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Christian v. Birch

March 24, 2009

GENNA L. CHRISTIAN F/K/A GENNA L. PICARD, APPELLANT,
v.
JUDITH M. BIRCH, RESPONDENT.



St. Louis County District Court, File No. 69DU-CV-07-2772.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. Because matters of procedure are governed by the law of the forum state, a choice-of-law analysis requires a determination of whether the conflicting laws are procedural or substantive.

2. Minnesota may exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident, consistent with federal due process, when the subject lawsuit arises from, and is directly related to, the nonresident‟s involvement in an automobile collision in a location where Minnesota has concurrent subject-matter jurisdiction.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Larkin, Judge

Reversed and remanded

Concurring specially, Minge, Judge

Considered and decided by Minge, Presiding Judge; Larkin, Judge; and Stauber, Judge.

OPINION

Appellant challenges the district court‟s award of summary judgment, arguing that the district court erred in its determination that (1) Wisconsin‟s statute of limitations governs the underlying lawsuit and bars appellant‟s claims as untimely and (2) Minnesota lacks personal jurisdiction over respondent. Because Minnesota‟s statute of limitations governs the underlying lawsuit, and because Minnesota may exercise personal jurisdiction over respondent consistent with federal due process, we reverse and remand.

FACTS

For the purpose of the district court‟s summary judgment award, the relevant facts are undisputed. On January 9, 2004, a vehicle driven by respondent Judith M. Birch collided head-on with a vehicle driven by appellant Genna L. Christian. The collision occurred on the Blatnik Bridge, which spans the St. Louis River between Superior, Wisconsin and Duluth. Christian was driving toward Wisconsin; Birch was driving toward Minnesota, but in the Wisconsin-bound lane. Birch was intoxicated. According to Christian‟s uncontroverted affidavit, "The accident occurred only feet from what is commonly referred to as the "arch‟ or center of the bridge. Said accident was directly above the St. Louis [R]iver."

Minnesota emergency vehicles responded to the collision scene and transported Christian to a medical facility in Minnesota, where she received medical care. Wisconsin police officers also responded to the scene. The Wisconsin officers arrested Birch for driving while intoxicated. Criminal charges were subsequently filed against Birch in Wisconsin, and she pleaded guilty to a charge of causing injury by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle.

Both Christian and Birch are Wisconsin residents. Christian had a passenger in her vehicle at the time of the collision. Christian‟s passenger is a Minnesota resident. Birch does not own any property in Minnesota and is not employed in Minnesota.

Christian sued Birch in Minnesota, asserting a negligence claim. Christian served Birch at her home in Wisconsin sometime after May 18, 2007. Birch moved to dismiss under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(a) (failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted), (b) (lack of personal jurisdiction), and (f) (lack of subject-matter jurisdiction). Because the parties submitted matters outside of the pleadings for the district court‟s consideration, the district court treated Birch‟s motion as one for summary judgment under Minn. R. Civ. P. 56. The district court concluded that Minnesota has subject-matter jurisdiction, but determined that Wisconsin‟s three-year statute of limitations barred Christian‟s lawsuit and that Christian had therefore failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted. The district court also concluded that Minnesota lacked personal jurisdiction over Birch. The district court granted summary judgment for Birch on both grounds. This appeal follows.

ISSUES

I. Did the district court err in its choice-of-law analysis by failing to consider and determine whether the relevant conflicting laws were procedural or substantive?

II. Did the district court err by concluding that it lacked personal jurisdiction over respondent?

ANALYSIS

On appeal from summary judgment, an appellate court determines (1) whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and (2) whether the district court erred in its application of the law. Olmanson v. LeSueur County, 693 N.W.2d 876, 879 (Minn. 2005). When summary judgment is granted based on application of the law to undisputed facts, as is the case here, the result is a legal conclusion that we review de novo. Lefto v. Hoggsbreath Enters., Inc., 581 N.W.2d 855, 856 (Minn. 1998).

I.

We first consider whether the district court erred by determining that Wisconsin‟s statute of limitations governs Christian‟s lawsuit. The district court‟s determination was based on a choice-of-law analysis. When a party asserts that a case brought in Minnesota may have a significant relationship to more than one state, the court must consider whether there is a choice-of-law issue. See William M. Richman & William L. Reynolds, Understanding Conflict of Laws § 1(c) (3rd ed. 2002) (stating that "[w]henever a legal problem involves incidents or issues concerning more than one state, a court must determine which state‟s legal rules should control"). "Where a conflict of law question has not been raised, Minnesota law will govern." Miller v. A.N. Webber, Inc., 484 N.W.2d 420, 422 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. June 10, 1992). Christian argues that a choice-of-law analysis was inappropriate, and that Minnesota law should automatically apply, because Minnesota has concurrent jurisdiction over the lawsuit.

Minnesota courts have concurrent subject-matter jurisdiction over claims arising from events that occur on boundary waters. Minn. Stat. § 484.02 (2006); Opsahl v. Judd, 30 Minn. 126, 129, 14 N.W. 575, 576 (1883). Minnesota courts also have concurrent jurisdiction over events that occur on bridges spanning boundary waters. State v. George, 60 Minn. 503, 505, 63 N.W. 100, 100-01 (1895) (holding that Minnesota can exercise criminal jurisdiction over an offense that occurred on a bridge between Wisconsin and Minnesota based on Minnesota‟s concurrent jurisdiction over bordering waters). Because the collision that underlies this lawsuit occurred on the Blatnik Bridge, which spans the St. Louis River between Minnesota and Wisconsin, on a portion of the bridge that is over the St. Louis River, Minnesota has concurrent jurisdiction over claims arising from the collision.

But Wisconsin also has concurrent jurisdiction over the lawsuit. Wis. Stat. § 1.01 (2007) ("The sovereignty and jurisdiction of this state extend to all places within the boundaries declared in article II of the constitution."); see also Wis. Const. art. II, § 1 (adopting territorial boundaries of the State of Wisconsin). Accordingly, the case has a significant relationship to Wisconsin and a choice-of-law issue arises. Birch raised the choice-of-law issue in summary-judgment proceedings before the district court, and the district court properly considered whether the Minnesota or Wisconsin statute of limitations governs this case. The district court‟s resolution of the choice-of-law issue is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. Danielson v. Nat'l Supply Co., 670 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Minn. App. 2003), review denied (Minn. Dec. 16, 2003).

The first step in a choice-of-law analysis is to consider whether there is a conflict between the legal rules. Jepson v. Gen. Cas. Co. of Wis., 513 N.W.2d 467, 469 (Minn. 1994). A conflict exists if choosing the law of one state over the law of another state would be "outcome determinative." Schumacher v. Schumacher, 676 N.W.2d 685, 689 (Minn. App. 2004) (quoting Nodak Mut. Ins. Co. v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 590 N.W.2d 670, 672 (Minn. App. 1999)). The district court correctly determined that there was an outcome-determinative conflict between the Minnesota and Wisconsin statutes of limitations. Minnesota has a six-year statute of limitations for negligence actions. Minn. Stat. § 541.051 (2006). Wisconsin has a three-year statute of limitations. Wis. Stat. § 893.54 (2005-06). The ...


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