Carol S. Raymond, Trustee for the Next-of-Kin of Joseph A. Kelley, Deceased, et al., Respondents,
Pine County Sheriff's Office, et al., Appellants.
Chisago County District Court File No. 13-CV-16-647
Vincent Stevens, Patrick A. Doran, Miller & Stevens,
P.A., Forest Lake, Minnesota (for respondents)
J. Langel, Nathan B. Shepherd, Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney,
P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellants)
Considered and decided by Johnson, Presiding Judge; Kirk,
Judge; and Reilly, Judge.
public official may be entitled to official immunity if he or
she is alleged to have committed a tort while performing
official duties. A public official may not invoke the
doctrine of official immunity if he or she was not performing
official duties when he or she engaged in the conduct that a
plaintiff alleges was tortious.
primary question in this appeal is whether a law-enforcement
officer is entitled to official immunity for a claim that the
officer was negligent while driving from home to work. The
district court concluded that the officer is not entitled to
official immunity because he was not performing his official
duties while driving to work and did not perform his official
duties during the relevant period of time. We agree and,
wrongful-death case arises from a series of two automobile
accidents on interstate highway 35 (I-35) in Chisago County.
approximately 5:20 a.m. on November 6, 2013, Joseph Allen
Kelley was driving to work in his Ford Ranger pickup truck.
It was still dark at the time, and the pavement was wet or
icy due to light snowfall overnight. Kelley entered the
southbound lanes of I-35 at county highway 10 near the city
of Harris. He initially drove in the right lane, behind a
Dodge Ram pickup truck. He moved to the left lane to pass it.
Soon thereafter, Kelley swerved to avoid a deer carcass that
was lying on the pavement in the left lane, near the center
line. Kelley lost control of his pickup, which slid on the
gravel shoulder and then rolled in the grassy median.
Kelley's pickup came to rest in an upright position on
the far edge of the median, near the shoulder of the
northbound lanes of I-35. Kelley's pickup was facing
southeast with its headlights shining across the northbound
lanes. During the rollover, Kelley was ejected from his
pickup. His body came to rest on the pavement in the left
northbound lane of I-35.
Richard A. Giese was driving to work in the northbound lanes
of I-35. Giese, a licensed police officer, was employed by
Pine County as an investigator in the sheriff's office.
Giese was driving an unmarked squad car, a 2007 Chevy Impala,
which was owned by the county. The county maintained a policy
that permitted Giese to drive the county-owned vehicle to and
from his home in certain circumstances for work-related
reasons. The parties do not dispute that Giese was complying
with the county's policy concerning the squad car on that
entered the northbound lanes of I-35 at state highway 95 near
the city of North Branch. He initially drove in the right
lane behind a four-door sedan. Giese moved to the left lane
to pass the sedan because its driver was driving erratically
(by, for example, flashing the headlights between high beams
and low beams and by tapping on the brakes). Soon thereafter,
Giese saw a stalled vehicle in the median, near his lane of
traffic, with its headlights pointed in a southeast direction
across the northbound lanes. Giese believed that the stalled
vehicle in the median likely had slipped off the pavement and
had spun around before stopping there.
Giese approached the stalled vehicle, he scanned the area to
see if anyone was walking near the vehicle. Giese did not see
anyone near the stalled vehicle and continued driving. After
he drove past the stalled vehicle's headlights,
Giese's own headlights illuminated an object on the
pavement in his lane of traffic. He was unable to move to the
right lane because the sedan was traveling alongside him. He
applied his brakes but did not stop before striking the
object. Giese's squad car dragged the object along the
pavement for approximately 92 feet. After coming to a stop,
Giese activated his emergency lights, backed up, and parked
his squad car to protect the scene. Giese then realized that
he had struck a person's body. Giese exited the squad
car, approached the body, and checked a wrist for a pulse.
Giese then checked in and around the stalled vehicle for
other passengers, advised onlookers to return to their
vehicles, notified dispatch of the situation, and waited for
a state trooper and emergency personnel to arrive. Kelley was
pronounced dead at the scene.
October 2016, Kelley's mother, Carol S. Raymond,
commenced this wrongful-death action against Giese and the
county on behalf of Kelley's next of kin. Raymond alleges
that Giese was negligent and that his negligence caused
Kelley's death. Raymond alleges that the county is
vicariously liable for Giese's negligence because the
county owned the squad car that Giese was
deposition, Giese testified that, as he approached the
stalled vehicle, he slowed down to approximately 40 to 50
miles per hour. In contrast, two passengers of the Dodge Ram
pickup (which Kelley had attempted to pass and which stopped
on a southbound shoulder after Kelley's pickup rolled)
testified in depositions that, immediately before and after