Heley, Duncan & Melander, PLLP

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Stephen F. Buterin

Steve is an experienced litigation and appellate attorney, who focuses his practice in the area of construction, real estate, business, and commercial litigation.  In his appellate practice, Steve has successfully handled appellate matters involving construction and design-professional claims, insurance coverage, shareholder disputes, business and commercial disputes, and family law.

Business and Commercial Matters

In addition, Steve’s practice includes representing individuals, small to large-sized businesses, and lenders with their legal and litigation needs.  He works with clients to craft sensible solutions and strategies in matters involving contract issues, noncompete agreements, real estate, mortgage and mechanic’s liens foreclosures, civil RICO claims, business defamation, and claims under Minnesota’s consumer protection statutes, such as the Deceptive Trade Practices and Fraudulent Transfer acts.  He has also prosecuted and defended various types of personal injury claims, including wrongful death claims.

Design Professional Representation

Steve represents numerous architects and engineers in various aspects of their professional practices.  He works closely with his design-professional clients, and often times their professional-liability insurers, to provide loss-prevention and risk-management consulting so clients can resolve disputes and potential claims ­before they result in litigation or formal proceedings.  Where litigation is unavoidable, Steve has successfully worked with his clients to have the claims dismissed before trial, or positioned the litigation to better manage potential exposure and obtain favorable outcomes through settlement.  Steve has handled cases involving the design and construction of small and large residential and commercial developments, highway/heavy projects, street and underground utility upgrades, stormwater and sanitary sewer systems, wastewater treatment plants, parking structures, water towers, skilled-nursing facilities, public libraries, and municipal buildings.  In addition to malpractice defense, Steve has also successfully represented design professionals in various commercial and business matters related to their practices and companies.

Appellate Practice

Steve is a respected appellate attorney and has successfully represented clients before the Minnesota Court of Appeals, Minnesota Supreme Court, and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.  He has handled appeals involving design-professionals, mechanic’s liens, mortgage foreclosures, insurance coverage, land-use issues, and various commercial and business disputes.  He works closely with trial counsel to advise on questions concerning the development of a proper record for appeal and the technical and procedural requirements necessary to properly preserve issues for appeal.  Steve also regularly consults with other attorneys on questions of appellate procedure, tactics, and strategy.  In addition, Steve has given a number of continuing legal education programs on appellate brief writing, pre-appeal considerations and issues, and appellate court jurisdiction and appealability.  He currently serves on the MSBA Appellate Section Governing Council, and is the past-Chair of the Appellate Section.  Steve is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Minnesota Supreme Court Historical Society.

Previous Experience

Following law school, Steve served as a law clerk for the Honorable Patrice Sutherland of the First Judicial District, and the Honorable R.A. (Jim) Randall of the Minnesota Court of Appeals.  Before coming to Heley, Duncan  & Melander, PLLP, Steve practiced in the areas of insurance defense and municipal law, handling cases involving personal injury defense, premises liability claims, zoning and land-use claims, and residential and municipal construction projects.

Steve was also an attorney-instructor at the University of Minnesota Law School for its Civil Rights Moot Court program.  His competition teams won the prestigious William E. McGee National Civil Rights Moot Court Competition and received numerous honors that included best brief and best oralist.

Admitted to Practice:

Minnesota (1994)
Missouri (1996)
Wisconsin (2011)
United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (2003)
United States District Court for District of Minnesota (1996)
United States District Court for Western District of Wisconsin (2004)

Professional Activities and Associations:

American Bar Association

  • Appellate Practice Section (member)
  • Business Torts Litigation Section (member)
  • Commercial and Business Litigation Section (member)
  • Construction Litigation Section (member)
  • Employment & Labor Relations Section (member)
  • Real Estate Litigation Section (member)
  • Trial Practice Section (member)

Minnesota State Bar Association

  • Civil Litigation Section (member)
  • Construction Law Section (member)
  • Appellate Practice Section (member and Past Section Chair)
  • General Assembly Member (former)
  • General Policy Committee (former)

Ramsey County Bar Association

Minnesota Supreme Court Advisory Committee on the Rules of Civil Appellate Procedure (member)

Minnesota Supreme Court Historical Society (Board of Directors)

Representative Cases:


Travertine Corp. v. Lexington-Silverwood, 683 N.W.2d 267 (Minn. 2004).  Successfully represented corporation in commercial dispute that involved the assignability of contractual arbitration clause.  The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s order staying arbitration.  The supreme court accepted review and reversed, holding nonassignment clause in contract applied and precluded assignment of right to payment to shareholder’s judgment creditor.  The case involved complex issues of contractual interpretation and the law of assignment of arbitration clauses.

Jaunich v. Wind Energy America, Inc., A11-889, 2012 WL 5769 (Minn. App. 2012), review denied  (Minn. Feb. 28, 2012).  Successfully represented corporation and its board of directors in shareholder action under Minnesota’s Model Business Corporation Act that sought injunctive relief to force corporation to call annual shareholder meeting.  Shareholder’s husband had acquired shares in corporation through a series of fraudulent business deals with companies he owned, which he then transferred to shareholder.  The district court denied the shareholder’s claim for equitable relief and dismissed the case.  On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying shareholder equitable relief and properly considered all the circumstances through which shareholder received her shares in corporation.

Aviation Charter, Inc. v. Aviation Research Group/US, 416 F.3d 864 (8th Cir. 2005).  In an appeal to the Eighth Circuit, successfully represented aviation rating firm that had obtained summary judgment dismissing plaintiff aviation charter company’s claims for business defamation and violations of Minnesota’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Lanham Act.

Nelson v. Popovich, Civ. No. 02-2923 (D. Minn. Jan. 27, 2004).  Obtained summary judgment for municipality, dismissing plaintiff homeowners’ civil RICO claims relating to municipality’s denial of building permits.

Design Professional Defense

Nelson v. Short Elliott Hendrickson, Inc., 716 N.W.2d 394 (Minn. App. 2006), review denied (Minn. Sept. 19, 2006).  Successfully defended engineering firm against plaintiff’s claims relating to the design and construction of a sedimentation pond in both the trial court and before the Minnesota Court of Appeals.  In a published decision, the court of appeals affirmed the district court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s negligent-design claims, holding that a sedimentation pond constitutes an improvement to real property for the purpose of Minnesota’s statute providing two-year limitations period for claims arising out defective and unsafe improvements made to real property.

Lake Superior Ctr. Auth. v. Hammel, Green & Abrahamson, Inc., 715 N.W.2d 458 (Minn. App. 2006), review denied (Minn. Aug. 23, 2006).  Successfully defended the engineer of exhibit tanks for the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, Minnesota.  Following a high-profile eight week trial, a jury found that the architect and the tank engineer were not negligent in the design of the aquarium.  In a published opinion, the Minnesota Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment based on the jury’s verdict, and the district court’s award of costs and disbursements to the architect and engineer.

Mechanic’s Liens

Premier Bank v. Becker Dev., LLC, 785 N.W.2d 753 (Minn. 2010).  Successfully obtained reversal of district court decision and Minnesota Court of Appeals in favor of mechanic’s lien claimant in an appeal that resulted in the Minnesota Supreme Court establishing rule that mechanic’s lien claimant that files a blanket mechanic’s lien statement may not selectively enforce the lien against less than all of the lots subject to the lien, but must enforce lien on pro rate basis against each lot subject to the lien.

Dew v. Mathwig Dev. Co., A09-882, 2010 WL 1541294 (Minn. App. Apr. 20, 2010).  Successfully obtained reversal of trial court judgment awarding a $5.1 million mechanic’s lien and costs and attorney fees to contractor for 122-unit condominium project.

Brothers Fire Protection Co. v. Heffron Props., A11-357, 2012 WL 118241 (Minn. App. Jan. 17, 2012).  Successfully obtained reversal of district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of mechanic’s lien claimants on the issue of priority because genuine issues of material fact existed as to when the first actual and visible improvement on property began.

Premier Bank v. Dan-Bar Homes, Ltd., A10-853, 2010 WL 4941681 (Minn. App. Dec. 2, 2010).  Successfully defended appeal of district court’s decision ruling that demolition and removal of house from property was separate improvement from the condominium project to which appellant mechanic’s lien claimants had contributed, rendering lender’s mortgage prior and superior to mechanic’s liens.


The case, Contractors Edge, Inc. v. City of Mankato, 863 N.W.2d 765 (2015), reversed a Minnesota Court of Appeals order dismissing the appeal as untimely because Contractors Edge did not immediately appeal the partial summary judgment, which the district court had certified as final under Minn. R. Civ. P. 54.02.  The supreme court ruled that the district court abused its discretion in certifying the summary judgment order as a final partial judgment because the parties did not request certification, the claims at issue arose from the same set of facts, and the district court did not explain why certification was necessary and the record did not provide a basis supporting certification.  Because the order was improperly certified, the supreme court held it was not a final partial judgment that was immediately appealable and could be challenged in an appeal taken from a final judgment.

Cameo Homes, Inc. v. Kraus-Anderson Constr. Co. et al., 2003 WL 22867640 (D. Minn. 2003), aff’d  394 F.3d 1084 (2005).  Obtained summary judgment in favor of municipality, dismissing contractor’s claims for breach of contract, negligence, defamation, fraud, intentional interference with prospective business advantage, civil conspiracy and violation of Davis-Bacon Act.

Insurance Coverage

Mutual Serv. Cas. Ins. Co. v. League of Minnesota Cities Ins. Trust, 659 N.W.2d 755 (Minn. 2003).  Obtained decision from Minnesota Supreme Court reversing Minnesota Court of Appeals and holding marked police squad car is not a motor vehicle under Minnesota’s No-Fault Insurance Act.

Publications and Presentations

  • Lecturer, Appellate Briefs: Tips and Tactics, National Business Institute, Teleconference, December 7, 2012
  • Lecturer, Pre-Appeal Considerations – Successfully Navigating the Appeals Process,  National Business Institute, Web Seminar, May 31, 2012
  • Lecturer, Drafting A Winning Appellate Brief – Successfully Navigating the Appeals Process,  National Business Institute, Web Seminar, May 31, 2012
  • Co-Lecturer, Appealability in Minnesota – The Fundamentals of Appellate Jurisdiction, Appellate Practice Institute, MinnCLE, Minneapolis, MN, March 2010
  • Co-authored, Vol. 2, Mark J. Heley & Stephen F. Buterin, State-by-State Guide to Construction Contracts and Claims, Chapter 36 North Dakota (Michael Dodd and J. Duncan Findlay eds.) (Aspen Publishers 2006-2012)
  • Co-authored, Owner/Engineer Contracts – Form and Substance for presentation before American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of Minnesota.  Minneapolis, MN, December 2005
  • Lecturer,  Advanced Legal Writing Seminar for Paralegals, National Business Institute.  Minneapolis, MN, July 2002
  • Lecturer,  Twin Cities Claims Association Luncheon.  Addressed current issues in motor vehicle liability law.  Bloomington, MN, March 2002
  • Note, The Eighth Amendment and the State of Mind Requirement; Falls v. Nesbitt, 16 Hamline L. Rev. 417 (1993)

Awards and Recognition:

  • Super Lawyer, 2014-2018, Minnesota Law & Politics
  • Rising Star, 2006 – 2008, Minnesota Law & Politics

Undergraduate: Bachelor of Arts, Russian Studies, Political Science, Gustavus Adolphus College, 1990.

Law School:  Juris Doctorate, Hamline University School of Law, 1994.

  • Hamline Law Review
  • Dean’s List


Stephen F. Buterin


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