Christensen v. Swenson – Case Brief
Christensen v. Swenson, 874 P.2d 125 (Utah 1994).
Facts: Swenson (D) worked for Burns (D1) as a gate security guard at the Geneva Steel Plant. Guards were expected to eat while on post and most brought their lunches, but they were permitted unscheduled fifteen minute breaks during which they frequently purchased food at the Frontier Cafe across the street from the plant.
Swenson was returning from the cafe to her post when she hit a motorcycle driven by Christensen (P). Christensen sued to recover for personal injuries, and claimed that Burns was liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior. Burns moved for summary judgment, asserting that Swenson had not been acting within the scope of her employment. The trial court granted Burns’ motion, and appellate court affirmed, and the Utah Supreme Court granted cert.
Issue: Is the fact that an employee’s tortious act was committed outside the property of the employer a per se bar to recovery under respondeat superior?
Holding and Rule: No. The fact that an employee’s tortious act was committed outside the property of the employer is not a per se bar to recovery under respondeat superior.
Birkner test for determining whether an employee was acting within the scope of her employment for liability under respondeat superior:
1) The employee’s conduct must be of the general kind the employee is hired to perform, that is, the employee must be about the employer’s business and the duties assigned by the employer, as opposed to being wholly involved in a personal endeavor.
2) The employee’s conduct must occur substantially within the hours and ordinary spatial boundaries of the employment.
3) The employee’s conduct must be motivated, at least in part, by the purpose of serving the employer’s interest.
The lower court had held that D had not been substantially within the ordinary spatial boundaries of her employment, and therefore did not address all three criteria. The court held that reasonable minds could differ as to whether D’s trip to the cafe fell substantially within the ordinary spatial boundaries of her employment and therefore summary judgment was inappropriate.
Disposition: Reversed and remanded.