Ekblad v. Independent School District No. 625 et al
ORDER granting 39 Motion for Summary Judgment(Written Opinion) Signed by Senior Judge David S. Doty on 5/25/2017. (DLO)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA
Civil No. 16-834(DSD/SER)
Independent School District
No. 625, et al.,
Philip G. Villaume, Esq., Jeffrey D. Schiek, Esq. and
Villaume & Schiek, P.A., 2051 Killebrew Dr., Suite 611,
Bloomington, MN 55425, counsel for plaintiff.
Hannah G. Felix, Esq., Lawrence M. Rocheford, Esq. and
Jardine Logan & O’Brien PLLP, 8519 Eagle Point Blvd., Suite
100, Lake Elmo, MN 55042, counsel for defendants.
This matter is before the court upon the motion for summary
judgment by defendants Independent School District No. 625, school
district superintendent Valeria Silva, and assistant superintendent
proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the court grants
This dispute arises out of the physical assault of plaintiff
John Ekblad by a student at Central Senior High School (CSHS).
Ekblad Dep. at 60:8-21.
At various times
throughout his tenure, Ekblad served as a lunchroom supervisor and
safety team member.1
Id. at 115:22-116:6.
He also coached various
athletic teams and assisted with site supervision and security at
Id. at 118:12-15.
Relevant here, Ekblad was a
lunchroom supervisor for the 2014-15 school year, for which he
received additional compensation.
Id. at 133:22-134:16, 135:5-8.
In that role, he monitored students and helped maintain order by,
occasionally, intervening to break up fights. Id. at 133:22-134:7,
The school district did not require Ekblad to
intervene in fights, however, and it could not discipline him for
failing to do so.
Silva Dep. at 52:21-54:13; Mackabee Dep. at
intervene to restore safety if they feel they can do so safely.
Mackabee Dep. at 34:9-15; Battle Dep. at 122:13-123:14; Krois Dep.
On December 4, 2015, a fight broke out between students F.S.O. and F.L.O. - during the lunch period Ekblad was supervising.
A support staff member called Ekblad over to intervene, and when he
did so, he was seriously injured by F.S.O.
179:6; Villaume Aff. Ex. I, at 10-12.
Ekblad Dep. at 178:19-
Ekblad concedes that he was
The safety team implemented safety protocols and addressed
safety concerns at CSHS. Krois Dep. at 11:29-12:8. As a safety
team member, Ekblad carried a radio and responded to safety
concerns in the high school. Id. at 14:16-18.
“on the job, on the clock working” for the school district when he
Ekblad Dep. at 194:9-16.
“slamm[ed] that white-ass teacher.”
During and after the
Villaume Aff. Ex. E.
Ekblad had no contact with F.S.O. - in or outside of school before the incident.
ever knowing him.
See Ekblad Dep. at 144:45 (“I don’t recall
I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup.”).
acknowledges that he was not specifically targeted in the incident
and that there is no indication that F.S.O. personally bore him any
ill will. Id. at 148:3-149:2, 151:23-152:3, 158:23-159:2; see also
Krois Dep. at 51:22-23 (agreeing that it “could have happened to
There is no evidence in the record that F.S.O. had been
violent at school prior to the incident.
Ekblad has received workers’ compensation benefits since the
incident, including disability payments and vocational
Polzin Decl. ¶¶ 3-4, 7.
district has paid, and continues to pay, his medical bills.
On March 1, 2016, Ekblad filed suit against defendants in
negligent supervision by the school district and violations of 42
U.S.C. § 1983 by Silva and Battle. Ekblad contends that defendants
failed to protect him despite knowing that there were serious
safety concerns at CSHS.
Defendants timely removed to this court
and now move for summary judgment.
Standard of Review
“The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows
that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed. R. Civ.
P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
A fact is material only when its resolution affects the outcome of
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it could
cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party.
id. at 252.
On a motion for summary judgment, the court views all evidence
and inferences in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party.
Id. at 255.
The nonmoving party, however, may not rest upon mere
denials or allegations in the pleadings but must set forth specific
facts sufficient to raise a genuine issue for trial.
U.S. at 324.
A party asserting that a genuine dispute exists - or
cannot exist - about a material fact must cite “particular parts of
materials in the record.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A).
plaintiff cannot support each essential element of a claim, the
court must grant summary judgment because a complete failure of
proof regarding an essential element necessarily renders all other
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.
Workers Compensation Act
Defendants argue that Ekblad’s negligence claims are preempted
by the Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA).
The court agrees.
“Minnesota’s workers’ compensation system ‘is based on a
mutual renunciation of common law rights and defenses by employers
and employees alike.’”
Meintsma v. Loram Maint. of Way, Inc., 684
N.W.2d 434, 438 (Minn. 2004) (quoting Minn. Stat. § 176.001). The
WCA is the exclusive remedy for an employee who suffers a jobrelated personal injury.
Minn. Stat. § 176.031.
remedy provision is part of the quid pro quo of the workers’
compensation scheme in which the employer assumes liability for
work-related injuries without fault in exchange for being relieved
of liability for certain kinds of actions and the prospect of large
Meintsma, 684 N.W.2d at 438 (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted). “Where the WCA provides an employee’s
exclusive remedy, a court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over
any claim seeking redress for the employee’s injuries.” Edralin v.
Bon Appetit Mgmt. Co., No. 06-2119, 2006 WL 2850345, at *2 (D.
Minn. Oct. 3, 2006).
There are three relevant exceptions to the exclusive remedy
provision: the assault exception, the intentional act exception,
and the co-employee liability exception.
Ekblad has failed to
establish that any of the exceptions apply in this case.
The Assault Exception
The assault exception excludes from WCA coverage any injury
inflicted “to injure the employee because of personal reasons.”
Minn. Stat. § 176.011, subdiv. 16.
To fall within this exception,
unrelated to the victim’s employment.
See, e.g., McGowan v. Our
Savior’s Lutheran Church, 527 N.W.2d 830, 834 (Minn. 1995) (holding
that the rape of a homeless shelter employee by a shelter client in
the workplace during work hours did not fall within the assault
Ekblad acknowledges that he was injured while at work
and in the course of his duties, but argues that he was assaulted
because he is white, which qualifies as a “personal reason.”
racial animosity, even if proven, is insufficient to establish the
personal connection necessary to invoke the exclusion.
See Fu v.
Owens, 622 F.3d 880, 833 (8th Cir. 2010) (holding that the WCA
covered plaintiff’s injuries despite evidence of racial animus
because the assault occurred due to work-related tension between
Further, F.S.O.’s comment that he “slamm[ed] that
white-ass teacher” not only references Ekblad’s race, but also his
role at the school, thereby reinforcing the connection between the
assault and Ekblad’s employment.
Ekblad otherwise presents no
evidence of a personal relationship between him and F.S.O. which
could support a finding of non-work related animus.
Ekblad also argues that there is no connection between his
employment and the assault because anyone could have been a victim
of the assault, even a visitor to the school.
It is likely beyond
dispute that if a visitor to the school had intervened in the
fight, his or her injuries would not be covered by the WCA.
those are not the facts presented.
Ekblad, a school district
employee paid to maintain order and safety in the lunchroom,
intervened in the fight in the course of his duties.
circumstances, his injuries arose from circumstances directly
related to his employment.2
McGowan, 527 N.W.2d at 834.
result, the assault exception does not apply.
Intentional Act Exception
The intentional act exception bars WCA coverage when the
employer harbored a “conscious and deliberate intent directed to
the purpose of inflicting an injury, and such injury may not be
inferred from mere negligence, though it be gross.”
Harrington, 632 N.W.2d 695, 702 (Minn. 2001) (quoting Breimhorst v.
Beckman, 35 N.W.2d 719, 730 (Minn. 1949)).
Ekblad sets forth a
detailed analysis as to why defendants’ policies regarding student
discipline and school safety were either misguided, not followed,
Even though Ekblad was not required to intervene in the
fight, he acted within the scope of employment when he exercised
discretion in intervening.
or both and ultimately led to his injuries.3
See Pl.’s Opp’n Mem.
at 5-12, 15-25.
But defendants’ policies - even if substandard or
intentional act exception does not apply.
Co-Employee Liability Exception
The co-employee liability exception applies where an employee
has a personal duty to another employee, “the breach of which
resulted in the employee’s injury, and th[e] activity causing the
injury was not part of the co-employee’s general administrative
Wicken v. Morris, 527 N.W.2d 95, 98 (Minn.
“[T]he injury must arise from gross negligence on the part
of the co-employee.”
“The acts of negligence for which a co-
employee may be held liable must be acts constituting direct
participated, or which he specifically directed others to do.”
Stringer v. Minn. Vikings Football Club, LLC, 705 N.W.2d 746, 756
employees, the incident did not arise from negligence directed
toward Ekblad or tortious conduct in which they participated, nor
did it occur at their direction.
Ekblad nevertheless argues that
There is no dispute that student violence against staff was
a serious problem in the school district before the incident. See
Villaume Aff. Ex. L.
the exception should apply because Silva and Battle were obligated
to maintain a safe workplace.
But the duty to provide a safe
workplace is a “non-delegable” duty held by the employer:
This is a fundamental premise upon which the workers’
compensation laws are based. The seemingly harsh result
of holding a co-employee immune from liability arising
from breach of the employer’s duty to provide a safe
workplace is a necessary part of the statutory scheme, as
it maintains the integrity of the compromise between
employers and employees implemented by the legislature
pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 176.061, subd. 5(c).
Wicken, 527 N.W.2d at 99.
As a result, the co-employee liability
exception does not apply under these circumstances.
Because the WCA applies, summary judgment is warranted on
Ekblad’s negligence claims.4
Section 1983 Claims
Ekblad asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Silva and
Battle based on their alleged failure to maintain a safe workplace.
successful claim must demonstrate a deprivation of a specific
right, privilege, or immunity. Morton v. Becker, 793 F.2d 185, 187
constitutional rights in his complaint, he now alleges that his
unsafe workplace violated his right to substantive due process
under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Even if his new allegations were
timely, they are meritless.
The court need not consider whether defendants are entitled
to immunity in light of the foregoing analysis.
To plead a substantive due process claim, Ekblad must allege
actions by Silva and Battle which “violated one or more fundamental
constitutional rights” and were “shocking to the contemporary
conscience.” C.N. v. Willmar Pub. Sch., Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 347,
591 F.3d 624, 634 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Flowers v. City of
Minneapolis, 478 F.3d 869, 873 (8th Cir. 2007)).
This is a high
[s]ubstantive due process is concerned with violations
personal rights ... so severe ... so disproportionate
the need presented, and ... so inspired by malice
sadism rather than a merely careless or unwise excess
zeal that it amounted to brutal and inhumane abuse
official power literally shocking to the conscience.
Id. (quoting Golden v. Anders, 324 F.3d 650, 652-53 (8th Cir.
The circumstances presented, while certainly unfortunate,
do not meet this standard.
As a result, summary judgment is also
warranted on Ekblad’s § 1983 claims.
Accordingly, based on the above, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:
The motion to for summary judgment [ECF No. 39] is
The case is dismissed with prejudice.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.
Dated: May 25, 2017
s/David S. Doty
David S. Doty, Judge
United States District Court
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