George Thomas Zirnhelt v. Kelly Nicole Carter. MN statute of limitations, conciliation court removed to district court
On October 12, 2006, uninsured motorist Kelly Nicole Carter was involved in an automobile accident in which the other vehicle, owned by George Thomas Zirnhelt, was damaged in the amount of $28,904. Shortly before the statute of limitations expired, Zirnhelt filed a claim against Carter in Dakota County Conciliation Court. The conciliation court awarded the maximum amount allowed by its jurisdiction, $10,000.
Carter, acting without an attorney in what turned out to be a very unwise decision, then removed the case to District Court. At that point, Zirnhelt filed an amended complaint, seeking more than $30,000 in damages. Carter did not file any answer, and did not have an attorney until the day of trial. At trial, her attorney argued that the claim was barred by the statute of limitations. The District Court disagreed, held Carter liable, and set damages at almost $30,000. Carter then appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling. The defendant first argued that the claim was barred because she was not actually served until after the six-year limit had expired. But since the case had been properly commenced in the conciliation court, the Court of Appeals held that the case had been properly brought within the six-year period.
She next argued that the damages should have been limited to the $10,000 conciliation court limit, since the case had not been brought in the District Court within the limitation period. The Court carefully examined the rules govening small-claims court cases, and noted that the rules called for a new trial in the District Court, at which time parties could amend their complaints. It concluded that since the case had been properly commenced, the District Court was not limited by the jurisdictional limits of the conciliation court.
No. A13-1053 (Minn. Ct. App. Mar. 3, 2014).
Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.
Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).
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