United States District Court, D. Minnesota
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.
DONOVAN W. FRANK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on a Motion to Certify Choice of
Law Order for Interlocutory Appeal brought by Defendants
California Overland, Ltd. and David V. Juneau (Doc. No. 48).
For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the motion.
facts of this matter were previously outlined in the
Court's April 18, 2018 Memorandum Opinion and Order.
Briefly, this is a wrongful death action arising out of a
fatal car accident involving decedent Terry G. Sportsman, Jr.
and Defendant David V. Juneau. The accident occurred on June
14, 2015 on a highway in Wisconsin. Decedent's wife,
Charity Sportsman, is the Plaintiff in this matter and
asserts claims against Juneau and his employer, California
Overland, Ltd., a Minnesota corporation that operates a
nationwide trucking business. Mr. and Mrs. Sportsman were
Illinois residents, and Ms. Sportsman continues to reside in
Illinois with her two minor children. Additional next-of-kin
claimants such as Mr. Sportsman's parents are also
limited choice-of-law discovery, both parties moved the Court
for an order determining the appropriate law to apply to this
action. (Doc. Nos. 15, 18, 23.) Minnesota and Wisconsin law
differ in wrongful death actions with respect to the amount
of available damages and the number of potential claimants.
See generally Minn. Stat. § 573.02; Wis.Stat.
§§ 895.03, 895.04. Specifically, Minnesota law
permits recovery in “the amount the jury deems fair and
just” and “for the exclusive benefit of the
surviving spouse and next of kin.” Minn. Stat. §
573.02. Wisconsin law imposes a $350, 000 cap on
companionship damages and does not permit next-of-kin
claimants to recover along with a surviving spouse.
See Wis. Stat. § 895.04. On April 18, 2018, the
Court issued an order determining that Minnesota law governs
in this case. (Doc. No. 44.) Defendants now move to certify
the April 18, 2018 Order for interlocutory appeal pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1292(b). (Doc. Nos. 48, 49.) Plaintiffs
oppose the motion. (Doc. No. 52.)
of appeals have jurisdiction over “all final decisions
of the district courts.” 28 U.S.C. § 1291. A
district court may designate an otherwise non-final order as
certified for interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. §
1292(b). This statute provides:
When a district judge, in making in a civil action an order
not otherwise appealable under this section, shall be of the
opinion that such order involves a controlling question of
law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of
opinion and that an immediate appeal from the order may
materially advance the ultimate termination of the
litigation, he shall so state in writing in such order.
28 U.S.C. § 1292(b). Thus, under this provision, there
are three criteria required for certification: “(1) the
order involves a controlling question of law; (2) there is
substantial ground for difference of opinion; and (3)
certification will materially advance the ultimate
termination of the litigation.” White v. Nix,
43 F.3d 374, 377 (8th Cir. 1994) (quotation marks and
citation omitted). Section 1292(b) is “to be used only
in extraordinary cases where decision of an interlocutory
appeal might avoid protracted and expensive litigation. It
was not intended merely to provide review of difficult
rulings in hard cases.” Union Cty., Iowa v. Piper
Jaffray & Co., 525 F.3d 643, 646 (8th Cir. 2008)
(citation omitted). Thus, motions seeking interlocutory
appeal “must be granted sparingly, and the movant bears
the heavy burden of demonstrating that the case is an
exceptional one in which immediate appeal is
warranted.” White, 43 F.3d at 376. Courts
should permit interlocutory appeals under 28 U.S.C. §
1292(b) “with discrimination” due to the
increased burdens that such “piece-meal appeals”
place on the courts and litigants. See Union Cty.,
525 F.3d at 646 (quoting White, 43 F.3d at 376).
the choice of Minnesota law over Wisconsin law “exposes
Defendants to ‘materially different' financial
exposure, ” Defendants argue that there can be no
“reasonable resolution of this case so long as the
choice of law issue remains appealable.” (Doc. No. 49
at 1.) Defendants argue that all three factors, particularly
the third factor, favor granting interlocutory appeal.
Specifically, Defendants assert, “[a] final decision on
the choice of law issue will influence the course of this
lawsuit, including discovery, settlement, and trial, the
latter of which is far less likely to occur once a conclusive
decision on the choice of law issue has been made.”
(Id. at 1-2.) Plaintiff, on the other hand, argues
that Defendants have not met their burden to establish the
propriety of interlocutory appeal. The Court addresses the
three relevant criteria in turn, below.
first factor, Defendants point out that numerous federal
courts have concluded that choice-of-law issues are
controlling questions of law and argue that “the choice
of law issue is, in this particular case, a controlling
question for which an immediate appeal is not only
appropriate, but absolutely necessary.” (Id.
at 6.) Plaintiff disputes that the choice-of-law issue
presents a controlling question of law, emphasizing that
“importance of an issue does not make it
controlling.” (Doc. No. 52 at 3.) According to
Plaintiff, the fact-driven nature of the choice-of-law
inquiry and the well-settled choice of law analysis under
Minnesota law make it inappropriate for interlocutory appeal.
Court agrees with Plaintiff. The Court's choice-of-law
decision in this matter presents a mixed question of law and
fact improper for interlocutory appeal because it involved
the application of Minnesota's five choice-influencing
considerations to the evidentiary record before the Court.
See Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, PA v.
Donaldson Co., Civ. No. 10-4948, 2015 WL 4898662, at
*3-4 (D. Minn. Aug. 17, 2015) (suggesting that “mixed
questions of law and fact” are improper for
interlocutory appeal and stating that “[c]hallenging
the application of settled law to a specific set of facts is
not a question of law” (citation omitted)). The Eighth
Circuit has described the choice-of-law inquiry as “a
legal one” which is reviewed “de novo.”
See Schwan's Sales Enters., Inc. v. SIG Pack,
Inc., 476 F.3d 594, 596 (8th Cir. 2007); Hughes v.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 250 F.3d 618, 620 (8th Cir.
2001). However, the resolution of such an inquiry is also
highly fact-dependent. See Frazier v. Bickford, Civ.
No. 14-CV-3843, 2015 WL 8779872, at *3 (D. Minn. Dec. 15,
2015) (noting that “Minnesota's choice of law
analysis is well settled” and concluding that
“the choice of law determination is a fact driven
question not suitable for interlocutory appeal”). As
one Circuit Court of Appeals has suggested, “[t]he
antithesis of a proper § 1292(b) appeal is one that
turns on . . . whether the district court properly applied
settled law to the facts or evidence of a particular
case.” McFarlin v. Conseco Servs., LLC, 381
F.3d 1251, 1259 (11th Cir. 2004). The Court concludes that
the first criterion for certifying an interlocutory appeal is
not met as the Court's choice-of-law decision in this
case did not involve a controlling question of law.
respect to the second factor, Defendants acknowledge that the
Eighth Circuit would apply the same choice-of-law factors as
this Court applied, but argue that “it is quite
possible, perhaps even likely, that the appellate court would
disagree with the Court's analysis” upon de novo
review. (Doc. No. 49 at 7.) Defendants take issue with the
Court's choice-of-law analysis and argue that the Court
incorrectly weighed the facts in reaching its decision. In
contrast, Plaintiff argues that the question presented by the
choice-of-law motions is not an extraordinary one and
emphasizes that “disagreement does not amount to
substantial grounds for a difference of opinion.” (Doc.
No. 52 at 4.) Plaintiff also contends that this factor is not
met because the choice-of-law standard is not disputed and
was correctly applied by the Court.
Court finds that even if the Court's choice-of-law
determination addressed a controlling question of law, it did
not present a question over which there is a substantial
ground for difference of opinion. It is well-established that
Minnesota courts apply five choice-influencing considerations
in resolving choice-of-law disputes, and federal courts in
this district routinely apply this standard in diversity
cases. See Jepson v. Gen. Cas. Co. of Wis., 513
N.W.2d 467, 470 (Minn. 1994); see also, e.g.,
Mid-Continent Eng'g, Inc. v. Toyoda Mach. USA,
Corp., 676 F.Supp.2d 823, 830-31 (D. Minn. 2009).
Although a different court could ultimately reach a different
decision on the application of the law to the particular
facts of this case, Defendants have failed to establish that
the Court's choice-of-law decision rested on an issue of
law that presents a substantial ground for difference of
opinion. See Couch v. Telescope Inc., 611 F.3d 629,
633 (9th Cir. 2010) (“That settled law might be applied
differently does not establish a substantial ground for
difference of opinion.”); cf. Frazier, 2015 WL
8779872, at *4 (“[T]he dearth of case law addressing
choice of law under the exact facts of this case is not a
reason to conclude there are substantial grounds for a
difference of opinion.”).
considering the third factor, Defendants emphasize that this
case is at an early, pre-discovery stage. According to
Defendants, this case is likely to settle as soon as
“the parties have a conclusive decision on the choice
of law issue.” (Doc. No. 49 at 9.) Defendants also
suggest that the differing number of claimants available
under Wisconsin law could alter the scope of discovery and
the nature of any potential settlement. Plaintiff disputes
that an interlocutory appeal would materially advance the
termination of litigation, arguing that “neither party
would have a sudden incentive to settle in the unlikely event
that the Eight[h] Circuit reverses the application of
Minnesota law.” (Doc. No. 52 at 7.) Plaintiff also
suggests it is unlikely that the Court's choice-of-law
decision would be reversed on appeal, resulting in
unnecessary delay and costs to both parties.
even if the Court were to conclude that the choice-of-law
decision in this matter presented a controlling question of
law over which there is a substantial ground for difference
of opinion, the Court would decline to certify this matter
for interlocutory appeal because Defendants have not met
their burden to establish that an appeal may materially
advance the ultimate termination of the litigation.
Importantly, this is not the extraordinary case where an
immediate appeal and reversal of this Court's initial
decision would save the parties substantial time and expense.
To be sure, the application of Wisconsin law over Minnesota
law would change the scope of discovery and trial in this
matter. However, Defendant has not articulated how these
differences would materially accelerate this case's