This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat.§ 480A.08, subd. 3 (1994).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Mother D. K., individually and on behalf of Minor D.E.,
Sheldon Ray Sejnoha,
Bryan Sejnoha, et al.,
Filed September 3, 1996
Dakota County District Court
File No. C6956396
Jeffrey R. Anderson, Karen A. Kugler, Mark A. Wendorf, Reinhardt and Anderson, E-1000 First National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for Appellant)
Deborah Ellis, 700 Saint Paul Building, Six West Fifth Street, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for Respondent Sheldon Sejnoha)
J. Mark Catron, John L. Corey, Hansen, Dordell, Bradt, Odlaug & Bradt, P.L.L.P., 1200 Piper Jaffray Plaza, 444 Cedar Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2141 (for Respondents Bryan Sejnoha, et al.)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Willis, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
D.K. and her minor son D.E. appeal the district court's decision to grant judgment notwithstanding the verdict in favor of respondents Bryan and Charlene Sejnoha (the Sejnohas) on the grounds that the Sejnohas had neither a duty to control their adult son nor a duty to warn or protect D.E. We affirm.
D E C I S I O N
The granting of a judgment notwithstanding a jury verdict is a pure question of law. Edgewater Motels, Inc. v. Gatzke, 277 N.W.2d 11, 14 (Minn. 1979). In reviewing the trial court's decision, an appellate court applies the same standard as the trial court did in passing upon the jury verdict. Id.
Defendants generally have no duty to control the conduct of a third person to prevent that person from causing injury to another. Lundgren v. Fultz, 354 N.W.2d 25, 27 (Minn. 1984). Such a duty may arise, however, when (1) the defendant stands in some "special relationship" to either the person whose conduct causes the injury or to the foreseeable victim of that conduct, and (2) the harm is foreseeable. Wood on behalf of Doe v. Astleford, 412 N.W.2d 753, 755 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Nov. 24, 1987). Whether a duty exists is a question of law. Id. Special relationships have been found to exist between common carriers and customers, innkeepers and guests, and hospitals and patients. Erickson v. Curtis Inv. Co., 447 N.W.2d 165, 168 (Minn. 1989). When a special relationship exists, generally, the plaintiff is in some respect particularly vulnerable and dependent on the defendant, who in turn holds considerable power over the plaintiff's welfare. Donaldson v. YWCA of Duluth, 539 N.W.2d 789, 792 (Minn. 1995). To reach the conclusion that a special relationship exists, the court must find that the harm to be prevented is one the defendant had the ability to protect against and should be expected to protect against. Id.
Appellants first argue the Sejnohas had a special relationship with their adult son Sheldon, so as to require them to control his actions regarding D.E. A parent is under a duty to exercise reasonable care to control his or her minor child to prevent the child from harming others if the parent has the ability to control the child, and knows or should know of the necessity and opportunity for exercising such control. Republic Vanguard Ins. Co. v. Buehl, 295 Minn. 327, 330 n.3, 204 N.W.2d 426, 428 n.3 (1973) (citing Restatement, Torts 2d § 316). Here, the parties concede Sheldon, at all relevant times, was a fully independent, emancipated adult. As such, we agree with the district court that the Sejnohas had neither the ability nor the duty to control Sheldon's actions so as to create the required special relationship between themselves and Sheldon.
Second, appellants argue the Sejnohas had a special relationship with D.E. creating a duty on their part to protect or warn him concerning the harm caused by Sheldon. The record demonstrates that during the three-year period in which Sheldon was abusing D.E., D.E. was in the Sejnoha home on many occasions, and spent the night five or six times. Charlene Sejnoha occasionally cooked meals for Sheldon and D.E. The Sejnohas observed D.E. and Sheldon playing together with legos and watching movies and knew Sheldon spent a good deal of time with D.E. When D.E. slept on their couch, Charlene Sejnoha would occasionally check in on D.E. and cover him while he slept. The Sejnohas went to D.E.'s athletic events and testified they were very fond of D.E. Charlene Sejnoha took D.E. to work with her once or twice when D.K. failed to pick up D.E. after he stayed at the Sejnoha home with Sheldon. Charlene also agreed to baby-sit D.E. once in Sheldon's absence, when D.E.'s grandmother brought him over in an "emergency."
Appellant argues these contacts created a special relationship by which D.E. entrusted his safety to the Sejnohas and the Sejnohas accepted such entrustment. We disagree. Almost invariably when the Sejnohas had contact with D.E., it was as a result of the fact that D.E. was with their adult son Sheldon. The record demonstrates that the Sejnohas only personally cared for D.E. when D.K. failed to pick him up in the morning, and once when D.E.'s grandmother needed an emergency baby sitter. Appellants do not assert, and there is absolutely no evidence in the record demonstrating that the Sejnohas in any way participated in or knew about Sheldon's abuse of D.E. In addition, the district court found that approximately 20 acts of abuse occurred during camping trips or in D.K.'s home and only 1 act of abuse occurred in the Sejnohas' home. On these facts, we cannot conclude the Sejnohas had a special relationship with D.E. giving rise to a legal duty to protect or warn him concerning the actions of their third-party adult son.
Because we conclude the Sejnohas had no special relationship as a matter of law regarding either Sheldon or D.E., we need not reach the issue of foreseeability. See Donaldson, 539 N.W.2d at 793 (absent a special relationship, no duty arises). Finally, we decline to consider appellants' argument concerning the Sejnohas' duty as landowners as the district court refused to consider such argument because it had not been presented at trial. See Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn. 1988) (appellate courts only consider matters presented to and considered by the district court).