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Minnesota State Court System - Opinions and Orders

The Court System at a Glance
District Courts
Appellate Courts
        Sources of Court of Appeals Opinions
        Sources of Supreme Court Opinions
        Where to Find

The Court System at a Glance

  • Hearings in civil matters (amounts up to $15,000)

    (10 Districts)
  • Trials in civil and criminal cases
  • Appeals from conciliation court

    (19 Judges)
  • Appeals from trial courts, administrative agencies,
    Commissioner of Economic Security

    (7 Justices)
  • Appeals from Minnesota Court of Appeals (selective),
    trial courts (first degree murder), legislative election disputes, Tax Court,
    Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals
  • Oversees administration of state courts and the practice of law

District courts (the trial courts)

The district courts issue judgments and orders. With rare exceptions, these can be appealed to the Court of Appeals.

Where to find them:

Judgments and orders are distributed to the litigants and their attorneys. They are also kept in the court file located at the Court Administrator's office in the courthouse where the dispute was tried.

For more information, see Court Records

Appellate courts

The appellate courts issue opinions and orders. An opinion is a written decision stating the final judgment in the case and the reasoning behind the decision. An order is an intermediary step before a final decision or a way to implement a final judgment afterward. Orders may be used to settle questions of fact or law, to require a party or a lower court to do something, or to otherwise direct the course of the proceedings.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals reconsiders decisions of the district courts when one party believes that an error has been made and files an appeal. It also reviews the validity of administrative rules and decisions of the administrative courts under the Administrative Procedure Act. The judges form panels of three to hear cases.

Court of Appeals opinions may be precedential or nonprecedential.

Opinions are precedential only when the decision:

  •   establishes a new rule of law;
  •   overrules a previous court of appeals decision that had not been reviewed by the supreme court;
  •   provides important procedural guidelines in interpreting statutes or administrative rules;
  •   involves significant legal issues; or
  •   aids significantly in the administration of justice. (Minn. Stat. §480A.08)

Nonprecedential opinions can be cited in arguments before the courts of the state only in limited circumstances.

Order opinions are issued when the questions raised in the case have been settled by a decision in a previous case, making a full opinion unnecessary.

Special term opinions are issued when the Court encounters a procedural issue that would be of general interest to the bar. The Special Term Opinion Subject Matter Index provides a brief summary of these advisory opinions on procedure.

Sources of Court of Appeals opinions:

Slip opinions are released every Monday at 10:00 a.m. They are published weekly in the Appellate Courts Edition of Minnesota Lawyer, on the Court's Website, and on Lexis and Westlaw. Precedential opinions will next appear in the advance sheets of the North Western Reporter, which are later replaced by the permanent hardbound volumes. The originals are kept on file with the Clerk of the Appellate Courts. Since May 1996, precedential and nonprecedential opinions have been available in an Online Archive.

Order opinions are distributed to the attorneys involved. Copies are also kept in the Office of the Clerk of Appellate Courts. The district court file, located in the appropriate county courthouse, would also contain copies of order opinions.

The Minnesota Supreme Court is the state's highest court. The seven justices select which appeals they will hear from decisions of the Court of Appeals. In making these selections, they consider the following factors:

  •   Does the case raise an important question that is being decided for the first time by a Minnesota court?
  •   Has a statute been held to be unconstitutional?
  •   Is the decision to be reviewed in direct conflict with an earlier decision that would normally have been followed?
  •   Have the lower courts departed so far from the accepted and usual course of justice that the Supreme Court must exercise its supervisory powers? (Minn. Stat. §480A.10)

All opinions of the Supreme Court are published because they provide precedents that all lower courts in Minnesota must follow in deciding similar cases. Orders that are considered to be of general interest may be published as well. A special type of order is the summary disposition, sometimes used to affirm a Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals decision without issuing an opinion.

Sources of Supreme Court Opinions:

Slip opinions are released every Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. They are published in the Appellate Courts Edition of Minnesota Lawyer, on the Court's Website, and on Lexis and Westlaw. Later, they appear in the advance sheets of the North Western Reporter. Finally, they are published in the permanent hardbound volumes of North Western Reporter. Since May 1996, they have also been archived online.

Orders of the Supreme Court also appear in Minnesota Lawyer and the Northwestern Reporter.

Where to find these resources

The Library's print collection

  • The Appellate Courts Edition of Minnesota Lawyer is located in the reading lounge.
  • North Western Reporter is located with the other regional reporters at call number KF135.N7. Use door C.
  • Minnesota Reporter, a subset of the North Western Reporter, containing only Minnesota cases, is located in the Minnesota Collection at call number KFM5445.A23.

The Internet

Since May of 1996, opinions of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals have been archived and can be searched online. Public computers are located outside the reading lounge by the information desk. Wireless access is also available.

The Clerk's Office

The Office of the Clerk of Appellate Courts is located in
Suite 305 - Minnesota Judicial Center
25 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Saint Paul, MN 55155

Files over ten years old are sent from the Clerk's Office to the Minnesota History Center for permanent archival storage.

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