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Morris Blom, As Special Administrator For the Estate of Sylvia Wulff v. the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society

April 13, 2012


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


Defendant, The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society (Good Samaritan), moves the court to extend the dispositive motions deadline within the court's scheduling order and to allow further briefing on the issue of res judicata. Docket 29. Good Samaritan also moves the court to dismiss plaintiff's claims with prejudice because a Minnesota judgment bars this court from relitigating the issues due to res judicata. Docket 33. Plaintiff, Morris Blom, as special administrator for the estate of Sylvia Wulff, resists these motions. Docket 35 & Docket 30. Blom claims that Good Samaritan filed untimely motions to extend and dismiss, so the motions should be denied, and res judicata is inappropriate in this case. Blom moves to consolidate his cause of action with other similarly situated plaintiffs' claims against Good Samaritan.

Docket 24. Good Samaritan resists that motion. Docket 27. For the following reasons, Good Samaritan's motions to extend and to dismiss are granted, and all other motions are denied.


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 1 at 2. One of the victims of this abuse was Sylvia Wulff. Wulff's power of attorney brought a personal injury claim on her behalf in Minnesota state court on January 20, 2010. Docket 34-2. Three other victims of the abuse were included in that action. Three of the four victims died during the course of litigation. The claim of the fourth plaintiff was arbitrated. The causes of death are unrelated to the abuse. Docket 35 at 1-2.

After the decedents' deaths, Good Samaritan moved for summary judgment as to each of the deceased plaintiffs because it alleged that the cause of action abated under Minnesota law. The Minnesota court allowed the estates to voluntarily dismiss their claims without prejudice in Minnesota so the claims could be brought in South Dakota. The court reasoned that plaintiffs "had sought the voluntary dismissals early in the litigation and that [Good Samaritan] would not be prejudiced merely by having to defend the same claims in South Dakota federal court." Butts ex rel. Iverson v. Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Soc'y, 802 N.W.2d 839, 840 (Minn. Ct. App. 2011). Morris Blom then filed this cause of action on behalf of Sylvia's estate on September 29, 2010. Docket 1. In August of 2011, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's dismissal of the Minnesota Butts decision and held that Good Samaritan was entitled to summary judgment and dismissal with prejudice. Butts, 802 N.W.2d at 843-44. The Minnesota Supreme Court denied further review in October of 2011. Docket 34-5. The judgment and dismissal became final on November 28, 2011, when the case was dismissed with prejudice. Docket 34-6 at 1.

Meanwhile, four different actions involving the victims of the nursing abuse were pending in front of this court. In June of 2010, Good Samaritan moved to dismiss one of those cases, claiming that Minnesota, rather than South Dakota, law applied to the action. 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. Jacobs ex rel. Jacobs v. Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Soc'y, Civ. No. 10-4035, 2010 WL 5439767, at *4-6 (D.S.D. Dec. 28, 2010). On September 22, 2011, plaintiff moved to consolidate his case with a number of other plaintiffs suing Good Samaritan for the same conduct. Although the dispositive motions deadline in the case was November 15, 2011, Good Samaritan filed a motion to accept briefing and to extend and suspend the dispositive motions deadline on November 29, 2011. Docket 29.

While briefing continued in the Blom matter, the court granted summary judgment to Good Samaritan in two of the other cases that were before the court. See Butts v. Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Soc'y, Civ. No. 10-4063, ___ F. Supp. 2d ___, 2012 WL 426692 (D.S.D. Feb. 9, 2012); Jacobs ex rel. Estate of Jacobs v. Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Soc'y, Civ. No. 10-4035, ___ F. Supp. 2d ___, 2012 WL 346670 (D.S.D. Feb. 2, 2012). In the South Dakota Butts case the court concluded that the action could not proceed because, for several reasons, the Minnesota Butts decision was res judicata. Butts, 2012 WL 426692, at *2-3. The court determined that res judicata applied because both actions included the same parties or their privies, the same set of underlying facts, there was a judgment on the merits in Minnesota, and the parties had a full and fair opportunity to litigate their claims. Id. at *3-5. Good Samaritan now moves to dismiss this action based on res judicata.


The standard of review for a motion to dismiss filed under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) or 12(c) is the same. Westcott v. City of Omaha, 901 F.2d 1486, 1488 (8th Cir. 1990). Federal Rule of Procedure 12(b)(6)*fn1 provides that dismissal is appropriate for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.]" Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The court will assume that all facts alleged in the complaint are true "no matter how skeptical the court may be." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1959 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The court construes "the complaint liberally in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Eckert v. Titan Tire Corp., 514 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted).

To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must " 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' " Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1960 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The complaint must also contain factual allegations that raise the "right to relief above the speculative level . . . ." Parkhurst v. Tabor, 569 F.3d 861, 865 (8th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). The court will, however, "reject conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences." Silver v. H&R Block, Inc., 105 F.3d 394, 397 (8th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted). If "the allegations show on the face of the complaint that there is some insuperable bar to relief, dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is [still] appropriate." Benton v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 524 F.3d 866, 870 (8th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted).


I. Motion To Extend Deadlines

Good Samaritan moves for an extension of the court's scheduling order

mandating that all dispositive motions be filed by November 15, 2011, because the Minnesota Court of Appeals' decision became final and would have a substantial impact on this case. Blom claims that Good Samaritan cannot satisfy good cause or excusable neglect, and Good Samaritan's motion to extend should be denied in the interests of judicial economy.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16 requires that the district court give a scheduling order that sets the deadlines for the various stages of litigation. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 16(b) (stating that the court must set deadlines to amend the pleadings, join additional parties, and file motions, and that the rule allows the court to set additional deadlines). A scheduling order "may be modified only for good cause and with the judge's consent." Fed. R. Civ. P. 16(b)(4). Whether the ...

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