Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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Plaintiff-Appellant Lindsey Hysjulien appealed a grant of summary judgment which dismissed her claims for employment discrimination and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Hill Top Home of Comfort, Inc. and Greg Armitage. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. However, because genuine issues of material fact existed regarding the running of the statutes of limitations for her state and federal employment discrimination claims and regarding her intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, the court erred in granting summary judgment on these claims. Accordingly, the Court affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Hysjulien v. Hill Top Home of Comfort" on Justia Law

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Clinton Gardner appealed a district court judgment that affirmed a North Dakota Department of Transportation hearing officer's decision suspending his driving privileges for one year. Gardner argued that because he wasn't given the implied consent advisory for the request for chemical testing, his conduct could not be deemed a refusal. He also argued he consented to the test when he said "yeah, I'll take the test," but was never given the opportunity to take the test. The administrative officer found the arresting officer had reasonable grounds to believe Gardner was in actual physical control of a vehicle, and had effectively refused the blood test by his conduct despite stating he would take the test. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the hearing officer's decision was supported by the weight of the evidence in the record, and was entitled to deference. View "Gardner v. N.D. Dep't of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Tim Clausnitzer appealed the grant of summary judgment that dismissed his lawsuit against Tesoro Refinery and Marketing Company alleging lawful-activity discrimination under the North Dakota Human Rights Act, N.D.C.C. ch. 14-02.4. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court affirmed, concluding Clausnitzer failed to make a prima facie showing that he was a member of a protected class under the Act when Tesoro terminated his employment.

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Respondent-Appellant John Witzke appealed the district court's order granting a petition by Petitioner-Appellee Ania Gonzalez a two-year disorderly conduct restraining order against him. Witzke and Gonzalez were neighbors with "a long acrimonious history," which resulted in frequent litigation. Finding Gonzalez presented sufficient evidence to support the restraining order, the Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the order.

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Plaintiff Bruce Roger Mills, individually and on behalf of those similarly situated, appealed a judgment that dismissed his claims against the City of Grand Forks to recover the amount of fines and fees collected in the past for noncriminal traffic violations by the City exceeding the amount the City could legally impose under state law. The City cross-appealed that judgment. In 2004, a Grand Forks police officer cited Plaintiff with careless driving. Under Grand Forks City Code, the maximum fine for violation of a noncriminal offense was $1,000 "in the discretion of the court." Plaintiff pled not guilty and proceeded to trial in municipal court. Plaintiff was found guilty. The municipal court imposed against Plaintiff "a fine in the amount of $151 with $0 suspended" and a hearing fee of $15. Plaintiff appealed to district court for a new trial; the court affirmed the conviction and the fine and fees totaling $166. Plaintiff appealed to the Supreme Court, but on December 1, 2004, the Court dismissed the appeal because the district court judgment was "not appealable under N.D.C.C. 39-06.1-03(5)." On August 16, 2010, Plaintiff brought a "Class Action Complaint for Restitution" in state district court seeking the amount of monies paid to Grand Forks exceeding the state law limits for fines for similar state offenses. Plaintiff asserted the excess fines, fees and charges were "involuntary and void." The City argued Plaintiff's claims were precluded by both res judicata and collateral estoppel based on the prior federal court action, and by res judicata because Mills failed to challenge the City's fine scheme in the 2004 state court proceedings. Because the district court correctly ruled Plaintiff's claims were thus barred by res judicata, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment.

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Plaintiff-Appellant Wade Baesler appealed a district court's judgment that affirmed a Department of Transportation order suspending his driving privileges for 180 days. Because the Department failed to transmit a record compiled in the administrative proceedings, there was no evidence to support the Department's exercise of jurisdiction to suspend his license. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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Petitioner-Appellant Spence Koenig appealed a district court's judgment that affirmed the Department of Transportation's decision to suspend his driving privileges for ninety-one days. Petitioner was pulled over by a state trooper for speeding and for expired tabs. Petitioner agreed to perform a field sobriety test and failed it. The trooper told Petitioner's girlfriend that Petitioner would be released when someone over eighteen years old came to pick Petitioner up. Petitioner argued he was denied an opportunity to obtain an independent sobriety test after he made sufficient arrangements for one because he was held in custody for over three hours with no attempt or offer to transport him to the hospital for the additional test. Petitioner asserted that "the responsibility of securing [his] right to an independent blood test became that of law enforcement holding him in custody[,]" when it became apparent his ride was not coming. Finding that the officers did not have a duty to transport Petitioner to the hospital to obtain the independent test, the Supreme Court affirmed the Department's decision.

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"J.T.N." appealed a district court order which found he remained a sexually dangerous individual and that denied his petition for discharge from the North Dakota State Hospital. On appeal to the Supreme Court, J.T.N. argued the district court erred by denying his discharge petition because five of the six experts testified he was not a sexually dangerous individual. He did not contest the findings that he engaged in sexually predatory conduct and that he had an antisocial personality disorder. He argued the findings that he was likely to engage in further acts of sexually predatory conduct and that he had serious difficulty controlling his behavior were clearly erroneous. The State responded that the district court's findings were supported by clear and convincing evidence. Finding that the district court did not apply an erroneous view of the law in determining J.T.N. remained a sexually dangerous individual, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court and J.T.N.'s continued commitment.

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Respondent-Appellant Larry Rubey appealed a district court order committing him as a sexually dangerous individual. After a March 2010 preliminary hearing, the court found probable cause that Respondent was a sexually dangerous individual and transferred him to the North Dakota State Hospital for an evaluation. The court also appointed an independent expert after Respondent's request for an independent evaluation. The district court found by clear and convincing evidence that Respondent was a sexually dangerous individual and committed him to the care, custody, and control of the executive director of the Department of Human Services. Respondent raised multiple issues on appeal, the sum of which was that the court erred in finding clear and convincing evidence, and that and the court did not address whether he had difficulty in controlling his behavior. On the basis of the Supreme Court's review of the record, the Court concluded there was clear and convincing evidence supporting the district court's decision that Respondent was a sexually dangerous individual likely to engage in further acts of sexually predatory conduct who has serious difficulty in controlling his behavior.

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Plaintiff Richard Spratt appealed a district court summary judgment that dismissed his age discrimination claim against MDU Resources Group, Inc. ("MDU"). In 2001, Plaintiff was hired as the vice president of human resources for Montana-Dakota Utilities Co., a division of MDU. Plaintiff claimed that in 2007 the president and chief executive officer of MDU told him two high-ranking executives at MDU were "out to get" Plaintiff, and he needed to "watch [his] step.â Plaintiff further claimed that when he asked the president why they were out to get him, the president responded he thought it was because of "these fights that you're fighting . . . with corporate" and because "[y]ou're too old and you make too much money." Plaintiff further contended that the president reassured him he did not need to worry about losing his job because "[y]ou're all right as long as I'm here." In March 2008, the company got a new president. In April, Plaintiff was advised that his position was being eliminated as a result of a reorganization of the human resources function at MDU. Plaintiff was offered the option of resigning and receiving a severance package. He refused and was terminated effective April 3, 2008, at age fifty-nine. MDU contended elimination of Plaintiffâs position was part of a comprehensive reorganization of the human resources function at MDU. Furthermore, MDU argued that although Plaintiffâs was the first position eliminated, two human resources positions at another MDU division were eliminated within one month of Plaintiffâs termination. Plaintiff sued MDU, alleging he was wrongfully terminated based upon his age in violation of the North Dakota Human Rights Act. MDU moved for summary judgment, alleging Plaintiff could not meet his burden of establishing a case of age discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment dismissing Plaintiffâs claim. The Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err in determining that Plaintiff failed meet his burden of proof, and it upheld the lower courtâs grant of summary judgment.