This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).





Judy Unruh,



St Mary's Medical Center,

Appellant (C4-96-1909),

Daniel Butler, Laurel Lamb, and Christine Taylor,

Appellants (C0-96-1910).

Filed March 4, 1997


Parker, Judge

St. Louis County District Court

File No. C096600329

Clayton D. Halunen, Talarico & Halunen, Ltd., 313 North Central Avenue, Duluth, MN 55807 (for respondent)

Stephen W. Cooper, The Cooper Law Firm, 4747 First Bank Place, 601 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)

Joseph J. Roby Jr., Johnson, Killen, Thibodeau & Seiler, P.A., 811 Norwest Center, 230 West Superior Street, Duluth, MN 55802 (for appellants)

Considered and decided by Huspeni, Presiding Judge, Parker, Judge, and Mulally, Judge.[*]



Appellants St. Mary's Medical Center and co-employees Daniel Butler, Laurel Lamb, and Christine Taylor, individually, challenge a district court order denying their motion for partial dismissal of respondent Judy Unruh's amended complaint. Concluding that the relief sought by appellants at this stage of the proceedings was premature, the trial court denied the motion. We affirm.


A reviewing court is not bound by and need not give deference to a trial court's decision on a purely legal issue. Frost-Benco Elec. Ass'n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm'n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984).

Appellants argue that Unruh's alleged mental injuries directly result from the back injury she sustained while performing her normal nursing duties. They contend that because all of Unruh's alleged mental and physical injuries are inseparable from her on-the-job injury, the Worker's Compensation Act (WCA) precludes her from pursuing this private civil action. Appellants also argue that because the WCA provides Unruh's exclusive remedy, the trial court erred in failing to dismiss the portions of Unruh's amended complaint that would be covered under the Act. Appellants contend that because the trial court acknowledged that their motion correctly stated the law as to what injuries are covered by the WCA, their motion to dismiss the complaint to the extent that covered injuries are sought should have been granted.

In creating the WCA, the legislature intended to make workers' compensation the exclusive remedy for most job-related injuries. See Parker v. Tharp , 409 N.W.2d 915, 917-18 (Minn. 1987). Minn. Stat. § 176.021, subd. 1 (1994), provides in part that an employer is required

to pay compensation in every case of personal injury or death of an employee arising out of and in the course of employment* * *.

The 'arising out of' language requires a causal connection between the injury and the employment. Gibberd v. Control Data Corp., 424 N.W.2d 776, 780 (Minn. 1988). Our supreme court has held that the causal requirement

[is] a factor of source or contribution rather than cause in the sense of being proximate or direct. Because of the intervening wrongful act of third parties or some such extrinsic contribution, the employment may not be the proximate cause. But it may be nonetheless so much the source of the event that the latter in a very real and decisive sense arise out of the employment * * *. So it is enough that injury follows "as a natural incident of the work * * * as a result of the exposure occasioned by the nature of the employment."

Foley v. Honeywell, Inc., 488 N.W.2d 268, 271 (Minn. 1992) (quoting Hanson v. Robitshek-Schneider Co., 209 Minn. 596, 599, 297 N.W. 19, 21 (1941)).

Personal injury is defined as

injury arising out of and in the course of employment * * * [but] does not include an injury caused by the act of a third person or fellow employee intended to injure the employee because of personal reasons, and not directed against the employee as an employee, or because of the employment.

Minn. Stat. § 176.011, subd. 16 (Supp. 1995). "Neither the legislature nor the courts have precisely explained what is meant by "because of personal reasons" and "employee as an employee." Fernandez v. Ramsey County, 495 N.W.2d 859, 861 (Minn. App. 1993). However, workers' compensation claims involving mental injuries are divided into three categories:

(1) cases in which mental stimulus produces physical injury; (2) cases in which physical stimulus produces mental injury; and (3) cases in which mental stimulus produces mental injury.

Johnson v. Paul's Auto & Truck Sales, Inc., 409 N.W.2d 506, 508 (Minn. 1987). In Minnesota, coverage is extended to the first two categories, but not the third. Egeland v. City of Minneapolis, 344 N.W.2d 597, 604 (Minn. 1984).

On review of the motion to dismiss, the trial court agreed that appellants correctly asserted the law in that "physical injury and related mental injury are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Worker's Compensation courts, and that the assault exception (of the WCA) had not been met."[1] The trial court then concluded, however, that no individual count of the amended complaint could be dismissed at this point in the proceedings. In denying the motion to dismiss, the court also added that appellants' "proposed order gains little in terms of narrowing the issues, and may tread too deeply into Unruh's right to seek relief." We agree.

Appellants' motion for partial dismissal requested an order "dismissing the amended complaint to the extent the amended complaint seeks damages for physical injury and associated mental injury." Similarly, appellants' proposed order stated in part:

That the individual defendants are entitled to judgment on the pleadings to the extent that the amended complaint seeks damages from them for physical injury and associated mental injury * * *.

The trial court apparently agreed with appellants' recitation of the law as to the type of injury covered by the WCA, but concluded that dismissal of Unruh's complaint was premature. Furthermore, the trial court made clear that, after discovery, any claim for relief that appeared to fall within the coverage of the WCA would be subject to summary judgment. Absent specificity either of factual allegations or claims for relief sought to be stricken by appellants' motion or proposed order, we cannot say that the trial court's dismissal of the motion was error.

We note that Unruh's amended complaint sought to recover damages for violations of Minn. Stat. § 176.82 (1994), intentional obstruction of workers' compensation benefits and retaliation, and Minn. Stat. § 181.932 (1994), the Whistleblower Act, as well as for common law torts of conspiracy, invasion of privacy, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent supervision and retention. We do not perceive that the prayer for relief seeks damages for only "physical stimulus that produced mental injuries" or for "mental stimulus that produces physical injury." See Johnson, 409 N.W.2d at 508. It appears that Unruh's claims, if proved, could fall under the third, uncovered prong of the WCA. See id. (mental stimulus that produces mental injury is not covered under the WCA). We conclude, therefore, that the trial court did not err in denying appellants' motion for partial dismissal as to these claims.


[ ]* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[ ]1 We note that Minn. Stat. § 176.011, subd. 16, has been nicknamed the "assault exception" to the WCA. We are directed to no statutory language or other authority to establish that the legislature intended this provision to apply only to cases alleging sexual or other physical assault. On the face of the statutory language, the proper inquiry in determining whether an injury is covered under the WCA is whether the resulting injury to the employee was intentionally inflicted because of personal animosities directed at an employee by a third party. See Fernandez, 495 N.W.2d at 861.