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Sipe v. STS Manufacturing, Inc.

Supreme Court of Minnesota

July 31, 2013

Terrance Sipe, Appellant,
v.
STS Manufacturing, Inc., et al., Respondents.

Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

Mark A. Greenman, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant.

Martin S. Chester, Faegre Baker Daniels, LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondents.

Took no part, Stras, and Wright, JJ.

SYLLABUS

1. A claim for wrongful discharge under Minn. Stat. § 181.953, subd. 10 (2012), is governed by the six-year statute of limitations set forth in Minn. Stat. § 541.05, subd. 1(2) (2012), for actions "upon a liability created by statute."

2. Because appellant filed his action for wrongful discharge under Minn. Stat. § 181.953, subd. 10, within six years of the time it accrued, the action was timely.

OPINION

PAGE, Justice.

This case requires us to decide which statute of limitations governs a claim for wrongful discharge from employment in violation of Minn. Stat. § 181.953, subd. 10 (2012). In March 2011, appellant Terrance Sipe commenced an action alleging respondents STS Manufacturing (STS) and Labor Ready/True Blue (Labor Ready) wrongfully discharged him in violation of Minn. Stat. § 181.953, subd. 10. The district court held that wrongful discharge claims under Minn. Stat. § 181.953, subd. 10, are subject to the two-year statute of limitations set forth in Minn. Stat. § 541.07(1) (2012), and dismissed Sipe's complaint as untimely. The court of appeals affirmed. Because we hold that a claim for wrongful discharge under Minn. Stat. § 181.953, subd. 10, is governed by the six-year statute of limitations set forth in Minn. Stat. § 541.05, subd. 1(2) (2012), we reverse and remand.

Sipe alleges that on April 23, 2008, he sustained an injury while jointly employed by STS and Labor Ready. As a result, Sipe was required to and did submit to a drug test administered by Labor Ready. The test results were positive, which led to Sipe's discharge.

On March 17, 2011, nearly three years after being discharged, Sipe commenced this action, alleging that STS and Labor Ready violated various provisions of the Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace Act, Minn. Stat. § 181.950-.957 (2012). Sipe's primary claim was that STS and Labor Ready fired him as a result of a first positive drug test in violation of Minn. Stat. § 181.953. This statute provides that an employer may not discharge an employee under two related circumstances. First, the employer may not discharge an employee "on the basis of a positive test result from an initial screening test that has not been verified by a confirmatory test." Id., subd. 10(a). Second, the employer may not discharge an employee "for whom a positive test result on a confirmatory test was the first such result for the employee on a drug or alcohol test requested by the employer" unless the employer has (1) "first given the employee an opportunity to participate in . . . either a drug or alcohol counseling or rehabilitation program" and (2) the employee has refused to participate "or has failed to successfully complete the program." Id., subd. 10(b). According to Sipe, he was discharged as a result of a positive test in violation of subdivision 10. Sipe seeks relief under Minn. Stat. § 181.956, including reinstatement and back pay.

STS and Labor Ready filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that Sipe's claim was barred by the two-year statute of limitations in Minn. Stat. § 541.07(1) "for libel, slander, assault, battery, false imprisonment, or other tort resulting in personal injury." The district court granted the motion, concluding that a claim under section 181.953, subdivision 10, is an "other tort resulting in personal injury." In doing so, the court applied the three-part test articulated by the court of appeals in Christenson v. Argonaut Insurance Cos., 380 N.W.2d 515 (Minn.App. 1986), rev. denied (Minn. Mar. 27, 1986). Under Christenson, a claim is subject to the two-year statute of limitations applicable to "other tort[s] resulting in personal injury" if: (1) it is an intentional or strict liability tort; (2) it involves injury to the person; and (3) it usually can be the basis of a criminal prosecution. Id. at 518. The court concluded that wrongful discharge under Minn. Stat. § 181.953, subd. 10, satisfied the three prongs of the Christenson test and was therefore subject to the two-year limitations period. The court of appeals affirmed.

Sipe contends that the court of appeals erred in concluding that the two-year limitations period set forth in Minn. Stat. § 541.07(1) applies to his wrongful discharge claim under Minn. Stat. § 181.953, subd. 10. We agree. We review de novo the "construction and application of a statute of limitations, including the law governing the accrual of a cause of action." Park Nicollet Clinic v. Hamann, 808 N.W.2d 828, 831 (Minn. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). We also review de novo the district court's grant of a motion to dismiss under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(e). Bodah v. Lakeville Motor Express, Inc., 663 N.W.2d 550, 553 (Minn. 2003). In so doing, we "consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, accepting those facts as true." Id.

When addressing a question pertaining to a statute of limitations, "we typically first determine which statute of limitations applies to the claims asserted" and then assess "when the statute began to run." Park Nicollet Clinic, 808 N.W.2d at 832. Here, the parties do not dispute that Sipe's wrongful discharge claim under Minn. Stat. ยง 181.953, subd. 10, accrued in April 2008 when he was ...


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