This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
J.B., et al.,
Mounds Vista, Inc.,
d/b/a Mermaid Supper Club Banquet Center and Lanes,
Jerry D. Baker,
Filed December 18, 2001
Washington County District Court
File No. C8-00-5365
Thomas H. Boyd, Karl E. Robinson, Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A., 3200 Minnesota World Trade Center, 30 East Seventh Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
Donald G. Clapp, Clapp & Erickson, 386 North Wabasha Street, Suite 1450, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for appellants)
Robert J. Hajek, John A. Warchol, Warchol, Berndt & Hajek, P.A., 3433 Broadway Street Northeast, Suite 110, Minneapolis, MN 55413-1783 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Amundson, Judge, and Harten, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
R. A. RANDALL, Judge
Appellant-mother brought an action on behalf of her minor daughter against respondent liquor establishment under the Civil Damage Act, Minn. Stat. § 340A.801 (1998), alleging that her daughter was the victim of a sexual assault and that the assault was the proximate result of respondent unlawfully serving alcoholic beverages to the assailant. Respondent moved to dismiss under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(e) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The district court granted the motion. Because we conclude that appellants' pleadings can, at least, survive a rule 12 motion to dismiss, we reverse.
In August 1998, defendant Jerry Duane Baker and a friend went to Mermaid Supper Club Banquet Center and Lanes (the Mermaid), owned by respondent Mounds Vista, Inc. While at the Mermaid, Baker became intoxicated. Baker and his friend then left the establishment and went to a private residence. R.B., a female minor, was spending the night with her girlfriends at this residence. During the early morning hours, Baker sexually assaulted R.B.
In August 2000, R.B., by and through her mother, J.B., (appellants) served a complaint on Baker and respondent. Appellants' complaint contained multiple counts, including allegations that respondent illegally sold alcohol to Baker in violation of the Civil Damage Act, which is part of Minnesota's dram-shop laws. Specifically, appellants asserted that respondent served Baker alcohol when he was obviously intoxicated and that Baker's intoxication was the direct and proximate cause of the injuries R.B. sustained when Baker sexually assaulted her. Appellants claimed that R.B.'s injuries included severe emotional distress and stress in her relationships, for which she sought medical treatment, and she also claimed she will continue to need future treatment.
Respondent moved the district court to dismiss under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(e), asserting that appellants failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The district court granted respondent's motion, ruling that appellants could not establish the necessary causal connection between Baker's intoxication and R.B.'s injuries. The court dismissed appellants' cause of action without prejudice. Appellants challenge the district court's dismissal.
D E C I S I O N
Appellants argue that the district court erred in determining, on a rule 12 motion to dismiss, that causation under the Civil Damage Act requires foreseeability for an injured party to recover and that an intentional criminal act breaks the chain of causation. Appellants also contend that the court should have granted them leave to amend their pleadings rather than dismiss their complaint.
I. Motion to Dismiss
An appellate court exercises de novo review of cases dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(e). Leonard v. N.W. Airlines, Inc., 605 N.W.2d 425, 429 (Minn. App. 2000) (citing Elzie v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 298 N.W.2d 29, 32 (Minn. 1980)), review denied (Minn. Apr. 18, 2000). The only question before an appellate court is whether the complaint sets forth a legally sufficient claim for relief, and whether a party can prove the facts alleged is immaterial. Id. A claim will survive a motion to dismiss if it is possible to grant the relief demanded based on any evidence a party might produce that is consistent with the party's theory. Northern States Power Co. v. Franklin, 265 Minn. 391, 395, 122 N.W.2d 26, 29 (1963) (emphasis added).
Appellants' cause of action against respondent arose under the following provision of the Civil Damage Act:
A spouse, child, parent, guardian, employer, or other person injured in person, property, or means of support, or who incurs other pecuniary loss by an intoxicated person or by the intoxication of another person, has a right of action in the person's own name for all damages sustained against a person who caused the intoxication of that person by illegally selling alcoholic beverages.
Minn. Stat. § 340A.801, subd. 1 (1998). It is illegal to sell alcoholic beverages to an obviously intoxicated person. Minn. Stat. § 340A.502 (1998).
The elements of a claim under the Civil Damage act are that (1) the alcohol sale was in violation of one of the provisions under Chapter 340A and (2) the violation was substantially related to the purposes sought to be achieved by the Civil Damage Act. Rambaum v. Swisher, 435 N.W.2d 19, 21 (Minn. 1989). If the first two elements are met, then the violation constitutes an illegal sale under the Civil Damage Act. Id. Once an illegal sale is established, the elements under the next part of the analysis are that (3) the illegal sale was the cause of intoxication and (4) the intoxication was the cause of the injury. Id.
The parties do not dispute that the first two elements of the test were met. Respondent illegally sold alcoholic beverages to Baker by selling to him while he was obviously intoxicated, which is contrary to the Act's purposes. The parties also agree that respondent's illegal sale caused Baker's intoxication. The only issue litigated in district court was whether Baker's intoxication caused R.B.'s injuries. The district court determined:
For purposes of the motion presently before the court, Defendant Mermaid does not dispute Plaintiff's satisfaction of the first three elements. The sole issue to be determined by Defendant's motion is whether, as a matter of law, intoxication caused by an illegal sale of alcohol can be a cause of an intentional criminal act. Stated differently, Mermaid claims that an intentional criminal act cannot, as a matter of law, be proximately caused by an illegal sale of alcohol.
There must be a direct causal relationship between a person's intoxication and the injury, demonstrated by a proximate-cause analysis rather than a "but for" test. Kryzer v. Champlin American Legion No. 600, 494 N.W.2d 35, 36-37 (Minn. 1992). Minnesota's civil jury instructions for civil-damage cases define direct cause as "a cause that had a substantial part in bringing about" the plaintiff's injury. 4 Minnesota Practice, CIVJIG 45.30 (1999). The supreme court has applied the substantial-factor test to determine whether a cause is direct. 4 Minnesota Practice, CIVJIG 27.10 use note (1999).
The district court found that, based on the facts in the pleadings, appellants could not, as a matter of law, have any chance of establishing a direct causal link between Baker's conduct and R.B.'s injuries. The court reasoned that Baker's "intentional criminal conduct was not foreseeable and therefore broke the chain of causation" between respondent's illegal sale of alcoholic beverages and Baker's sexual assault on R.B. Appellants argue that they pleaded facts at least sufficient to survive a rule 12 motion, and further, that they are not required to prove foreseeability at the pleading stage. We agree.
This is not a situation where appellants have been afforded the opportunity to engage in discovery, after which respondent moved for summary judgment. Under a summary judgment motion, respondent would be arguing that, based on the evidence gathered during discovery, no genuine issues of material fact exist to demonstrate that Baker's intoxication caused R.B.'s injuries (and thus respondent is entitled to judgment as a matter of law). See K.R. v. Sanford, 605 N.W.2d 387, 389 (Minn. 2000) (reversing district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of establishment even though plaintiff, who sued under Civil Damage Act after she was sexually assaulted, was complicit because she supplied assailants with alcohol illegally sold to her by establishment). Rather, appellants here had merely sued out the case. Given the fact that Minnesota allows liberal pleadings, the district court was too quick in dismissing appellants' cause of action. Minnesota requires only that a pleading contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Minn. R. Civ. P. 8.01. Minnesota does not require anything remotely close to specificity in pleading. It is enough to set forth "a sufficient basis of facts to notify the opposing party of the claims raised against it." Meyer v. Best Western Seville Plaza Hotel, 562 N.W.2d 690, 692 (Minn. App. 1997) (citations omitted), review denied (Minn. June 26, 1997).
In their pleading, appellants alleged that Baker's intoxication caused Baker to sexually assault R.B. Specifically, they asserted that Baker's intoxication was a direct and proximate cause of R.B's injuries and that as "a direct and proximate result of the illegal sale * * * [R.B.] was caused to suffer serious injuries." Because all allegations in the complaint are deemed true, and all presumptions favor the non-moving party in appellate review of a Rule 12 dismissal, we conclude that appellants' language in their complaint is sufficient to notify respondent of the claims raised against it and supports, at least at this stage, a cause of action. We do not address the merits of appellants' case. Appellants retain their burden of proof on the issues.
Appellants also argued that the district court's focus on the fact that appellants did not address foreseeability in their pleadings was improper. Appellant notes correctly that both parties agree the Civil Damage Act imposes strict liability on liquor establishments that have illegally sold alcoholic beverages to persons who become intoxicated and cause injury to innocent third parties. Fette v. Peterson, 404 N.W.2d 862, 864 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. June 26, 1987). In Devine v. McLain, 306 N.W.2d 827 (Minn. 1981), the plaintiffs brought an action against a liquor establishment alleging the establishment breached its duty to maintain a safe and orderly place of business after a shooting occurred at the establishment. Id. at 828. Essentially, this was a negligence claim. Distinguishing between negligence and strict liability, the supreme court concluded that
[i]f liability were imposed on the bar in this case, without requiring that the harm [plaintiff] suffered be foreseeable, the result would be the imposition of strict liability.
Devine, 306 N.W.2d at 831 (emphasis added). This language implies that foreseeability is not required to be proved with specificity in strict liability cases. Such a conclusion is logical. Caselaw regarding causation in civil-damage cases does not address foreseeability; instead it only requires a necessary direct causal link between intoxication and resulting injury. Kryzer, 494 N.W.2d at 37. Based on Kryzer and other caselaw, appellants must demonstrate, at some point, that Baker's intoxication was the cause of R.B.'s injuries rather than just the occasion for R.B.'s injuries. See id. at 37-38 (concluding that intoxicated plaintiff's injuries, sustained when establishment's employee ejected her, were occasion for rather than cause of plaintiff's injuries and therefore did not provide causal connection between intoxication and injury).
On a rule 12 motion, the district court's focus on the fact that Baker's conduct was an intentional criminal act was improper. The statutory language imposes liability simply where the requisite causal connection between the illegal sale of alcoholic beverages and the resulting intoxication and injuries is met. The district court reasoned that an intentional criminal act would break the chain of causation, thereby suggesting that such a criminal act is a superceding cause. We note that "superceding cause" is relevant more in negligence actions. Fete, 404 N.W.2d at 864 (concluding superceding-cause instruction is a negligence instruction, which is inappropriate in strict-liability cases). In fact, many dram-shop cases follow criminal acts, including some criminal acts that need a willful and/or intentional component, e.g., reckless driving. See Minn. Stat. § 169.13, subd. 1 (2000) (stating person who drives vehicle with willful or wanton disregard for safety of person or property is guilty of reckless driving).
Based on Minnesota's liberal pleading standards, the district court erred by concluding that appellants' failed to set forth a legally sufficient claim for relief. Appellants set forth a legally sufficient claim for relief by alleging that respondent's illegal sale caused Baker's intoxication and that Baker's intoxication was the proximate cause of R.B.'s injuries. Appellants should be afforded the opportunity, through investigation and discovery, to attempt to develop their case to demonstrate the necessary causal connection between the illegal sale and the resulting injuries. Respondents retain, without limitation, the future legal options of motions for summary judgment, motions for dismissal at the close of the plaintiff's case at trial, convincing the jury at trial that plaintiffs did not prove a case, and a motion for JNOV.
Appellants argue that the district court should have allowed them leave to amend their complaint rather than dismissing their case. Appellants contend that the district court's dismissal without prejudice is, in essence, a dismissal with prejudice because the statute of limitations has now run.
Because we conclude that the district court erred by dismissing appellants' case on a rule 12 motion, we do not address the issue of an amended complaint.
 It is unclear whether the residence was Baker's friend's home. The record states only that the friend "was in charge of but was not the owner of" the residence.
 In addition to appellants' memorandum in opposition to respondent's motion to dismiss, appellants' attorney submitted to the district court an affidavit that included several exhibits: Baker's guilty-plea-hearing transcript, an expert's letter to appellants' attorney regarding the effects of alcohol on one's judgment, and the expert's curriculum vitae. Respondent moved the district court to strike these exhibits, and, contrary to respondent's assertion in its brief, the district court granted respondent's motion. Therefore, the district court did not consider these exhibits, and they are not part of the record on appeal.