This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
COURT OF APPEALS
Holly L. Johnson,
Elk River Area School District, ISD No. 728,
Shauna L. Riveland,
Filed November 27, 2007
Sherburne County District Court
File No. 71-C8-05-000953
Jeffrey R. Anderson, Patrick W. Noaker, Michael G. Finnegan, Jeff Anderson & Associates, P.A., E1000 First National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for appellant)
Paul Engh, 215 U.S. Bank Plaza, 220 South 6th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402; and
Ivars Krafts, P.O. Box 279, Circle Pines, MN 55014 (for respondent Elk River Area School District)
David Chapman, Chapman Law Firm, Suite 806, 118 Broadway, Fargo, ND 58102 (for respondent Riveland)
Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Shumaker, Judge; and Huspeni, Judge.
Appellant Holly Johnson brought this action against respondents Shauna Riveland and the Elk River Area School District, seeking damages for sexual abuse. Riveland, a teacher and coach at Elk River High School, sexually abused Johnson, a student, from 1995 to 1997. Johnson estimated that 100 to 200 incidents of sexual contact occurred. Riveland and Johnson remained friends after the sexual encounters ended. Johnson testified at her deposition that she knew at the time the abuse occurred that a teacher was not supposed to touch a student sexually and that sexual contact between a teacher and a student was illegal.
Johnson’s 18th birthday was December 25, 1997. She was hospitalized for acute alcohol intoxication on December 12, 1998, and remained hospitalized until December 23, 1998, after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from an unrelated incident of sexual abuse when she was six or seven years old. Johnson did not mention the abuse by Riveland at the time of her 1998 hospitalization. In 2002, Johnson began seeing a counselor and disclosed during those sessions that her teacher had sexually abused her. Johnson reported the abuse to the Elk River Police Department in 2003 and assisted in the department’s investigation of Riveland. As part of the investigation, Johnson scheduled meetings with Riveland and covertly taped conversations with her. After meeting with Riveland, Johnson was briefly hospitalized twice in 2003 for depression and suicidal ideation.
Johnson commenced the present action on October 12, 2004. Respondents moved for summary judgment, arguing the statute of limitations had run. The district court granted respondents’ summary-judgment motions.
On appeal from summary judgment, the reviewing court asks whether there are any genuine issues of material fact in dispute and whether the district court erred in its application of the law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). This court “must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was granted.” Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993). The nonmoving party may not rest on mere averments; a genuine issue for trial must be established by genuine evidence. DLH, Inc. v. Russ, 566 N.W.2d 60, 71 (Minn. 1997). No genuine issue of material fact exists where the evidence cannot “permit reasonable persons to draw different conclusions.” Id.
A. Knowledge of the Abuse
“An action for damages based on personal injury caused by sexual abuse must be commenced within six years of the time the plaintiff knew or had reason to know that the injury was caused by the sexual abuse.” Minn. Stat. § 541.073, subd. 2(a) (2004). If a plaintiff is under 18 when the cause of action accrues, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the victim reaches the age of majority. D.M.S. v. Barber, 645 N.W.2d 383, 389 (Minn. 2002).
This court uses an objective, reasonable-person standard to determine when a plaintiff knew or should have known her injuries were caused by sexual abuse. M.L. v. Magnuson, 531 N.W.2d 849, 855 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. July 20, 1995). Whether a plaintiff knew or had reason to know that she was abused often involves a factual determination best determined by the jury. Blackowiak v. Kemp, 546 N.W.2d 1, 3 (Minn. 1996). But summary judgment is appropriate if a plaintiff’s own deposition testimony clearly demonstrates that she was aware of the sexual abuse at least six years before bringing the claim. Id. Importantly, the court in Blackowiak noted that, under the delayed-discovery statute, the concepts of sexual abuse and injury are inseparable:
[A]s a matter of law one is “injured” if one is sexually abused. . . .
. . . While the manifestation and form of the injury is significant to the victim, it is simply not relevant to the ultimate question of the time at which the complainant knew or should have known that he/she was sexually abused.
Johnson argues she was not aware that the sexual contact was abuse until 2002 and urges that her expert affidavit supports her argument that a reasonable person in her position would not have known earlier that the sexual contact was abuse. We cannot agree. Johnson testified at her deposition that during the time sexual contact was occurring, she knew a teacher was not supposed to touch a student sexually and that such contact was illegal. Riveland testified that Johnson frequently joked with her that Johnson could ruin her life if Johnson wanted to. Johnson had also experienced an earlier incident of sexual abuse and knew what actions constituted sexual abuse. Johnson’s testimony clearly indicates she was aware that the sexual contact with Riveland was abuse at the time the contact occurred.
Thus, under the rule in D.M.S., Johnson was considered incapable of bringing an action for sexual abuse until she reached the age of majority on December 25, 1997, and had until December 25, 2003, to bring that action before the statute of limitations had run.
Johnson alleges that the six-year statute of limitations was tolled in this case because she has presented evidence that she suffered periods of disability after reaching age 18. We note initially that the delayed-discovery statute provides that its language “does not affect the suspension of the statute of limitations during a period of disability under section 541.15.” Minn. Stat. § 541.073, subd. 2(d) (2004). Under Minn. Stat. § 541.15 (2004), the only periods of disability available to Johnson are infancy and insanity. See Minn. Stat. § 541.15(a)(1), (2). Johnson has already received the benefit of disability occasioned by infancy, because she was protected by the statute of limitations that allowed her to bring an action during the six years following her 18th birthday. Therefore, unless Johnson’s claim was suspended by insanity, there has been no tolling of the statute of limitations and her right to bring a claim expired on December 25, 2003.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has defined insanity as a “substantial inability, by reason of mental defect or deficiency, to understand one’s legal rights, manage one’s affairs, and prosecute the claim.” Harrington v. Ramsey County,279 N.W.2d 791, 795 (Minn. 1979). A short, temporary occurrence of mental illness is sufficient to toll the statute of limitations for insanity only if that occurrence “substantially impair[s] the general ability of the plaintiff to understand her rights, manage her affairs, and prosecute the claim.” Id. at 796. Depression and suicidal tendencies are not evidence of legal insanity. L.A.B. v. P.N.,533 N.W.2d 413, 417 (Minn. App. 1995).
Johnson argues that summary judgment was not appropriate because she submitted an expert affidavit on her mental disability, thereby creating an issue of material fact. But when determining if a genuine issue of material fact exists, the district court “is not required to ignore its conclusion that a particular piece of evidence may have no probative value, such that reasonable persons could not draw different conclusions from the evidence presented.” DLH, 566 N.W.2d at 70. Here, the expert stated in her affidavit that records showed Johnson probably suffered repeated periods of mental disability:
[Johnson’s] records document at least a 10 month period from May, 2003 when she was referred by her psychiatrist for day treatment to March, 2004 when her condition was judged by her therapist to be improving after a long period of little change in her symptoms. . . . She was repeatedly rated by . . . staff as having serious to moderate deficits in functioning. . . . Her therapist described her symptoms as . . . debilitating in September, 2003.
. . . [T]here was probably a period of at least a year in 2003-2004 when she was too compromised by mental health symptoms to pursue a civil suit. . . . It seems likely that [Johnson’s 1998 hospitalization] comprised another period of disability due to mental health symptoms.
. . . It seems unlikely that she could have managed both civil and criminal legal actions simultaneously.
In considering the expert affidavit, the district court requested and thoroughly examined all of the records used by the expert in forming her opinion. After reviewing the records, the district court concluded that nothing in those records provided adequate foundation for the expert’s tentative conclusion that Johnson suffered from a period of disability. Our review of the record substantiates the district court’s assessment. Because the expert affidavit lacks foundation and adequate probative value of Johnson’s alleged mental disability, the district court did not err in disregarding the proffered evidence in that document.
Although the expert’s opinion and the evidence in the record indicate that Johnson experienced depression and thoughts of suicide many times, usually triggered by the criminal case against Riveland, there is no genuine issue of material fact whether Johnson experienced a mental disability meeting the legal definition of insanity. Her retention of counsel supports a finding that she did not meet the legal definition of insanity. See Harrington, 279 N.W.2d at 796 (stating that retention of counsel is evidence, though not conclusive, of a person’s sanity). Although Johnson did not work during her period of alleged mental disability, her ability to live independently and manage her own financial affairs also indicates that she did not suffer from insanity. See L.A.B., 533 N.W.2d at 417 (concluding that the appellant was not insane when she was able to care for her child, live independently, and secure a loan for the purchase of a home). Finally, Johnson’s ability to cooperate with the authorities in investigating and prosecuting the criminal case against Riveland substantially weakens any claim of insanity.
Johnson also argues that dictum in the W.J.L. v. Bugge opinion creates additional disabilities that are not mentioned in the delayed-discovery statute but may still suspend the statute of limitations. But the three “disabilities” Johnson argues are established in W.J.L.—threats, trauma, or repressed memories—are actually relevant factors for determining if the victims knew or had reason to know of their abuse. 573 N.W.2d 682 (Minn. 1998). Thus, they are not mental disabilities and are not applicable in this context.
Because the district court did not err in determining that there was no foundation for or probative value to the expert’s opinion, and because the evidence in the record does not create a genuine issue of material fact regarding legal insanity, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.