This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Mary Brooks, as mother of Dean Lawrence Brooks
and as co-conservator for Dean Lawrence Brooks, et al.,
State of Minnesota, et al.,
Scott County Community Services, et al.,
Gordon W. Shumaker, Judge
Scott County District Court
File No. 200212473
F. Clayton Tyler, Bonnie S. Hoole, 331 Second Avenue South, 230 Tri Tech Office Center, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for appellants)
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, P. Kenneth Kohnstamm, Assistant Attorney General, 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1100, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondents State of Minnesota, et al.)
Roger L. Rowlette, Jason M. Hill, Johnson & Lindberg, P.A. 7900 International Drive, Suite 960, Minneapolis, MN 55425 (for respondents Scott County Community Services, et al.)
GORDON W. SHUMAKER, Judge
After the district court ordered appellant Dean Lawrence Brooks discharged from civil commitment, he murdered his former girlfriend. He and his mother, appellant Mary Brooks, sued respondents, alleging that they were negligent in not providing sufficient treatment and services to prevent the murder. The district court granted respondents’ motions to dismiss, and appellants challenge the dismissal. Because (1) the medical-malpractice statute of limitations bars the claim against respondent Brainerd Regional Human Services Center; (2) appellants fail to show a duty on the part of the additional respondents to do anything other than to comply with the court order; and (3) Minn. Stat. § 253B.23, subd. 4 (2002), provides immunity from suit for all respondents, we affirm.
After a contested hearing, the district court ordered Brooks’s civil commitment for mental illness and chemical dependency, but stayed the commitment for six months on the condition that Brooks obtain appropriate treatment for his conditions.
Brooks originally went to the Brainerd Regional Human Services Center, but after an evaluation he was transferred to the Vinland Center Traumatic Brain Injury Unit. Brooks left treatment three times without authorization and used illegal drugs during his absences. He made little progress in treatment, and both the Brainerd and Vinland centers concluded that they had no additional services to offer him. The district court discharged Brooks on August 5, 1997. Neither facility asked for an extension of the commitment.
Brooks murdered his former girlfriend on December 19, 1997, four months after his discharge from civil commitment for chemical dependency and mental illness. He contends that he was mentally ill and under the influence of drugs when he killed her. In this lawsuit, he alleges that the respondents breached various duties to treat, control, and confine him in ways sufficient to have prevented his crime. The district court granted the respondents’ motions to dismiss the action under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(e), ruling that the applicable statute of limitations bars appellants’ claims. The court held, in the alternative, that appellants’ claims were also barred by various immunity defenses. Appellants challenge the judgment of dismissal.
On appeal from a judgment dismissing a lawsuit under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02 for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the only question for this court is “whether the complaint sets forth a legally sufficient claim for relief.” Elzie v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 298 N.W.2d 29, 32 (Minn. 1980) (emphasis and quotation omitted). The district court ruled that appellants failed to state claims upon which relief could be granted because their lawsuit was barred by the medical-malpractice statute of limitations in Minn. Stat. § 541.07(1) (1996) and because certain immunities applied.
Medical-Malpractice Statute of Limitations
Appellants do not dispute that a medical-malpractice claim in their action would be barred by the statute of limitations. But they contend that they have not asserted any medical-malpractice claim and instead have pleaded a “plain negligence” action to which the six-year statute of limitations applies. Minn. Stat. § 541.05, subd. 1(1) (2002) (providing negligence claims must be brought within six years).
Determining whether a statute of limitations applies is a matter of law subject to de novo review. Sergent v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 486 N.W.2d 14, 16 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. Aug. 4, 1992). The medical-malpractice statute applies to
[a]ll actions against physicians, surgeons, dentists, * * * other health care professionals as defined in section 145.61 and * * * hospitals, sanitariums, for malpractice, error, mistake or failure to cure, whether based on contract or tort.
Minn. Stat. § 541.073(1) (Supp. 1997).
Appellants argue that the medical-malpractice statute of limitations applies only to doctors and medical professionals who breach an accepted standard of care. Appellants contend that, although the doctors involved in the treatment of Brooks made appropriate diagnoses and recommendations, the respondents were negligent in failing to act on the diagnoses and to implement the recommendations. Hence, the allegation is that respondents committed ordinary, rather than medical, negligence, and that the six‑year rather than the four-year statute of limitations applies to claims against them.
Despite the characterization of their claims as sounding in ordinary negligence, appellants allege that the Brainerd center breached “its duty to provide treatment” and to seek further commitment for additional treatment. Appellants allege that the administrative respondents did not “properly oversee and administer” governmental functions designed to secure proper health-care treatment for Brooks. And in their brief on appeal appellants state, “The [c]omplaint alleges that all [r]espondents were negligent not to treat Dean Brooks.”
Thus, the gravamen of appellants’ claims against all respondents is that they breached a duty to bring about sufficient curative means to prevent Brooks from committing murder. These claims sound in medical malpractice.
There is a distinction between respondents who stand in a therapeutic relationship to Brooks and those with an administrative connection to Brooks. The distinction is significant when applying the medical-malpractice statute of limitations:
Thus, an action involving medical negligence that necessarily flows from a therapeutic relationship, rather than administrative or policymaking functions, must be commenced within this restricted time period.
Paulos v. Johnson, 597 N.W.2d 316, 320 (Minn. App. 1999) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. Sept. 28, 1999).
There is no dispute that the Brainerd center had a therapeutic relationship with Brooks as a provider of chemical‑dependency treatment. Thus, the medical-malpractice statute of limitations applies to and bars appellants’ claims against it.
Administrative Respondents’ Duty
The remaining respondents fit into the administrative rather than the therapeutic classification in their relationship to Brooks. But appellants’ claims against the administrative respondents also sound in medical negligence, alleging a breach of duty to treat. Although appellants argue that all respondents had a “positive duty to treat [a]ppellant Dean Brooks,” they provide no authority for that duty and we are aware of none. See Louden v. Louden, 221 Minn. 338, 339, 22 N.W.2d 164, 166 (1946) (stating “assignment of error based on mere assertion and not supported by any argument or authorities in appellant’s brief is waived and will not be considered on appeal unless prejudicial error is obvious on mere inspection.”). Without a duty to treat, the administrative respondents cannot be held to have been negligent. The district court dismissed the action for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. Because the administrative respondents could not have breached a duty to treat where no such duty exists, appellants have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and we need not reach the issue of the statute of limitations as to the administrative respondents.
Brooks was committed under the Minnesota Commitment and Treatment Act, Minn. Stat. § 253B.23, subd. 4 (2002). That act provides immunity from civil and criminal liability for persons who perform services under the act:
All persons acting in good faith, upon either actual knowledge or information thought by them to be reliable, who act pursuant to any provision of this chapter or who procedurally or physically assist in the commitment of any individual, pursuant to this chapter, are not subject to any civil or criminal liability under this chapter.
Id. We have held that this “statute provides complete immunity from suit, not simply a defense to liability.” Mjolsness v. Riley, 524 N.W.2d 528, 530 (Minn. App. 1994) (citation omitted).
The administrative respondents carried out the directives of the original commitment order by facilitating treatment within their authority to do so. Their authority expired by court order six months after the commitment. In ruling on the instant motions, the district court had “not found any evidence to establish a claim of bad faith” against the administrative respondents. Appellants note that “bad faith” is an intentional wrong, a willful violation of a right, or conduct animated by malicious intent. Appellants argue that bad faith is a question of fact for the trier of fact to decide.
Appellants have simply alleged that the administrative respondents acted in bad faith but have not identified any facts that reasonably would support the allegation. The record shows that the district court ordered commitment and treatment for a defined period of time and that the administrative respondents complied with the order. Bad faith becomes a fact issue only when there are facts from which bad faith can be inferred. An allegation that the administrative respondents acted in bad faith despite their full and precise compliance with a court order does not raise any fact issue as to bad faith. Thus, appellants’ claims against the administrative respondents are barred by the immunity accorded through Minn. Stat. § 253B.29, subd. 4 (2002).