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Haugland v. Mapleview Lounge & Bottleshop

August 7, 2003

DEBORA K. HAUGLAND, AS TRUSTEE FOR THE HEIRS AND NEXT OF KIN OF ROBERT JOHN DONOVAN, SR., APPELLANT,
v.
MAPLEVIEW LOUNGE & BOTTLESHOP, INC., RESPONDENT,
AND ARMADILLO WILLY'S, D/B/A JULIO'S BAR, RESPONDENT.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Rule 15.03 of the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure permits the amendment of a civil damages complaint to name the real party in interest after the statute of limitations has expired when the original complaint put the defendants on notice of the claim, the amendment arises out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence on which the original complaint is based, and the defendants are not unduly prejudiced.

A duly-appointed conservator has the authority to bring a civil damages action on behalf of a minor injured under the Minnesota Civil Damages Act in the minor's own name.

Reversed and remanded.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Page, Justice.

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

OPINION

This pretrial appeal arises out of a single-vehicle drunk-driving accident in which the vehicle's driver, Robert John Donovan Sr., was killed. Donovan Sr. died after allegedly having been served alcohol by respondent Mapleview Lounge & Bottleshop, Inc. (Mapleview), and respondent Armadillo Willy's, d/b/a Julio's Bar (Julio's), in violation of Minnesota's Civil Damages Act (the Act). See Minn. Stat. §á340A.801 (2002). Donovan Sr. is survived by a minor son, Robert John Donovan Jr. After first having been appointed Donovan Jr.'s conservator and wrongful death trustee for Donovan Sr.'s estate, Debora Haugland, Donovan Jr.'s maternal aunt, filed a lawsuit against Mapleview and Julio's. The action was commenced eight days before the statute of limitations for claims under the Act expired. The complaint, captioned "Debra [sic] K. Haugland, as trustee for the next of kin of Robert John Donovan, Sr.," sets out claims for wrongful death and for violations of the Act. See Minn. Stat. §§á340A.801-.802; 573.02(3). After the limitations period expired, Mapleview and Julio's moved to dismiss the action on the ground that Haugland was not a proper party to bring a claim under the Act. In response, Haugland moved to amend the complaint to change the caption to identify Donovan Jr. as the plaintiff and to clarify that the action was brought pursuant to the Act. Mapleview and Julio's argued there was no valid complaint to amend because the original complaint did not name a party who could bring a civil damages claim. The district court granted Mapleview's and Julio's motions to dismiss and denied Haugland's motion to amend the complaint. The court of appeals affirmed. We granted review on the following two issues: (1) whether a complaint in a civil damages action can be amended after the statute of limitations period has expired to name the real party in interest; and (2)áwhether a conservator for the decedent's surviving minor child may bring a civil damages action on behalf of the minor child. We reverse and remand.

On February 20, 1999, Donovan Sr. died in a motor-vehicle accident. On February 10, 2000, Haugland was appointed conservator for Donovan Jr. On February 8, 2001, she was appointed trustee for Donovan Sr.'s estate for the purpose of pursuing a wrongful death action. On February 12, 2001, Haugland initiated an action in Mower County District Court against Mapleview and Julio's. Paragraph I of the complaint alleges:

That the plaintiff herein, who is the conservator for Robert John Donovan, Jr., the only son of decedent Robert John Donovan, Sr., was duly appointed Trustee by order of the District Court of Mower County on the 8th day of February, 2001, to prosecute an action for the wrongful death of Robert John Donovan, Sr. for the benefit of the next of kin, for whose benefit this action is brought, pursuant to the provisions of Minnesota Statute sectioná573.02 (3).*fn1

Paragraphs II, III, and IV identify Mapleview and Julio's as the defendants. Paragraph V alleges that the defendants "unlawfully sold, bartered, or gave intoxicating liquors to [Donovan Sr.] in violation" of Minnesota law. Paragraph VI alleges that those illegal sales caused or contributed to Donovan Sr.'s intoxication. Paragraph VII alleges that Donovan Sr. operated his motor vehicle while under the influence of the illegally sold intoxicating liquor. Paragraph VIII alleges that, as a result of Donovan Sr.'s driving under the influence of the illegally sold intoxicating liquor, he was involved in an accident that resulted in his death. Paragraph IX alleges that Donovan Sr.'s death was caused by the defendants' illegal sale of the intoxicating liquor. Paragraph X states that the defendants received written notice of the civil damages claim as required by the Act. A copy of that notice was attached to the complaint as Exhibit A. Paragraph XI alleges that the defendants are liable for damages pursuant to the Act. Finally, paragraph XII of the complaint alleges that, as a result of the negligence of the defendants, Donovan Sr.'s survivors have suffered "permanent and substantial personal and pecuniary loss and have been deprived of the advice, counsel, comfort, protection, support and companionship" of Donovan Sr.

The complaint was filed eight days before the expiration of the Act's two-year statute of limitations. After the expiration of the limitations period, Mapleview and Julio's moved to dismiss the complaint on the basis that Haugland, as trustee for the next of kin of Robert John Donovan Sr., could not bring a cause of action for civil damages. Haugland then sought to amend the complaint, specifically the caption heading naming the plaintiff to read "Robert John Donovan, Jr., a minor, by his Conservator and Guardian ad Litem, Debra [sic] K. Haugland."*fn2 Haugland also sought to amend paragraph I of the complaint to state that the action was being brought under the Act. Finally, the proposed amended complaint deleted all references to a wrongful death claim.

Mapleview and Julio's opposed allowing the complaint to be amended, arguing that there was no valid complaint to amend because the original complaint was brought by a party who did not have capacity to bring a claim under the Act. Therefore, they reasoned, the statute of limitations expired on Donovan Jr.'s civil damages claim before a valid lawsuit was commenced.*fn3 Mapleview further argued that under the clear language of the Act a conservator does not have the authority to bring an action in the conservator's own name.

Haugland argued that the complaint, although improperly captioned, set forth a valid civil damages claim on behalf of Donovan Jr. who, as a minor, could not bring the claim on his own. She claimed that the proposed amendment did not allege a different cause of action, but merely corrected the pleadings in the original cause of action and therefore she should be allowed to amend the complaint under Minn. R. Civ. P. 15.01, 15.03, and 17.01 to change the caption to reflect that the action was being brought by Donovan Jr. by and through Haugland and to clarify that the action was being brought under the Act.

The district court agreed with Mapleview and Julio's and found that: (1)√°Haugland, as trustee for the next of kin of Donovan Sr., did not have the capacity to bring a claim in her own name under the Act; (2) there was no valid complaint to which the proposed amended pleadings could relate back; and (3) the complaint, therefore, had to be dismissed. In affirming, the court of appeals concluded as did the district court that Haugland did not, as either trustee or conservator, have a right of action in her own name under the Act and that, as a result, the original complaint was a ...


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