This opinion will be unpublished and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
Charles D. Armstrong,
Department of Corrections,
Filed July 3, 2007
Affirmed in part and reversed in part
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 27-CV-05-009658
Jordan S. Kushner, Law Office of
Jordan S. Kushner,
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Jennifer A. Service, Assistant Attorney General, 1100 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, Minnesota 55101-2138 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Department of Corrections (DOC) appeals from the district-court order denying
its motion for summary judgment against respondent’s claims alleging violations
of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12132; the Minnesota
Human Rights Act (MHRA), Minn. Stat. § 363A.12; and negligence. Respondent’s claims arise from his treatment
while in prison and subsequent placement at a halfway house and the DOC’s
decision to retain him in custody after the expiration of the projected release
date, due to respondent’s violation of the terms of release. The DOC argues that (a) official immunity
bars respondent’s claims that it discriminated against him in the provision of
a public service in violation of the MHRA and the ADA; (b) statutory immunity
under Minn. Stat. § 3.736, subd. 3(b), bars respondent’s negligence claim;
and (c) sovereign immunity bars respondent’s claims under the
In 2002, respondent Charles
Armstrong was diagnosed with degenerative arthritis in his hips, which makes it
difficult for him to walk or stand for long periods of time. In October 2003, respondent was incarcerated
After serving a portion of his sentence, respondent became eligible for Intensive Supervised Release (ISR). Appellant Department of Corrections (DOC) decided that respondent would be released to a halfway house called “180 Degrees.”
When respondent first arrived at 180 Degrees, he was given a room on the second floor and assigned to clean bathrooms. Because of his arthritic condition, respondent complained about his accommodations and job assignment, and eventually respondent was moved to a room in the basement and assigned a job that he could complete in his room.
In August 2004, respondent fell down
a flight of stairs at 180 Degrees and injured himself. Respondent was treated at Hennepin County
Medical Center (HCMC), where he stayed for three days. Respondent’s wife visited him every day at HCMC,
but because respondent’s wife was the victim of his assault, this contact
constituted a violation of his probation.
During respondent’s stay at HCMC, respondent’s parole officer saw
respondent at HCMC with his wife. The
parole officer reported the violation, and a warrant was issued for
respondent’s arrest. A DOC hearing officer
subsequently determined that respondent had violated the conditions of his
release and sentenced him to 60 days in prison at
Upon revocation of his probation, respondent was given a projected release date of 60 days from the day of his disciplinary hearing. But respondent remained incarcerated for more than 60 days because there was some difficulty in finding him a place to live. Eventually respondent was placed at The Attic, a halfway house. In March 2005, respondent had surgery and, as a result, required constant care. Since he only had one month of supervised release left, respondent’s supervising parole agent allowed respondent to move in with his wife so she could care for him.
On June 15, 2005, respondent filed a
complaint against the State of Minnesota Department of Corrections,
On March 2, 2006, the DOC and its employees filed a motion for summary judgment. The other defendants also filed motions for summary judgment. In its memorandum in support of its motion for summary judgment, the DOC argued that it was entitled to summary judgment because (1) respondent’s constitutional claims had no basis in fact or law; (2) it was entitled to qualified immunity from respondent’s constitutional claims; (3) sovereign immunity precluded respondent’s ADA claim; (4) respondent’s MHRA claim regarding accommodations in his cell was barred by the statute of limitations; (5) respondent’s MHRA and ADA claims were barred by the doctrine of official immunity; (6) respondent failed to state a prima facie case of retaliation under the ADA and MHRA; (7) respondent failed to state a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA and MHRA; (8) the MHRA’s exclusivity provision precluded respondent’s negligence claim; (9) it had statutory immunity from respondent’s negligence claim; (10) it had official immunity from respondent’s negligence claim; and (11) no genuine issue of material fact existed with respect to respondent’s negligence claim.
By order dated June 13, 2006, the district court (1) granted all of the individual defendants’ motions to dismiss; (2) granted the DOC’s motion for summary judgment and to dismiss on respondent’s claims regarding reprisal and retaliatory discrimination in violation of the MHRA and ADA and respondent’s § 1983 claims; (3) granted Hennepin County’s motion for summary judgment with respect to all four of respondent’s claims; (4) granted 180 Degrees’ motion for summary judgment with respect to all four of respondent’s claims; and (5) denied the DOC’s motion for summary judgment with respect to respondent’s disability-discrimination claims and respondent’s negligence claim.
The district court also determined that respondent’s claim of disability discrimination against the DOC under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minn. Stat. § 363A.28, was time-barred by the statute of limitations.
The district court declined to grant summary judgment to the DOC on respondent’s claim of disability discrimination because it concluded that there was a factual dispute regarding whether the DOC’s failure to respond to respondent’s medical needs constituted a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights.
The district court also concluded that the employees of the DOC were entitled to official immunity regarding respondent’s claim of disability discrimination, but that the DOC itself was not because a factual dispute existed with respect to respondent’s treatment while in prison and the circumstances surrounding his release.
The district court also declined to dismiss respondent’s complaint of negligence against the DOC because there was a factual dispute as to whether respondent’s placement at 180 Degrees, which is not handicapped accessible, violated respondent’s medical restrictions. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
The DOC argues that the district
court erred as a matter of law by concluding that it was not entitled to vicarious
official immunity from respondent’s claims under the MHRA and the
Respondent alleged three instances of discrimination under these provisions: (1) that he was not provided with a handicapped accessible prison cell when he asked for it; (2) that the DOC placed him at 180 Degrees, which was not handicapped accessible; and (3) that because he was disabled, his parole was revoked and he was denied release on his projected release date. The district court dismissed respondent’s complaint regarding handicapped accessibility in his prison cell because it was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The district court also concluded that the DOC’s employees were entitled to official immunity because “there is no evidence that they intentionally committed any wrongful acts.” But the district court concluded that the DOC was not entitled to vicarious official immunity because there was a factual question regarding whether respondent’s disabilities were reasonably accommodated and whether he suffered adverse treatment as a result of his disabilities.
question of whether official immunity exists may be appropriately resolved on
summary judgment. Elwood v.
denial of a motion for summary judgment is not ordinarily appealable, an
exception to this rule exists when the denial of summary judgment is based on
rejection of a statutory or official immunity defense.”
A party opposing summary judgment
must “do more than rest on mere averments.”
DLH, Inc. v. Russ, 566 N.W.2d 60, 71 (
immunity applies when the conduct in question (1) is discretionary and not
ministerial and (2) is not malicious or willful. Davis
v. Hennepin County, 559 N.W.2d 117, 122 (Minn. App. 1997), review denied (Minn. May 20, 1997). A ministerial act is “absolute, certain and
imperative, involving merely the execution of a specific duty arising from
fixed and designated facts.” Thompson, 707 N.W.2d at 673 (quotation
omitted). A discretionary act is one that
requires “the exercise of individual judgment in carrying out the official’s
if a public official is immune from suit under the doctrine of official
immunity, his or her employer will enjoy vicarious official immunity.
The court applies vicarious official immunity when failure to grant it would focus “stifling attention” on an official’s performance “to the serious detriment of that performance.” This standard grants vicarious official immunity in situations where officials’ performance would be hindered as a result of the officials second-guessing themselves when making decisions, in anticipation that their government employer would also sustain liability as a result of their actions.
Our supreme court has held that making
decisions regarding an offender’s supervised release involves balancing “[n]umerous
protected policymaking considerations provided for by statute and administrative
rule, such as the safety of the public, [an offender’s] rehabilitation and
treatment needs, and [an offender’s] reintegration into the community.” Johnson
v. State, 553 N.W.2d 40, 47 (
Respondent argues that the DOC acted
maliciously and is therefore not entitled to vicarious official immunity. When a party alleges that an official is not
entitled to official immunity because the official acted maliciously or
willfully, this court “must determine whether a genuine issue of material fact
exists as to whether [the official’s] actions could constitute a willful or
malicious wrong.” Rico v. State, 472 N.W.2d 100, 107 (
is “the intentional doing of a wrongful act without legal justification or
excuse, or, otherwise stated, the willful violation of a known right.”
(1) that the conduct was “objectively” legally reasonable, that is, legally justified under the circumstances; (2) that the conduct was “subjectively” reasonable, that is, taken with subjective good faith; or (3) that the right allegedly violated was not clearly established, that is, that there was no basis for knowing the conduct would violate the plaintiff’s rights.
The district court concluded that there is no evidence that any of the DOC employees intentionally committed any wrongful acts, and the record supports that determination. But nonetheless, the district court concluded that factual issues remain with respect to whether the DOC itself acted maliciously. But in this case, we conclude that the issues are essentially the same and that there is no meaningful distinction between the actions of the DOC employees and the actions of the DOC itself. Because (1) the actions of the DOC were discretionary; (2) policy considerations weigh in favor of granting vicarious official immunity; and (3) there is no evidence that the DOC acted maliciously, the district court erred by concluding that the DOC was not entitled to vicarious official immunity from respondent’s discrimination claims under the MHRA.
Supremacy Clause and Official Immunity
Respondent also argues that official
immunity is only available as a defense under
Appellant argues that it is entitled to statutory immunity from respondent’s negligence claim. We agree.
a government entity is protected by statutory immunity is a question of law
which this court reviews de novo. Johnson, 553 N.W.2d at 45. Statutory immunity provides that “the state
and its employees are not liable for . . . a loss caused by the
performance or failure to perform a discretionary duty, whether or not the
discretion is abused.”
Statutory immunity is extended when there has been a planning-level decision; that is, social, political, or economic considerations have been evaluated and weighed as part of the decision-making process. Statutory immunity does not extend to operational-level decisions, those involving day-to-day operations of government, the application of scientific and technical skills, or the exercise of professional judgment.
The district court concluded that respondent’s claim of negligence on the part of the DOC presented a factual question for a jury and did not specifically address appellant’s claim of statutory immunity. In our view, the decisions made by the DOC in this case are quintessential discretionary policy decisions in which the DOC must balance social, political, and economic considerations such as public safety, cost, offender’s needs, and rehabilitation. See Johnson, 553 N.W.2d at 47 (“[D]ecisions regarding the placement of inmates . . . and decisions regarding how much liberty to afford them, are protected policy decisions immune from suit under the doctrine of . . . [statutory] immunity.”). Therefore, we conclude that the district court erred by concluding that the DOC is not entitled to statutory immunity on respondent’s negligence claim.
DOC argues that it is entitled to sovereign immunity from respondent’s claims
Title II of the
it is quite plausible that the alleged deliberate refusal of prison officials to accommodate [the prisoner’s] disability-related needs in such fundamentals as mobility, hygiene, medical care, and virtually all other prison programs constituted “exclu[sion] from participation in or . . . den[ial of] the benefits of” the prison’s “services, programs, or activities.”
However, in order to sustain a claim for violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, an individual must “show unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain, as well as a deprivation denying the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities” and “that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his health or safety and that they acted maliciously for the purpose of causing him harm.” Phillips v. Norris, 320 F.3d 844, 848 (8th Cir. 2003) (quotation and citations omitted).
Here, respondent alleges that the
DOC was indifferent to his medical needs and ignored doctors’ orders regarding
his care. The district court concluded
that the DOC is not entitled to sovereign immunity from respondent’s
A party opposing summary judgment must “do more than rest on mere averments.” DLH, 566 N.W.2d at 69–71. The facts alleged by respondent do not implicate behavior by the DOC that would constitute a violation of respondent’s rights under the Eighth Amendment. Therefore, the district court erred as a matter of law by concluding that respondent could sustain a claim against the DOC under the ADA and that the DOC is not entitled to sovereign immunity from respondent’s ADA claim.
Respondent also alleges Fourteenth
Amendment equal-protection violations.
But disability is not a suspect class, and respondent has not identified
any similarly situated individuals who were treated differently. See
Lutheran Bhd. Research Corp. v. Comm’r of Revenue, 656 N.W.2d 375, 382 (
Affirmed in part and reversed in part.