Washington County District Court File No. C5-04-1847.
When the duty to control another person's conduct results from a special relationship, that duty is limited by the authority conferred by the special relationship.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Randall, Judge
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
In this appeal from summary judgments, appellants argue that that the district court erred by dismissing their wrongful-death negligence claims against a foster home, the owners of the foster home, and the foster home's psychologist. Appellants' daughter was murdered by a resident of the foster home. Because we conclude that respondents satisfied any duty they might have had and that respondents' allegedly negligent conduct was not the proximate cause of appellants' daughter's death, we affirm.
From 1997 to June 1999 and from August 1999 to July 2000, Tony Allen Roman Nose lived at Sherwood Home, a group foster home in Woodbury operated by respondent R-Home of Woodbury, Inc. (R-Home). Respondents Robert and Donna Ritter are the sole shareholders and officers of R-Home. Respondent Kevin Flynn is a psychologist who provides counseling and chemical-dependency treatment for the residents of R-Home group foster homes.
Roman Nose has a history of violent behavior, drug and alcohol abuse, and defiant behavior. In June 1999, while in Montana visiting his family for the summer, Roman Nose consumed alcohol and marijuana and attacked a man with a baseball bat. Upon his return to Sherwood Home in August 1999, he had several instances of conflict with other residents, one time throwing a fork at a resident's face. Roman Nose was diagnosed with a chemical-dependency problem, although he passed more than 20 drug tests administered between January and July 2000. He had several curfew violations and unexcused absences from school. Roman Nose also had a tendency to leave Sherwood Home for short periods of time without permission.
While at Sherwood Home, Roman Nose had a treatment plan to address his chemical-dependency and conflict-resolution problems. Roman Nose met with Flynn regularly to discuss chemical dependency, anger management, and behavior problems. Roman Nose also attended group meetings run by Flynn at Sherwood Home and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Flynn was ill during April 2000 and unable to perform his counseling duties.
On July 10, 2000, at about 8:00 p.m., Roman Nose and another Sherwood Home resident left Sherwood Home after being told that they did not have permission to leave. A Sherwood Home house parent followed Roman Nose and the other resident and indicated non-verbally that they were to return to Sherwood Home. The other resident returned shortly and reported that Roman Nose said that he would come home in a little while. Although Roman Nose occasionally left Sherwood Home without permission, he always returned and did not have a history of running away. Robert Ritter told the house parent to wait a while before calling the police to give Roman Nose an opportunity to return on his own. At about 11:00 p.m., because Roman Nose had not yet returned, the house parent called the police and reported that Roman Nose had run away.
Roman Nose spent that evening drinking beer, smoking marijuana, and using cocaine with Andrew Rieman and Jolene Stuedemann. Later that evening, Roman Nose sexually assaulted Stuedemann and then stabbed her multiple times with a screwdriver. State v. Roman Nose, 649 N.W.2d 815, 816-17 (Minn. 2002). Roman Nose was convicted of first-degree murder during the commission of criminal sexual conduct. Id. at 816.
Appellants James and Jeanne Stuedemann brought a negligence-based wrongful-death action against Roman Nose, R-Home, and the Ritters. They later amended their complaint, adding Flynn as a defendant. The Stuedemanns sought partial summary judgment "determining that as a matter of law [Roman Nose] murdered Jolene Stuedemann on July 11, 2000." R-Home, the Ritters, and Flynn (collectively referred to as "respondents") each sought summary judgment on the grounds that they did not owe Jolene Stuedemann a duty to control Roman Nose and that their allegedly negligent conduct was not the ...