This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
National Holding, Inc., and
Freidson Investment, et al.,
Filed August 21, 2001
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 9914097
Robert F. Mannella, Brad R. Kolling, Babcock, Neilson, Mannella, LaFleur & Klint, 118 East Main Street, Anoka, MN 55303 (for appellant)
Gordon H. Hansmeier, Rajkowski & Hansmeier, Ltd., 11 Seventh Avenue North, P.O. Box 1433, St. Cloud, MN 56302-1433 (for respondent National Holding, Inc.)
Bradley C. Warner, Moore, Warner & Kruger, Two Pine Tree Drive, St. Paul, MN 55112 (for respondent Freidson Investment, et al.)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Willis, Judge.
Appellant sued respondents, the present and former owners of an apartment building, contending that they had a duty to protect her from assault by an apartment tenant. The district court granted respondents summary judgment on the ground that they had no special relationship with, and consequently no duty to protect, appellant. Because we conclude that there was no special relationship and that respondents are entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law, we affirm.
Appellant Rochelle Altenbrun went into an apartment complex to pick up her 17-year-old daughter who had been visiting the daughter of the apartment’s caretakers, Dennis and Marlene Wildey. The apartment complex was owned at the time by respondent Freidson Investment (Freidson); it had been owned previously by respondent National Holding, Inc., (National), which first rented a unit to Purity Crutcher. While appellant was in the complex, Crutcher assaulted her with a steak knife and injured her.
Appellant sued respondents, who moved successfully for summary judgment on the ground that they had no duty to appellant. This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
On appeal from summary judgment, this court asks whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and whether the district court erred in its application of the law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). Whether a duty exists is a question of law for the court. H.B. by Clark v. Whittemore, 552 N.W.2d 705, 707 (Minn. 1996).
The general common law rule is that no one has a duty to protect others from the acts of third parties. Id. An exception to this rule arises when a special relationship exists. Id.
[The Minnesota Supreme Court] has carefully carved out * * * the outer boundaries for this [special relationship] exception to the common law rule—that of common carriers, innkeepers, possessors of land who hold it open to the public, and persons who have custody of another person under circumstances in which that other person is deprived of normal opportunities of self-protection.
Id. at 709 (citation and quotation marks omitted).
Appellant would have us extend the special relationship beyond those boundaries and impose a special relationship between landlords and those who visit their tenants. But the function of the court of appeals is limited to identifying and correcting errors. Sefkow v. Sefkow, 427 N.W.2d 203, 210 (Minn. 1988). Even if we were convinced that the public interest would be served by such an extension of existing law, implementing that extension would transcend our function. Moreover, the Minnesota Supreme Court has recently limited rather than extended the special relationship doctrine. See H.B. by Clark, 552 N.W.2d at 706 (“No special relationship exists between the resident manager of a trailer park and children residing in the park so as to enforce a duty on the manager to act for the protection of the children.”); Donaldson v. YWCA, 539 N.W.2d 789, 793 (Minn. 1995) (holding that a lodging house has no duty to prevent a resident from committing suicide).
H.B. involved the sexual abuse of minor children residing in a trailer park perpetrated by another resident of the trailer park. 552 N.W.2d at 706. The children reported the abuse to the manager of the park, who told them to tell their parents but did nothing else. Id. at 707. The supreme court found no special relationship despite the manager’s prior knowledge of the tortfeasor’s history of criminal sexual conduct. Id. at 708. Here, appellant contends that the Wildeys had knowledge of Crutcher’s propensity for violent behavior. Even if this were true, it would not create a special relationship between the Wildey’s employers and a visitor to their apartment building.
Donaldson involved an allegation that the YWCA had a special relationship with its residents, which gave rise to a duty to prevent residents from committing suicide. Four factors were held to preclude a special relationship: the YWCA did not have custody or control of the resident, the YWCA did not deprive the resident of the opportunity for self-protection, the YWCA was not in a position to protect the resident, and the resident had no reasonable expectation of protection from the YWCA. Id. at 793.
Here, the four factors indicate that there is no liability. The Wildeys had no custody or control of appellant; she came to the apartment building voluntarily to pick up her daughter. The Wildeys did not deprive appellant of any normal opportunity for self-protection; appellant walked into the middle of an argument between Crutcher and Marlene Wildey, said “[n]othing’s going to happen as long as I’m standing right here,” and attempted to keep Crutcher out of the apartment by leaning against the door. The Wildeys also had no ability to control Crutcher or to prevent her from harming appellant once appellant attempted to oppose her. Finally, appellant reasonably could not have expected that, when she went to pick up her daughter at a friend’s apartment, the friend's parents would protect her from injury by another tenant with whom they were themselves engaged in a violent altercation. Both H.B. and Donaldson support summary judgment.
Appellant relies on Erickson v. Curtis Inv. Co., 447 N.W.2d 165, 169-70 (Minn. 1989) (holding that the owner/operator of a parking ramp had a duty to deter criminal activity that could harm its customers). But Erickson is distinguishable; the special relationship was established when appellant became a customer of the parking ramp. Appellant had no relationship with respondents.
Because no special relationship existed, respondents had no duty to protect appellant and the district court correctly awarded respondents summary judgment on appellant’s claims.