Neppel v. Development Homes, Inc., 011221 NDSC, 20200036

Docket Nº20200036
Opinion JudgeMcEvers, Justice.
Party NamePamela Neppel, individually and as the parent and legal guardian of Z.N. an incapacitated individual, Plaintiff, Appellant and Cross-Appellee v. Development Homes, Inc., Defendant, Appellee and Cross-Appellant and Sandra J. Marshall, individually; Mark Indvik, individually, and Mark and Amelia Indvik as Co-Guardians of S.K.O.; Konah Zunugo,...
AttorneyJonathon Yunker (argued) and Jason P. Sayler (on brief), Devils Lake, ND, for plaintiff, appellant, and cross-appellee. William J. Behrmann (argued) and Jerry W. Evenson (on brief), Bismarck, ND, for defendants, appellees, and cross-appellant. David E. Boeck, Special Assistant Attorney General, a...
Judge PanelJon J. Jensen, C.J., Gerald W.VandeWalle, Daniel J. Crothers, Lisa Fair McEvers, Jerod E. Tufte
Case DateJanuary 12, 2021
CourtSupreme Court of North Dakota

2021 ND 5

Pamela Neppel, individually and as the parent and legal guardian of Z.N. an incapacitated individual, Plaintiff, Appellant and Cross-Appellee

v.

Development Homes, Inc., Defendant, Appellee and Cross-Appellant

and

Sandra J. Marshall, individually; Mark Indvik, individually, and Mark and Amelia Indvik as Co-Guardians of S.K.O.; Konah Zunugo, individually, Defendants and Appellees

No. 20200036

Supreme Court of North Dakota

January 12, 2021

Appeal from the District Court of Grand Forks County, Northeast Central Judicial District, the Honorable Lolita G. Hartl Romanick, Judge.

Jonathon Yunker (argued) and Jason P. Sayler (on brief), Devils Lake, ND, for plaintiff, appellant, and cross-appellee.

William J. Behrmann (argued) and Jerry W. Evenson (on brief), Bismarck, ND, for defendants, appellees, and cross-appellant.

David E. Boeck, Special Assistant Attorney General, and Mandy R. Dendy, Bismarck, ND, for amicus curiae Protection & Advocacy Project.

Murray G. Sagsveen, Bismarck, ND, for amicus curiae North Dakota Association of Nonprofit Organizations.

OPINION

McEvers, Justice.

[¶1] Pamela Neppel, individually and as the parent and legal guardian of Z.N., an incapacitated individual, appeals from an amended judgment entered after a jury trial. She also appeals from an order denying leave to amend her complaint, an order for an amended judgment, and an order denying her motion for attorney fees and costs. Development Homes, Inc. (DHI) cross appeals from an order denying its motion for judgment as a matter of law. We affirm the order denying Neppel leave to amend her complaint and the order denying her motion for attorney fees and costs. We reverse the order denying DHI's motion for judgment as a matter of law, and we hold Neppel's appeal from the order for amended judgment is moot. We remand for entry of a judgment consistent with this opinion.

I

[¶2] Z.N. is a developmentally disabled individual who, at the time of the incident giving rise to this case, was living at a residential care facility operated by DHI. Neppel is Z.N.'s mother. Neppel filed this lawsuit alleging Z.N. was raped by another resident, referred to as S.O., who lived on the same floor of the facility as Z.N.'s housemate. Neppel alleged DHI had knowledge S.O. was a sexual predator and Z.N. was susceptible to abuse, yet DHI withheld information from her about the risk of placing the two together. Neppel also alleged DHI did not immediately report the rape or provide prompt and adequate medical care for Z.N. Along with DHI, Neppel sued various DHI employees, as well as S.O.'s co-guardians.

[¶3] Neppel asserted various theories of liability. Prior to trial, Neppel filed a motion for leave to file a fourth amended complaint to add claims under the Developmental Disability Act, N.D.C.C. ch. 25-01.2, and for exemplary damages. The district court denied the motion. The case was tried to a jury on counts of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

[¶4] At the close of Neppel's case, and again at the end of the trial, DHI moved for judgment as a matter of law on the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. The district court denied DHI's motions. The jury returned a verdict awarding Neppel and Z.N. $550, 000 in damages. The jury specifically awarded Z.N. $100, 000 for damages caused by DHI's negligence. The jury also awarded Z.N. and Neppel $400, 000 and $50, 000 in damages, respectively, for past and future severe emotional distress caused by DHI. The jury did not find any of the individually-named defendants liable.

[¶5] Four days after the jury rendered its verdict, Neppel filed a motion for attorney fees. The district court denied the motion because it was premature. After the court entered judgment, which included interest and taxed costs and disbursements, Neppel filed a renewed motion for attorney fees and costs. She argued she was statutorily entitled to attorney fees and costs under the Developmental Disability Act. The court again denied her motion.

[¶6] DHI filed a motion to amend the judgment asserting it was entitled to charitable immunity under N.D.C.C. ch. 32-03.3, which sets out liability limits for certain charitable organizations. The court granted the motion and entered an amended judgment that applied the $250, 000 charitable organization liability limit.

II

[¶7] Neppel argues the district court erred when it denied her leave to amend her complaint.

[¶8] Under N.D.R.Civ.P. 15, when the time for amendments as a matter of course has passed, complaints may not be amended unless there is leave of court or written consent by the opposing party. Leave to amend a complaint "shall be freely given when justice so requires." N.D.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). A district court has "broad discretion" when deciding whether to grant leave to amend a complaint under N.D.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Ihli v. Lazzaretto, 2015 ND 151, ¶ 18, 864 N.W.2d 483. We review a district court's decision on a motion for leave to amend a complaint for an abuse of discretion. Id. "[A] district court abuses its discretion when it acts in an arbitrary, unconscionable, or unreasonable manner, when it misinterprets or misapplies the law, or when its decision is not the product of a rational mental process leading to a reasoned determination." In re Hirsch, 2014 ND 135, ¶ 12, 848 N.W.2d 719.

[¶9] Neppel amended her complaint once as a matter of course. The parties stipulated to a scheduling deadline of May 15, 2018, for motions for leave to amend the pleadings. Neppel moved for leave to amend her complaint on February 14, 2018 and again on May 15, 2018. The district court granted both motions. On December 10, 2018, Neppel sought leave to file a fourth amended complaint to state claims under the Developmental Disability Act and for exemplary damages. The court denied Neppel's motion.

[¶10] The district court, in its analysis, considered whether justice required the proposed amendment. The court also noted Neppel filed her motion roughly seven months after the deadline set out in the stipulated scheduling order and after the court had already addressed similar issues. We need not address each item the court considered, because it is not an abuse of discretion to deny an untimely motion for leave to amend a complaint. See Ihli, 2015 ND 151, ¶ 20 (affirming denial of motion for leave to amend complaint when stipulated scheduling deadline had passed); Grandbois & Grandbois, Inc. v. City of Watford City,...

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