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Davis v. Dollar Tree, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 11, 2019

Synquez Davis, Plaintiff,
Dollar Tree, Inc., Defendant.


          Wilhelmina M. Wright United States District Judge

         Defendant Dollar Tree, Inc., moves to dismiss Plaintiff Synquez Davis's complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. (Dkt. 4.) For the reasons addressed below, the motion to dismiss is granted.

         BACKGROUND [1]

         Synquez Davis went to the Dollar Tree store in Burnsville, Minnesota, to apply for a job. Before Davis arrived, a physical altercation occurred between Dollar Tree employee Tyler Rousseau, and Grant Hendrickson. Several of Rousseau's coworkers observed the altercation. After the store manager repeatedly ordered Hendrickson to leave the premises, several employees escorted Hendrickson from the store. The Dollar Tree employees neither warned store patrons of any possible danger nor secured the store in the event that Hendrickson returned.

         Holding a gun in his hand, Hendrickson returned to the Dollar Tree store. As Davis walked to the front of the store to make a purchase, Hendrickson fired one shot, made eye contact with Davis, and fired a second shot that hit Davis near his knee. Davis fell to the floor. Hendrickson walked away. As Davis attempted to move to safety, Hendrickson approached Davis and shot him in the torso.

         Davis subsequently commenced this negligence action against Dollar Tree in Minnesota state court. Dollar Tree removed the case to this Court, asserting diversity jurisdiction.


         A complaint must allege facts that, when accepted as true, state a facially plausible claim to relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim that fails to meet this pleading standard warrants dismissal. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When evaluating the sufficiency of a claim, a district court accepts as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Blankenship v. USA Truck, Inc., 601 F.3d 852, 853 (8th Cir. 2010).

         In an action invoking a district court's diversity jurisdiction, state substantive law applies. Gylten v. Swalboski, 246 F.3d 1139, 1141 (8th Cir. 2001). A negligence claim under Minnesota law has four elements: (1) the existence of a duty of care, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) an injury, and (4) proximate causation arising from the breach. Engler v. Ill. Farmers Ins. Co., 706 N.W.2d 764, 767 (Minn. 2005). The Court addresses in turn each of Davis's three negligence claims.

         I. Vicarious-Liability Claim (Count I)

         Count I alleges that Dollar Tree is vicariously liable for the negligent acts of its employees. According to the complaint, Dollar Tree's employees, including Rousseau and his manager, “took no action” to alert customers to any potential danger or to secure the store in case Hendrickson returned. This failure to act, Davis contends, breached the duty of Dollar Tree employees to “take reasonable care in [their] interactions with [store customers] to ensure that the premises were reasonably safe.” Under Minnesota law, an employer may be either directly liable or vicariously liable for the actions of its employees. See Yunker v. Honeywell, Inc., 496 N.W.2d 419, 422 (Minn.Ct.App. 1993) (contrasting direct liability with vicarious liability). An employer is vicariously liable for an employee's negligent act if that act occurs within “the course and scope of employment.” Hentges v. Thomford, 569 N.W.2d 424, 427 (Minn.Ct.App. 1997) (citing Edgewater Motels, Inc. v. Gatzke, 277 N.W.2d 11, 15 (Minn. 1979)).

         A threshold determination when assessing a vicarious-liability claim is whether the employees owed the plaintiff a duty of care, absent which any negligence claim fails. Domagala v. Rolland, 805 N.W.2d 14, 22 (Minn. 2011). Here, Davis alleges that the employees had a duty to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of store patrons, including himself. Davis alleges that the employees breached that duty by failing to warn store patrons of danger, lock doors to prevent Hendrickson from re-entering the store, or intervene in the altercation between Rousseau and Hendrickson before it escalated.

         Generally, a person does not have a duty to warn against or protect others from harm caused by third-party conduct, id. at 22-23 (discussing the “duty to warn”); Bjerke v. Johnson, 742 N.W.2d 660, 665 (Minn. 2007) (discussing the “duty to protect” against harm caused by a third party), but such a duty may arise in specific circumstances.

         When a “special relationship” exists between a person and the plaintiff and the harm to the plaintiff is foreseeable, that person may have a “specific duty” to warn or protect. Domagala, 805 N.W.2d at 22-23 (emphasis added). A special relationship may exist when a person, entrusted with another's safety, is in a position to protect and is expected to protect the other from certain harms. Errico v. Southland Corp., 509 N.W.2d 585, 587 (Minn.Ct.App. 1993). A special relationship may arise either from the status of the parties, such as parents and children, or in situations when one person has “custody of another person under circumstances in which that other person is deprived of normal opportunities of self-protection.” Bjerke, 742 N.W.2d at 665 (internal quotation marks omitted). In the absence of a special relationship, a ...

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