Yunker v. Honeywell, Inc., No. C5-92-1649

Decision Date02 March 1993
Docket NumberNo. C5-92-1649
Citation496 N.W.2d 419
Parties8 Indiv.Empl.Rts.Cas. (BNA) 513 Jean Marie YUNKER, as trustee for the heirs and next-of-kin of Kathleen M. Nesser, Appellant, v. HONEYWELL, INC., a Delaware Corporation, Respondent.
CourtMinnesota Court of Appeals

Syllabus by the Court

In a wrongful death action predicated on a direct liability theory of negligent retention, an employer's duty of reasonable care is not limited to the scope of the employment or to actions that occur on the employer's premises.

Mark Hallberg, Mackenzie & Hallberg, P.A., Minneapolis, for appellant.

William J. Egan, Patrick J. Sauter, Eric J. Magnuson, Rider, Bennett, Egan & Arundel, 2000 Lincoln Centre, Minneapolis, for respondent.

Considered and decided by KLAPHAKE, P.J., and LANSING and CRIPPEN, JJ.



On motion for summary judgment, the district court held, as a matter of law, that an employer breached no ascertainable duty of care in hiring, retaining, and supervising an employee who shot and killed a coemployee off the premises. The employee had been rehired following imprisonment for the strangulation death of another coemployee. We affirm the district court's ruling as it applies to the theories of negligent hiring and supervision, but reverse the summary judgment as it applies to negligent retention and remand that part of the action to the district court.


Honeywell employed Randy Landin from 1977 to 1979 and from 1984 to 1988. From 1979 to 1984 Landin was imprisoned for the strangulation death of Nancy Miller, a Honeywell coemployee. On his release from prison, Landin reapplied at Honeywell. Honeywell rehired Landin as a custodian in Honeywell's General Offices facility in South Minneapolis in August 1984. Because of workplace confrontations Landin was twice transferred, first to the Golden Valley facility in August 1986, and then to the St. Louis Park facility in August 1987.

Kathleen Nesser was assigned to Landin's maintenance crew in April 1988. Landin and Nesser became friends and spent time together away from work. When Landin expressed a romantic interest, Nesser stopped spending time with Landin. Landin began to harass and threaten Nesser both at work and at home. At the end of June, Landin's behavior prompted Nesser to seek help from her supervisor and to request a transfer out of the St. Louis Park facility.

On July 1, 1988, Nesser found a death threat scratched on her locker door. Landin did not come to work on or after July 1, and Honeywell accepted his formal resignation on July 11, 1988. On July 19, approximately six hours after her Honeywell shift ended, Landin killed Nesser in her driveway with a close-range shotgun blast. Landin was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Jean Yunker, as trustee for the heirs and next-of-kin of Kathleen Nesser, brought this wrongful death action based on theories of negligent hiring, retention, and supervision of a dangerous employee. Honeywell moved for summary judgment and, for purposes of the motion, stipulated that it failed to exercise reasonable care in the hiring and supervision of Landin. The trial court concluded that Honeywell owed no legal duty to Nesser and granted summary judgment for Honeywell.


Did Honeywell have a duty to Kathleen Nesser to exercise reasonable care in hiring, retaining, or supervising Randy Landin?


The existence of a legal duty is generally an issue for the court to decide as a matter of law. Larson v. Larson, 373 N.W.2d 287, 289 (Minn.1985). Whether a duty exists depends on the relationship among parties and the foreseeability of harm to others. Erickson v. Curtis Inv. Co., 447 N.W.2d 165, 168-69 (Minn.1989). Public policy is a major consideration in identifying a legal duty. Id. at 169.

In determining that Honeywell did not have a legal duty to Kathleen Nesser arising from its employment of Randy Landin, the district court analyzed Honeywell's duty as limited by its ability to control and protect its employees while they are involved in the employer's business or at the employer's place of business. Additionally, the court concluded that Honeywell could not have reasonably foreseen Landin's killing Nesser. 1

Incorporating a "scope of employment" limitation into an employer's duty borrows from the doctrine of respondeat superior. See Marston v. Minneapolis Clinic of Psychiatry & Neurology, Ltd., 329 N.W.2d 306 (Minn.1982). However, of the three theories advanced for recovery, only negligent supervision derives from the respondeat superior doctrine, which relies on connection to the employer's premises or chattels. See Semrad v. Edina Realty, Inc., 493 N.W.2d 528, 534 (Minn.1992). We agree that negligent supervision is not a viable theory of recovery because Landin was neither on Honeywell's premises nor using Honeywell's chattels when he shot Nesser.

The remaining theories, negligent hiring and negligent retention, are based on direct, not vicarious, liability. See Ponticas v. K.M.S. Inv., 331 N.W.2d 907, 911 n. 5 (Minn.1983). Negligent hiring and negligent retention do not rely on the scope of employment but address risks created by exposing members of the public to a potentially dangerous individual. Di Cosala v. Kay, 91 N.J. 159, 450 A.2d 508, 515 (1982). These theories of recovery impose liability for an employee's intentional tort, an action almost invariably outside the scope of employment, when the employer knew or should have known that the employee was violent or aggressive and might engage in injurious conduct. Id. 450 A.2d at 515; see also Connes v. Molalla Transp. Sys., 831 P.2d 1316, 1320-21 (Colo.1992); Plains Resources, Inc. v. Gable, 235 Kan. 580, 682 P.2d 653, 662 (1984).


Minnesota first explicitly recognized a cause of action based on negligent hiring in Ponticas in 1983. Ponticas involved the employment of an apartment manager who sexually assaulted a tenant. The supreme court upheld a jury verdict finding the apartment operators negligent in failing to make a reasonable investigation into the resident manager's background before providing him with a passkey. The court defined negligent hiring as

predicated on the negligence of an employer in placing a person with known propensities, or propensities which should have been discovered by reasonable investigation, in an employment position in which, because of the circumstances of the employment, it should have been foreseeable that the hired individual posed a threat of injury to others.

331 N.W.2d at 911 (emphasis added).

Honeywell argues that under Ponticas it is not liable for negligent hiring because, unlike providing a dangerous resident manager with a passkey, Landin's employment did not enable him to commit the act of violence against Nesser. This argument has merit, and we note that a number of jurisdictions have expressly defined the scope of an employer's duty of reasonable care in hiring as largely dependent on the type of responsibilities associated with the particular job. See Connes, 831 P.2d at 1321 (employer's duty in hiring is dependent on anticipated degree of contact between employee and other persons in performing employment duties); Tallahassee Furniture Co. v. Harrison, 583 So.2d 744, 750 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.1991) (employer's responsibility to investigate an employee's background is defined by the type of work to be done by the employee), pet. for rev. denied 595 So.2d 558 (Fla.1992).

Ponticas rejected the view that employers are required to investigate a prospective employee's criminal background in every job in which the individual has regular contact with the public. Ponticas, 331 N.W.2d at 913. Instead, liability is determined by the totality of the circumstances surrounding the hiring and whether the employer exercised reasonable care. The court instructed that

[t]he scope of the investigation is directly related to the severity of the risk third parties are subjected to by an incompetent employee. Although only slight care might suffice in the hiring of a yardman, a worker on a production line, or other types of employment where the employee would not constitute a high risk of injury to third persons, * * * when the prospective employee is to be furnished a passkey permitting admittance to living quarters of tenants, the employer has the duty to use reasonable care to investigate his competency and reliability prior to employment (citations omitted).


Applying these principles, we conclude that Honeywell did not owe a duty to Nesser at the time of Landin's hire. Landin was employed as a maintenance worker whose job responsibilities entailed no exposure to the general public and required only limited contact with coemployees. Unlike the caretaker in Ponticas, Landin's duties did not involve inherent dangers to others, and unlike the tenant in Ponticas, Nesser was not a reasonably foreseeable victim at the time Landin was hired.

To reverse the district court's determination on duty as it relates to hiring would extend Ponticas and essentially hold that ex-felons are inherently dangerous and that any harmful acts they commit against persons encountered through employment will automatically be considered foreseeable. Such a rule would deter employers from hiring workers with a criminal record and "offend our civilized concept that society must make a reasonable effort to rehabilitate those who have erred so they can be assimilated into the community." Id.

Honeywell did not breach a legal duty to Nesser by hiring Landin because the specific nature of his employment did not create a foreseeable risk of harm, and public policy supports a limitation on this cause of action. The district court correctly determined that Honeywell is not liable to Nesser under a theory of negligent hiring.


In recognizing the tort of negligent hiring, Ponticas extended established Minnesota case law permitting recovery under...

To continue reading

Request your trial
69 cases
  • McKenzie v. Lunds, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Minnesota
    • September 15, 1999
    ...v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 561 N.W.2d 530, 540 (Minn. App.1997), rev. denied (Minn., June 11, 1997), citing Yunker v. Honeywell, Inc., 496 N.W.2d 419, 423 (Minn.App.1993), rev. denied (Minn., April 20, 1993). Under Minnesota law, a viable claim of negligent retention requires the existenc......
  • Grozdanich v. Leisure Hills Health Center, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Minnesota
    • September 30, 1998
    ...v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 561 N.W.2d 530, 540 (Minn.App.1997), rev. denied (Minn., June 11, 1997), citing Yunker v. Honeywell, Inc., 496 N.W.2d 419, 423 (Minn.App.1993), rev. denied (Minn., April 20, 1993). Under Minnesota law, a viable claim of negligent retention requires the existence......
  • Evans v. Ohio State Univ.
    • United States
    • Ohio Court of Appeals
    • July 23, 1996
    ...a hiring decision "is largely dependent on the type of responsibilities associated with the particular job." Yunker v. Honeywell, Inc. (Minn.App.1993), 496 N.W.2d 419, 422. See, also, Connes v. Molalla Transport System, Inc. (Colo.1992), 831 P.2d 1316, 1321 (scope of duty "will depend large......
  • Smith v. DataCard Corp.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Minnesota
    • June 24, 1998
    ...and negligent retention are closely related, Minnesota courts treat them as distinct theories of recovery. See Yunker v. Honeywell, Inc., 496 N.W.2d 419, 423 (Minn.Ct.App. 1993). Therefore, the Court analyzes the merits of each claim First, in order for liability to attach under the theory ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 firm's commentaries
  • Armed And Dangerous: Protecting Your Employees From Violence
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • April 8, 2013
    ...employee of hoax calls of this kind because similar incidents had occurred at several other McDonald's stores. In Yunker v. Honeywell, 496 N.W.2d 419 (Minn. 1993), a wrongful death action was asserted against an employer after an employee was killed by a co-worker. The employer knew that th......
4 books & journal articles
  • Workplace Violence
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Model Interrogatories - Volume 1
    • April 1, 2016
    ...of harm to third persons. See, e.g., Greenfield v. Spectrum Investment Corp ., 174 Cal. App. 3d 111 (1985), Yunker v. Honeywell, Inc ., 496 N.W.2d 419 (Minn. 1993). Accordingly, the interrogatories that follow explore the state of defendant’s knowledge regarding an employee’s dangerous prop......
  • Workplace Violence
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Model Interrogatories. Volume 2 - 2014 Contents
    • August 14, 2014
    ...of harm to third persons. See, e.g., Greenfield v. Spectrum Investment Corp ., 174 Cal. App. 3d 111 (1985), Yunker v. Honeywell, Inc ., 496 N.W.2d 419 (Minn. 1993). Accordingly, the interrogatories that follow explore the state of defendant’s knowledge regarding an employee’s dangerous prop......
    • United States
    • FNREL - Special Institute Strategic Risk Management for Natural Resources Companies (FNREL)
    • Invalid date prevent injury to others. Additionally, a company may also be liable for negligently responding to threats. Yunker v. Honeywell, Inc., 496 N.W.2d 419 (Minn. App. 1993) (company liable for murder of employee after rehiring convicted violent criminal, who previously attacked a coworker in ......
  • Violence and the Workplace: Conference to Be Held February 17, 2000
    • United States
    • Colorado Bar Association Colorado Lawyer No. 29-1, January 2000
    • Invalid date
    ...9. Moses v. Diocese of Colorado, 863 P.2d 310, 327-28 (Colo. 1993), cert. denied, 511 U.S. 1137 (1994). 10. Yunker v. Honeywell Inc., 496 N.W.2d 419, 423 1993), review denied (Minn. Apr. 20, 1993). 11. Moses, supra, note 9 at 329. 12. In re Questions Submitted by the United States Court of ......

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