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Jackson v. Options Residential, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

April 24, 2017

Laurie Jackson and Douglas Sorenson as Court Appointed Guardians on behalf of Michael Sorenson, Respondents,
v.
Options Residential, Inc., Appellant.

         Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CV-15-17699

          Donald R. McNeil, Elizabeth R. Gelderman, Stephen F. Buterin, Heley, Duncan & Melander, PLLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondents)

          Stephen O. Plunkett, Peter L. Gregory, Bassford Remele, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Andrea B. Niesen, Bird, Jacobsen & Stevens, P.C., Rochester, Minnesota (for amicus curiae Minnesota Association for Justice)

          Considered and decided by Cleary, Chief Judge; Ross, Judge; and Rodenberg, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         Minnesota Statutes section 253B.23, subdivision 4 (2016), provides good-faith immunity only to causes of action that arise under the Minnesota Commitment and Treatment Act.

          OPINION

          ROSS, Judge

         A resident at an adult foster-care facility operated by Options Residential, Inc., poured a pot of boiling water on another resident, Michael Sorenson, whose guardians then sued Options on his behalf, claiming negligence. The district court denied summary judgment to Options, rejecting its immunity defense under the Minnesota Commitment and Treatment Act. We hold that the statute's immunity protection against "civil or criminal liability under [the act]" refers to causes of action that are created by or are based on the act. Because Sorenson does not assert any claim so arising from the act, we affirm.

         FACTS

         Michael Sorenson is an adult confined to a wheelchair because of a traumatic brain injury he suffered in a 1973 motorcycle accident. Sorenson relies on assistance for his basic needs, including meal preparation and personal hygiene. In 2011 Sorenson's siblings (who are also his court-appointed guardians) placed him in a Bloomington adult residential foster-care facility run by Options Residential, Inc. Options provides housing and care to individuals with brain injuries, mental health disorders, and substance abuse issues. Options developed a care plan to provide "supervision for [Sorenson] 24 hours a day, 7 days a week" and to keep Sorenson "within sight and sound at all times."

         M.R., a schizophrenic woman, moved into the residence a month later. M.R. was in the process of being provisionally discharged from civil commitment. She has a history of aggressive conduct, including starting fires and throwing hot liquids on others.

         Tensions rose between Sorenson and M.R. in May 2013. On May 26, Sorenson teased M.R. about her body odor. M.R. reacted by breaking Sorenson's eyeglasses and spraying Lysol in his eyes. Options staff called the police, who recommended that Options change the living arrangements. Sorenson again teased M.R. about her hygiene on May 30. M.R. responded later that day, slapping Sorenson several times and injuring his face. Options staff again called the police, and paramedics took M.R. to the hospital for a 72hour emergency hold. When the hold expired, M.R. returned to the residence.

         On June 10, only one staff member was on duty in the residence caring for Sorenson, M.R., and another resident, while another staff member took the fourth resident on an errand. The attending staff member prepared a pizza for Sorenson, who sat in the living room in his wheelchair, and M.R. paced in and out of the kitchen. The third resident was also making dinner but had left the kitchen and a pot of boiling water on the stove. The staff member left the kitchen and went to the office. This left M.R. and Sorenson without supervision. That's when M.R. took the pot of hot water from the stove and poured it on Sorenson. Sorenson screamed. The staff member returned and saw steam rising from Sorenson's body. The staff member moved M.R. away from Sorenson, administered first aid, and called police. Paramedics took Sorenson to the hospital where he was ...


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