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Aaron Olson v. Randall Labrie

April 29, 2013

AARON OLSON, APPELLANT,
v.
RANDALL LABRIE, RESPONDENT.



Anoka County District Court File No. 02-CV-12-1561

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

This opinion will be unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2012).

Affirmed

Considered and decided by Hooten, Presiding Judge; Cleary, Judge; and Smith, Judge.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION HOOTEN, Judge

Appellant asserts that the district court erred by dismissing his complaint against respondent for failure to state a claim and by dismissing some of his claims with prejudice, rather than without prejudice. We affirm.

FACTS

Appellant Aaron Olson's complaint alleges that respondent Randall LaBrie posted childhood images of appellant on a social-media website without appellant's consent.*fn1

According to the complaint, appellant requested that respondent remove the images, and respondent not only refused to remove the images, but posted defamatory and threatening comments about appellant on the website.

Appellant's complaint against respondent alleges (1) a violation of his religious rights under the state and federal constitution; (2) civil assault; (3) conversion and trespass; (4) a violation of his intellectual-property rights; (5) defamation; and (6) invasion of privacy. Respondent did not file an answer, but moved to dismiss for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted" pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(e) and insufficiency of service of process. The district court granted respondent's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, dismissing some of the claims with prejudice. This appeal follows.

DECISION

I.

Appellant challenges the district court's dismissal of his complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.*fn2 A complaint must "contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and a demand for judgment for the relief sought." Minn. R. Civ. P. 8.01. A complaint may be dismissed under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(e) if it appears that no facts, consistent with the pleading, exist to support granting the relief demanded. Bahr v. Capella Univ., 788 N.W.2d 76, 80 (Minn. 2010). Although the plaintiff need make only a minimal showing in order to survive a rule 12.02(e) motion, his complaint must contain sufficient facts to state a claim. Noske v. Friedberg, 670 N.W.2d 740, 742--43 (Minn. 2003). Failure to establish an element "defeats the entire claim." Id. at 743. When conducting its review, this court "must consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, accepting those facts as true and must construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." Bodah v. Lakeville Motor Express, Inc., 663 N.W.2d 550, 553 (Minn. 2003). But legal conclusions in the complaint are neither binding on this court's review nor sufficient to survive a rule 12.02(e) motion. See Bahr, 788 N.W.2d at 80. This court reviews the legal sufficiency of the dismissed claims de novo. Id.

A.Religious rights under the state and federal constitutions

Appellant alleges in his complaint that respondent, in posting his childhood pictures and the defamatory and threatening comments on the website, violated his religious rights. Both the United States and Minnesota Constitutions protect individuals' religious freedoms. See U.S. Const. amends. I, XIV, §1; Minn. Const. art. I, § 16. But both constitutions protect those freedoms only from abridgement by the state or federal government. See Edina Cmty. Lutheran Church v. State, 745 N.W.2d 194, 203 (Minn. App. 2008) (noting that the Minnesota Constitution protects individuals from government infringement on or interference with religious freedom and the United States Constitution limits government action which prohibits the exercise of religion), review denied (Minn. Apr. 29, 2008); see also State v. Beecroft, 813 N.W.2d 814, 837 (Minn. 2012) (holding that "constitutional restrictions on conduct may be applied against private conduct if the conduct is sufficiently entwined with governmental character" (quotation omitted)).

Appellant's complaint alleged that respondent's motive in posting the images and the objectionable comments about appellant on the social-media website was to pressure him into converting to respondent's religion. However, there is no allegation that respondent is a government actor, that respondent's conduct constituted state action, or that respondent's actions had a governmental character.

Appellant argues that the district court's dismissal of his constitutional claim should be vacated on the basis that he did not actually plead a First Amendment violation and did not expect the district court to assume jurisdiction over it. But appellant's complaint necessarily included a First Amendment violation when it stated that respondent's conduct violated his "state and federal constitutional rights to religious freedom." The district court did not err by construing this as a First Amendment claim and dismissing it.

Appellant also requests that we "sua sponte" vacate the district court's decision on this matter. Because appellant cites no legal authority that would allow us to take such action, we decline to do so. See Ganguli v. Univ. of Minn., 512 N.W.2d 918, 919 n.1 (Minn. App. 1994) (noting that this ...


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