and dash camera footage under Minnesota Statutes, section 13.82, subdivision 7, to shed additional light on what happened at 4:45 AM on April 22 in Detroit Lakes. Controversy and public dispute have arisen because public statements made by Senator Mitchell and her attorney describing her motives and actions appear to contradict the sworn allegations in the criminal complaint. Numerous public figures have now called for more details to know what happened that led to Senator Mitchell’s arrest, and this lawsuit seeks those additional details.

A hearing took place for this case on June 10 and now UMLC is waiting for a decision from the court.

CTM Holdings, LLC v. U.S. Department of Agriculture

On April 16, the Liberty Justice Center and Pacific Legal Foundation jointly filed a lawsuit to challenge a federal law that unconstitutionally takes farmers’ property without compensation.

In 1985, Congress passed “Swampbuster,” a law that aims to protect the nation’s wetlands by requiring farmers to leave any land on their property deemed “wetlands” untouched. To ensure compliance, the federal government makes farmers sign an agreement to give up their wetlands to be eligible for U.S. Department of Agriculture benefits—which include everything from disaster relief and crop insurance to the ability to apply for loans. If farmers ever do anything to an area deemed wetlands, they could lose all USDA benefits for every property that they, or anyone affiliated with them, own.

While the federal government has the power to take someone’s private property for public use through eminent domain, the Fifth Amendment requires the government provide just compensation for that taking.

  • The Upper Midwest Law Center served as local counsel to file the lawsuit. The legal filings in CTM Holdings, LLC v. U.S. Department of Agriculture are available here.
Lance Nistler v. Tim Walz, et al.

On January 24, the Upper Midwest Law Center and the Pacific Legal Foundation filed the lawsuit Lance Nistler v. Tim Walz, et al., a groundbreaking case challenging race and sex-based discrimination in Minnesota’s farming grant program. Lance Nistler, a Northern Minnesota farmer, filed the lawsuit, asserting unequal treatment based on race and sex in a program designed to assist aspiring farmers in acquiring farmland.

Despite meeting all eligibility requirements and being selected ninth in the grant lottery out of 176 applicants, Lance Nistler discovered that he was placed at the back of the list due to the program’s prioritization of so-called “emerging farmers,” including racial minorities, women, and individuals from young, urban, and LGBTQIA+ communities. The state’s allocation process favors these groups, distributing any remaining funds to non-emerging-farmer applicants pushed to the back of the line with disfavored lottery placement.

The lawsuit spurred the Minnesota legislature to revise the eligibility criteria for the Down Payment Assistance Grant program. Following these legislative changes, the case was dismissed on June 7, as the new criteria removed the discriminatory prioritization.

Anthony Schmitt v. Jolene Rebertus, Assistant Commissioner of the MN Department of Corrections; Paul Schnell, Commissioner of MN Department of Corrections

 

On January 9, 2024, The Upper Midwest Law Center (UMLC) and co-counsel True North Legal (TNL) filed a lawsuit challenging Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) officials’ abrupt cancellation of a Christian rehabilitation program at the Minnesota Correctional Facility – St. Cloud. The program, led by plaintiff Anthony Schmitt and his colleagues, has been an instrumental tool in facilitating successful transitions to the community for male prison inmates over the past decade.

The voluntary program, designed to instill principles of authentic manhood as per Christian teachings, saw remarkable success. More than a thousand inmates completed the program, reporting restored families, healed resentments, and transformative experiences. However, in July 2023, Schmitt received an email from DOC Assistant Commissioner and Defendant Jolene Rebertus, announcing the cancellation of the program, citing alleged conflicts with diversity and inclusion values.

Commissioner Rebertus’ email stated that the program “directly conflicts with the diversity, equity, and inclusivity values of the DOC by defining manhood, or the study of masculinity, through a biblical lens of what a ‘real man looks like.’”

 
Minnesota Voters Alliance et al. v. Keith Ellison, Office of Attorney General

 

On September 11, 2023, the Upper Midwest Law Center (UMLC) filed a federal lawsuit challenging a new Minnesota law that restricts free speech around election-related issues, including speech about the eligibility to vote in Minnesota elections. The law, which took effect June 15, 2023, imposes criminal and civil penalties on individuals who knowingly make materially false statements within 60 days of an election with the intent to impede or prevent another person from exercising their right to vote. The penalties include fines and the potential to be sued by the Attorney General and county attorneys in civil court.

The plaintiffs in the case include the Minnesota Voters Alliance and several other grassroots political activists who argue that this new Speech Code potentially criminalizes political speech during a crucial time leading up to an election. Additionally, the new law poses a threat to political discourse and inhibits the democratic exchange of ideas. 

 
  • Read the lawsuit here.
Minnesota Voters Alliance et al. v. New Minnesota Voting Law

 On June 29, 2023, the Upper Midwest Law Center on behalf of plaintiffs Minnesota Voters Alliance, Mary Amlaw, Ken Wendling, and Tim Kirk, filed a lawsuit challenging the recently passed voting law in Minnesota. The plaintiffs argue that the new statute exceeds the authority granted to the state legislature under the Minnesota State Constitution.

Under the Minnesota Constitution, Article VII, Section 1, individuals convicted of a felony may not vote “unless restored to civil rights.” A recent ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court, Schroeder v. Simon, states that restoration of civil rights occurs upon completion of the felony sentence. The new law grants felons still under sentence, but on supervised release the ability to vote in Minnesota elections, directly contradicting constitutional law.

  • Read the lawsuit here.
Dr. Scott Jensen v. Minnesota Board of Medical Practice

 On June 6, 2023, the Upper Midwest Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of Dr. Scott Jensen against the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice (BMP). The BMP, which is responsible for regulating medical professionals, has investigated Dr. Jensen’s medical license numerous times due to his political speech about COVID-19. However, the BMP’s jurisdiction is limited to complaints related to medical practice violations, and none of the complaints against Dr. Jensen involved patient care. The investigations against him targeted his political speech, which is protected by the First Amendment.

  • Read the lawsuit here.
Dr. Scott Jensen v. Keith Ellison, Office of the Minnesota Attorney General

 On June 6, 2023, the Upper Midwest Law Center filed a lawsuit behalf of Dr. Jensen is against Attorney General Keith Ellison and the Office of the Attorney General (“OAG”). Dr. Jensen requested data about himself as the subject from the OAG because the OAG was involved in the BMP’s illegitimate investigations of Dr. Jensen’s license. In response to the request, the OAG turned over some data but intentionally withheld other data and even withheld data for the reason that Dr. Jensen might discuss it publicly. Ellison’s actions, individually and as the “responsible authority” for the OAG, violate Dr. Jensen’s rights under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, his right to equal treatment based on viewpoint under the First Amendment, and his right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. This lawsuit seeks the production of withheld data, damages, attorney fees, and costs based on the defendant’s noncompliance with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and the U.S. and Minnesota Constitutions.

  • Read the lawsuit here.
Pollyann Sorcan v. Rock Ridge School District

On April 26, 2023, the Upper Midwest Law Center filed a lawsuit against Independent School District 2909 on behalf of Board Member Pollyann Sorcan for deliberate and continuous damages to Ms. Sorcan’s First Amendment rights. Ms. Sorcan would ask relevant but tough questions regarding policies before the Board. The other board members grew frustrated by this and chose to retaliate against her inappropriately. On August 9, 2021, ISD 2909 passed a resolution to censure Ms. Sorcan based on unsupported misconduct allegations, limiting her free speech and access to committee meetings. Ms. Sorcan was not just censured— she was also stripped of committee assignments, and the Board attempted to bar her from even attending committee meetings to be informed of the Board’s business like any citizen. The Board’s actions prevented Ms. Sorcan from effectively performing her duties as a board member.

  • Read the lawsuit here.
Snell, et al. v. Governor Tim Walz, et al.

On August 20, 2020, sixteen Minnesota citizens, business owners, and churches filed suit in Ramsey County District Court to invalidate Governor Walz’s Executive Order requiring most Minnesotans to wear masks in indoor public spaces. The Petitioners represented note that only the state legislature has the power to make laws and assert that Walz has exceeded his authority. The Ramsey County District Court dismissed the lawsuit, and UMLC appealed that decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals (COA). COA issued an opinion declining to decide Snell on the merits reasoning that the governor had ended the mask mandate. On February 8, 2023, the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered that the COA must decide whether the Minnesota Emergency Management Act gives the Governor authority to declare a peacetime emergency for public health reasons. On October 17, 2023, the Minnesota Supreme Court granted review of the case. Stay tuned for updates!

  • Read the lawsuit here.
  • Read the opinion here.
Protecting the Religious Freedom of Employees

On February 13, 2023, the Upper Midwest Law Center filed several lawsuits on behalf of clients who had been previously employed with Berkley Risk Administrators Company and Astrazeneca, but were subsequently fired because they would not violate their sincerely held religious beliefs that precluded them from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Because of these unlawful firing of employees, they are entitled to relief under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and other statutes.

  • Read the Quarnstrom v. Berkley Risk Administrators Company lawsuit here
  • Read the Benish v. Berkley Risk Administrators Company lawsuit here.
  • Read the Goede v. Astrazeneca Pharmaceuticals lawsuit here.
Gustilo v. Hennepin Healthcare System, Inc.

On February 6, 2022, Upper Midwest Law Center filed a lawsuit in Minnesota Federal District Court on behalf of Dr. Tara Gustilo alleging racial discrimination, retaliation and reprisal by her employer, Hennepin Healthcare System, Inc. (formerly HCMC). Dr. Gustilo is a Filipino-American doctor whose two children are mixed race Black and Filipino. She Chaired the Obstetrics-Gynecology Department at HHS and took numerous steps to create a welcoming atmosphere and a multi-racial team at HHS, but opposed the racist and divisive CRT ideology of some at HHS, the segregated care models it sought to implement and attempts to insert HHS into the political issue of police defunding and reform. HHS removed her as Chair and reduced her salary significantly.

  • Read the full complaint here.
Maki v. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis
Untitled design (52)

On November 11, 2022, Upper Midwest Law Center filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court of Minnesota against the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis on behalf of Officer Rodney Maki, a twenty-four-year law enforcement employee of the Bank. The Bank had instituted a mandatory vaccination policy which Officer Maki objected to based on his religious beliefs. Although the Bank initially exempted Maki from the policy, and Maki, in turn, adhered to all the safety measures required by the Bank, in January 2022, it changed course and fired him.

The lawsuit outlines the Bank’s violations of the law under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs.

Read the full complaint here.

Norgren v. Minnesota Department of Human Services et al
Like I said before I LOVE taking photos during church!

 On February 25, 2022, Upper Midwest Law Center filed suit against the Minnesota Department of Human Services and Commissioner Jodi Harpstead in the Federal District Court of Minnesota on behalf of Joseph Norgren. Norgren’s claims include racial discrimination, religious discrimination and retaliation. In August 2020, Norgren was informed by supervisors that he would be required to complete training on Critical Race Theory and gender identity ideologies. These teachings were opposed by Norgren and contrary to his religious beliefs. When the exemptions Norgren sought from this training were denied, he had no choice but to leave his employment. 

Cajune, et al. v. ISD 194 and Baumann

On September 1, 2022, several plaintiffs re-filed their lawsuit against the Lakeville School District in Minnesota Federal District Court over its policy to allow the display of ‘Black Lives Matter’ posters, but deny the display of others including ‘All Lives Matter’ and ‘Blue Lives Matter.’ The plaintiffs claim the refusal is a violation of their First Amendment right to be free of viewpoint discrimination and civil rights. A similar case was filed in August 2021 which was dismissed based on lack of standing when one of the original plaintiffs left the school district.

  • Read the full complaint here
Huizenga et al. v. ISD 11 and Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota

On December 2, 2020, three residents of the Anoka-Hennepin School District sued Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota (American Federation of Teachers Local 7007) and the District, seeking to stop teacher union business leave subsidies for union political activities. The lawsuit brought in Minnesota Federal District Court alleges that the Working Agreement between the District and the Union violates the First Amendment, the Minnesota Constitution, and Minnesota’s Public Labor Relations Act. That Agreement requires that the District allow its teachers 100 days of paid leave per school year to work for the Union, and does not fully reimburse the District for teacher pay, thus providing the Union with illegal support. On June 18, the District Court granted the union’s motion to dismiss. On August 11, 2022, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Huizenga, Bendtsen, and Powell, as ISD 11 taxpayers, do have the standing to pursue their case on the use of taxpayer funds to subsidize union political activities and remanded the case to the District Court.

Todd v. AFSCME Council 5 and Burns v. SEIU Local 284

Upper Midwest Law Center filed two federal lawsuits on March 5, 2021 on behalf of four government employees as they seek to recoup dues taken from them in violation of the Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus decision and stop these unions’ unconstitutional practices. The UMLC represents Marcus Todd, a security counselor for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, and Polly Burns, Rhonda Tomoson, and Diane Gooding, who are food service managers who work with school lunch employees who work to feed students in the Burnsville-Savage-Eagan public schools.

  • Read the Todd complaint here.
  • Read the Burns, Tomoson, Gooding complainthere.
Scheff Logging & Trucking, Inc. and Associated Contract Loggers & Truckers of Minnesota, Inc. v. Shawn Ray Etsitty and John Does (The Enbridge Pipeline Sabotage Case)
On behalf of these plaintiffs, a logging company and their trade group in northern Minnesota, UMLC brought a lawsuit on January 24, 2020, against individual vandals, including defendant Etsitty and his unknown (so far) co-conspirators, who caused over $100,000 in damages to their equipment at a logging site in St. Louis County. The lawsuit also names John Doe and Corporation/Foundation XYZ defendants as “markers” for those we believe discovery will show provided unlawful support for the individual defendants’ destruction. UMLC looks forward to holding Mr. Etsitty and his co-conspirators liable for the damage they have caused. The message is simple: peaceful protest is always acceptable, but vandalism, violence, interference with people’s lives and livelihoods and destruction of property will not be tolerated, no matter the reason. On January 11, 2021, UMLC obtained a judgment for just over $100,000 against Defendant Etsitty.
Past Litigation
Upper Midwest Law Center files lawsuit opposing Minnesota’s adoption of California clean car rules

On behalf of the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association, UMLC filed a lawsuit on June 8, 2022, opposing the state’s California Car Rules, initiated by the Walz administration’s Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). The result of this mandate forces auto dealers to take major losses because they are stuck with a fleet of new vehicles that Minnesota consumers don’t want.

On August 19, the MPCA filed a motion to dismiss MADA’s petition. The same day, UMLC filed MADA’s principal brief, and on August 26, UMLC responded to the MPCA’s motion to dismiss. On September 2, the MPCA filed its reply supporting its motion to dismiss. On Monday, January 30th, the Court upheld the state’s “clean car” rulemaking. UMLC appealed the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Court declined to hear our case so we filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States on August 14, 2023.  On October 16, 2023, the US Supreme Court denied UMLC’s petition. Read our reaction here.

Spann, et al. v. Minneapolis City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey

On August 17, 2020, UMLC, on behalf of eight residents and community leaders, filed suit against the Minneapolis City Council and Mayor Frey in Hennepin County District Court alleging they have failed to uphold their legal duties to fund and employ an adequate police force as required under the Minneapolis City Charter. UMLC has won this legal fight with a victory in the Minnesota Supreme Court on June 20, 2022. 

Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State
Mail In Ballot In American Flag Presidential Race Concept

On January 25, 2022, the Upper Midwest Law Center filed a lawsuit challenging an administrative rule enacted by the Minnesota Secretary of State that conflicts with the Minnesota statute requiring absentee ballot board members to match voters’ signatures on the absentee ballot to their ballot applications. It creates a conflict in the execution of election law. The rule allows for the acceptance of absentee ballots that do not match the signatory requirements set in Minnesota statute. Minnesota Court of Appeals held that the Secretary of State may, by rule, revoke the statutory discretion given to election judges. MVA filed a Petition for Review in the Minnesota Supreme Court, which accepted, and UMLC argued the matter in front of the court on February 2, 2023.

On May 24, 2023, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in favor of UMLC by rejecting the Secretary’s interpretation, ensuring that ballot boards in Minnesota cannot accept absentee ballots where identification numbers are mismatched and the ballot application and return envelope have different signatures.

Webster v. Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development

On November 10, 2022, UMLC filed a lawsuit in Minnesota District Court against the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and Commissioner Steve Grove on behalf of Journalist Tony Webster. The suit alleges Commissioner Grove, acting in his official capacity but using his personal Twitter account, blocked constituents from DEED updates on unemployment, grant making, and hiring decisions, soliciting feedback for use in agency decision-making, and providing answers to questions from Minnesotans on unemployment insurance and the condition of Minnesota’s economy, and then refused to provide his “blocked list” in response to Webster’s data request.

On February 10, 2023, UMLC and DEED reached a settlement agreement. The settlement includes production of the initially refused data to Webster, compliance with future requests for DEED-affiliated Twitter block lists, a review of DEED’s policy, and a monetary payment of $17,000 from DEED to Webster. 

Read the full complaint here.

Read the full settlement here.

Northland Baptist Church v. Governor Tim Walz, et al. (COVID-19 Orders Case)

On Wednesday, May 6, 2020, UMLC sued Governor Walz and Attorney General Ellison on behalf of churches and Minnesota business owners who argued that Governor Walz’ COVID-19 shutdown orders were unconstitutional. On May 5, 2021, the church plaintiffs, Northland Baptist Church and Living Word Christian Center, recieved a big win when the parties agreed to settle the churches’ claims. In the settlement, Governor Walz relinquished any authority to treat houses of worship in Minnesota worse than other establishments. On June 16, 2022, a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed our clients’ claims for compensation.

Read the full complaint here.

Read the settlement here.