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Bar Buzz: Several, as in ‘severable’

Supremes sort out definition that vexed lower courts

That’s “several”—as in “separated.”

That it is how the Minnesota Supreme Court, with an assist from Black’s Law Dictionary, decided Wednesday that the word “several” needs to be interpreted, at least as it relates to Minn. Stat. § 542.10.

“We conclude that ‘several’ means ‘separate,’ and therefore we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and grant the petition for a writ of mandamus,” Justice Natalie Hudson wrote for a unanimous court.

The term seems to have confused a few lower-court judges who tried to take on the vexatious word, which is how it landed on the justices’ doorstep.

The case is Manselle v. Krogstad, et al. It pivots on the courts’ interpretation of the Minnesota law that allows for “several defendants residing in different counties” to compel a change of venue, just so long as the parties agree to the move.

Justice Natalie Hudson

Justice Natalie Hudson

It involves Darrell Manselle, a patient who was treated by the appellant, Dr. Jeffrey Krogstad, at a Lakewood Health System clinic. Manselle contends that Krogstad failed to refer him to a specialist soon enough to successfully treat the serious vascular condition in his left foot. As a result, he argues, he suffered an avoidable partial leg amputation.

While the clinic where Manselle received treatment is located in Todd County, Manselle lives in Kandiyohi County—and so does Krogstad. (No finding was made concerning Lakewood Health’s exact location for purposes of deciding venue, Hudson’s ruling says.)

Manselle sued Krogstad and Lakewood Health for medical negligence. He filed the action in Kandiyohi County District Court, but both he and Manselle agreed that the proceedings should be move to Todd County.

But the District Court denied their change-of-venue motion, concluding that two defendants do not constitute the “several defendants” referred to in § 542.10. On appeal, the state Court of Appeals agreed, denying appellants’ writ of mandamus petition to compel the change of venue.

The Supreme Court reversed and granted the writ.

The word “several” in that particular statute does not mean “several” as in a few more than two, the court ruled. It’s “several” as in “joint and several.” As in separate parties. As in two is good enough.

The 14-page ruling sorts through the ins and outs of why the high court made that finding. For instance, Hudson reasons that it is unlikely lawmakers would intentionally write a law that lays out instructions for transferring cases involving one defendant, or three or more defendants, but not two.

But, really, a footnote near the end of Hudson’s ruling, which quotes the 1979 edition of Black’s Law Dictionary much tells you pretty much everything you need to know: “This edition of Black’s Law Dictionary also defines ‘several’ as ‘separate; individual; independent; severable.”

So now you know.

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About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

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