This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Catherine M. Sinn, as Trustee for the Next of Kin
of Sherri L. DeWald,
Todd County District Court
File No. C9-02-904
William D. Harper, Lori L.
Burgan, Harper & Peterson, P.L.L.C.,
Daniel A. Beckman, Timothy J. Crocker, Gislason & Hunter, L.L.P., 9900 Bren Road East, Suite 215E, Minnetonka, MN 55343-2297 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Parker, Judge.
Respondent Gerving held a birthday party for her 16-year-old daughter, at which there was underage drinking. Sherri DeWald, daughter of appellant Sinn, was killed as she played on nearby railroad tracks after Gerving asked the party attendees to leave her home. Sinn brought a wrongful-death action alleging negligent supervision and negligent eviction by Gerving. Sinn contends that the district court, in granting Gerving’s motion for summary judgment, erred (1) in ruling that Sinn’s claim was preempted by the Civil Damages Act, Minn. Stat. § 340A.801 (2002) and (2) in denying Sinn’s motion to amend her complaint to add a claim for punitive damages. We affirm.
D E C I S I O N
appeal from summary judgment, we consider whether there are any genuine issues
of material fact and whether the district court erred in its application of the
v. Rotation Eng’g & Mfg. Co., 705 N.W.2d 416, 420 (
Whether the Civil Damages
Act applies in this case and preempts other claims is a question of law. A reviewing court is not bound by and need not
give deference to a district court’s decision on a purely legal issue. Frost-Benco Elec. Ass’n v.
We hold that the district court properly granted summary judgment for respondent Gerving because appellant Sinn’s claims ultimately are based on the illegal furnishing of alcohol and, thus, are preempted by the Civil Damages Act.
During her daughter’s birthday party, Gerving left for approximately two hours to get videos for the party. During Gerving’s absence, some of the teenagers attending the party brought alcohol to Gerving’s home. Along with others at the party, 12-year-old Sherri DeWald consumed alcohol. Upon her return to the house, Gerving asked the teenagers to leave the premises. Sinn claims that Gerving’s eviction of the party guests, who were intoxicated, was negligent because it exposed a vulnerable 12-year-old to the danger of nearby railroad tracks.
Our starting point for
examining claims based on the illegal furnishing of alcohol is the Civil
Damages Act, which was created to hold commercial vendors of alcohol liable for
the torts of intoxicated patrons.
Against this backdrop, we decided Stevens v. Thielen, 394 N.W.2d 834 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn. Dec. 23, 1986), a
case with facts similar to those before us here. Stevens
was a wrongful-death action brought by parents of a minor who died after
attending a birthday party where there was underage drinking. The parents of the birthday girl purchased
two kegs of beer for her party. 394
N.W.2d at 835. They then left the minors
unsupervised with the alcohol.
We determined that the plaintiffs
in Stevens had no cause of action
under the Civil Damages Act.
A year later, we decided Beseke v. Garden Ctr., Inc., 401 N.W.2d 428 (Minn. App. 1987). In Beseke,
the plaintiffs alleged negligent supervision on the part of a school district
that had organized an event at a bowling alley.
401 N.W.2d at 429. The bowling
alley served alcohol to minors who were evicted and later injured in a car
In 1990, the legislature
amended the Civil Damages Act to allow for limited social-host liability. Specifically, Minn. Stat. § 340A.801,
subd. 6 (2004), states that “[n]othing in this chapter precludes common law
tort claims against any person 21 years old or older who knowingly provides or
furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person under the age of 21 years.” In 2000, the legislature amended the act
again, creating a statutory cause of action against social hosts who knowingly
or recklessly provide alcohol to minors, but excluding any cause of action by
an intoxicated minor.
In sum, the legislature has
removed the preemptive effect of the Civil Damages Act only for common-law
claims against adults who knowingly or recklessly furnish alcohol to
minors. Minn. Stat. §340A.801, subd.
6. Sinn does not maintain that Gerving knowingly
furnished alcohol to DeWald. Moreover, DeWald
has no claim under section 340A.90. The
Wrongful Death Act grants “a right of action, that did not exist at common law,
to the personal representative of a decedent for the exclusive benefit of the
surviving spouse or next of kin of the deceased person, provided the injured party
himself could have maintained the action had he lived.” Beck v.
Sinn argues that because a
wrongful-death action is a statutory creation, not a common-law action, it
survives preemption by the Civil Damages Act.
We addressed the preservation of wrongful-death claims in Stevens, holding that if a wrongful-death
claim is based on the illegal furnishing of alcohol, it is preempted. 394 N.W.2d at 837. Sinn’s claim is distinguishable from the
claim in Stevens only because Gerving
did not furnish any alcohol. But that
argument was not made before the district court, so we do not address it
here. See Thiele v. Stitch, 425
N.W.2d 580, 582 (
Sinn also argues that the
district court erred when it denied her motion to amend her complaint to add a
claim for punitive damages. An appellate
court may not reverse a district court’s denial of a motion to add a claim for
punitive damages absent an abuse of discretion. LeDoux v. Nw. Publ’g, Inc., 521 N.W.2d
59, 69 (Minn. App. 1994), review denied (Minn. Nov. 16, 1994). The analysis above indicates that Sinn’s
claim fails as a matter of law. A claim
for punitive damages is not a separate tort and thus cannot stand absent its
parent claim. Forster v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 437 N.W.2d 655, 662-63 (
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
 Sinn also moved the district court for amendment of her complaint to allege a cause of action under Minn. Stat. § 340A.90 (2002), which provides for social-host liability. Sinn has waived her appeal of the district court’s interpretation of Minn. Stat. § 340A.90.