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Lee Jacobs, As Special Administrator For the v. the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society

December 28, 2010

LEE JACOBS, AS SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR FOR THE ESTATE OF JULINE JACOBS; PAUL KNUTSON, AS SPECIALADMINISTRATOR FOR THE ESTATE OF MAVIS KNUTSON; RON RESHETAR, AS SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR FOR THE ESTATE OF GRACE RESHETAR;
MYRNA SORENSEN, AS SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR FOR THE ESTATE OF OPAL SANDE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN GOOD SAMARITAN SOCIETY, INDIVIDUALLY AND D/B/A GOOD SAMARITAN SOCIETY ALBERT LEA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Karen E. Schreier Chief Judge

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

Defendant, Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society (Good Samaritan), moves to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(c). Plaintiffs, Lee Jacobs, Paul Knutson, Ron Reshetar, and Myrna Sorensen, resist Good Samaritan's motion. The motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs allege that several residents*fn1 were subjected to abusive and neglectful conduct while residing at Good Samaritan's facility in Albert Lea, Minnesota. Prior to the filing of this complaint, the residents died from causes unrelated to the alleged abusive and neglectful conduct. Plaintiffs brought this suit against Good Samaritan alleging direct liability for negligent management, direct liability for negligent supervision, direct liability for negligent retention, and strict liability. Plaintiffs seek the following four types of specific relief: (1) damages for the physical pain and mental and emotional suffering experienced by the residents; (2) damages for the medical expenses related to the injuries sustained by the residents; (3) punitive damages; and (4) prejudgment interest. Good Samaritan moves to dismiss these claims because Minnesota law does not allow recovery when an injured person dies from causes unrelated to the underlying tortious actions.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Because Good Samaritan has filed its answer to the complaint, its motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted technically falls under Rule 12(c).*fn2 See Westcott v. City of Omaha, 901 F.2d 1486, 1488 (8th Cir. 1990). Regardless of whether the motion to dismiss falls under Rule 12(b)(6) or Rule 12(c), however, the standard of review is the same. See id. (noting that the "distinction [between Rule 12(c) and 12(b)(6)] is purely formal, because we review this 12(c) motion under the standard that governs 12(b)(6) motions") (citations omitted)). Recently the United States Supreme Court addressed the proper standard to be applied to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009). The court will therefore apply the standard of review and applicable case law associated with Rule 12(b)(6) even though this motion technically falls under Rule 12(c).

Under Rule 12(b)(6), the facts alleged in the complaint must be considered true and all inferences must be viewed in favor of the nonmoving party. Strand v. Diversified Collection Serv., Inc., 380 F.3d 316, 317 (8th Cir. 2004) (citing Stone Motor Co. v. Gen. Motors Corp., 293 F.3d 456, 465 (8th Cir. 2002)). Recently, the United States Supreme Court emphasized that "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' " Id. at 1949. The Supreme Court further stated that "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 1950. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 1949; see also Braden v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 588 F.3d 585, 594 (8th Cir. 2009) ("A complaint states a plausible claim for relief if its 'factual content . . . allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.' " (citing Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949)). The "fundamental tenet of Rule 12(b)(6) practice" that "inferences are to be drawn in favor of the non-moving party" has not been changed. Braden, 588 F.3d at 595 (citations omitted).

ANALYSIS

The parties agree that there is a conflict between South Dakota's and Minnesota's laws pertaining to the survivability of the underlying causes of actions. According to both parties, if Minnesota's survival statutes apply, then plaintiffs' claims are properly dismissed because the residents' claims died when the residents died. See Minn. Stat. § 573.01. If the equivalent South Dakota statutes apply, however, then the claims survive the residents' deaths. SDCL 15-4-1 (stating that "[a]ll causes of action shall survive and be brought, notwithstanding the death of the person entitled . . . to the same"). Thus, the issue before the court involves a basic conflict of laws analysis: does Minnesota or South Dakota law apply with regard to whether the residents' causes of action survive their deaths.

"Because suit was brought in this federal district, South Dakota is the forum state and its choice-of-law rules are applied to determine the rights of the parties in this action." St. Paul Reinsurance Co. v. Baldwin, 503 F. Supp. 2d 1255, 1261 (D.S.D. 2007) (citations omitted); see also Allianz Ins. Co. v. Sanftleben, 454 F.3d 853, 855-56 (8th Cir. 2006) (applying the forum state's choice-of-law rules in a diversity action). In a multi-state tort conflicts analysis, the South Dakota Supreme Court applies "the most significant relationship approach" as set out in the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws. Chambers v. Dakotah Charter, Inc., 488 N.W.2d 63, 67 (S.D. 1992) ("[W]e now adopt the most significant relationship approach to govern multi-state tort conflicts." (applying the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws)).

Good Samaritan argues that Minnesota's laws should apply under the most significant relationship test because of the numerous contacts between the parties and Minnesota. While the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws recognizes that "[m]ost cases to date have held that the question of survival is determined by the local law of the state of conduct and injury[,]" the Restatement also states "[i]t may be questioned whether such decisions will invariably be followed in the future in view of the growing realization that all issues in tort need not be governed by a single law." Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 167, comment c. This concept is more formally identified as the doctrine of depecage. See generally Ewing v. St. Louis-Clayton Orthopedic Group, Inc., 790 F.2d 682, 686 (8th Cir. 1986) ("Under the conflict of laws doctrine of 'depecage,' such an approach is perfectly permissible and even considered desirable in many instances." (citations omitted)). Accordingly, the only issue currently before the court is whether South Dakota's or Minnesota's survival statutes apply. The issue is not whether South Dakota's or Minnesota's law applies to the potential rights of the residents and the potential liabilities of Good Samaritan.

The Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws has a specific section, Survival of Actions, which states that "[t]he law selected by application of the rule of § 145 determines whether a claim for damages for a tort survives the death of the . . . injured person." Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 167. Section 145 reads as follows:

(1) The rights and liabilities of the parties with respect to an issue in tort are determined by the local law of the state which, with respect to that issue, has the most significant relationship to the occurrence and the parties under the principles stated in § 6.

(2) Contacts to be taken into account in applying the principles of ยง 6 to determine the law ...


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