This opinion will be unpublished and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
Sidal Realty, a/k/a Sidal Realty Company,
a/k/a Sidal Company, a/k/a Hillside East, a partnership; et al.,
Filed September 24, 1996
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C5947466
Robert A. Nicklaus, Nicklaus Law Firm, 103 West Second Street, P.O. Box 116, Chaska, MN 55318 (for Respondent)
Marshall H. Tanick, Teresa J. Ayling, Mansfield & Tanick, P.A., 1560 International Centre, 900 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55402-3383 (for Appellants)
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
Appellant Sidal Realty (Sidal) challenges the district court's denial of its motion for a new trial or judgment notwithstanding the verdict on respondent James Lamkin's successful whistleblower claim. Pursuant to the supreme court's recent decision in Williams v. St. Paul Ramsey Medical Ctr., Inc., 551 N.W.2d 483 (Minn. 1996), we reverse.
D E C I S I O N
A female resident manager for Sidal sexually harassed co-employee Lamkin. Sidal discharged the resident manager one week after learning of the harassment. Sidal terminated Lamkin less than two months later, citing several failures to perform his duties as an on-site apartment maintenance person. Lamkin brought claims against Sidal alleging: (1) retaliatory discharge under the Whistleblower Act, Minn. Stat. § 181.932, (1990); and (2) reprisal discrimination under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), Minn. Stat. § 363.03, subd. 7(1) (1990). Evidence on both claims was simultaneously presented to the court and the jury, with the court determining the MHRA claim and the jury determining the whistleblower claim. Following trial, the court dismissed the MHRA claim, concluding that Sidal had legitimate reasons for terminating Lamkin and that Lamkin was not fired in retaliation for his sexual harassment complaint. The jury, however, determined that under the Whistleblower Act Sidal terminated Lamkin because of a sexual harassment report. Pursuant to the jury verdict, the court awarded damages on the whistleblower claim. Both parties moved for a new trial or judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the whistleblower claim, which the court denied. This appeal follows.
A district court's decision on a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict is an issue of law. Edgewater Motels, Inc. v. Gatzke, 277 N.W.2d 11, 14 (Minn. 1979). Additionally, the construction of a statute is a question of law subject to de novo review on appeal. Hibbing Educ. Ass'n v. Public Employment Relations Bd., 369 N.W.2d 527, 529 (Minn. 1985).
The supreme court recently held that where an employee relies on the same facts to support both a reprisal claim under the MHRA and a retaliation claim under the Whistleblower Act, the MHRA's exclusivity provision bars the whistleblower claim. Williams v. St. Paul Ramsey Medical Ctr., Inc., 551 N.W.2d 483 (Minn. 1996). This decision reversed our holding allowing an employee to proceed under both the Whistleblower Act and the MHRA. See Williams v. St. Paul Ramsey Medical Ctr., Inc., 530 N.W.2d 853, 855 (Minn. App. 1995). The language in the MHRA relied on by the supreme court in Williams provides "as to acts declared unfair by section 363.03, the procedure herein provided shall, while pending, be exclusive." Minn. Stat. §(1994). The 1990 version of the MHRA, at issue here, contains the same exclusivity language.
We must determine what effect the supreme court's decision in Williams has on the present case. There is a strong presumption that judicial decisions will be given retroactive effect. T.H.S. Northstar Assocs. v. W.R. Grace and Co., 66 F.3d 173, 179 (8th Cir. 1995). The general rule is that judicial decisions are given retroactive effect unless specific instructions in the decision limit such decision to purely prospective applications or unless special circumstances exist under Chevron Oil Co. v. Huson, 404 U.S. 97, 92 S. Ct. 349 (1971). Hoff v. Kempton, 317 N.W.2d 361, 363 (Minn. 1982). Under the three factors considered in Chevron: (1) the decision to be applied nonretroactively must establish a new principle of law, either by overruling clear past precedent on which litigants may have relied or by deciding an issue of first impression whose resolution was not clearly foreshadowed; (2) a reviewing court must determine whether retroactive application will further or retard the purpose of the rule in question; and (3) a reviewing court should not apply a new rule retroactively if inequity, injustice, or hardship will result. Id. (quoting Chevron Oil, 404 U.S. at 106-07, 92 S. Ct. at 355).
The supreme court in Williams does not limit its decision to purely prospective applications. Accordingly, unless special circumstances exist under the Chevron factors, Williams must be given retroactive effect. We conclude that no special circumstances exist here.
The supreme court's decision in Williams is based on statutory construction and does not establish a new principle of law. In addition, although this court's statutory interpretation carries precedential weight until being overruled, litigants were put on notice that our Williams decision might be overruled when the supreme court granted a petition for review. Further, we conclude that in this case neither inequity nor injustice results from retroactive application of Williams because: (1) Lamkin had full opportunity to present his MHRA claim to the district court, and the court found it to be without merit; and (2) footnote 1 in Williams casts doubt on whether Lamkin had a whistleblower cause of action under the law. See Williams, 551 N.W.2d at 485 n.1.
In applying Williams to this case, the exclusivity provision of the MHRA, as interpreted by the supreme court in Williams, precludes Lamkin's whistleblower claim. Once Lamkin proceeded on the same facts to support both a MHRA claim and a whistleblower claim, Lamkin's exclusive remedy was under the MHRA. See Minn. Stat. § 363.11; Williams, 551 N.W.2d at 486. Accordingly, the whistleblower claim is precluded, and we reverse Lamkin's whistleblower judgment.
Because the exclusivity provision of the MHRA precludes the whistleblower claim, we need not address the other issues raised by the parties. Lamkin's attorney fees, because they are conditioned on a successful whistleblower claim, are reversed. Further, in his supplementary brief Lamkin has abandoned his claim that the court erred in denying his motion for amended findings on his MHRA claim.