Krekelberg v. Anoka Cnty.

Decision Date13 February 2020
Docket NumberCivil No. 13-3562 (DWF/TNL)
Citation439 F.Supp.3d 1143
Parties Amy Elizabeth KREKELBERG, Plaintiff, v. ANOKA COUNTY, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Minnesota

Jonathan A. Strauss, Esq., Lorenz F. Fett, Jr., Esq., and Sonia Miller-Van Oort, Esq., Sapientia Law Group PLLC; and Susan M. Holden, Esq., Jeffrey M. Montpetit, Esq., and Marcia K. Miller, SiebenCarey, PA; counsel for Plaintiff.

Erik Nillson, Interim City Attorney, and Brian S. Carter, Esq., Sharda Enslin, Esq., and Ivan Ludmer, Assistant City Attorneys, counsel for Defendants City of Minneapolis and Heather Young.

Joseph E. Flynn, Esq., and Tal A. Bakke, Esq., Jardine Logan & O'Brien PLLP, counsel for Defendant Matthew Olson.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DONOVAN W. FRANK, United States District Judge

INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Amy Elizabeth Krekelberg's ("Krekelberg") Motion and Amended Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs (Doc. Nos. 715, 746); Defendants the City of Minneapolis ("Minneapolis") and Heather Young's ("Young") Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, Motion for New Trial, Motion to Alter/Amend/Correct Judgment, and Motion to Stay (Doc. No. 720); Defendant Matthew Olson's ("Olson") (together, "Defendants") Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, Motion for New Trial, Motion to Alter/Amend/Correct Judgment, and Motion to Stay (Doc. No. 721); Krekelberg's Motion to Alter/Amend/Correct Judgment (Doc. No. 722); and Krekelberg's Motion for Relief from Judgment Pursuant to Rule 60 (Doc. No. 767). For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Krekelberg's Motions for Attorneys' Fees and Costs in part; denies Defendants' Motions for Judgment as a Matter of Law, New Trial, and to Alter/Amend/Correct Judgment; grants Defendants' Motions to Stay; and grants Krekelberg's Motion for Relief from Judgment in part.

BACKGROUND

This case commenced in 2013 with Krekelberg's complaint asserting claims under the Driver's Privacy Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2721, et seq. ("DPPA") for alleged violations by numerous government entities and their individual employees. (Doc. No. 1.) Previous orders in this matter include detailed summaries of the factual and procedural background in this case and are incorporated by reference. (See, e.g., Doc. No. 118.) The specific procedural and factual background relevant to each of the pending motions is detailed below, with all facts construed in favor of the verdict. Washington v. Denney , 900 F.3d 549, 555 (8th Cir. 2018).

As far back as 2017, Magistrate Judge Leung observed that "the litigation of this case has been a textbook antithesis of Rule 1 [of the Federal Rules of Procedure's] admonition" that parties should construe the Rules "to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every proceeding." (Doc. No. 430 at 1 (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 1 ).) In his Order, Magistrate Judge Leung noted that while the "facts and law underpinning the complaint are decidedly manageable," this litigation had by that point already developed a "rancorous history" that devolved into a process marked by mutual distrust and a lack of reasonable compromise, and called for bringing the long-running litigation to a "merciful close." (Id. at 2, 42.) Lamentably, it was not until almost two years and hundreds of docket entries later that this matter went to trial on the remaining claims.

In an Order issued on July 30, 2018, the Court denied a motion by Minneapolis for summary judgment on the grounds that the earlier dismissal of numerous claims against individual defendants for being untimely meant that corresponding vicarious liability claims against Minneapolis should also be dismissed. (Doc. No. 535 at 3-4 ("Redacted July 30, 2018 Order") (unredacted version at Doc. No. 527).) The Court ruled that "a dismissal based on the statute of limitations should not operate to preclude vicarious liability," reasoning that there was a meaningful distinction between dismissal of a claim on the merits of an agent's liability and dismissal for a procedural reason, that the issue was not controlled by the principles of either res judicata or collateral estoppel, and that under the circumstance of this case, Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(b) did not mandate dismissal. (Redacted July 30, 2018 Order at 8, 10-11.) In the July 30, 2018 Order, the Court also declined to adopt part of Magistrate Judge Leung's August 9, 2017 Order barring the parties from seeking attorneys' fees and expenses related to the motions addressed at that time but noted that it will "take the Magistrate Judge's [ ] Order into appropriate consideration" if Krekelberg were to subsequently move for attorneys' fees in this matter. (Id. at 37.)

Minneapolis again moved for summary judgment, which was again denied in January of 2019. (Doc. No. 574 ("January 30, 2019 Order").) By that point, Krekelberg's only surviving claims against Minneapolis were for vicarious liability based on allegations of 74 obtainments of her personal information made by Minneapolis police officers in violation of the DPPA. (January 30, 2019 Order at 4.) Minneapolis reasserted its arguments as to why these vicarious liability claims should be dismissed, which the Court rejected, finding that reasonable jurors could conclude that each of the officers accessed Krekelberg's information for an impermissible purpose, "and in doing so, violated a clearly established right protected under the DPPA." (Id. at 4, 11.)

The Court made several rulings on the parties' motions in limine following a pretrial conference on May 22, 2019. (Doc. Nos. 665, 666 ("May 24, 2019 Order").) Specifically, the Court ruled that Krekelberg's expert witness would be permitted to testify as to when Minneapolis Police Department ("MPD") officers reasonably knew accessing the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Driver and Vehicle Services database of records for drivers licensed and vehicles registered in the state ("DVS Database") for a non-law enforcement purpose violated federal law and as to the culture, structure, and practices of law enforcement agencies, including the MPD. (May 24, 2019 Order ¶ 1.) The Court denied Defendants' motion to exclude evidence of untimely or unrelated accesses, finding that, subject to a proper cautionary instruction to the jury, such evidence was sufficiently intrinsic and presumptively admissible under Fed. R. Evid. 403 and 404. (Id. ¶ 2.) Further, this evidence would be relevant to the state of mind, intent, knowledge, and lack of mistake or accident on the part of each officer and would not constitute impermissible propensity evidence. (Id. )

In the same Order, the Court denied Defendants' motions for a ruling that vicarious liability did not apply, citing to its previous findings on the issue. (Id. ¶ 5.) The Court also denied Defendants' motions to limit Krekelberg to "garden variety" emotional damages and exclude evidence related to her allegations of retaliation, discrimination, and harassment, ruling that Krekelberg would be permitted to testify as to the feelings she experienced and that it was for the jury to decide the relationship between any conditions created by the environment and context in which events took place and how such conditions may relate to proximate cause and emotional damages. (Id. ¶¶ 6-7.)

The Court granted Defendants' motion to exclude any reference to liquidated damages during the trial, clarifying that the Court will view sequential accesses close in time as one obtainment consistent with its previous ruling in an order issued June 21, 2018. (Id. ¶ 8 (citing Doc. No. 527 at 15 n. 4).) The Court deferred ruling on Defendants' motion to exclude a 2013 Minnesota Legislative Auditor's Report on law enforcement use of state databases, later ruling that Krekelberg's proposed redacted version was admissible as a trial exhibit. (Id. ¶ 9; Doc. No. 670.)

Defendants' motion to exclude evidence of Internal Affairs ("IA") investigations was granted in part and denied in part, with the Court ruling that evidence of accesses of Krekelberg's information was presumptively admissible as to damages. (May 24, 2019 Order ¶ 11.) Also relevant here, the Court granted Krekelberg's motion to exclude evidence concerning the current Minnesota Department of Vehicle Services ("DVS") system and changes made to the system after August 23, 2012, finding that such evidence would be presumptively inadmissible but stating that the Court would entertain a motion to introduce such evidence should it become appropriate based on testimony received at trial. (Id. ¶ 16.)

Krekelberg's remaining claims for DPPA violations were tried to a jury beginning June 10, 2019 and after the parties presented 19 witnesses and 88 exhibits for the jury's consideration, the trial concluded with a verdict on June 19, 2019. (Doc. Nos. 671, 687, 691-92.)

Before presenting their defense, Defendants Minneapolis and Young moved for a directed verdict in their favor as to the vicarious liability claims against Minneapolis and the direct liability claim against Young. (Doc. No. 708 ("Trial Tr. Vol. 6") at 1099.) Among other arguments, when asked by the Court if it was the position of the MPD that their employees violate department policies and state law every day, but that is not tantamount to a violation of federal law, counsel for Minneapolis and Young answered affirmatively, stating that such violations would not constitute a violation of the DPPA.1 (Trial Tr. Vol. 6 at 1110-11.) Counsel for Olson joined in the defense motion and arguments as to the claim for direct liability against Olson. (Id. at 1117.) The Court denied the motion, finding that, based on the evidence admitted up to that point, a jury could conclude that Defendants made a large number of impermissible accesses and that Krekelberg met her burden of proof with respect to liability and compensatory and punitive damages. (Id. at 1144-45.)

The Court made determinations with respect to several issues in the charge conference, among them...

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