Tipton v. Town of Tabor, No. 18869

CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota
Writing for the CourtMILLER; ERICKSON; ERICKSON, Circuit Judge, sitting for AMUNDSON; GILBERTSON; ERICKSON
Citation538 N.W.2d 783
PartiesDaniel G. TIPTON, Conservator of the Estate of Crystal R. Tipton, a Minor; Daniel G. Tipton, Conservator of the Estate of Daniel E. Tipton, a Minor; Daniel G. Tipton, Individually, and Lisa M. Tipton, Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. TOWN OF TABOR, South Dakota and Bon Homme County, South Dakota and their Officers, Agents and Employees; N.L. Mach; Leonard Cimpl; Donald Fejfar; Donald Koranda; Alvin Sternhagen; Doris F. Muller; Eugene Sutera and Lyle O'Donnell, Defendants and Appellees.
Decision Date18 October 1995
Docket NumberNo. 18869

Page 783

538 N.W.2d 783
Daniel G. TIPTON, Conservator of the Estate of Crystal R.
Tipton, a Minor; Daniel G. Tipton, Conservator of the
Estate of Daniel E. Tipton, a Minor; Daniel G. Tipton,
Individually, and Lisa M. Tipton, Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
TOWN OF TABOR, South Dakota and Bon Homme County, South
Dakota and their Officers, Agents and Employees; N.L. Mach;
Leonard Cimpl; Donald Fejfar; Donald Koranda; Alvin
Sternhagen; Doris F. Muller; Eugene Sutera and Lyle
O'Donnell, Defendants and Appellees.
No. 18869.
Supreme Court of South Dakota.
Argued Feb. 13, 1995.
Reassigned July 12, 1995.
Decided Oct. 18, 1995.

Gerald L. Reade of Brady & Reade, Yankton, for plaintiffs and appellants.

John Simko and Tim R. Shattuck of Woods, Fuller, Shultz & Smith, Sioux Falls, for defendants and appellees Town of Tabor, Mach, Cimpl, Fejfar, Koranda, Sternhagen, Muller and Sutera.

Douglas M. Deibert of Cadwell, Sanford & Deibert, Sioux Falls, for defendants and appellees Bon Homme County and O'Donnell.

MILLER, Chief Justice (on reassignment).

Daniel G. Tipton, his wife Lisa Tipton, and two of their children sued the Town of Tabor and Bon Homme County for damages incurred when one of the Tipton children was mauled by wolf-dog hybrids owned by a private individual. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the defendants on the

Page 785

issue of liability. Tiptons appeal. We reverse and remand.
FACTS

Kenneth Holland owned two hybrid wolf dogs and maintained them in an enclosed pen behind his house in a residential area of Tabor, South Dakota. It is undisputed that these animals were selectively bred in captivity and were ninety-five to ninety-six percent wolf, with the remainder being German Shepherd dog. Their cage rested solely on property owned by Holland.

On November 12, 1990, the Tipton family was visiting neighbors of Holland. Crystal Tipton, a four-year-old girl, wandered over to the pens. Crystal was not an invitee on the Holland property. No one observed how it happened, but Crystal was severely mauled by the two wolf dogs. It is unquestioned that Crystal suffered real and serious injuries. There were no known prior attacks by the animals. They were not known to run at large. The only prior complaints concerned their howling at night.

Holland did not have insurance to cover the injuries inflicted by his wolf dogs. He declared bankruptcy, and his liability for these injuries was therein discharged.

Tiptons sued the Town of Tabor (Town), Bon Homme County (County) and certain of their public officials on theories of negligence and nuisance. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the issue of liability. After a hearing before Circuit Judge Paul J. Kern, 1 the motions were granted on the grounds that these public entities owed no duty to Crystal Tipton. Tiptons appeal.

ANALYSIS

Summary judgment shall be granted "... if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." SDCL 15-6-56(c). On appeal, our task is to determine only whether a genuine issue of material fact exists and whether the law was correctly applied. Harn v. Continental Lumber Co., 506 N.W.2d 91, 94 (S.D.1993) (citing Lamp v. First Nat. Bank of Garretson, 496 N.W.2d 581 (S.D.1993); Waddell v. Dewey County Bank, 471 N.W.2d 591 (S.D.1991)). Whether a duty exists is a question of law for the court to determine. See Schoenwald v. Farmers Co-op Ass'n of Marion, 474 N.W.2d 519, 520 (S.D.1991).

Tiptons sued Town and County for negligently failing to investigate and abate a nuisance created by Holland's wolf hybrids. Tiptons also sued Town for the creation and maintenance of a nuisance.

To prevail under any of these theories, Tipton must first show that these government entities owed a duty to control or remove the animals owned by Holland, a private individual. See W. Page Keeton, Prosser & Keeton on Torts § 30 at 164-65 (5th ed. 1984) (noting an element of negligence is the existence of a duty); Kryger v. Dokken, 386 N.W.2d 481, 482 (S.D.1986) (stating "a nuisance involves an unlawful act or omission to perform a duty").

Generally, one owes no duty to control the conduct of third persons. Cracraft v. City of St. Louis Park, 279 N.W.2d 801, 804 (Minn.1979) (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 315 (1965)). However, when the government has enacted a statute or ordinance prohibiting particular conduct, the question arises whether the government may be liable for failing to take steps to ensure that third persons comply with the law. Under our case law, a government entity is liable for failure to enforce its laws only when it assumes a special, rather than a public, duty. Hagen v. City of Sioux Falls, 464 N.W.2d 396, 399 (S.D.1990). As we explained in Hagen:

"[A] legislative enactment ... whose purpose is found to be exclusively (a) to protect the interests of the state or any subdivision of it as such, or (b) to secure to individuals the enjoyment of rights or privileges to which they are entitled only as members of the public," ... does not create

Page 786

a standard of conduct to be used to impose tort liability.

Id. at 399 (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 288 (1965)). A special duty of care "arises only when there are additional indicia that the municipality has undertaken the responsibility of not only protecting itself, but also undertaken the responsibility of protecting a particular class of persons[.]" Cracraft, 279 N.W.2d at 806.

Two laws concern us in this case. As to County, SDCL 7-12-29 provides in relevant part:

The sheriff may take possession of any animal suspected of being dangerous. The sheriff may hold such animal until a formal determination can be made of the extent of the danger such animal poses.... The sheriff may dispose of any animal so determined to be dangerous.

As to Town, the ordinance in effect at the time of the attack states:

No dog of fierce, dangerous or vicious propensities, licensed or not, shall be harbored or kept within the town.

Town of Tabor Ordinance § 8-1108. 2

These laws present two related issues: (1) whether Town assumed a special duty to enforce its prohibition on dogs "of fierce, dangerous or vicious propensities" and (2) whether County assumed a special duty to "take possession of any animal suspected of being dangerous." Hagen sets forth a narrow interpretation of the public duty/special duty test; it permits recovery against a government entity for negligent failure to enforce its laws only when there is language in a statute or ordinance which shows an intent to protect a particular and circumscribed class of persons. Because the ordinance in effect at the time of the mauling identified no such class, the trial court found no special duty owed by Town to Crystal Tipton. The trial court similarly held that County owed no special duty to Crystal Tipton. 3

Page 787

We reject the bright-line test developed in Hagen and employed by the trial court in this case. Sole reliance on statutory language in determining whether a duty exists is needlessly restrictive and arbitrary. A statutory reference to a particular class of persons could very well be inadvertent rather than the result of any reasoned analysis of municipal or county responsibility. We require an analytical framework that more accurately measures a public entity's culpability for the harm suffered. Consequently, we adopt the approach embraced by the Minnesota Supreme Court. Whether the state, acting through city or county government, assumes to act for the protection of individuals should depend on at least four factors, including:

1) the state's actual knowledge of the dangerous condition;

2) reasonable reliance by persons on the state's representations and conduct;

3) an ordinance or statute that sets forth mandatory acts clearly for the protection of a particular class of persons rather than the public as a whole; and

4) failure by the state to use due care to avoid increasing the risk of harm.

Cracraft, 279 N.W.2d at 806-07. Strong evidence concerning any combination of these factors may be sufficient to impose liability on a government entity. See Andrade v. Ellefson, 375 N.W.2d 828, 836 (Minn.Ct.App.1985).

Our new approach allows consideration of a broader range of relevant facts. Because the trial court focused its attention on statutory language alone, summary judgment in favor of Town and County was improvidently granted. For example, whether Town or County had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition created by the presence of the wolf hybrids is a subject of sharp dispute. Although Town and County were aware of the animals' presence in a residential area, government officials emphasize that the animals had not displayed any vicious tendencies prior to the attack and that no residents complained of safety concerns. Nevertheless, wolves are commonly known to have dangerous propensities. See 3 Fowler V. Harper et al., The Law of Torts § 14.11 at 271 (2nd ed.1986) (citing Hays v. Miller, 150 Ala. 621, 43 So. 818 (1907)); Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged 2628 (1971) (defining a wolf as "any of various large dog-like mammals of the genus Canis that are crafty, rapacious, and very destructive to game, sheep, and cattle and will sometimes attack man ..."). Russell J. Rutter & Douglas H. Pimlott, The World of the Wolf 170 (1968) (warning that wolves are wild animals, not conventional pets, and should be restricted to the few people who have an understanding of the animal).

The suggestion by Town that a four to five percent mix of German...

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29 practice notes
  • Muthukumarana v. Montgomery County, No. 83
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • August 26, 2002
    ...N.W.2d 7, 12-13 (S.D.1999) (quoting Cracraft v. St. Louis Park, 279 N.W.2d 801, 806-07 (Minn.1979)). See also Tipton v. Town of Tabor, 538 N.W.2d 783, 787 (S.D.1995) (adopting Minnesota's approach in Cracraft). As the Supreme Court of South Dakota explained, "[s]trong evidence concerning an......
  • State v. Padua, No. 16915
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 29, 2005
    ...WL 1258011, *11 (Mich.App. June 8, 2004); Brune v. Brown Forman Corp., 758 S.W.2d 827, 830-31 (Tex.App.1988); see also Tipton v. Tabor, 538 N.W.2d 783, 788 n. 1 (S.D.1995) (Erickson, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (citing Black's Law Dictionary [6th Ed. 1990] and defining co......
  • State v. Padua
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 29, 2005
    ...1258011, *11 (Mich. App. June 8, 2004); Brune v. Brown Forman Corp., 758 S.W.2d 827, 830-31 (Tex. App. 1988); see also Tipton v. Tabor, 538 N.W.2d 783, 788 n.1 (S.D. 1995) (Erickson, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (citing Black's Law Dictionary [6th Ed. 1990] and defining co......
  • Tipton v. Town of Tabor, No. 19631
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 28, 1997
    ...On appeal, we reversed and remanded "for further consideration by the trial court" in view of our revised test. Tipton v. Town of Tabor, 538 N.W.2d 783, 788 (S.D.1995) (Tipton I ¶3 In 1987, Kenneth Holland purchased two wolf-German Shepherd hybrids (Canis lupus crossed with Canis familiaris......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
29 cases
  • Muthukumarana v. Montgomery County, No. 83
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • August 26, 2002
    ...N.W.2d 7, 12-13 (S.D.1999) (quoting Cracraft v. St. Louis Park, 279 N.W.2d 801, 806-07 (Minn.1979)). See also Tipton v. Town of Tabor, 538 N.W.2d 783, 787 (S.D.1995) (adopting Minnesota's approach in Cracraft). As the Supreme Court of South Dakota explained, "[s]trong evidence concerning an......
  • State v. Padua, No. 16915
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 29, 2005
    ...WL 1258011, *11 (Mich.App. June 8, 2004); Brune v. Brown Forman Corp., 758 S.W.2d 827, 830-31 (Tex.App.1988); see also Tipton v. Tabor, 538 N.W.2d 783, 788 n. 1 (S.D.1995) (Erickson, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (citing Black's Law Dictionary [6th Ed. 1990] and defining co......
  • State v. Padua
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 29, 2005
    ...1258011, *11 (Mich. App. June 8, 2004); Brune v. Brown Forman Corp., 758 S.W.2d 827, 830-31 (Tex. App. 1988); see also Tipton v. Tabor, 538 N.W.2d 783, 788 n.1 (S.D. 1995) (Erickson, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (citing Black's Law Dictionary [6th Ed. 1990] and defining co......
  • Tipton v. Town of Tabor, No. 19631
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 28, 1997
    ...On appeal, we reversed and remanded "for further consideration by the trial court" in view of our revised test. Tipton v. Town of Tabor, 538 N.W.2d 783, 788 (S.D.1995) (Tipton I ¶3 In 1987, Kenneth Holland purchased two wolf-German Shepherd hybrids (Canis lupus crossed with Canis familiaris......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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