Millea v. Erickson, No. 26832.

CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota
Writing for the CourtWILBUR
PartiesPrudence MILLEA, as Special Administrator of the Estate of Kimimila Win Sunny Sarah Iron Cloud, (Deceased), Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Jolyn R. ERICKSON, Defendant, and Kelly Laughlin, Individually and as Property Owner, Defendant and Appellee.
Decision Date18 June 2014
Docket NumberNo. 26832.

849 N.W.2d 272
2014 S.D. 34

Prudence MILLEA, as Special Administrator of the Estate of Kimimila Win Sunny Sarah Iron Cloud, (Deceased), Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
Jolyn R. ERICKSON, Defendant,
and
Kelly Laughlin, Individually and as Property Owner, Defendant and Appellee.

No. 26832.

Supreme Court of South Dakota.

Argued on April 28, 2014.
Decided June 18, 2014.


[849 N.W.2d 273]


Charles Abourezk of Abourezk & Zephier, PC Rapid City, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiff and appellant.

Jane Wipf Pfeifle of Lynn, Jackson, Shultz & Lebrun, PC Rapid City, South Dakota, Attorneys for defendant and appellee.

[849 N.W.2d 274]


WILBUR, Justice.

[¶ 1.] Prudence Millea, special administrator of the estate of Kimimila Win Sunny Sarah Iron Cloud (Kimi), brought a negligence action against both Jolyn Erickson and Kelly Laughlin (Laughlin) for Kimi's death. Laughlin filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that he had no legal duty to Kimi. The circuit court granted summary judgment to Laughlin. We affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

[¶ 2.] In August 2011, Jolyn Erickson, a 2011 high school graduate, lived with her mother, Paula Myers, and her mother's boyfriend, John Laughlin, in an apartment on Lemmon Avenue in Rapid City, South Dakota (Laughlin/Myers apartment). Laughlin, John Laughlin's son, owned the apartment building on Lemmon Avenue but lived in Gillette, Wyoming.

[¶ 3.] On August 2, 2011, Chelsea and O'Neil Iron Cloud asked Erickson to babysit their ten-month-old daughter, Kimi.1 It was decided that Erickson would care for Kimi at the Laughlin/Myers apartment.2 That same day, Laughlin was in the Rapid City area performing roofing estimates and stopped at the Laughlin/Myers apartment between 4:00 and 4:30 P.M. to have a sandwich and watch television between jobs. Also during this time, Erickson's friend, Elizabeth Thornton, stopped by to visit Erickson. Kimi became upset, began to cry, and appeared to be tired. Erickson was unable to comfort Kimi. Erickson testified that she thought that Laughlin was “irritated,” “pretty ticked off,” or would “freak” because Kimi continued to cry. Laughlin told Erickson that Kimi's crying was giving him a headache.3 While she did feel “a little bit of stress or pressure” from Laughlin, Erickson testified that Laughlin never made her afraid or anxious. Laughlin suggested to Erickson that Kimi needed a nap.

[¶ 4.] Erickson testified that Laughlin suggested that Kimi be placed in her car seat to nap. Erickson then placed Kimi in her car seat and buckled her in. Laughlin testified that “it looked like she fastened some—some portion of it.” He further stated that “I definitely know she did the top [buckle].”

[¶ 5.] Erickson also testified that Laughlin suggested that Kimi be placed in a bedroom. Erickson placed Kimi, who was still in her car seat, in a bedroom and mostly closed the door behind her. While Erickson testified that she respected Laughlin and listened to him when he gave her advice, Erickson testified that at no time was Laughlin in charge of Kimi and that she made all of the decisions concerning Kimi. Erickson testified at several points throughout her deposition:

Q. So even if [Laughlin] had suggested [putting the child in the bedroom], you made the decision what the best thing to do was; is that right?

A. Yeah.

....

Q. Was there any point when [Laughlin] was in charge of Kimi during this day?

A. No.

....

[849 N.W.2d 275]

Q. Okay. But at no time was [Laughlin] in charge of the baby?

A. No.

Q. And that was your decision, what to do with the baby?

A. Yeah.

[¶ 6.] Laughlin testified that he knew that Kimi was helpless at her age, and that because of her age, she could not be left alone for long periods of time. He also testified that he thought that Kimi, because of her age, should be checked on when sleeping alone in a bedroom.

[¶ 7.] Laughlin and Thornton left the Laughlin/Myers apartment before 5:00 P.M. When they left, Erickson went to the bathroom, and while there, heard a loud noise. Erickson went to the bedroom and observed that the car seat had tipped forward and Kimi appeared to be lifeless. The bottom buckle of the car seat was not latched, which then allowed the child to slip forward and catch her neck on the upper strap. Erickson administered CPR and called 911. Kimi died from positional asphyxiation.

[¶ 8.] Millea, as special administrator for Kimi's estate, brought a negligence action against both Erickson and Laughlin for Kimi's death. Erickson never answered the complaint and a default judgment was entered against her. Laughlin filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that he had no legal duty to Kimi. The circuit court granted summary judgment to Laughlin. Millea appeals arguing that the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment to Laughlin.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶ 9.] The standard of review of a summary judgment is well-settled. We “determine whether the moving party demonstrated the absence of any genuine issue of material fact and showed entitlement to judgment on the merits as a matter of law.” Andrushchenko v. Silchuk, 2008 S.D. 8, ¶ 8, 744 N.W.2d 850, 854 (quoting Kling v. Stern, 2007 S.D. 51, ¶ 5, 733 N.W.2d 615, 617). “All facts and favorable inferences from those facts must be viewed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Id. (quoting Hendrix v. Schulte, 2007 S.D. 73, ¶ 6, 736 N.W.2d 845, 847). “However, the nonmoving party must ‘present more than unsupported conclusions and speculative statements, which do not raise a genuine issue of fact.’ ” Id. (quoting Burley v. Kytec Innovative Sports Equip., Inc., 2007 S.D. 82, ¶ 34, 737 N.W.2d 397, 408). “Summary judgment is proper in negligence cases if no duty exists as a matter of law.” First Am. Bank & Trust, N.A. v. Farmers State Bank of Canton, 2008 S.D. 83, ¶ 13, 756 N.W.2d 19, 25–26 (quoting Stone v. Von Eye Farms, 2007 S.D. 115, ¶ 6, 741 N.W.2d 767, 770). As a general matter, the existence of a duty is a question of law that is reviewed de novo. Id.

DECISION

[¶ 10.] Millea contends that Laughlin interfered with Erickson's care of Kimi when Laughlin instructed Erickson to place Kimi in her car seat and in the bedroom so that Kimi could nap. She asserts that based on the familial-like relationship between Laughlin and Erickson, Laughlin had influence over Erickson such that Erickson deferred to Laughlin in providing care for Kimi. Millea argues that by this affirmative interference in Kimi's care, Laughlin assumed a legal duty to provide reasonable care for Kimi. Millea asserts that this duty either superseded Erickson's duty or joined with Erickson in a concurrent duty.

[¶ 11.] “In order to maintain a negligence action and before a defendant can be found negligent, a plaintiff must

[849 N.W.2d 276]

prove a duty existed from the defendant to the plaintiff.” Hoekman v. Nelson, 2000 S.D. 99, ¶ 8, 614 N.W.2d 821, 823. “A duty, in negligence cases, may be defined as an obligation, to which the law will give recognition and effect, to conform to a particular standard of conduct toward another.” Id. (quoting Tipton v. Town of Tabor, 1997 S.D. 96, ¶ 12, 567 N.W.2d 351, 357).

[¶ 12.] “In determining whether a duty exists, we examine whether ‘a relationship exists between the parties such that the law will impose upon the defendant a legal obligation of reasonable conduct for the benefit of the plaintiff.’ ” First Am. Bank & Trust, 2008 S.D. 83, ¶ 16, 756 N.W.2d at 26 (quoting Casillas v. Schubauer, 2006 S.D. 42, ¶ 14, 714 N.W.2d 84, 88). “Additionally, a duty can be created by common-law or statute.” Id.

I. Statutory Duty

[¶ 13.] Millea directs this Court to SDCL 20–9–1, which Millea claims imposed a duty upon Laughlin to provide reasonable care to Kimi. SDCL 20–9–1 provides: “Every person is responsible for injury to the...

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7 practice notes
  • Siebert v. Okun, NO. S-1-SC-37231
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court of New Mexico
    • March 15, 2021
    ...States , 1996 S.D. 10, ¶¶ 9-16, 544 N.W.2d 183, 186-88 (same), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Millea v. Erickson , 2014 S.D. 34, ¶ 13, 849 N.W.2d 272, 276 ; Sofie , 771 P.2d at 721-22...
  • Johnson v. Johnson, 3:17-CV-03001-RAL
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of South Dakota
    • January 16, 2018
    ...South Dakota commonly looks to the Restatement (Second) of Torts on questions involving duty in negligence cases. See Millea v. Erickson, 849 N.W.2d 272, 277-78 (S.D. 2014) (citing to the Restatement (Second) of Torts when discussing the duty owed when a special relationship exists between ......
  • Manson v. Keglovits, No. 49A02–1403–CT–145.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • November 5, 2014
    ...care increases the risk of such harm, or(b) the harm is suffered because of the other's reliance upon the undertaking.Millea v. Erickson, 849 N.W.2d 272, 277 (S.D.2014) (citing Andrushchenko v. Silchuk, 744 N.W.2d 850, 858 (S.D.2008) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 323 (1965) )). W......
  • Zerfas v. Amco Ins. Co., No. 27317.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • December 16, 2015
    ...absence of any genuine issue of material fact and showed entitlement to judgment on the merits as a matter of law." Millea v. Erickson, 2014 S.D. 34, ¶ 9, 849 N.W.2d 272, 275 (quoting Andrushchenko v. Silchuk, 2008 S.D. 8, ¶ 8, 744 N.W.2d 850, 854 ). "All facts and favorable inferences from......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
7 cases
  • Siebert v. Okun, NO. S-1-SC-37231
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court of New Mexico
    • March 15, 2021
    ...States , 1996 S.D. 10, ¶¶ 9-16, 544 N.W.2d 183, 186-88 (same), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Millea v. Erickson , 2014 S.D. 34, ¶ 13, 849 N.W.2d 272, 276 ; Sofie , 771 P.2d at 721-22...
  • Johnson v. Johnson, 3:17-CV-03001-RAL
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of South Dakota
    • January 16, 2018
    ...South Dakota commonly looks to the Restatement (Second) of Torts on questions involving duty in negligence cases. See Millea v. Erickson, 849 N.W.2d 272, 277-78 (S.D. 2014) (citing to the Restatement (Second) of Torts when discussing the duty owed when a special relationship exists between ......
  • Manson v. Keglovits, No. 49A02–1403–CT–145.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • November 5, 2014
    ...care increases the risk of such harm, or(b) the harm is suffered because of the other's reliance upon the undertaking.Millea v. Erickson, 849 N.W.2d 272, 277 (S.D.2014) (citing Andrushchenko v. Silchuk, 744 N.W.2d 850, 858 (S.D.2008) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 323 (1965) )). W......
  • Zerfas v. Amco Ins. Co., No. 27317.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • December 16, 2015
    ...absence of any genuine issue of material fact and showed entitlement to judgment on the merits as a matter of law." Millea v. Erickson, 2014 S.D. 34, ¶ 9, 849 N.W.2d 272, 275 (quoting Andrushchenko v. Silchuk, 2008 S.D. 8, ¶ 8, 744 N.W.2d 850, 854 ). "All facts and favorable inferences from......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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