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Anderson v. City of Minneapolis

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 20, 2019

William Anderson, as trustee for the next-of-kin of Jacob William Anderson (deceased) Plaintiff - Appellant
City of Minneapolis; County of Hennepin; Hennepin Healthcare System, Inc.; Dr. Brian Mahoney, M.D., as then-Medical Director of the HCMC Ambulance Service; Shana D. York; Anthony J. Buda; Raul A. Ramos, and John Doe individuals to be determined, Individual Fire Department Personnel in Their Individual Capacities; Daniel F. Shively, and John Doe individuals to be determined, Individual HCMC Ambulance Services Personnel in Their Individual Capacities; Mitchel Morey, M.D., Individual Medical Examiner's Office Personnel, in his Individual Capacity; Daniel J. Tyra; Shannon L. Miller; Dustin L. Anderson; Scott T. Sutherland; D. Blaurat; Emily Dunphy; Christopher Karakostas; Matthew George; Joseph McGinness; Calvin Pham; Arlene M. Johnson; Matthew T. Ryan, and John Doe individuals to be determined, Individual Police Officers in Their Individual Capacities Defendants - Appellees

          Submitted: March 12, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis.

          Before SHEPHERD, ARNOLD, and KOBES, Circuit Judges.

          Kobes, Circuit Judge.

         As the district court noted, this is a tragic case. Jacob Anderson (Jacob) died of hypothermia in Minneapolis, Minnesota on December 15, 2013. His father, William Anderson (Anderson), brought this suit alleging federal constitutional and state tort claims against the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, and several city and county employees.[1] The district court[2] granted defendants' motions to dismiss with prejudice. Anderson appeals the dismissal of his constitutional claims, and we affirm.



         In the fall of 2013, Jacob was a 19-year old freshman at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He was an active member of the university community. On the night of December 14, 2013, he attended a party with several other students. He left around 11:15 p.m.

         Jacob was discovered the next morning, lying face down in the snow in a remote area of Minneapolis near the Mississippi River. The passerby who found him called 911 at 8:44 a.m. The first responders, employees of the Minneapolis Fire Department, arrived on the scene ten minutes later. The fire department defendants, some of whom were certified emergency medical technicians, performed a 30-second check on Jacob's pulse by holding his wrist, which was frostbitten and cold to the touch. Failing to find a heartbeat, the fire department defendants pronounced him dead at 8:57 a.m.

         Having declared Jacob dead, the fire department defendants cancelled the ambulance and called police to the scene. However, the paramedics had already arrived. The paramedic defendants spoke with the fire department defendants but did not separately evaluate Jacob's condition and left after about two minutes. Several police officers arrived next. Shortly after the first police defendants arrived, the fire department defendants left. The police treated the area as a potential crime scene and notified the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office at 10:30 a.m.

         The medical examiner's office sent two investigators to the scene. After conducting an examination of Jacob's body, which was still where it had been found almost two hours earlier, the investigators called defendant Assistant Medical Examiner Mitchel Morey, M.D. Based on the investigators' report, Morey did not visit the scene. Eventually, the medical examiner's office conducted an autopsy and determined that Jacob died of hypothermia. The autopsy listed the time of death as 8:48 a.m. Anderson alleges that Jacob may have in fact died several hours later, after emergency responders had declared him dead.


         Hypothermia is a medical condition that occurs when a body falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit and cannot produce enough heat to replace what it loses.[3] App. 86. Frostbite is a medical condition that occurs when the skin and underlying tissues freeze. App. 87. Hypothermia and frostbite act together in ways that often disguise signs of life and make it particularly difficult for first responders to determine whether an individual is actually dead or just in a severely hypothermic condition. Id.

         Despite appearances, individuals can make remarkable recoveries from even severe hypothermia. App. 88. As a result, first responders are trained to provide treatment even to apparently deceased hypothermia victims. For example, Minneapolis Fire Department standard operating procedures prescribe that first responders "[b]egin CPR immediately when [a] patient is found cold in a cold environment." App. 93. The Hennepin EMS protocol specifically notes that "clinical signs of death may be misleading" and instructs medical personnel to transport any bodies with a temperature below 86 degrees Fahrenheit in a cold environment to facilities prepared "for active internal rewarming." App. 104. Anderson alleges that Jacob passed away because these guidelines were not followed in this case.


         On December 8, 2016, Anderson and his wife, Kristi Anderson, filed a complaint in the district court against individual responders and the entities that responded to the 911 call. The complaint listed ...

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