Statz v. State of Minnesota and Simon

(Unpublished, No. A15-1604) Minnesota Court of Appeals, May 23, 2016

In Statz v. State of Minnesota and Simon, the appellate court holds that the State of Minnesota was entitled to vicarious statutory immunity and, therefore, affirms the district court’s order granting summary judgment.

On November 12, 2012, Mr. Friedrich Statz was involved in a motor vehicle collision with another vehicle driven by the Defendant Anthony Simon.  The collision occurred at the intersection of County Road 27 and Old U.S. Highway 14 in Waseca, Minnesota.  Mr. Statz sustained fatal injuries as a result of the motor vehicle collision.  Prior to 2006, the intersection had stop signs for traffic on 27, but traffic was uncontrolled on 14.  On August 23, 2006, MnDOT installed temporary traffic lights at the intersection.  On August 20, 2012, MnDOT changed the intersection to a four-way stop, by turning the traffic lights to red flashing lights and installing stop signs.  On October 23, 2012, the traffic lights were removed and the intersection remained a four-way stop with stop signs only.  

On November 9, 2012, a traffic engineer for MnDOT decided to remove the stop signs for traffic on 14, because they had been informed that traffic was ignoring the stop signs anyway.  Three days later, the collision occurred that killed Mr. Statz.

On November 26, 2013, Mr. Statz’ next of kin initiated a lawsuit against Mr. Simon, his employer, and the State of Minnesota.  The claims against Simon and his employer were voluntarily dismissed, and the lawsuit proceeded against the state for its failure to warn drivers of the change in traffic signals at the intersection.  Following discovery, the state moved to dismiss and for summary judgment.  The district court granted summary judgment on the basis that the state was immune from liability based on vicarious official immunity and statutory immunity.  Mr. Statz’ next of kin appealed.

The court first considers whether the decisions made by Thompson, the traffic engineer acting on behalf of the state, were discretionary decisions or ministerial duties.  Thompson had testified that he had used his discretion and judgment to determine that warning signs were not necessary.  The court holds that Thompson’s decision was discretionary because the applicable regulations left the decision on whether to warn of the sign change to the judgment of the engineer.  

Mr. Statz’ next of kin also argued that the state should have removed the stop bars from the road before the stop signs were removed.  Regulations, however, stated that the bars should be removed ‘as soon as practical.’  The district court again found that this left the decision as to what is ‘practical’ to the judgment of the traffic engineer.  Thompson had decided not to remove the stop bars at the same time as the stop sign because of limited equipment, resources, and personnel.  The court held, again, that this was a discretionary decision by Thompson.

The court determined that Thompson’s decisions were all discretionary and, therefore, that Thompson was entitled to official immunity for his actions.  The court next finds that official immunity applied vicariously to Thompson’s employer, the state.  Because the court found that vicarious official immunity applied, it did not need to consider the issue of whether statutory immunity applied.

DISCLAIMER:  The case summary provided on this page is not intended to be relied upon and is solely the opinions of the author.

 

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