N. G., et al., Appellants,
Nacel Open Door, Inc., et al., Respondents.
Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CV-11-17037
Morgan Smith, Richard Raver, Smith & Raver, LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellants)
Nicole L. Brand, Kathleen Ghreichi, Meagher & Geer, PLLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge; Chutich, Judge; and Smith, Judge.
Appellants, two parents and their minor children, challenge the summary-judgment dismissal of their negligence claim. The claim arises from the sexual abuse perpetrated against one of the children by a foreign-exchange student who was placed in appellants' home by respondents. Appellants challenge the district court's determination that respondents owned them no duty because there was no special relationship and the harm was not foreseeable. Additionally, appellants request that we expand the special-relationship doctrine to include situations such as the present matter. We conclude that the district court did not err in its determination that there was no duty between the parties and properly granted summary judgment. Also, under the circumstances presented here, we decline to alter Minnesota's definition of a special relationship. Therefore, we affirm.
In October 2009, respondents Nacel Open Door, Inc. and related entities (collectively "Nacel") placed T.E. with appellants John and Jane Doe and the Does' three minor children. T.E. was a high school student who traveled to the United States from Mongolia through the Nacel program as a foreign-exchange student. T.E.'s application to the Nacel foreign-exchange program required that he disclose extensive information about himself. Nacel collected T.E.'s biographical, parental, academic, and medical information. Nacel also procured school and teacher recommendations and a letter written by T.E. to his potential host family. A Nacel representative interviewed T.E., "proudly" recommended T.E. as a foreign-exchange student, and noted being "very happy with him."
As part of the Does' application process to host a student, they provided Nacel with their biographical information, interests, and student placement preference. The Does also provided Nacel with references for Nacel to contact, as well as written recommendations from friends. Nacel then visited the Does and conducted an interview, inquiring into their lifestyle, values, and evaluating the environment that a student would potentially live in. The interviewer described the Does as a "caring [and] loving family." To comply with federal law, Nacel also performed criminal background checks on John and Jane Doe.
T.E. moved into the Doe home in October 2009. In December 2009, T.E. sexually assaulted one of the Doe children in T.E.'s bedroom at the Does' home. John and Jane Doe did not learn of the sexual abuse until June, months after T.E. had moved out of their house and in with another host family. After the Does reported the assault, T.E. was questioned by police. During questioning, T.E. confessed that he had locked one of the Doe children in his bedroom and instructed the child to lie on the bed. T.E. then placed his penis in the child's mouth. It appears that another Doe child, knowing that a sibling was in the room with T.E., then charged the bedroom door, which broke the door's lock.T.E. also revealed to police that, when he was a child in Mongolia, a man had sexually assaulted him in T.E.'s home, in the same manner that T.E. assaulted the Doe child.
After a stipulated-facts trial, T.E. was adjudicated delinquent for committing first-degree criminal sexual conduct and deported to Mongolia.
In May 2011, the Does initiated this negligence action against Nacel. The complaint alleged that Nacel undertook a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect the Does and that Nacel represented that any student placed with the Does would be "absolutely safe in homes with small children." The Does alleged that, as a result of Nacel's failure to screen T.E. appropriately, one of the Doe children was sexually abused and that child and the rest of the family suffered harm and distress. Nacel moved for summary judgment. In an affidavit opposing summary judgment, Jane Doe stated that the extensive screening of the host family led her to believe that the students underwent similar screening. She alleged that if Nacel had informed her family that it did not screen the students for criminal history or inquire into each student's sexual history and exposure to sexual abuse, she and her family would not have hosted a foreign-exchange student.
The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Nacel and dismissed the Does' complaint. In its memorandum, the district court noted that Nacel complied with federal regulations and that none of the extensive information that Nacel collected about T.E. indicated that T.E. was inappropriate for acceptance as an exchange student. The district court highlighted that the Does did not contend that Nacel failed to disclose adverse information about T.E., but instead that Nacel undertook a duty to screen T.E. in a manner that would guarantee the safety of the Does. The district court disagreed and concluded that Nacel did not assume a duty to guarantee the safety of the host family, that T.E.'s behavior was not foreseeable, and ...