State ex rel. Twiehaus v. Adolf, No. 67323

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri
Writing for the CourtROBERTSON
Citation706 S.W.2d 443
Decision Date25 March 1986
Docket NumberNo. 67323
PartiesSTATE ex rel. John TWIEHAUS, Relator, v. Honorable George A. ADOLF, Judge, Circuit Court, City of St. Louis, Respondent.

Page 443

706 S.W.2d 443
STATE ex rel. John TWIEHAUS, Relator,
v.
Honorable George A. ADOLF, Judge, Circuit Court, City of St.
Louis, Respondent.
No. 67323.
Supreme Court of Missouri,
En Banc.
March 25, 1986.

Page 444

William L. Webster, Atty. Gen., Ruth A. Przybeck, Asst. Atty. Gen., St. Louis, for relator.

David R. Swimmer, Barbara Blee Maille, St. Louis, for respondent.

ROBERTSON, Judge.

This is an action in prohibition. Relator seeks to prohibit respondent trial judge from proceeding further in the underlying tort suit against him, under the doctrine of official immunity. We issued our provisional rule, and now make that rule absolute.

I.

Relator is the superintendent of the St. Louis Developmental Disabilities Treatment Center, a state facility operating within the Department of Mental Health. The underlying action seeks to recover damages from relator, among others, for the wrongful death of a patient in that facility. Plaintiffs are the parents of the patient-decedent.

According to the amended petition, plaintiffs' decedent was killed when he jumped or fell from the window of his room in the facility. The basis for relator's liability is asserted in three counts. The first count alleges that relator was negligent in failing to do some or all of the following: to secure the window, to inspect and repair the window, to isolate decedent from the window, to warn decedent of its condition, or to follow existing "standards of monitoring facility maintenance and housekeeping services in such a way as to result in capital improvements necessary for patient safety." The basis for negligence under this count, taken in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, is that plaintiffs' decedent suffered from depression, aggressive behavior and mild retardation, and had a history of self-destructive behavior; that the metal bars and other restraints on the window of decedent's room had rusted and decayed; and, that relator was aware of both decedent's mental condition and the condition of the window. The first count also alleges that relator's conduct was reckless, grossly negligent, and in callous disregard for his duty to correct defects and provide a safe and secure environment.

The second count alleges that relator was negligent, grossly negligent and reckless in the hiring and orientation of employees and in the establishment, implementation or monitoring of written policies of patient surveillance and protection. The third count alleges that relator was negligent, grossly negligent and reckless in failing, in his supervisory capacity, to effect reasonable medical treatment of decedent's injuries.

Relator moved to dismiss the amended petition or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. The trial court denied relator's motion. In such circumstances, where it appears on the face of the pleadings that defendant is immune from suit as a matter of law, prohibition is an appropriate remedy. State ex rel. Missouri Department of Agriculture v. McHenry, 687 S.W.2d 178, 181 (Mo. banc 1985).

II.

The general rule of official immunity is that

public officers acting within the scope of their authority are not liable for injuries arising from their discretionary acts or omissions, but they may be held liable for torts committed when acting in a ministerial capacity.

Kanagawa v. State, 685 S.W.2d 831, 835 (Mo. banc 1985).

Plaintiffs, on behalf of respondent, urge that relator breached a ministerial duty by failing to report the dangerous condition of the window to the Department of Mental Health, thus pretermitting capital improvements which may have prevented decedent's wrongful death. They contend that this duty is imposed on relator by operation of § 630.040.2, RSMo Cum.Supp.1984. That section provides:

Page 445

2. The chief administrative officer of each facility shall keep the records and make the reports which the [D]epartment [of Mental Health] and the respective division deem necessary and advisable.

Id. Plaintiffs further hypothesize that the described report was required by the department. Notwithstanding the merits of such an hypothesis, plaintiffs' amended petition does not aver the existence of either a statutory or departmentally-mandated duty, nor does the petition allege the breach of such a duty. 1 Absent these allegations, the pleadings are insufficient to state a claim which is not barred by the doctrine of official immunity as a matter of law.

Assuming, arguendo, that plaintiffs' petition can be read to plead a violation of a ministerial duty to make reports to the department on the condition of the facility imposed by § 630.040.2, no cause of action would have been stated. Any duty imposed by that statute runs in favor of the state as an entity and not toward individual patients or any other members of the public.

According to plaintiffs' hypothesis, the department requires relator to report on the condition of his facility, to the end that the department and ultimately state government can take steps to ensure future capital improvements. To the extent relator is permitted to exercise his discretion in making such reports (just as in performing other aspects of his maintenance function), the duty to exercise that discretion properly is one owed to his patient-charges. 2 However, to the extent his discretion is eliminated and he is under a statutorily-sanctioned mandate to report specified conditions, relator's duty is one of compliance with the directives of his superiors and extends only to the department and the state as a whole.

Generally,

t]he public duty doctrine recognizes that the duties of public officers are normally owed only to the general public and that a breach of such a duty will not support a cause of action by an individual injured thereby

Bailey v. Town of Forks, 38 Wash.App. 656, 688 P.2d 526, 529 (1984); see also State v. Superior Court of Maricopa County, 123 Ariz. 324, 599 P.2d 777, 785 (banc 1979) (ordinarily no individual cause of action based on breach of duty by public official). More specifically, "a public official is liable to an individual for his failure to perform a ministerial duty imposed on him by statute only if the statute creates a duty to the individual." Nelson v. Freeman, 537 F.Supp. 602, 608 (W.D.Mo.1982), aff'd sub. nom. Nelson v. Missouri Division of Family Services, 706 F.2d 276 (8th Cir.1983), quoting Leger v. Kelley, 142 Conn. 585, 116 A.2d 429, 431 (1955).

In this regard, it is commonly stated that

where the law imposes on the officer the performance of ministerial duties in which a private individual has a special, direct, and distinctive interest, the officer is liable to such individual for any injury which he may proximately sustain in consequence of the failure to perform the duty at all, or to perform it properly.

Oyler v. State, 618 P.2d 1042, 1050 (Wyo.1980), quoting 67 C.J.S. Officers § 208, p. 686 (1978). Because the ministerial component of the hypothetical duty to report does not serve the special, direct, and distinctive interests of individual patients, it does not create a duty owed the individual, the

Page 446

breach of which provides the basis for a private cause of action.

Plaintiffs' hypothetical required reports in this case are those designed to provide state government with the information it deems fundamentally necessary to enable it to make decisions with regard to administration...

To continue reading

Request your trial
127 practice notes
  • Jones v. Slay, No. 4:12–CV–2109 CAS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
    • 18 Noviembre 2014
    ...Official immunity does not apply, however, to discretionary acts done in bad faith or with malice. Id.; State ex rel. Twiehaus v. Adolf, 706 S.W.2d 443, 446 (Mo.1986) (en banc). “The relevant definition of bad faith or malice in this context ordinarily contains a requirement of actual inten......
  • AGI-Bluff Manor, Inc. v. Reagen, No. 85-4015-CV-C-5.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Western District of Missouri
    • 18 Abril 1989
    ...immunity does not apply to discretionary acts done in 713 F. Supp. 1540 bad faith or with malice. State ex rel. Twiehaus v. Adolph, 706 S.W.2d 443, 446 (Mo.1986) (en banc). The plaintiffs' statements made in their complaint which assert that defendants Reagen and Rapps acted "willfully, wan......
  • T.K. v. Cleveland, Case No. 2:19-cv-04100-NKL
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Western District of Missouri
    • 10 Julio 2020
    ...However, official immunity does not apply to discretionary acts "done in bad faith or with malice." State ex rel. Twiehaus v. Adolf, 706 S.W.2d 443, 446 (Mo. 1986). An officer acts with malice or bad faith "when he wantonly does that which a man of reasonable intelligence would know to be c......
  • Burbridge v. City of St. Louis, No. 4:17-CV-02482-SRC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
    • 20 Diciembre 2019
    ...Id. Official immunity does not apply, however, to discretionary acts done in bad faith or with malice. State ex rel. Twiehaus v. Adolf , 706 S.W.2d 443, 446 (Mo. 1986). "The relevant definition of bad faith or malice in this context ordinarily contains a requirement of actual intent to caus......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
119 cases
  • T.K. v. Cleveland, Case No. 2:19-cv-04100-NKL
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Western District of Missouri
    • 10 Julio 2020
    ...However, official immunity does not apply to discretionary acts "done in bad faith or with malice." State ex rel. Twiehaus v. Adolf, 706 S.W.2d 443, 446 (Mo. 1986). An officer acts with malice or bad faith "when he wantonly does that which a man of reasonable intelligence would know to be c......
  • Burbridge v. City of St. Louis, No. 4:17-CV-02482-SRC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
    • 20 Diciembre 2019
    ...Id. Official immunity does not apply, however, to discretionary acts done in bad faith or with malice. State ex rel. Twiehaus v. Adolf , 706 S.W.2d 443, 446 (Mo. 1986). "The relevant definition of bad faith or malice in this context ordinarily contains a requirement of actual intent to caus......
  • Jones v. Slay, No. 4:12–CV–2109 CAS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
    • 18 Noviembre 2014
    ...Official immunity does not apply, however, to discretionary acts done in bad faith or with malice. Id.; State ex rel. Twiehaus v. Adolf, 706 S.W.2d 443, 446 (Mo.1986) (en banc). “The relevant definition of bad faith or malice in this context ordinarily contains a requirement of actual inten......
  • AGI-Bluff Manor, Inc. v. Reagen, No. 85-4015-CV-C-5.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Western District of Missouri
    • 18 Abril 1989
    ...immunity does not apply to discretionary acts done in 713 F. Supp. 1540 bad faith or with malice. State ex rel. Twiehaus v. Adolph, 706 S.W.2d 443, 446 (Mo.1986) (en banc). The plaintiffs' statements made in their complaint which assert that defendants Reagen and Rapps acted "willfully, wan......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT