Legal Memorandum: Review of a Punitive Damages Order

Issue: What is the standard of review of a Magistrate Judge’s order denying to amend a complaint to claim punitive damages in Minnesota?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Non-dispositive order; Punitive damages
Jurisdiction: Federal, Minnesota
Cited Cases: None
Cited Statutes: Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a); Minnesota Statutes § 549.191, § 549.20;
Date: 11/01/2010

When objections are filed to a non-dispositive order, the court must set aside those portions of a Magistrate Judge’s order that are “clearly erroneous or contrary to law.”  Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a).  “A decision is clearly erroneous when, after reviewing the entire record, a court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.”  Knutson v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield, 254 F.R.D. 553, 556 (D. Minn. 2008).  “A decision is contrary to law when it fails to apply or misapplies relevant statutes, case law or rules of procedure.”  Id.   

Where pleading punitive damages is at issue, the court must apply Minnesota law to determine whether the pleading conforms “to the requirements of Minnesota Statutes Sections 549.191 and 549.20.”  Hern v. Bankers Life Cas. Co., 133 F. Supp. 2d 1130, 1134 (D. Minn. 2001).  “As Section 549.191 makes clear, ‘if the court finds prima facie evidence in support of the motion, the court shall grant the moving party permission to amend the pleadings to claim punitive damages.'”  Ulrich v. City of Crosby, 848 F. Supp. 861, 867 (D. Minn. 1994) (emphasis added; citation omitted). 

The statute’s required elements are set forth in subdivision 1.   

(a)                Punitive damages shall be allowed in civil actions only upon clear and convincing evidence that the acts of the defendant show deliberate disregard for the rights or safety of others.


(b)        […]


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