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Hyatt v. Anoka Police Dep't

February 10, 2005

LENA M. HYATT, APPELLANT,
v.
ANOKA POLICE DEPARTMENT, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



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

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. The dog owner liability provisions of Minn. Stat. § 347.22 (2004) apply to municipal owners of police dogs.

2. The authorization to use reasonable force in Minn. Stat. § 609.06, subd. 1(1) (2004), applies where the force is directed toward an arrestee but unintentionally causes harm to an innocent bystander or where the force is directed toward a third person who is or reasonably appears to be impeding a lawful arrest.

3. To the extent that the dog owner liability provisions of section 347.22 conflict with the authorization for police officers to use reasonable force under section 609.06, subdivision 1(1), the authorization to use reasonable force prevails because it is more specific and more recently enacted.

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

Reversed and remanded to the court of appeals.

OPINION

Appellant Lena Hyatt sued the City of Anoka and its police department (collectively, the "City") after she was injured by a police dog during the attempted arrest of her husband. Hyatt's complaint alleged liability solely on the basis of Minn. Stat. § 347.22 (2004) (the dog bite statute), which holds a dog owner strictly liable for injuries caused by the dog so long as the dog was not provoked and the victim was acting peaceably in a place where she had a lawful right to be. The City moved for summary judgment asserting that the dog bite statute did not apply to police dogs and, in the alternative, that the City was immune and that the police department is not a legal entity subject to suit. The district court denied the City's motion, but the court of appeals reversed, holding that it would be "absurd" to apply the dog bite statute to police dogs because police officers are authorized by statute to use reasonable force. Hyatt v. Anoka Police Dep't, 680 N.W.2d 115, 119-20 (Minn. App. 2004). The court of appeals declined to address the City's immunity claims. Id. at 120. We reverse the decision of the court of appeals on the dog bite statute and remand to the court of appeals with directions to consider the City's immunity claims and the propriety of naming the police department as a defendant.

At approximately 1:30 a.m. on May 21, 2002, four law enforcement officers arrived at a residence in St. Francis, Minnesota, to execute arrest warrants for Andrew Hyatt, who had been charged with a controlled substance crime, fleeing a police officer, and driving after revocation. The homeowner told the officers that Andrew Hyatt and his wife, appellant Lena Hyatt, were living in a two-story red barn behind the residence. After entering the barn through an unlocked door, the officers heard movement on the barn's second level. Sheriff's Deputy Paul Lenzmeier called for Andrew Hyatt to come out. After receiving no response, Lenzmeier and Deputy Todd Diegnau went upstairs and observed two people in bed, covered with a blanket. Lenzmeier called out again and noticed that the male, whom police later identified to be Andrew Hyatt, was awake. After Andrew Hyatt ignored Lenzmeier's order to show his hands, Lenzmeier pulled down the covers in an effort to reveal any weapons. The other person in bed was Lena Hyatt.

According to deposition testimony and the deputies' departmental reports, Andrew Hyatt jumped from the bed, yelled something similar to "Go ahead, just shoot me, shoot me," and lunged toward the deputies. Andrew Hyatt struck Diegnau, and Lenzmeier called downstairs for assistance from Anoka Police Officer Mark Yates, who came upstairs with his police dog, Chips, on a leash. Yates saw Diegnau's bloodied face and Andrew Hyatt standing behind Lena Hyatt as he yelled, "Shoot me, shoot me." Lenzmeier believed that Lena Hyatt might have been "act[ing] as a shield for her husband."

When Andrew Hyatt ran toward the back of the room, Yates released Chips. Instead of pursuing Andrew Hyatt, Chips apprehended Lena Hyatt, taking her to the ground and performing a "bite and hold" on her left leg and right arm. With the animal holding Lena Hyatt, Yates pursued Andrew Hyatt, who fled through a second-story window. When Yates later re-entered the room, he released Chips from Lena Hyatt and instructed Lenzmeier to handcuff and arrest her on suspicion of obstruction of legal process. Lena Hyatt was taken by ambulance to a Coon Rapids hospital and treated for a 2-inch laceration on her right elbow and a 5-inch laceration on her left knee.

Hyatt sued the City, seeking compensation for medical costs and pain. Her complaint alleged liability on the sole basis of the dog bite statute, which reads:

If a dog, without provocation, attacks or injures any person who is acting peaceably in any place where the person may lawfully be, the owner of the dog is liable in damages to the person so attacked or injured to the full amount of the injury sustained. The term "owner" includes any person harboring or keeping a dog but the owner shall ...


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