may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
as parent and natural guardian of Melanie Marie Sorenson
and Melanie Marie Sorenson, individually,
State of Minnesota,
File No. C495454
William M. Hart, Richard L. Pemberton, Jr., Thomas E. Propson, Meagher & Geer, P.L.L.P., 4200 Multifoods Tower, 33 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellants)
Joseph J. Langel, Stephen G. Andersen, Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, P.A., 300 Peavey Building, 730 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent Chippewa County)
Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, Portia Hampton-Flowers, Assistant Attorney General, 1100 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent State of Minnesota)
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Short, Judge, and Foley, Judge.**
Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
Appellants Bruce Sorenson and Melanie Marie Sorenson brought a negligence action against Chippewa County and the State of Minnesota. The county and the state moved for summary judgment on the ground that they are protected by the doctrine of vicarious official immunity. The district court granted the motions and dismissed appellants' complaint with prejudice. We affirm.
Appellant Melanie Sorenson was driving northbound on County Road 4 in Chippewa County with two passengers. She failed to stop for the stop sign at the intersection of County Road 4 and Trunk Highway 7 (an uncontrolled state highway). Her vehicle collided with a semi-tractor trailer traveling east on Trunk Highway 7. One passenger was killed. Sorenson and the other passenger were injured. Neither survivor remembers anything about the accident.
Appellants sued the county and the state alleging that (1) the county was negligent in its placement of the stop ahead sign, (2) the county was negligent in failing to install rumble strips at the intersection, and (3) the state was negligent in its placement and maintenance of the stop sign. The district court found that the county and the state are immune from suit under the doctrine of vicarious official immunity and granted their motions for summary judgment.
The common law doctrine of official immunity
protects from personal liability a public official charged by law with duties that call for the exercise of judgment or discretion unless the official is guilty of a wilful or malicious wrong.
Rico v. State, 472 N.W.2d 100, 106-07 (Minn. 1991). Official immunity "protects public officials from the fear of personal liability that might deter independent action and impair effective performance of their duties." Elwood v. County of Rice, 423 N.W.2d 671, 678 (Minn. 1988).
The Minnesota Supreme Court has recognized the doctrine of vicarious official immunity. Pletan v. Gains, 494 N.W.2d 38, 42-43 (Minn. 1992). Whether a government employer may share its employee's immunity by operation of the vicarious official immunity doctrine is a policy question. Olson v. Ramsey County, 509 N.W.2d 368, 372 (Minn. 1993).
[W]here the threat of liability against the government would unduly influence government employees from exercising independent judgment in pursuit of legitimate public policy choices the government will vicariously enjoy its employees' official immunity.
S.L.D. v. Kranz, 498 N.W.2d 47, 51 (Minn. App. 1993). "The test is whether the officers would think their performance was being evaluated so as to chill the exercise of their independent judgment." Leonzal v. Grogan, 516 N.W.2d 210, 214 (Minn. App. 1994), review denied (Minn. July 27, 1994).
This court recently applied the doctrine of vicarious official immunity in a case that is factually indistinguishable from this case. In Ireland v. Crow's Nest Yachts, Inc., 552 N.W.2d 269 (Minn. App. 1996), review denied (Minn. Sept. 20, 1996), two vehicles collided at the intersection of a county road and a state highway, and both parties brought claims against the county alleging negligence in the installation of warning signs and in the repair or alteration of rumble strips. Id. at 271, 274. The court found that the county engineer's sign placement decisions and rumble strip maintenance decisions were discretionary decisions entitled to official immunity. Id. at 273-74.
The court held further that the official immunity should be extended vicariously to the county to avoid the chilling effect that would otherwise result if the engineer's decisions subjected the county to liability. Id. The court concluded that imposing liability on the employer would require review of the engineer's immunized decision, which would defeat the purpose of official immunity. Id. at 273.
Here, the parties agree that the decisions of the county and state highway engineers are protected by official immunity but disagree about extending the official immunity vicariously to the employer. The district court applied Ireland, finding it to be directly on point. Appellants concede that under Ireland, the county and state are vicariously immune. We decline to overrule our decision in Ireland.