This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
John F. Fiedler, by Faith Sohns, his daughter and attorney-in-fact,
Filed April 3, 2007
Douglas County District Court
File No. C8-04-1235
James A. Lavoie, Benjamin A. Lavoie, Lindell & Lavoie, LLP, 431 South Seventh Street, Suite 2420, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for appellant)
Robert L. McCollum, Cheryl Hood Langel, McCollum, Crowley, Moschet & Miller, Ltd., 7900 Xerxes Avenue South, 700 Wells Fargo Plaza, Minneapolis, MN 55431-1141 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Worke, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this appeal from a summary judgment dismissing appellant’s personal-injury action against respondent city and its employee, appellant argues that the exception from the liability limitation in the Municipal Tort Liability Act, Minn. Stat. § 466.04, subd. 1a (2006), violates (1) the equal-protection clauses of the United States and the Minnesota Constitutions, and (2) the due-process and remedies clauses of the Minnesota Constitution. Because appellant has not shown direct, personal harm from the alleged constitutional violation, he does not have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the statutory exception, and we affirm.
working as an employee driving an ambulance owned by respondent City of
commenced a personal-injury action against the City of
making the $300,000 payments, respondents moved for summary judgment, asserting
that their liability could not exceed the $300,000 liability limitation
established under Minn. Stat. § 466.04 (2006).
In response, Fiedler argued that applying Minn. Stat. § 466.04 to
Hetland when he has valid private insurance violates the equal-protection
clauses of the United States and the Minnesota Constitutions, U.S. Const.
D E C I S I O N
appeal from summary judgment, this court examines the record to determine
whether any genuine issues of material fact exist and whether the district
court erred in applying the law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2,
The Municipal Tort Liability Act provides that
[s]ubject to the limitations of sections 466.01 to 466.15, every municipality is subject to liability for its torts and those of its officers, employees and agents acting within the scope of their employment or duties whether arising out of a governmental or proprietary function.
One of the limitations on a municipality’s liability is that the
[l]iability of any municipality on any claim within the scope of sections 466.01 to 466.15 shall not exceed . . . $300,000 when the claim is one for death by wrongful act or omission and $300,000 to any claimant in any other case . . . .
This limitation also applies to some municipal employees. Under the statute,
[t]he liability of an officer or an employee of any municipality for a tort arising out of an alleged act or omission occurring in the performance of duty shall not exceed the limits set forth in [section 466.04,] subdivision 1, unless the officer or employee provides professional services and also is employed in the profession for compensation by a person or persons other than the municipality.
district court determined that these liability limitations apply to appellant’s
claim and that because they apply, respondents are entitled to summary judgment
as a matter of law. Appellant does not
dispute that the plain language of Minn. Stat. § 466.04, subds. 1, 1a,
limits the amount that he can recover from respondents at $300,000. But he argues that because it is arbitrary and irrational to exclude from the $300,000
liability limitation only the liability of employees who provide professional
services to a municipality and are also employed in the profession for
compensation by a person or persons other than the municipality, the exclusion violates
the equal-protection clauses of the
are presumed to be constitutional. Snyder v. City of
argue that because appellant’s claim does not involve a municipal employee
acting in a professional capacity, appellant should not have standing to
challenge the provision in Minn. Stat. § 466.04, subd. 1a, that excludes from
the liability limitation the liability of an employee who provides professional
services. We agree. Minn. Stat. § 466.04, subd. 1a, limits the
liability of some municipal officers and employees by establishing a liability
limitation for officers and employees and then excluding from that limitation
the liability of municipal officers and employees who provide professional
services to the municipality and to others.
In Snyder, the supreme court
upheld the liability limitation in section 466.04 against equal-protection and
due-process challenges, finding the limitation “to be ‘rationally related to
the legitimate government objective of insuring fiscal stability to meet and
carry out the manifold responsibilities of government.’” 441 N.W.2d at 789 (quoting Lienhard v. State, 431 N.W.2d 861, 868 (
Instead of challenging the constitutionality of the liability limitation, appellant challenges the provision in Minn. Stat. § 466.04, subd. 1a, that excludes professional employees from the limitation. Appellant contends that because the only plausible explanation for excluding professional employees from the liability limitation “is that professionals (such as doctors and lawyers) are expected to carry and maintain malpractice insurance,” the purpose of the exclusion is to permit injured parties to recover amounts in excess of the $300,000 liability limitation when a municipal employee has insurance coverage available. Based on this premise, appellant argues that excluding only professional employees from the liability limitation is arbitrary and irrational and, therefore, this court should find that to the extent that appellant’s claims are covered by Hetland’s private automobile insurance, applying the liability limitation to bar his claims is unconstitutional. Appellant argues that as a remedy for the unconstitutional statutory exception, this court “should impose a constitutional interpretation finding that the exception to the liability cap applies to all employees with applicable private insurance coverage.”
Appellant’s argument rests on a misunderstanding of this court’s authority to provide a remedy for an unconstitutional statute. Even if the statutory exception is unconstitutional because excluding only professional employees from the liability limitation is arbitrary and irrational, this court cannot remedy the constitutional defect by simply interpreting the exception to apply to additional employees. Under the rules of statutory construction,
[w]hen the words of a law in their application to an existing situation are clear and free from all ambiguity, the letter of the law shall not be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing the spirit.
Instead, the rules of statutory construction provide that,
[u]nless there is a provision in the law that the provisions shall not be severable, the provisions of all laws shall be severable. If any provision of a law is found to be unconstitutional and void, the remaining provisions of the law shall remain valid, unless the court finds the valid provisions of the law are so essentially and inseparably connected with, and so dependent upon, the void provisions that the court cannot presume the legislature would have enacted the remaining valid provisions without the void one; or unless the court finds the remaining valid provisions, standing alone, are incomplete and are incapable of being executed in accordance with the legislative intent.
But if the exception were severed from the remainder of the statute, appellant would be left with a statute that limits respondents’ liability at $300,000, and respondents have already paid appellant that amount. Consequently, appellant would be in the same position whether or not the statutory exception for the liability of professional employees is constitutional, and appellant has not shown direct, personal harm from the alleged constitutional violation. The same is true with respect to appellant’s challenges under the due-process and remedies clauses of the Minnesota Constitution. If the exception were found unconstitutional under either of those provisions, it would be severed, and the liability limitation would prevent appellant from recovering an additional amount from respondents. Therefore, we conclude that appellant does not have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the exception from the liability limitation. See also Nor-West Cable Commc’ns P’ship v. City of St. Paul, 924 F.2d 741, 749 (8th Cir. 1991) (stating that plaintiff does not have standing unless plaintiff would have had realistic chance of some benefit in absence of constitutional violation).