United States District Court, D. Minnesota
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO
Wilhelmina M. Wright United States District Judge
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.
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
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.
subsequently commenced this negligence action against Dollar
Tree in Minnesota state court. Dollar Tree removed the case
to this Court, asserting diversity jurisdiction.
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).
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.
Vicarious-Liability Claim (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)).
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
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
“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 ...