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Estate of Guled v. City of Minneapolis

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 29, 2017

Estate of Ahmed M. Guled, by and through Mohamed G. Abdi, Special Administrator for the Estate of Ahmed M. Guled Plaintiff- Appellant
City of Minneapolis; Officer Christopher Garbisch, in his individual and official capacities Defendants - Appellees

          Submitted: May 11, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, COLLOTON and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          KELLY, Circuit Judge.

         On February 5, 2009, Minneapolis Police Officers shot and killed Ahmed Guled after a short car chase. Guled's father, Mohamed Abdi, engaged in efforts to acquire legal status to act on behalf of Guled's estate and next of kin, culminating in his being appointed Special Administrator (SA) of Guled's estate pursuant to Minnesota Statute § 524.3-703(b). In his capacity as SA, Abdi filed a complaint against the City of Minneapolis and the officers involved in Guled's shooting (collectively, the City), [1] alleging that the City used excessive force in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court[2] granted summary judgment in favor of the City, finding that Abdi lacked standing to bring a § 1983 claim because Abdi was not a trustee under Minnesota's wrongful death statute. See Minn. Stat. § 573.02. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

         I. Background

         In the early morning hours of February 5, 2009, Guled was driving a stolen car in North Minneapolis when he came across an unrelated police investigation that was blocking his path. Guled attempted to drive through a narrow space between two parked police vehicles, and officers shot at Guled's car. After the initial shots, Guled stopped and either stepped or fell out of his car onto the ground, where Officer Christopher Garbisch shot him three times. Guled died at the scene shortly thereafter.

         In 2011, Abdi filed a petition in Minnesota state court to be appointed trustee for Guled's next of kin in order to bring an action against the City for, inter alia, federal constitutional violations and wrongful death pursuant to Minnesota Statute § 573.02. Abdi listed himself, Guled's siblings, and Guled's mother as Guled's next of kin. The Minnesota state court granted Abdi's petition, and appointed him as trustee to maintain the action described in the petition.

         In 2012, shortly after his appointment, Abdi filed a pro se lawsuit in federal court as trustee for Guled's heirs and next of kin, seeking damages for emotional distress, pecuniary loss, and the loss of Guled's companionship, guidance and protection. Abdi v. Garbisch, No. 0:12-cv-00306 (D. Minn. Feb. 6, 2012). After Guled's brother submitted a statement explaining that he did not consent to the appointment of Abdi as trustee, and that his signature on a document purporting to evince his consent had been forged, the state court vacated its appointment of Abdi as trustee. The district court later dismissed Abdi's pro se case without prejudice for failure to prosecute, and we dismissed Abdi's appeal.

         Abdi retained current counsel in 2014. Abdi told counsel that he had been appointed trustee for Guled's next of kin, but did not tell counsel that his status as trustee had been revoked. Because the three-year statute of limitations on Abdi's Minnesota wrongful death claim had expired, Abdi (through counsel) filed a complaint in federal district court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The court asked Abdi to clarify his legal status and authority to pursue claims on behalf of Guled, at which point counsel discovered that Abdi's trustee status had been revoked. Counsel notified the court and spoke with Abdi, who explained that he was unaware of the revocation of his trustee status. The complaint was dismissed without prejudice based on Abdi's lack of standing to sue.

         On October 16, 2014, Abdi filed a "Petition for Formal Appointment of Special Administrator" of Guled's estate pursuant to Minnesota Statute § 524.3-614(2) in Minnesota state district court, which was approved the following day. As SA, Abdi filed the instant lawsuit-his third attempt to bring claims against the City as a result of Guled's death-naming the Estate of Guled, through Abdi as SA, as plaintiff. The complaint alleged that Guled suffered harm as a result of excessive force and unconstitutional action by the City in violation of § 1983.

         Following discovery, both sides moved for summary judgment. The City argued that the case should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because Abdi, acting as SA rather than as a duly appointed wrongful death trustee, did not have standing to bring a § 1983 claim. The district court granted the City's motion, and Abdi appeals. "We review the district court's grant of summary judgment based on standing de novo." Oti Kaga, Inc. v. S.D. Hous. Dev. Auth., 342 F.3d 871, 877 (8th Cir. 2003).

         II. Discussion

         Section 1983 explains that any person who, under color of law, deprives another of their constitutional rights, is "liable to the party injured." 42 U.S.C. § 1983. While the "party injured" is generally self-explanatory, § 1983 does not make clear who constitutes the injured party when the injured party dies. In such a situation, Congress has explained that "we look to state law to determine who is a proper plaintiff, as long as state law is not inconsistent with the Constitution or federal law." Andrews v. Neer, 253 F.3d 1052, 1056 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1988(a)). Therefore, we look to Minnesota's survivorship statute to determine whether Abdi has standing to bring this § 1983 claim. Robertson v. Wegmann, 436 U.S. 584, 589-90 (1978) ...

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