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State v. Haskell

Supreme Court of North Dakota

October 17, 2017

State of North Dakota, by and through The North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the North Dakota Youth Correctional Center, Petitioners
v.
Honorable Bruce Haskell, Judge of the District Court, South Central Judicial District, and Delmar Markel, Respondents

         Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Bruce B. Haskell, Judge.

         PETITION FOR SUPERVISORY WRIT GRANTED, CROSS-PETITION DENIED.

          James E. Nicolai (argued) and Ken R. Sorenson (appeared), Office of the Attorney General, Bismarck, ND, for petitioners.

          Lawrence E. King, Bismarck, ND, for respondents.

          OPINION

          Crothers, Justice.

         [¶ 2] The State of North Dakota, by the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's Youth Correctional Center, petitioned for a supervisory writ directing the district court to vacate its July 18, 2017 order denying the State's motion for summary judgment on Delmar Markel's negligence claim. Markel cross-petitions for a supervisory writ directing the district court to vacate its January 21, 2016 order dismissing Markel's claim for constructive and retaliatory discharge. We exercise our original jurisdiction by granting the State's petition and denying Markel's cross-petition.

         I

         [¶ 3] Delmar Markel worked at the North Dakota Youth Correctional Center on December 9, 2012, when several inmates broke out of their locked rooms. The inmates injured Markel during their escape. On November 2, 2015, Markel brought a complaint against the State alleging one count of negligence for failure to fix faulty locks permitting the inmates to escape and one count of constructive and retaliatory discharge. The State argued that the Workforce Safety and Insurance ("WSI") Act in N.D.C.C. Title 65 barred Markel's negligence claim and that Markel failed to exhaust administrative remedies regarding his discharge claim. On January 21, 2016, the district court dismissed the discharge claim for failure to pursue available administrative remedies. The district court also denied the State's motion to dismiss Markel's negligence claim.

         [¶ 4] Section 65-01-01, N.D.C.C., limits civil claims of "workers injured in hazardous employments" to the bounds of the statute:"[S]ure and certain relief is hereby provided regardless of questions of fault and to the exclusion of every other remedy, proceeding, or compensation, except as otherwise provided in this title, and to that end, all civil actions and civil claims for relief for those personal injuries and all jurisdiction of the courts of the state over those causes are abolished except as is otherwise provided in this title. A civil action or civil claim arising under this title, which is subject to judicial review, must be reviewed solely on the merits of the action or claim. This title may not be construed liberally on behalf of any party to the action or claim.""The sole exception to an employer's immunity from civil liability under this title... is an action for an injury to an employee caused by an employer's intentional act done with the conscious purpose of inflicting the injury." N.D.C.C. § 65-01-01.1.

         [¶ 5] The district court based its January 21, 2016 order on an interpretation of the workers compensation statutes allowing an employee to "pursue a civil cause of action against his employer for a true intentional injury. An employer is deemed to have intended to injure if the employer had knowledge an injury was certain to occur and willfully disregarded that knowledge." Zimmerman v. Valdak Corp., 1997 ND 203, ¶ 21, 570 N.W.2d 204.

         [¶ 6] In June 2016, while the State and Markel engaged in extensive discovery, this Court held the legislature changed the "certain to occur" standard previously applied to N.D.C.C. § 65-01-01 to a narrower interpretation, requiring an employer to engage in an intentional act with a conscious purpose to inflict injury. Bartholomay v. Plains Grain & Agronomy, LLC, 2016 ND 138, ¶ 11, 881 N.W.2d 249.

         [¶ 7] The State moved a second time to dismiss Markel's claims on the narrowed intentional tort standards explained in Bartholomay and specifically informed the district court about the supersession of Zimmerman. The district court denied the State's second motion to dismiss, holding:

"The [district court] wrote that 'the plaintiff may be able to prove a set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to the relief requested.' The [district court] has not changed its opinion nor have the facts changed. It is a question of fact whether the defendants knew or intended that an injury would occur to the plaintiff as a result of the alleged faulty locks."

         The State petitioned this Court for a supervisory writ to vacate the district court order denying summary judgment, claiming injustice and lack ...


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