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Sportsman v. California Overland, Ltd.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

April 18, 2018

Charity Sportsman, as Trustee for the Heirs and Next-of-Kin of Terry G. Sportsman, Jr., Plaintiff,
California Overland, Ltd., a Minnesota corporation, and David V. Juneau, Defendants.

          Jessica K. Allen, Esq., and Steven J. Pfefferle, Esq., Pfefferle Kane LLP; Richard Francis Burke, Jr., Esq., Clifford Law Offices, P.C., counsel for Plaintiff.

          Christopher P. Malone, Esq., and Rachel B. Beauchamp, Esq., Cousineau, Van Bergen, McNee & Malone, P.A., counsel for Defendants.


          DONOVAN W. FRANK United States District Judge


         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Apply Wisconsin Law, (Doc. No. 18), and Plaintiff's Motion for the Application of Minnesota Law on the Choice-of-Law Issue, (Doc. No. 23). For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that Minnesota law governs Plaintiff's claims in this matter.


         I. General Background

         On June 14, 2015, a vehicle hauling a fishing boat driven by decedent Terry G. Sportsman, Jr. (“Decedent” or “Mr. Sportsman”) collided with a semi-tractor tanker truck Defendant David V. Juneau (“Juneau”) was driving within the course of his employment with Defendant California Overland, Ltd. (“California Overland”). (Doc. No. 20 (“Beauchamp Aff.”) ¶ 1, Ex. 1 (“Accident Report”); Doc. No. 26 (“Burke Aff.”) ¶ 3, Ex. L at 4; Beauchamp Aff. ¶ 4, Ex. 4 (“Meyer Dep.”) at 25-27, 30, 32.) The collision occurred on Interstate Highway 39 in the City of Janesville, Rock County, State of Wisconsin. (See Accident Report.)

         As Mr. Sportsman traveled south on Interstate Highway 39 towards his home in Illinois, Juneau traveled north, hauling an empty tank trailer he had picked up in Pennsylvania. (See id.; Meyer Dep. at 32-33.) At approximately 8:20 a.m., Juneau was in the right lane of northbound I-39; he then crossed the median into the southbound lanes of I-39, causing the accident. (Accident Report at 1, 5.) Mr. Sportsman died on the scene. (Id. at 5.)

         At the time of the accident, Juneau was a resident of South Dakota, and he worked as a driver of semi-tractor trailer trucks for California Overland. (Meyer Dep. at 30-31.) California Overland is a Minnesota corporation, incorporated under Minnesota law, with its headquarters located in Wabasha, Minnesota. (Id. at 10, 16.) In 2015, California Overland owned about 120 tractors and 240 trailers, all of which are licensed in Minnesota. (Id. at 24-25.) Additionally, in 2015, 57 out of the 142 employed truck drivers resided in the State of Minnesota. (Id. at 37; Burke Aff. ¶ 3, Ex. C at 3.) In June 2015, California Overland had 486 regular customers, and out of those customers, 65 were located in Minnesota, and 43 were located in Wisconsin. (Meyer Dep. at 41; Burke Aff. ¶ 3, Ex. C at 4.) In 2015, California Overland delivered 19, 557 orders, including 5, 788 to Minnesota, and 2, 363 to Wisconsin. (Meyer Dep. at 59-60.)

         At the time of the accident, Decedent, his wife, Charity Sportsman (“Mrs. Sportsman”), and their two minor children were residents of Illinois. (See Accident Report; Burke Aff. ¶ 3, Ex. E.) Mr. Sportsman's parents owned a cabin in Wisconsin which was purchased from Decedent's grandfather. (Burke Aff. ¶ 3, Ex. L at 3.) Neither Mr. Sportsman nor Mrs. Sportsman ever owned this cabin or any property in Wisconsin or Minnesota since 2007. (See id. at 2-3.) Decedent occasionally fished in Wisconsin; on three different occasions, Mr. Sportsman won fishing tournaments in Wisconsin, earning approximately $1, 000 total. He also fished in Minnesota. (See id. at 4, 7-9.) From 2007 until the time of his death, Mr. Sportsman obtained fishing and hunting licenses annually in Wisconsin, and he obtained a fishing license in Minnesota on approximately three occasions. (See id. at 4.) Both Mr. and Mrs. Sportsman had driver's licenses issued by the State of Illinois. (Id.)

         II. Procedural Background

         On August 5, 2016, Defendants filed a declaratory judgment action in Wisconsin state court, seeking a determination that Wisconsin law applied to any wrongful death claims arising out of Mr. Sportsman's death. (Burke Aff. ¶ 3, Ex. E.) On April 20, 2017, the Wisconsin court dismissed Defendants' complaint on the basis that it lacked personal jurisdiction over the Sportsmans. (See Burke Aff. ¶ 3, Exs. F-G.)

         On September 16, 2016, Decedent's surviving spouse Charity Sportsman, filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of herself and their two minor children in their home state in the United States District Court - Northern District of Illinois. (Burke Aff. ¶ 3, Ex. H.) On March 23, 2017, the Illinois federal district court dismissed the case, concluding that it lacked personal jurisdiction over Defendants. (Burke Aff. ¶ 3, Ex. J.)

         On April 5, 2017, Mrs. Sportsman then filed a complaint in this court, alleging claims under Illinois law for her husband's wrongful death. (Doc. No. 1.) Defendants answered and asserted a counterclaim seeking a declaratory judgment that Wisconsin law should apply to Plaintiff's claims. (See Doc. No. 5.) After the parties entered into a stipulation precluding Mrs. Sportsman from alleging claims under Illinois law, Mrs. Sportsman served and filed an amended complaint as Trustee for the Next-of-Kin of Mr. Sportsman, alleging claims for wrongful death under Minnesota law. (Doc. Nos. 13, 16.) The parties disagree as to which State's law should govern in this case, particularly with respect to available damages; Plaintiff and Defendants have separately moved the Court to determine which state's law applies. (Doc. Nos. 18, 23.)


          I. ...

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