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

February 2, 2012

LEE JACOBS, AS SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR FOR THE ESTATE OF JULINE JACOBS; PAUL KNUTSON, AS SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR FOR THE ESTATE OF MAVIS KNUTSON; RON RESHETAR, AS SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR FOR THE ESTATE OF GRACE RESHETAR; AND 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 GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Defendant, The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, moves for summary judgment alleging that because Minnesota law applies to this claim, plaintiffs' personal injury claims abate under the Minnesota survival statute. Docket 69. Alternatively, Good Samaritan alleges that plaintiffs cannot satisfy the elements of their claims, Minnesota statute § 626.557 provides no right of action, and res judicata bars subsequent litigation in this case. Id.; Docket 117. If this action continues, Good Samaritan moves to seal a number of confidential business documents. Docket 67. Plaintiffs, Lee Jacobs, as Special Administrator for the Estate of Juline Jacobs, Paul Knutson, as Special Administrator for the Estate of Mavis Knutson, Ron Reshetar, as Special Administrator for the Estate of Grace Reshetar, and Myrna Sorensen, as Special Administrator for the Estate of Opal Sande, resist all motions. Docket 77; Docket 92; Docket 118. Plaintiffs move to compel discovery of one of Good Samaritan's personnel files. Docket 57. Good Samaritan resists this motion. Docket 62. For the foregoing reasons, Good Samaritan's motion for summary judgment is granted, and all other motions are denied as moot.

BACKGROUND

The facts viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, the nonmoving parties, are: Between January and May of 2008, four teenage nursing assistants who worked at the Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea, Minnesota, engaged in systematic abuse of a number of elderly adult residents of Good Samaritan's facility. Docket 70 at 3. Four of the victims of the abuse, Juline Jacobs, Mavis Knutson, Grace Reshetar, and Opal Sande, are now deceased. The causes of death are unrelated to the abuse. In April of 2010, plaintiffs, in their representative capacities for each of the victim's estates, brought these survival actions based on the residents' personal injuries that occurred at Good Samaritan's facility.

In June of 2010, Good Samaritan moved to dismiss the case claiming that Minnesota, rather than South Dakota, law applied to this action. Docket 23. Minnesota law provided that a personal injury cause of action abates with the death of the claimant. This court denied Good Samaritan's motion on December 28, 2010, and applied South Dakota's then-existing choice-of-law rule to conclude that South Dakota had the "most significant relationship" to the claim. Docket 49. Good Samaritan now moves for summary judgment. Docket 69.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate if the movant "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The moving party can meet this burden by presenting evidence that there is no dispute of material fact or that the nonmoving party has not presented evidence to support an element of his case on which he bears the ultimate burden of proof. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). "The nonmoving party may not 'rest on mere allegations or denials, but must demonstrate on the record the existence of specific facts which create a genuine issue for trial.' " Mosley v. City of Northwoods, Mo., 415 F.3d 908, 910 (2005) (quoting Krenik v. County of Le Sueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995)).

If there is a dispute in facts that could affect the outcome of the case, then summary judgment is precluded. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). What is a material fact is determined by the applicable substantive law in the case. Id. If there is a genuine dispute in facts such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, then summary judgment is inappropriate. Id. Under this analysis, the nonmoving party receives "the most favorable reading of the record as well as the benefit of [all] reasonable inferences that arise from the record." Eng v. Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho, PLC, 611 F.3d 428, 432 (8th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). "Where the unresolved issues are primarily legal rather than factual, summary judgment is particularly appropriate." Aucutt v. Six Flags Over Mid-America, Inc., 85 F.3d 1311, 1315 (8th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted).

DISCUSSION

The initial dispute in this case is whether Minnesota or South Dakota law applies to the cause of action based in tort law. Both parties agree that the states' laws conflict*fn1 because the personal injury claim would abate under Minnesota's survival statute if Minnesota law applies, and the claim would proceed if South Dakota law applies. Good Samaritan argues that South Dakota's newly adopted choice-of-law rule, which directs courts to apply the law of the state where the injury occurred, is a procedural law that applies retroactively to actions pending prior to its enactment. For that reason, Minnesota's substantive law applies and the action abates. Plaintiffs allege that South Dakota's new choice-of-law rule is substantive and not retroactive, and the court must analyze which state has "the most significant relationship" to the claim.

I. Choice-of-Law Rule

The first step the court must take is to determine what choice-of-law rules apply. See Klipsch, Inc. v. WWR Tech., Inc., 127 F.3d 729, 733 (8th Cir. 1997)."It is, of course, well-settled that in a suit based on diversity of citizenship jurisdiction the federal courts apply federal law as to matters of procedure but the substantive law of the relevant state." Hiatt v. Mazda Motor Corp., 75 F.3d 1252, 1255 (8th Cir. 1996) (citing Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938)). In a choice-of-law analysis for a diversity action brought in federal district court, the choice-of-law rules are substantive for Erie purposes, and the choice-of-law rules of the forum state are applied to determine the litigating parties' rights. Allianz Ins. Co. v. Sanftleben, 454 F.3d 853, 855 (8th Cir. 2006). Because this action was filed in South Dakota, the court will apply the South Dakota choice-of-law rules.

At the time this action was filed, South Dakota used "the most significant relationship" test from the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws to determine which state's law applies in a multi-state tort action. Chambers v. Dakotah Charter, Inc., 488 N.W.2d 63, 67 (S.D. 1992). During the 2011 legislative session, House Bill 1145 was passed and signed into law. It altered the state's choice-of-law rule as it applies to the survival of personal injury claims following death. The language of the new law adds a new section to SDCL ch. 21-3, which provides:

In any action arising out of an injury to the person, the local law of the state where the injury occurs determines whether a claim for damages survives the death of the party sought to be held liable or of the injured person. For purposes of this section, the place where the injury occurs is the place where the ...


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