This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Joan E. Christensen,
Rainy River Community College,
International Falls, Minnesota, et al.,
Koochiching County District Court
File No. CX-02-658
Steven A. Nelson, 210 Fourth Avenue, International Falls, MN 56649 (for appellant)
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Melissa Brettingen, Assistant Attorney General, 1800 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Kalitowski, Judge.
Appellant Joan Christensen injured her left knee when she tripped over an elevated slab of concrete in front of the main entrance to respondent Rainy River Community College (Rainy River) in April 2000. Kip Oveson, the building maintenance foreman at Rainy River, noticed the defect in October 1998, and a yellow stripe was painted along the elevated slab. In the spring of 1999, Oveson directed the maintenance crew to repaint the fading yellow stripe to serve as a warning about the defect. Oveson and Allen Rasmussen, the college president, discussed requesting Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR) funding from the state to repair or replace the sidewalks on campus. From 1998 through 2002, Rainy River requested HEAPR funding to repair and replace sidewalks on its campus, but the funding was not approved.
Rainy River also maintains an emergency repair fund called the Repair and Betterment Fund. The director of fiscal and administrative services, Brenda Nicholson, and Rasmussen approve allocations from the Repair and Betterment Fund based on Oveson’s recommendations. After Christensen’s accident, four areas of sidewalk on campus, including the area where Christensen was injured, were repaired with money from the Repair and Betterment Fund.
In March 2001, Christensen initiated a lawsuit against Rainy River and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MNSCU), alleging negligence for failing to repair the defective sidewalk and for failing to warn of an unreasonably unsafe condition. Rainy River moved for summary judgment based on statutory and vicarious official immunity. Determining that Christensen’s claim is barred by statutory and vicarious official immunity, the district court entered summary judgment in favor of Rainy River. This appeal followed.
Whether a government entity is entitled to statutory immunity is a legal question, which we review de novo. Johnson v. State, 553 N.W.2d 40, 45 (Minn. 1996). Statutory immunity grants government entities immunity from tort liability for any claim based on “the performance or the failure to perform a discretionary duty, whether or not the discretion is abused.” Minn. Stat. § 3.736, subd. 3(b) (2002).
Discretionary conduct involves planning-level actions that require evaluation of such factors as the financial, political, economic, and social effects of a given course of action. Holmquist v. State, 425 N.W.2d 230, 232 (Minn. 1988). Operational-level conduct, in contrast, involves the ordinary, day-to-day operations of the government. Id. Operational-level conduct is not entitled to statutory immunity. Id. To determine whether statutory immunity applies, we “identify the precise government conduct being challenged.” Nguyen v. Nguyen, 565 N.W.2d 721, 723 (Minn. App. 1997) (quoting Nusbaum v. Blue Earth County, 422 N.W.2d 713, 722 (Minn.1988)). Once this conduct is identified, we ask whether it legitimately involves the balancing of public-policy considerations. Bloss v. Univ. of Minn. Bd. of Regents, 590 N.W.2d 661, 664 (Minn. App. 1999).
Christensen contends that the decision to repair the uneven sidewalk was an operational decision and not a policy decision. Rainy River counters that campus maintenance decisions are based on public policy and economic considerations that fall within the protection of statutory immunity. The parties agree that repair of the uneven sidewalk required funding from either the HEAPR fund or Rainy River’s Replacement and Betterment Fund.
To obtain HEAPR funding for a maintenance project, Rainy River must submit to the MNSCU system a request for funding of a prioritized list of projects for completion within the biennium. MNSCU then prioritizes the funding requests it receives from nearly 50 colleges across the state before submitting a request to the legislature for appropriation. Finally, the legislature approves funding for some projects and denies funding for others. MNSCU officials explained, “Although [Rainy River] requested HEAPR funding for sidewalk repairs [from] 1998 through 2002, those requests were not approved in lieu of funding other critical projects.” Thus, Rainy River did not have discretion to use HEAPR funding to repair the sidewalk. The record establishes that HEAPR funding is appropriated according to a well-established priority system, which leads us to conclude that the sidewalk-repair decision involved policy considerations.
Similarly, allocations from Rainy River’s Replacement and Betterment Fund involved discretionary considerations approved by the president of the college. Oveson’s recommendations were prioritized to (1) repair defects that posed a risk of “life safety,” (2) provide preventative maintenance, and (3) reserve the Replacement and Betterment Fund for an unexpected emergency. Statutory immunity protects public institutions, like Rainy River, that utilize systems to prioritize maintenance projects. See Riedel, 574 N.W.2d at 756. The decision to repair the defective sidewalk was governed by economic and public-policy considerations. Accordingly, the district court correctly concluded that the doctrine of statutory immunity applies here.
Official immunity, however, only protects acts by government officials that require the exercise of discretion. Gleason v. Metro. Council Transit Operations, 582 N.W.2d 216, 220 (Minn. 1998); Wiederholt, 581 N.W.2d at 315. Unlike statutory immunity, official immunity protects the kind of discretion that is exercised on an operational, rather than a policymaking, level. Pletan, 494 N.W.2d at 40; Sletten v. Ramsey County, 675 N.W.2d 291, 301 (Minn. 2004). But ministerial duties are unprotected by official immunity. Wiederholt, 581 N.W.2d at 316; Terwilliger v. Hennepin County, 561 N.W.2d 909, 913 (Minn. 1997). A ministerial duty is one that does not require discretion but is “absolute, certain, and imperative, involving merely execution of a specific duty arising from fixed and designated facts,” such as an administrative or legislative requirement. Wiederholt, 581 N.W.2d at 315 (quoting Cook v. Trovatten, 200 Minn. 221, 224, 274 N.W. 165, 167 (1937)). “It is inherent in the concept of ministerial duty that the duty must dictate the scope of the employee’s conduct.” Anderson v. Anoka Hennepin Indep. Sch. Dist. 11, 678 N.W.2d 651, 659 (Minn. 2004). Because the application of official immunity always involves conduct of a government employee, the duty, if any, will most often emanate from a statute, rule, ordinance, or other official standard. Id.
 HEAPR funding is allocated to specific projects approved by the state and may not be used for unapproved projects. See Minn. Stat. § 135A.046 (2002).