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Supreme Court to hear appeal to negligence suit in Grand Forks overdose death

BISMARCK—The North Dakota Supreme Court will hear an appeal Monday, Oct. 23, from a family who believes the owner of the Grand Forks home where their son consumed the drugs that led to his death should be held accountable.

Debra and Keith Bjerk filed suit against Kenton G. Anderson in 2015 alleging his liability in the death of their son, Christian Bjerk, who died of a synthetic drug overdose in June 2012 at age 18.

The lawsuit argued Anderson knew the house where Christian Bjerk took the drugs, 497 N. 51st St., was a frequent site for drug consumption and could have reasonably foreseen a death could have occurred there. They contended Anderson was liable for the death under the doctrine of negligent entrustment.

Anderson moved for a summary judgement in 2016, and after allowing the Bjerks to file supplemental depositions and fillings, Judge Donald Hager issued a summary judgement and dismissed the suit.

The Bjerk family was also ordered to pay Anderson $2,270 in legal fees and damages.

At Monday's appeal hearing before the supreme court, the Bjerks will argue the district court should not have granted a summary judgement and discredited "genuine issues of material fact" when weighing if Anderson had control over the house where their son consumed the drugs that killed him and could have foreseen the death. They believe Judge Hager did not apply applicable state law relating to premises liability in the suit.

Christian Bjerk was found dead on a Grand Forks sidewalk on June 11, 2012. He died from an overdose of the synthetic psychedelic drug 2C-I-NBOMe. The same substance was found in a 17-year-old Park Rapids, Minn., man, Elijah Stai, who died days after Bjerk in East Grand Forks.

A federal investigation into the deaths ended with 15 people behind bars and shut down a nationwide synthetic drug trafficking operation.