Clark, v. Lumbermans Mutual Insurance Company, 465 So. 2d 552; 1985 Fla. App. LEXIS 12832; 10 Fla. L. Weekly 596

Clark, v. Lumbermans Mutual Insurance Company, 465 So. 2d 552; 1985 Fla. App. LEXIS 12832; 10 Fla. L. Weekly 596

John Clark, Appellant, v. Lumbermans Mutual Insurance Company and Orange Park Assembly of God, Appellees

No. AU-168

Court of Appeal of Florida, First District

465 So. 2d 552; 1985 Fla. App. LEXIS 12832; 10 Fla. L. Weekly 596

March 7, 1985

COUNSEL: Adam H. Lawrence of Lawrence & Daniels, Miami; and Brent M. Turbow, Jacksonville, for Appellant.

Charles Cook Howell, III of Howell, Liles, Braddock & Milton, Jacksonville, for Appellee.

JUDGES: Smith, L., J. Mills and Nimmons, JJ., concur.

OPINION BY: SMITH

OPINION

[*553] John Clark, plaintiff below, appeals a final summary judgment in favor of the appellees in this negligence action. After an examination of the whole record, we conclude that no interpretation of the undisputed material facts would support a finding of liability for negligence on the part of the appellee Orange Park Assembly of God (hereinafter “church”). We affirm.

The following facts, taken from depositions filed in this cause, are germane to this appeal. Appellant suffered a broken neck and was rendered a quadriplegic during a diving accident on the St. Mary’s River, located in Nassau County, Florida. The accident occurred during a canoe trip and picnic sponsored, planned and conducted by the appellee church. The church had hired Mr. Gary Hines to be its “minister of youth.” Hines, [**2] a paid, full-time employee of the church, was to direct and coordinate the activities of the church’s youthful members. The trip in question took place June 13, 1981. Its logistics were planned and coordinated by Hines. Approximately 40 to 50 people, including appellant, ultimately participated in the trip. Appellant, a high school graduate, was twenty-one years of age at the time of his injury. He was, in his own words, in excellent health, a good swimmer who was familiar with various water sports.

On the day of appellant’s accident, trip members were transported by church bus and van to a canoe rental establishment located on the St. Mary’s River called the Canoe Outpost. Hines did not attempt extensive instructions to trip members regarding canoe operation or the physical characteristics of the river they were about to traverse. Trip members were instructed by Hines that suitable beaches for swimming existed on the river; however, Hines acknowledged that he had not made inquiries prior to the trip as to the location or suitability of any of the river’s beaches.

During the trip, appellant and a canoeing companion, Lee Brannen, sighted what they thought was a suitable place [**3] for swimming, and beached their canoes. Brannen testified that he ran out into the water approximately three steps and then executed a shallow, racing-type dive into the water, which was approximately chest deep on Brannen, who was six feet one inch tall. Brannen testified he felt it would be “crazy” to attempt a “deep dive,” as he had not yet ascertained the exact depth of the water. Appellant then attempted to execute a similar dive, following what both he and Brannen testified was essentially the same path Brannen had taken in making his dive. Both testified that appellant’s dive differed from Brannen’s. Brannen testified that appellant had not run as far into the water as Brannen had, and that appellant jumped somewhat higher prior to the dive in a manner Brannen characterized as a “piking” of appellant’s body, with the result that appellant’s head and arms preceded the rest of his body into the water. Unfortunately, the result of appellant’s attempted dive was a broken neck and consequent paralysis. The record is unclear as to what, exactly, caused appellant’s injuries, since appellant was unable to state categorically that he hit his head on the river bottom as a result [**4] of his dive. However, all deponents testified that the river bottom area where appellant dove was clear of obstructions.

Appellant instituted the pending action alleging, among other things, that the appellee church had violated its duty to warn of the shallowness of the water in the beach area, where appellant had attempted his dive, failed to determine in advance the safe and unsafe areas to swim along the [*554] St. Mary’s River, and failed to point out proper sites for swimming and diving by the trip members. Appellant also alleged that the church had failed to adequately supervise the canoeing trip.

Appellees moved for summary judgment, asserting that the church breached no legal duty owed the appellant; that appellant had actual knowledge of the allegedly dangerous condition of the beach where his accident occurred; and that appellant’s actions constituted the sole proximate cause of his injury. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, finding that the beach area where appellant’s accident occurred contained no latent or unknown dangers; that the appellee church did not breach any legal duty owed the appellant; and that appellant’s actions were the [**5] sole proximate cause of his injury. This appeal followed.

We are governed by certain well known principles applicable in negligence actions. [HN1] Issues of negligence and probable cause will normally be answerable only by a jury, and not by motion for summary judgment, unless the facts adduced “point to but one possible conclusion.” Cassel v. Price, 396 So.2d 258, 260 (Fla. 1st DCA 1981) (citations omitted), rev. den. mem., 407 So.2d 1102 (Fla. 1981). In order to prevail on a motion for summary judgment in a negligence action, the defendant must show either no negligence on his part proximately resulting in injury to the plaintiff, or that the plaintiff’s negligence was the sole proximate cause of his injury. Goode v. Walt Disney World Co., 425 So.2d 1151, 1154 (Fla. 5th DCA 1982), rev. den. mem., 436 So.2d 101 (Fla. 1983). However, as often stated, “the mere occurrence of an accident does not give rise to an inference of negligence, and is not sufficient for a finding of negligence on the part of anyone.” Cassel v. Price, supra, at 264 (citations omitted). Judged by these standards, we find that the trial court correctly granted appellees’ motion for summary judgment.

[**6] Initially, we find without merit appellant’s attempt to affix liability based upon breach of a duty of due care by the church as a “possessor” or “occupier” of land. Appellant contends that the church, by allowing appellant and other members of the trip to utilize the beach where appellant was injured, constructively “possessed” this portion of the beach area, citing Arias v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, 426 So.2d 1136 (Fla. 1st DCA 1983). We disagree. In Arias, the plaintiff was injured after a “john boat” in which she was a passenger collided with a partially submerged diving dock located in a lake directly in front of lakefront property owned by a defendant on Lake Hampton, in Bradford County. The defendant in Arias argued that since the land beneath the lake was owned by the state, rather than by the defendant, he was not in a position to exercise control over the land upon which the submerged dock rested, and hence he owed the plaintiff no duty to warn of the hazard. The Arias court rejected this contention, stating:

[HN2] The liability of an occupant of real property for injuries caused by an alleged dangerous defective condition on the premises [**7] depends generally upon his control of the property, regardless of whether he had title thereto, or whether he has a superior right to possession of property which is in the possession and control of another. (citation omitted)

Id. at 1138.

There are no facts in this case which would tend to satisfy the elements of “possession” or “control” which led to the court’s decision in Arias. The facts in Arias were that the nearly submerged dock was located several hundred feet directly in front of the defendant’s lakefront property, and that while it was located in the lake before defendant bought the property, the defendant had modified it by placing a thin shelled cement surface on the dock. The Arias court held that it could not be determined, as a matter of law, that the defendant had “failed to maintain the requisite control over the boat dock.” 426 So.2d at 1138. Here, by contrast, the church had no actual or constructive “presence” at the beach prior to the accident. [*555] Appellant and Brannen were the first two canoeists to reach the beach, and hence “occupy” it. Hines arrived a number of minutes after the appellant and other members of the group, [**8] and made no attempt to exercise “de facto” control over the beach or over activities on the beach.

Moreover, the view that potential liability may exist under facts such as found in Arias is premised upon the existence of a hidden danger of which the land owner or occupier has or should have superior knowledge, as compared to the injured party. Here, no evidence was produced to establish the existence of any hidden dangers at the situs of the accident. It was uncontradicted that the river bottom and the beach contained no rocks or obstructions. Nor can the depth of the water itself have been considered a hidden danger, since both appellant and Brannen testified that they were well aware of its relatively shallow depth. Switzer v. Dye, 177 So. 2d 539 (Fla. 1st DCA 1965). Appellant testified that he was aware of the danger of diving into shallow water, and was aware that the water depth at the beach where he was injured was indeed properly characterized as shallow. Hence, there existed in the case at bar no “hidden danger” so as to trigger the rule in Arias.

We think the same result is required here if the potential liability of the church is considered in relation [**9] to its duty to investigate the river for dangerous conditions. The “harmful condition” of the beach (assuming, without accepting, the correctness of this characterization by appellant) was recognized and hence was obvious to all who testified below. Therefore, no breach of duty occurred, since the “harmful condition” was in fact obvious to appellant, who indisputably possessed sufficient maturity to appreciate the danger, and was not in a dependency relationship with the appellee church. See Bradshaw v. Rawlings, 612 F.2d 135 (3d Cir. 1979), cert. den., 446 U.S. 909, 100 S. Ct. 1836, 64 L. Ed. 2d 261 (1980); cf. Rupp v. Bryant, 417 So.2d 658 (Fla. 1982) (school children between the ages of seventeen and eighteen considered to be under an in loco parentis relationship vis-a-vis school officials).

Appellant also maintains that the church assumed a duty of due care by voluntarily acting as a “tour guide” in organizing and conducting the canoeing trip upon which appellant was injured, citing Kaufman v. A-1 Bus Lines, Inc., 416 So.2d 863 (Fla. 3d DCA 1982) (Kaufman II). There, the plaintiff was injured when she fell off a cat-walk while touring a museum visited by [**10] tour groups sponsored by the defendant. The Third District had previously affirmed the Kaufman trial court’s dismissal of Ms. Kaufman’s initial complaint, but did so without prejudice to her right to file an amended complaint alleging defendant’s actual knowledge of the allegedly dangerous condition that caused her injury. Kaufman v. A-1 Bus Lines, Inc., 363 So. 2d 61 (Fla. 3d DCA 1978) (Kaufman I). Subsequently, Ms. Kaufman filed an amended complaint alleging that the defendant’s actual knowledge of the allegedly dangerous condition causing her injury created a duty to warn on the defendant’s part. The court in Kaufman II found that the defendant could be held liable for negligence while acting as a tour guide, based on the well-known proposition that [HN3] an action undertaken for the benefit of another, even if performed gratuitously, must be performed in accordance with the duty to exercise due care. 416 So. 2d at 864; see also Padgett v. School Board of Escambia County, 395 So.2d 584 (Fla. 1st DCA 1981).

We agree with appellant that a church’s sponsorship and organization of a canoeing trip could give rise to a legal duty to exercise reasonable care in exercising [**11] these responsibilities. Padgett, supra. We observe, however, that Kaufman II is distinguishable from the case at bar due to the Kaufman II defendant’s status as a common carrier. Furthermore, in view of the undisputed evidence concerning the circumstances under which the accident occurred, we do not find it necessary to examine the [*556] extent of the church’s duty in this case, or to categorize the relationship between plaintiff and defendant here, which would otherwise guide our decision in determining whether the church carried its burden of showing the absence of evidence indicating a breach of duty by the church causing injury to appellant, as required to entitle it to summary judgment. 1

1 Cf., Section 768.13, Florida Statutes (1981), the “Good Samaritan Act,” with commercial transactions (Kaufman II, the “tour guide” situation) and dependency relationships (Rupp; schools in an in loco parentis relationship with students).

Even assuming, arguendo, that the church [**12] owed a duty of adequate supervision to appellant, the breach of which would render it liable for ordinary negligence, appellant can be barred from recovery if his own action in diving into the shallow water was the sole proximate cause of his accident. Phillips v. Styers, 388 So. 2d 221 (Fla. 2d DCA 1980), quoting Hoffman v. Jones, 280 So. 2d 431, 438 (Fla. 1973): ” [HN4] A plaintiff is barred from recovering damages for loss or injury caused by the negligence of another only when the plaintiff’s negligence is the sole legal cause of the damage.” We hold that appellant was properly barred from proceeding further with his claim because the evidence below is susceptible to no conclusion other than that he had sufficient intelligence, experience, and knowledge to – and in fact did – both detect and appreciate the physical characteristics of the swimming place in question and the potential danger involved in attempting his shallow water dive. See, Lister v. Campbell, 371 So. 2d 133 (Fla. 1st DCA 1979), Hughes v. Roarin 20’s, Inc., 455 So. 2d 422 (Fla. 2d DCA 1984). 2

2 See, also, Bourn v. Herring, 225 Ga. 67, 166 S.E.2d 89 (1969), appeal dismissed, 400 U.S. 922, 91 S. Ct. 192, 27 L. Ed. 2d 183 (1970) (church and its representatives held not liable for negligent supervision of Sunday school picnic at lake resort during which youth drowned while attempting to swim from platform in deep water back to shore).

[**13] For the foregoing reasons, the judgment below is

AFFIRMED.

MILLS and NIMMONS, JJ., CONCUR.


Thompson v. Summers, 1997 SD 103; 567 N.W.2d 387; 1997 S.D. LEXIS 103

Thompson v. Summers, 1997 SD 103; 567 N.W.2d 387; 1997 S.D. LEXIS 103

Marvin Thompson, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Charles Summers, Defendant and Appellee.

# 19940

Supreme Court of South Dakota

1997 SD 103; 567 N.W.2d 387; 1997 S.D. LEXIS 103

June 4, 1997, Argued

August 13, 1997, Opinion Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1]

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT. PENNINGTON COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA. THE HONORABLE THOMAS L. TRIMBLE Judge.

DISPOSITION:

Reversed and remanded.

COUNSEL:

DAVE L. CLAGGETT of Claggett & Madsen, Spearfish, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiff and appellant.

DONALD A. PORTER of Costello, Porter, Hill, Heisterkamp & Bushnell, Rapid City, South Dakota, Attorneys for defendant and appellee.

JUDGES: SABERS, Justice. KONENKAMP, Justice, concurs. MILLER, Chief Justice, and AMUNDSON and GILBERTSON, Justices, concur in result.

OPINION BY: SABERS

OPINION: [**389]

SABERS, Justice.

¶2 On September 4, 1993, Charles Summers was piloting a hot air balloon in an instructional flight over Rapid City, accompanied by flight student Matt McCormick. At about 8:25 a.m., Summers attempted to land the balloon in a public recreational area of Rapid City’s flood plain known as the “greenway.” Marvin Thompson, also a hot air balloon pilot, was at the greenway and recognized the balloon as one he sold to Summers. As Thompson observed Summers’ descent, he became concerned the wind was going to drag the balloon into nearby high voltage power lines. As the balloon skimmed across the ground toward the power lines, Thompson ran over and seized the basket of the balloon, hoping to prevent it from making contact with the power lines. Despite his efforts, Thompson suffered severe electrical burns to over 60% of his body. Summers and McCormick were apparently not injured.

¶3 Thompson sued Summers for his injuries, claiming he was negligent in not employing the rip cord to “rip out” the balloon, a procedure which instantly deflates and stops the balloon. Failure to do so, he claims, was negligence and the cause of his injuries. He argues that, under the “rescue doctrine,” it was foreseeable to Summers that a bystander might intervene when Summers’ negligence put others in peril. In addition, Thompson claims Summers violated several state and federal statutory duties of care pertaining to hot air balloon piloting and landing safety, including proper use of the ripcord.

¶4 Without submitting an answer, Summers made a motion to dismiss the complaint, alleging that Thompson failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted according to SDCL 15-6-12(b)(5) [hereinafter Rule 12(b)(5) ], which provides:

Every defense, in law or fact, to a claim for relief in any pleading, whether a claim, counterclaim, cross-claim, or third-party claim, shall be asserted in the responsive pleading thereto if one is required, except that the following defenses may at the option of the pleader be made by motion:

(5) Failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.] [1]

The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. Thompson appeals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶5 A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(5) tests the law of a plaintiff’s claim, not the facts which support it. Stumes v. Bloomberg, 1996 SD 93, p 6, 551 N.W.2d 590, 592; Schlosser v. Norwest Bank South Dakota, 506 N.W.2d 416, 418 (S.D.1993) (citations omitted). The motion is viewed with disfavor and is rarely granted. Schlosser directs the trial court to consider the complaint’s allegations and any exhibits which are attached. The court accepts the pleader’s description of what happened along with any conclusions reasonably drawn therefrom. The motion may be directed to the whole complaint or only specified counts contained in it…. “In appraising the sufficiency of the complaint we follow, of course, the accepted rule that a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.” [quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80, 84 (1957) ]. The question is whether in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and with doubt resolved in his or her behalf, the complaint states any valid claim of relief. The court must go beyond the allegations for relief and “examine the complaint to determine if the allegations provide for relief on any possible theory.” [quoting 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357 (1971) ].

506 N.W.2d at 418 (emphasis added). As this appeal presents a question of law, our review is de novo, with no deference given to the trial court’s legal conclusions. City of Colton v. Schwebach, 1997 SD 4, p 8, 557 N.W.2d 769, 771.

¶6 WHETHER ANY LEGAL THEORY EXISTS TO SUPPORT THOMPSON’S CLAIM.

¶7 Thompson advances at least three legal theories which may support his cause of action. We need not, and do not, decide whether he will ultimately succeed on any of these theories. See Schlosser, 506 N.W.2d at 418:

[P]leadings should not be dismissed merely because the court entertains doubts as to whether the pleader will prevail in the action as this is a matter of proof, not pleadings. The rules of procedure favor the resolution of cases upon the merits by trial or summary judgment rather than on failed or inartful accusations.

(Quoting Janklow v. Viking Press, 378 N.W.2d 875, 877 (S.D.1985) (citing Federal Practice and Procedure, supra )).

¶8 First, Thompson argues that the common law of negligence, particularly the “rescue doctrine,” is applicable to this case. [2] That doctrine is simply an adjunct of the common law of negligence. It is “nothing more than a negligence doctrine addressing the problem of proximate causation.” Lowery v. Illinois Cent. Gulf R.R. Co., 891 F.2d 1187, 1194 (5th Cir.1990); accord Stuart M. Speiser et al., The American Law of Torts § 9:23, at 1147 (1985) (“In considering the rescue doctrine and its ramifications, it must be always kept in mind that many–if, indeed not most–American courts regard it in terms of proximate causation.”). This theory provides that one who, through negligence, jeopardizes the safety of another, may be held liable for injuries sustained by a “rescuer” who attempts to save the other from injury. See 57A AmJur2d Negligence § 689 (1989):

A rescuer’s right of action against the initial negligent actor rests upon the view that one who imperils another at a place where there may be bystanders, must take into account the chance that some bystander will yield to the impulse to save life or even property from destruction and will attempt a rescue; negligence which creates peril invites rescue and, should the rescuer be hurt in the process, the tortfeasor will be held liable not only to the primary victim, but to the rescuer as well.

(Footnotes & citations omitted). Interestingly, the rescue doctrine can be traced to an 1822 case involving a crowd rushing to assist a descending balloonist. See W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser & Keeton on the Law of Torts § 44, at 307 & n.63 (5th ed.1984) (citing Guille v. Swan, 19 Johns. 381 (N.Y.1822), and noting that since that case, the concept of the rescuer is “nothing abnormal”).

¶9 Summers argues that Thompson cannot raise this theory in this appeal because he did not present it to the trial court. We disagree for two reasons: First, Thompson’s complaint and his brief in opposition to the motion to dismiss adequately set forth his reliance on the rescue doctrine. [3] In his complaint, he stated:

Plaintiff perceived the situation to be an imminent threat to the general public on land and further perceived Defendant and Matt McCormick to be in imminent danger of severe physical harm or death. Plaintiff, in an attempt to prevent the same, went to the location of the balloon and grabbed on to it to help prevent it from drifting into the power lines.

(Emphasis added). In his brief, he reiterates the foregoing portion of his complaint, and adds: “Thompson responded to the emergency. In attempting to prevent an accident from happening, he grabbed the balloon to help prevent it from hitting the power lines.”

¶10 In opposing the motion to dismiss, Thompson briefed the case of Olson v. Waitman, 88 S.D. 443, 221 N.W.2d 23 (S.D.1974), which is not precisely on point, but somewhat analogous to the rescue doctrine, and certainly a common law negligence case. That case held that the jury was properly instructed that a plaintiff may have been contributory negligent when she was pinned under a car after she got behind it to push it from a ditch. However, it was error to so instruct the jury on the plaintiff’s second claim of negligence (she was severely burned after the defendant attempted to drive the car off of her). This court held that the plaintiff had two separate claims of negligence against the defendant and stated:

Regardless of how negligent the plaintiff may have been in getting into this predicament, she did not thereby give the defendant license to thereafter injure her with impunity. Id. at 446, 221 N.W.2d at 25 (remanding for new trial with proper instructions).

¶11 Clearly, Thompson adequately outlined his claim even if he did not include the term “rescue doctrine”. See, e.g., Thomas W. Garland, Inc. v. City of St. Louis, 596 F.2d 784, 787 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 899, 100 SCt 208, 62 L.Ed.2d 135 (1979) (stating that a complaint should not be dismissed because it does not state with precision all elements that give rise to a legal basis for recovery); accord Jackson Sawmill Co., Inc., v. United States, 580 F.2d 302, 306 (8th Cir.1978), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 1070, 99 S.Ct. 839, 59 L.Ed.2d 35 (1979).

¶12 The second reason we disagree with Summers’ argument that Thompson cannot raise a legal theory for the first time on appeal concerns the nature of a Rule 12(b)(5) motion. It is settled law that the trial court is under a duty to determine if the plaintiff’s allegations provide for relief on any possible theory, regardless of whether the plaintiff considered the theory. Schlosser, 506 N.W.2d at 418; Eide v. E.I. Du Pont De Nemours & Co., 1996 SD 11, p 7, 542 N.W.2d 769, 771; Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357; Seeley v. Brotherhood of Painters, 308 F.2d 52, 58 (5thCir.1962) (“[T]he theory of the plaintiff in stating his claim is not so important and the complaint should not be dismissed on motion unless, upon any theory, it appears to a certainty that the plaintiff would be entitled to no relief under any state of facts that could be proved in support of his claim.”); cf. Doss v. South Cent. Bell Tel. Co., 834 F.2d 421, 424 (5th Cir.1987) (“[T]he fact that a plaintiff pleads an improper legal theory does not preclude recovery under the proper theory.”); Oglala Sioux Tribe of Indians v. Andrus, 603 F.2d 707, 714 (8th Cir.1979) (“The ‘theory of the pleadings’ doctrine, under which a plaintiff must succeed on those theories that are pleaded or not at all, has been effectively abolished under the federal rules.”).

¶13 Summers argues the motion to dismiss was properly granted because Thompson cannot establish a duty owed by Summers to Thompson. Summers claims that he would have had to request Thompson’s assistance to establish a duty under these circumstances. At the very least, he argues, Summers must have been aware of Thompson’s presence. [4] At oral argument, counsel for Summers went so far as to state there must be a “relationship” between the plaintiff and the defendant before a duty can be established. On the contrary, it is foreseeability of injury to another, not a relationship with another, which is a prerequisite to establishing a duty necessary to sustain a negligence cause of action. See SDCL 20-9-1, wherein the Legislature codified the common law of negligence: “Every person is responsible for injury to the person, property, or rights of another caused by his willful acts or caused by his want of ordinary care or skill, subject in the latter cases to the defense of contributory negligence.” See also Muhlenkort v. Union County Land Trust, 530 N.W.2d 658, 662 (S.D.1995), where this court stated, “To establish a duty on the part of the defendant, it must be foreseeable that a party would be injured by the defendant’s failure to discharge that duty.”

¶14 Additionally, Summers misapprehends the principles of the rescue doctrine. The basic theory of this doctrine is that the defendant’s negligence in placing another in a position of imminent peril is not only a wrong to that person, but also to the rescuing plaintiff. Wharf v. Burlington N. R.R. Co., 60 F.3d 631, 635 (9th Cir.1995); Dinsmoore v. Board of Trustees of Memorial Hosp., 936 F.2d 505, 507 (10thCir.1991); Lowery, 891 F.2d at 1194; Bonney v. Canadian Nat’l Ry. Co., 800 F.2d 274, 276 (1st Cir.1986); Barger v. Charles Mach. Works, Inc., 658 F.2d 582, 587 (8th Cir.1981); Barnes v. Geiger, 15 Mass.App.Ct. 365, 446 N.E.2d 78, 81-82 (1983) (collecting cases); Metzger v. Schermesser, 687 S.W.2d 671, 672 (Mo.Ct.App.1985); see generally The American Law of Torts, supra § 9:23; Prosser & Keeton, supra § 44, at 307-09 (collecting cases from nearly every state). The rescuer may also recover from the imperiled party if that party’s negligence caused the peril. Wharf, 60 F.3d at 635. As indicated above, “negligence which creates peril invites rescue and, should the rescuer be hurt in the process, the tortfeasor will be held liable not only to the primary victim, but to the rescuer as well.” 57A AmJur2d Negligence § 689 (1989). Judge Cardozo’s statement regarding the rescue doctrine is often quoted in these cases:

Danger invites rescue. The cry of distress is the summons to relief. The law does not ignore these reactions of the mind in tracing conduct to its consequences. It recognizes them as normal. It places their effects within the range of the natural and probable. The wrong that imperils life is a wrong to the imperiled victim; it is a wrong also to his rescuer. Wagner v. International Ry. Co., 232 N.Y. 176, 133 N.E. 437, 437 (1921).

¶15 This theory of “duty” comports with the well-established view of this court. See, e.g., Mark, Inc. v. Maguire Ins. Agency, Inc., 518 N.W.2d 227, 229-30 (S.D.1994) (“Whether a duty exists depends on the foreseeability of injury.”); accord Muhlenkort, 530 N.W.2d at 662; see also Mid-Western Elec., Inc. v. DeWild Grant Reckert & Assocs. Co., 500 N.W.2d 250, 254 (S.D.1993) (“We instruct trial courts to use the legal concept of foreseeability to determine whether a duty exists.”).

¶16 Under Thompson’s second theory, he claims that Summers violated a standard of care as provided in SDCL chapter 50-13, “Air Space and Operation of Aircraft.” “Aircraft” includes balloons. SDCL 50-13-1. SDCL 50-13-4 provides:

Flight in aircraft over the lands and waters of this state is lawful, unless … so conducted as to be imminently dangerous to persons or property lawfully on the land or water beneath.

See also SDCL 50-13-6, which provides, in relevant part:

The owner and the pilot, or either of them, of every aircraft which is operated over lands or waters of this state shall be liable for injuries or damage to persons or property on the land or water beneath, caused by the ascent, descent, or flight of the aircraft, or the dropping or falling of any object therefrom in accordance with the rules of law applicable to torts in this state.

Additionally, SDCL 50-13-16 provides:

It is a Class 1 misdemeanor to operate an aircraft within the airspace over, above and upon the lands and waters of this state, carelessly and heedlessly in intentional disregard of the rights or safety of others, or without due caution and circumspection in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property.

All of these statutes were presented to the trial court. This court has consistently held that “an unexcused violation of a statute enacted to promote safety constitutes negligence per se.” Bell v. East River Elec. Power Coop., Inc., 535 N.W.2d 750, 755 (S.D.1995) (citing Engel v. Stock, 88 S.D. 579, 225 N.W.2d 872, 873 (1975); Bothern v. Peterson, 83 S.D. 84, 155 N.W.2d 308 (1967); Blakey v. Boos, 83 S.D. 1, 153 N.W.2d 305 (1967)).

¶17 Third, Thompson argues that Summers violated certain federal regulations [5] relating to hot air balloon piloting and landing safety, including proper use of the ripcord in emergency operations. See, e.g., 14 C.F.R. § 61.125(e)(5), which requires applicants for a commercial certificate for piloting balloons to have knowledge in

Operating principles and procedures for free balloons, including emergency procedures such as crowd control and protection, high wind and water landings, and operations in proximity to buildings and power lines.

Additionally, id. § 61.127(f) sets minimum proficiency requirements for balloon pilots and requires competence in, among other procedures, landing and emergency operations, including the use of the ripcord. See also id. § 91.13 (“No person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.”). These regulations were presented to the trial court.

¶18 Whether Summers violated one or more of these statutes and regulations, and if so, whether the violation was the proximate cause of Thompson’s injuries constitutes a question for the factfinder. Violation of the statute “alone is not sufficient to render them liable to the plaintiff. Before they may be held to respond in damages it must further appear that their violation of the duty placed on them by this rule was the proximate cause of plaintiff’s injury. The burden of establishing this is on the plaintiff.” Blakey, 83 S.D. at 8, 153 N.W.2d at 309 (citation omitted); accord Musch v. H-D Coop., Inc., 487 N.W.2d 623, 625-26 (S.D.1992):

With regard to the proximate cause issue, this court has recognized that the mere violation of a statute is insufficient to support an action for damages. Rather, a plaintiff must show that the violation of a statutory duty was the proximate cause of his injury to support a recovery in negligence. Serles v. Braun, 79 S.D. 456, 113 N.W.2d 216 (1962); Zeller v. Pikovsky, 66 S.D. 71, 278 N.W. 174 (1938). In Leslie v. City of Bonesteel, 303 N.W.2d 117, 119 (S.D.1981), we stated: “For proximate cause to exist, ‘the harm suffered must be found to be a foreseeable consequence of the act complained of…. The negligent act must be a substantial factor in bringing about the harm.’ Williams v. United States, 450 F.Supp. 1040, 1046 (D.S.D.1978).”

(Emphasis & alterations omitted). Questions of proximate cause are for the jury in “all but the rarest of cases.” Bauman v. Auch, 539 N.W.2d 320, 325 (S.D.1995); Nelson v. Nelson Cattle Co., 513 N.W.2d 900, 903 (S.D.1994); Holmes v. Wegman Oil Co., 492 N.W.2d 107, 114 (S.D.1992).

CONCLUSION

¶19 “Negligence is the breach of a legal duty imposed by statute or common law.” Stevens v. Wood Sawmill, Inc., 426 N.W.2d 13, 14 (S.D.1988) (citing Walz v. City of Hudson, 327 N.W.2d 120, 122 (S.D.1982)). Thompson clearly outlined a claim under a common-law negligence theory. See id. (“The three necessary elements of actionable negligence are: (1) A duty on the part of the defendant; (2) a failure to perform that duty; and (3) an injury to the plaintiff resulting from such a failure.”). The rescue doctrine is part of the common law of negligence. Therefore, under the law governing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(5), it was improper to dismiss Thompson’s lawsuit even if the doctrine was not yet addressed in South Dakota. [6]

¶20 Additionally, Thompson set out South Dakota statutes and federal regulations which establish the standard of care for a hot air balloon pilot. The question is “whether in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and with doubt resolved in his or her behalf, the complaint states any valid claim of relief.” Schlosser, 506 N.W.2d at 418 (emphasis added). Thompson asserts at least three theories which may support his cause of action. Therefore, the trial court erred in holding as a matter of law that Thompson did not allege a duty owed by Summers. Whether he can ultimately succeed presents questions not capable of resolution by a motion to dismiss. We reverse and remand for trial.

¶21 KONENKAMP, J., concurs.

¶22 MILLER, C.J., and AMUNDSON and GILBERTSON, JJ., concur in result.

MILLER, Chief Justice (concurring in result).

¶23 I agree with Justice Sabers’ ultimate result and his discussion noting that Thompson’s complaint states various theories which may support the cause of action (common-law negligence, state statutes and federal regulations). I must merely concur in result, however, because I disagree with and disassociate myself from the discussion and analysis of the rescue doctrine, specifically pp 8-16 supra.

¶24 Analysis of the propriety and applicability of the rescue doctrine at this juncture in these proceedings is premature at best. The doctrine was not argued or advanced by Thompson as a theory to support his cause of action below. It is well settled that we will not review issues which have not been presented to the trial court. Boever v. Board of Accountancy, 526 N.W.2d 747, 750 (S.D.1995); Fullmer v. State Farm Ins. Co., 514 N.W.2d 861, 866 (S.D.1994) (citations omitted). Matters not determined by the trial court are not appropriate for appellate review. See Schull Construction Co. v. Koenig, 80 S.D. 224, 229, 121 N.W.2d 559, 561 (1963). The parties agree and the trial court’s memorandum indicates that the rescue doctrine was not considered in the trial court’s grant of the motion to dismiss. [7] Accordingly, we need not and should not examine the doctrine at this time. [8]

¶25 Any contention that the rescue doctrine was presented to the trial court via the language of the complaint is not persuasive reasoning for reviewing the rescue doctrine as a possible theory of recovery, especially when Thompson specifically concedes he failed to consider the doctrine or present it for the trial court’s consideration. While pleadings need not be so artfully drafted as to specifically list each and every possible claim, the complaint must set forth the facts alleged and contain the essential elements of the cause of action pursued in order to be sufficient. Harmon v. Christy Lumber, Inc., 402 N.W.2d 690, 693 (S.D.1987). See also Weller v. Spring Creek Resort, Inc., 477 N.W.2d 839, 841-42 (S.D.1991). Our deferential standard of review allowing complaints to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim so long as the “complaint states any valid claim for relief …. ‘on any possible theory,’ ” Schlosser v. Norwest Bank South Dakota, 506 N.W.2d 416, 418 (S.D.1993) (citations omitted), does not require the trial court to ferret out and advance a theory on behalf of a party which has not been recognized in this jurisdiction. Such a requirement would put the trial court in the inappropriate position of advocating on behalf of a party and would unduly strain judicial resources in an effort to explore every conceivable theory, whether recognized in this jurisdiction or not.

¶26 Thompson’s complaint states sufficient theories to support his cause of action; therefore, the trial court’s grant of the motion to dismiss was in error and I agree with Justice Sabers that it should be reversed. However, I respectfully assert that the issue of whether the rescue doctrine is a valid theory of common-law negligence in this jurisdiction should be left until another day when the issue has been properly presented for our review.

¶27 I am authorized to state that Justices AMUNDSON and GILBERTSON join in this concurrence in result.

———

Notes:

[1] SDCL 15-6-12(b)(5) is identical to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

[2] In response to Chief Justice Miller’s special writing, we are reversing on precisely the three theories which he lists as meriting reversal. The rescue doctrine is not, standing alone, a viable theory. It is part of negligence in the same way that respondeat superior, vicarious liability, imputed negligence, and concurrent negligence are a part of negligence. Whether the rescue doctrine will be adopted in South Dakota is premature at this state of the proceedings and must await proper disposition upon remand.

However, the rescue doctrine was pled, argued, and reached even if the precise term “rescue doctrine” was not employed. The complaint clearly demonstrates that Thompson set forth the facts and essential elements of this cause of action. The sum total of the trial court’s decision is as follows:

Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is hereby granted. In order for a negligence action to stand, there must be a duty on the part of the defendant running to the plaintiff; the existence of such a duty is a question of law for the Court. This Court finds that no such duty has been established by the Plaintiff in the case at bar, and therefore the case is dismissed. Defendant is requested to draft and submit the appropriate Order.

By determining that no duty existed, the trial court rejected all three theories, including the common law of negligence, of which the rescue doctrine is a part.

[3] While Thompson’s complaint did not include the term “rescue doctrine”, it pleads a legally sufficient cause of action for negligence under “notice pleading” theory. See SDCL 15-6-8(a):

A pleading which sets forth a claim for relief, whether an original claim, counterclaim, cross-claim or third-party claim, shall contain

(1) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and

(2) a demand for judgment for the relief to which he deems himself entitled.

Relief in the alternative or of several different types may be demanded.

(Emphasis added); see also Norwest Bank Black Hills v. Rapid City Teachers Fed. Credit Union, 433 N.W.2d 560, 563 (S.D.1988) (“Under SDCL 15-6-8(a) it is not necessary to plead ‘duty’ in negligence cases where the existence of a duty may be logically inferred from the claim stated in one’s complaint.”); accord Korstad-Tebben, Inc. v. Pope Architects, Inc., 459 N.W.2d 565, 568 (S.D.1990). Thompson claimed that Summers breached a duty to him by failing to rip out the balloon. It did not require the trial court to “explore every conceivable theory” (infra p 25 (Miller, C.J., concurring in result)) to ascertain whether a duty was indeed owed. Duty is based upon foreseeability of injury to another. Analysis of this case depends upon whether injury to Thompson was foreseeable to Summers, and the rescue doctrine simply facilitates the analysis.

[4] Although not material on a motion to dismiss, Summers claims he did not know until afterward that Thompson tried to help him land safely. As noted, the court accepts the pleader’s description of events. Schlosser, 506 N.W.2d at 418.

[5] “The reasons which persuaded us to hold that the violation of a safety statute or ordinance is negligence as a matter of law apply with equal validity to safety rules and regulations[.]” Blakey, 83 S.D. at 7, 153 N.W.2d at 308.

[6] While this is the first time issues involving the rescue doctrine have been presented to this court, the public policy inherent in the doctrine is already in our statutes. The policy underlying the rescue doctrine is the public’s need for quick and courageous action in emergency situations. Compare SDCL 20-9-4.1, which provides individuals general immunity from liability for their actions in emergency situations:

No peace officer, conservation officer, member of any fire department, police department and their first aid, rescue or emergency squad, or any citizen acting as such as a volunteer, or any other person is liable for any civil damages as a result of their acts of commission or omission arising out of and in the course of their rendering in good faith, any emergency care and services during an emergency which is in their judgment indicated and necessary at the time. Such relief from liability for civil damages shall extend to the operation of any motor vehicle in connection with any such care or services….

(Emphasis added). By adopting this “Good Samaritan” statute, the Legislature adopted the public policy of encouraging persons, and–as the emphasized language indicates–not just professional persons, to act on their instinct when confronted with emergency situations. Of course, persons paid to act in emergencies cannot recover from the tortfeasor under the rescue doctrine. See, e.g., Gray v. Russell, 853 S.W.2d 928, 931 (Mo.1993) (en banc) (explaining the rationale for the “firefighter rule”):

Firefighters and police officers are hired, trained, and compensated to deal with dangerous situations affecting the public as a whole. Because of their exceptional responsibilities, when firefighters and police officers are injured in the performance of their duties the cost of their injuries should also be borne by the public as a whole, through the workers’ compensation laws and the provision of insurance benefits and special disability pensions.

(Citation omitted).

[7] At oral argument, Summers argued and Thompson conceded that the trial court was never presented with the rescue doctrine theory and did not reach the issue.

[8] There are a number of reasons for leaving an analysis of the rescue doctrine for another day. The rescue doctrine presents an issue of first impression in this jurisdiction. The failure to raise the doctrine below foreclosed the opportunity for full briefing and presentation of argument on the issue. The rescue doctrine should not be analyzed without the benefit of all the pertinent authorities and public policy arguments if a complete and informed decision is to be reached.

Additionally, “[p]rinciples of judicial restraint dictate that when an issue effectively disposes of the case, other issues that are presented should not be reached.” Poppen v. Walker, 520 N.W.2d 238, 248 (S.D.1994). The conclusion that the trial court’s motion to dismiss should be reversed on other theories negates the necessity of addressing the rescue doctrine on this appeal.

———


Winiecki v. Wolf, 147 Mich. App. 742; 383 N.W.2d 119; 1985 Mich. App. LEXIS 3127

Winiecki v. Wolf, 147 Mich. App. 742; 383 N.W.2d 119; 1985 Mich. App. LEXIS 3127

Diane A Winiecki, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Herbert Wolf and Katherine Wolf, Defendants-Appellees, and Richard George, Defendant

Docket No. 80207

Court of Appeals of Michigan

147 Mich. App. 742; 383 N.W.2d 119; 1985 Mich. App. LEXIS 3127

June 26, 1985, Submitted

August 22, 1985, Decided

COUNSEL: Marshal E. Hyman, Birmingham, for plaintiff.

W. J. Zotter, Coticchio, Zotter & Sullivan, P.C., Detroit, for defendants.

JUDGES: R. M. Maher, P.J., and Bronson and D. F. Walsh, JJ.

OPINION BY: PER CURIAM

OPINION

[*743] [**120] Plaintiff appeals from an order of the Macomb County Circuit Court granting defendants Wolfs’ motion for summary judgment of dismissal, GCR 1963, 117.2(1).

Defendants Herbert and Katherine Wolf held a family reunion at their home in Tuscola County. Plaintiff is a cousin of Katherine Wolf. Another cousin, defendant Richard George, brought “land skis”, two wooden planks with foot holes made from pieces of inner tube which he manufactured himself, to the reunion. A game was played with the land skis involving two teams which were to race down to a tree in the yard and back. According to defendants, everyone fell down when they played. The third time plaintiff fell, she sustained injuries to her hip and pelvis which may require [*744] long-term medical care. Plaintiff filed this action to recover damages for her injuries.

The trial court granted defendants Wolfs’ motion for summary judgment based solely on the ground that the [***2] recreational use statute, MCL 300.201; MSA 13.1485, precluded plaintiff’s action against the defendant landowners. The issue on appeal is the correctness of the trial court’s application of that statute to this case.

The recreational use statute provides:

[HN1] “No cause of action shall arise for injuries to any person who is on the lands of another without paying to such other person a valuable consideration for the purpose of fishing, hunting, trapping, camping, hiking, sightseeing, motorcycling, snowmobiling, or any other outdoor recreational use, with or without permission, against the owner, tenant, or lessee of said premises unless the injuries were caused by the gross negligence or wilful and wanton misconduct of the owner, tenant, or lessee.”

Plaintiff, citing various indications of legislative intent, argues that the statute was not intended to protect landowners from liability for injuries occurring in their backyards. Defendants Wolf own a tract of land measuring 7.8 acres, but the land ski game was allegedly played on the lawn behind the garage.

[HN2] The duty of the courts is to interpret statutes as we find them. Melia v Employment Security Comm, 346 Mich 544, 561; 78 [***3] NW2d 273 (1956). A plain and unambiguous statute is to be applied, and not interpreted, since such a statute speaks for itself. Lansing v Lansing Twp, 356 Mich 641, 649; 97 NW2d 804 (1959). The courts may not speculate as to the probable intent of the Legislature beyond the words employed in the act. Id. Ordinary words are to be given their plain and [*745] ordinary meaning. Carter Metropolitan Christian Methodist Episcopal Church v Liquor Control Comm, 107 Mich App 22, 28; 308 NW2d 677 (1981).

This statute, as the trial court has already observed, is clear and unambiguous. Plaintiff was a person on the lands of another, without paying a consideration, for the purpose of an outdoor recreational use. [HN3] The statute offers nothing on its face excluding from its application the backyard of residential property. If the Legislature did not intend the statute to apply to parcels of land this size, it was within its power to insert words limiting the statute’s application, e.g., to lands in their natural state. As we, however, are constrained to apply the statute as written, we cannot say that the trial court erred in relieving defendants of liability based on the [***4] recreational use statue.

[HN4] The recreational use statute does not protect landowners from liability for gross negligence or for wilful and wanton misconduct. Plaintiff’s complaint, however, does not include allegations sufficient to make out a claim either of gross negligence or of wilful and wanton misconduct. McNeal v Dep’t of Natural Resources, 140 Mich App 625, 633; 364 NW2d 768 (1985); Matthews v Detroit, 141 Mich App 712, 717-718; 367 NW2d 440 (1985). The trial court correctly concluded that plaintiff had failed to state a claim of gross negligence or of wilful and wanton misconduct.

Affirmed.


Mcarthur v. Kerzner International Bahamas Limited, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 5058

Mcarthur v. Kerzner International Bahamas Limited, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 5058

John C. Mcarthur, Sandra S. Mcarthur, his wife, Plaintiffs – Appellants, versus Kerzner International Bahamas Limited, a Bahamian company, Kerzner International Limited, a Bahamian company, Island Hotel Company Limited, a Bahamian company, Paradise Island Limited, a Bahamian company, Defendants – Appellees.

No. 14-13889 Non-Argument Calendar

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 5058

March 30, 2015, Decided

COUNSEL: For JOHN C. MCARTHUR, SANDRA S. MCARTHUR, Plaintiffs – Appellants: Jeffrey Bradford Maltzman, Rafaela Castells, Steve Holman, Maltzman & Partners, PA, CORAL GABLES, FL; Robert L. Parks, Gabriel A. Garay, The Law Offices of Robert L. Parks, PL, MIAMI, FL.

JUDGES: Before JULIE CARNES, FAY and DUBINA, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

PER CURIAM:

Appellants John C. McArthur and his wife, Sandra S. McArthur, appeal the district court’s order dismissing their civil action under forum non conveniens. After reviewing the record and reading the parties’ briefs, we affirm the order dismissing appellants’ complaint.

I. BACKGROUND

The McArthurs were part of a group of guests who traveled to the Atlantis Resort in The Bahamas with the University of Kansas (“KU”) for a basketball tournament. Travel agent Cate and Mason Travel Partners (“travel agent”) made KU’s reservations and contracted with Atlantis. The contract includes two provisions in which the travel agent agrees to notify their clients that when they book their reservation through the travel agent, they are subject to certain terms and conditions governing [*2] their stay at Atlantis. A section of the contract indicates that the additional terms and conditions are available on the Atlantis website. [Doc. DE-16-1, Ex. 1 ¶ 5, ¶ 8.] The terms and conditions provide that the guest will be asked to sign a form agreeing to certain terms related to any claims the guest may have as a result of the guest’s stay at the Atlantis Resort. It specifically states that “I agree that any claim I may have against [several named defendants and others], along with their parent, related and affiliated companies at every tier, . . . resulting from any events occurring in The Bahamas shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, and further, irrevocably agree to the Supreme Court of The Bahamas as the exclusive venue for any such proceedings whatsoever.” [Id. ¶ 8.]

Upon their arrival at Atlantis, the McArthurs signed a written registration card entitled “Acknowledgement, Agreement and Release” that includes a choice of law provision and forum selection clause:

I agree that any claims I may have against the Resort Parties resulting from any events occurring in The Bahamas shall be governed by and constructed in [*3] accordance with the laws of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, and further, I irrevocably agree to the Supreme Court of The Bahamas as the exclusive venue for such proceedings whatsoever. . . .

[Id. ¶ 10 & Exh. 4.]

During his stay at the Atlantis Resort, John McArthur slipped and fell on a sidewalk adjacent to the water park attraction known as the Rapid River. In March 2014, the McArthurs filed an amended complaint in federal district court, alleging negligence in connection with John McArthur’s fall. The amended complaint also alleged that as a result of John McArthur’s injuries, his wife suffered the diminishment of her husband’s companionship and consortium. The amended complaint invoked the district court’s diversity based subject-matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. It alleged that the McArthurs were domiciled in Kansas, defendant Kerzner International was a Bahamian company with its principal place of business in Florida, defendant Kerzner Bahamas was a Bahamian company with its principal place of business in Florida, defendant Island Hotel was a Bahamian company and a subsidiary of Kerzner International and Kerzner Bahamas, and defendant Paradise Island was a Bahamian company and a subsidiary [*4] of Kerzner International and Kerzner Bahamas.

The defendants moved to dismiss the amended complaint on the basis of forum non conveniens. The district court granted the motion. The McArthurs then perfected this appeal.1

1 This court issued a jurisdictional question asking the parties to address whether the pleadings sufficiently alleged the citizenship of the parties, in particular, Island Hotel and Paradise Island, to establish the district court’s subject-matter jurisdiction over the case. See Mallory & Evans Contractors & Eng’rs, LLC v. Tuskegee Univ., 663 F.3d 1304, 1304-05 (11th Cir. 2011) (stating that the court must sua sponte raise its concerns regarding subject-matter jurisdiction). The McArthurs concede that the amended complaint failed to allege sufficiently the citizenship of Island Hotel and Paradise Island, but move to amend the amended complaint to add the allegations that both defendants were Bahamian Companies with their principal places of business in the Bahamas. [HN1] The party invoking the court’s jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction, and when the pleadings’ allegations of citizenship and jurisdiction are insufficient, a party may amend them in this court. See 28 U.S.C. § 1653; Mallory, 663 F.3d at 1305. The McArthurs’ allegations cure the pleading deficiencies [*5] as to Island Hotel and Paradise Island, and the amended complaint sufficiently alleges that the other defendants are Bahamian companies with their principal places of business in Florida. Because the proposed amendments show that no defendant is a citizen of Kansas, where the McArthurs are domiciled, the district court’s subject-matter jurisdiction is satisfied. Thus, we grant the McArthur’s motion to amend the amended complaint and entertain the instant appeal.

II. DISCUSSION

[HN2] This court reviews a district court’s order of dismissal based on forum non conveniens for an abuse of discretion. Aldana v. Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A., 578 F.3d 1283, 1288 (11th Cir. 2009). [HN3] In addition, we review de novo a district court’s construction of a contractual forum selection clause. Global Satellite Commc’n Co. v. Starmill U.K. Ltd., 378 F.3d 1269, 1271 (11th Cir. 2004).

As a preliminary matter, forum selection clauses “are presumptively valid and enforceable unless the plaintiff makes a ‘strong showing’ that enforcement would be unfair or unreasonable under the circumstances.” Pappas v. Kerzner Int’l Bahamas Ltd., 585 F. App’x 962, 965 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting Krenkel v. Kerzner Int’l Hotels Ltd., 579 F.3d 1279, 1281 (11th Cir. 2009)). The party seeking to avoid the forum selection clause bears the burden of showing exceptional circumstances, predicated on public interest considerations to justify disturbing the forum selection clause. Atl. Marine Const. v. U.S. Dist. Court, U.S. , , 134 S. Ct. 568, 581, 187 L. Ed. 2d 487 (2013).

A forum selection clause will be invalidated where “(1) its formation [*6] was induced by fraud or overreaching; (2) the plaintiff would be deprived of its day in court because of inconvenience or unfairness; (3) the chosen law would deprive the plaintiff of a remedy; or (4) enforcement of the clause would contravene public policy.” Krenkel v. Kerzner Int’l Hotels Ltd., 579 F.3d 1279, 1281 (11th Cir. 2009). To determine whether there was fraud or overreaching in a non-negotiated forum selection clause, the court looks to “whether the clause was reasonably communicated to the consumer. A useful two-part test of ‘reasonable communicativeness’ takes into account the clause’s physical characteristics and whether the plaintiffs had the ability to become meaningfully informed of the clause and to reject its terms.” Id.

The McArthurs contend that the forum selection clause is invalid because the contents of the forum selection clause were not reasonably communicated to them, and the travel agent never informed them about the forum selection clause. However, as the district court found, the McArthurs had constructive notice of the Atlantis Resort’s terms and conditions that the travel agent received. The travel agent, via its contract with the resort, knew that the attendees at the resort were subject to certain additional terms and conditions, [*7] agreed to notify their clients regarding the terms and conditions, and knew where to obtain the specific terms and conditions. Thus, because the McArthurs’ trip involved travel arrangements made by the travel agent, they are charged with constructive notice of the terms and conditions in the contract the travel agent had with the Atlantis Resort.

Moreover, upon their arrival at the resort, the McArthurs signed a written registration form that read, in part, that the guest agrees that any claims he may have against the resort shall be governed by the laws of The Bahamas and that the Supreme Court of The Bahamas is the exclusive venue. [R. DE 16-5.] By signing this form, the McArthurs agreed to the forum selection clause. Hence, we conclude that the forum selection clause is valid.2

2 The McArthurs also argue that the forum selection clause is invalid because it was obtained through fraud. Their argument centers on their claim that the defendants have a policy that allows guests to delete portions of the guest registration card but they do not inform the guests of that right, and therefore, the defendants obtain the signatures on the cards through fraud. This contention is meritless because [*8] they cannot show that the forum selection clause itself was included in the contract due to fraud. See Rucker v. Oasis Legal Fin., L.L.C., 632 F.3d 1231, 1236 (11th Cir. 2011 ) (noting that in order for a forum selection clause to be invalidated on the basis of fraud or overreaching, a plaintiff must specifically allege that the clause was included in the contract because of fraud).

In addition, The Bahamas is an adequate alternative forum, and the public interest factors weigh in favor of transfer. See Atl. Marine, U.S. at , 134 S. Ct. at 582 (discussing forum selection clauses in the 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) transfer context). First, the McArthurs do not contest that The Bahamas provides an adequate alternative forum, and they do not assert that they could not reinstate their lawsuit in The Bahamas without undue inconvenience or prejudice. Second, the McArthurs fail to meet their burden to show that this case is exceptional and that the forum selection clause should not apply. Their brief is devoid of any claims as to court congestion, the burden of jury duty, or the difficulties in resolving conflict of law problems and applying foreign law. Third, the McArthurs fail to challenge the substantial interests of The Bahamas. In sum, the McArthurs cannot show that enforcement of the forum selection clause “would be unfair [*9] or unreasonable under the circumstances.” Krenkel, 579 F.3d at 1281. Accordingly, we conclude that the district court properly gave effect to the forum selection clause and granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss.3

3 The McArthurs also take issue with the district court’s order denying their motion for leave to amend the complaint to add Brookfield Asset Management, Inc., the new owner of the Atlantis Resort, as a defendant. The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion because the language of the forum selection clause applies equally to any entity that has owned, operated, or marketed the Atlantis Resort. [R. DE 16-1, Ex. 4 & 16-3.] See Garfield v. NDC Health Corp., 466 F.3d 1255, 1270 (11th Cir. 2006) (stating that [HN4] court reviews for abuse of discretion a district court’s decision to grant or deny leave to amend a pleading).

III. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the district court’s order granting defendants’ motion to dismiss based on forum non conveniens. We also grant the McArthurs’ motion for leave to amend the amended complaint to cure the deficiency in the pleadings.

AFFIRMED and Motion for leave to amend GRANTED.


Cash v. Six Continents Hotels, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2901

Cash v. Six Continents Hotels, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2901

MALLERIA CASH and FREDERIKA HARRELL, Plaintiffs, v. SIX CONTINENTS HOTELS, Defendant.

CIVIL ACTION NO. 03-3611

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2901

February 19, 2004, Decided

February 19, 2004, Filed

DISPOSITION: Defendant’s motion for summary judgment granted.

COUNSEL: [*1] For MALLERIA CASH and FREDERIKA HARRELL, Plaintiffs: HOWARD M.

GIRSH, STEINBERG & GIRSH, P.C., PHILADELPHIA, PA.

For SIX CONTINENTS HOTELS, BY ITS AGENT OR SUBSIDIARY HOLIDAY INN, Defendant:

FRANCIS H. GREY, JR., JENNIFER M. BROOKS, LAVIN COLEMAN O’NEIL RICCI FINATELLI & GRAY, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

JUDGES: RONALD L. BUCKWALTER, S.J.

OPINION BY: RONALD L. BUCKWALTER

OPINION:

MEMORANDUM

BUCKWALTER, S.J.

February 19, 2004

Presently before the Court is Defendant Six Continents Hotels’ Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiffs Malleria Cash’s and Frederika Harrell’s (collectively “Plaintiffs”) Opposition thereto and Defendant’s Reply to Plaintiffs’ Opposition. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant’s motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

On or around April 30, 2001, Plaintiffs were staying at the Holiday Inn Sunspree Hotel (“Hotel”) while they vacationed in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The Hotel is owned by SC Hotels & Resorts (Jamaica) Ltd., which is an affiliate of Defendant. While staying at the Hotel, Plaintiffs arranged to take a tour of the Dunns River Falls in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Plaintiffs booked the tour with a local tour company, Harmony Tours Ltd. For the convenience of its guests, the Hotel [*2] permitted Harmony Tours to maintain a desk in the Hotel lobby where guests could purchase tours. It is undisputed that the Hotel and Harmony Tours have no legal affiliation.

On or around April 30, 2001, Harmony Tours transported Plaintiffs to Dunns Rivers Falls. Plaintiffs allege that they were dropped off at the Falls “for a long period of time without any guidance or assistance.” (Compl. at P 3.) Plaintiffs claim that while they were trying to climb the waterfall – without the assistance of a guide – they slipped, fell and sustained injuries.

On May 13, 2003, Plaintiffs filed a one count complaint in state court alleging that Defendant was negligent for failing to provide a guide as they toured the Falls. On June 12, 2003, Defendant removed the case to this Court.

The parties do not dispute that Pennsylvania law controls this case.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion for summary judgment will be granted where all of the evidence demonstrates “that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A dispute about a material fact is genuine [*3] “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). Since a grant of summary judgment will deny a party its chance in court, all inferences must be drawn in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176, 82 S. Ct. 993 (1962).

The ultimate question in determining whether a motion for summary judgment should be granted is “whether reasonable minds may differ as to the verdict.” Schoonejongen v. Curtiss-Wright Corp., 143 F.3d 120, 129 (3d Cir. 1998). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

III. DISCUSSION

The parties do not dispute that Defendant and Harmony Tours are not legally affiliated in any way. Additionally, there is no dispute that Harmony Tours was not a servant or actual agent of Defendant. Rather, Plaintiffs’ sole contention is that Harmony Tours was an apparent agent of Defendant; therefore, [*4] Defendant should be held liable for Harmony Tours’ alleged negligence. (Pls.’ Mot. P 5.)

The Restatement (Second) of Agency § 267 outlines the rule for apparent agency and states, “one who represents that another is his servant or other agent and thereby causes a third person justifiably to rely upon the care or skill of such apparent agent is subject to liability to the third person for harm caused by the lack of care or skill of the one appearing to be a servant or other agent as if he were such.” Drexel v. Union Prescription Centers, Inc., 582 F.2d 781, 790-91 (3d Cir. 1978)(citing Restatement (Second) of Agency).

While Pennsylvania has not formally adopted § 267, it has adopted the theories of apparent authority and agency by estoppel, which state that “a principal who clothes his agent with apparent authority is estopped to deny such authority.” Myszkowski v. Penn Stroud Hotel, Inc., 430 Pa. Super. 315, 634 A.2d 622, 629 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1993). As the Myszkowski Court noted, apparent agency, “as embodied in § 267, is substantially similar to the doctrines of apparent authority and agency by estoppel. [*5] “ n1 Id.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n1 The Court also noted that “both apparent authority and agency by estoppel are customarily only relevant in the context of business transactions.” Id.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Plaintiff has not offered any evidence whatsoever to show that Harmony Tours had apparent authority or that Harmony Tours was Defendant’s apparent agent.

Plaintiffs have not even alleged, let alone offered evidence to show, that Defendant made any representation to Plaintiffs that Harmony Tours was its agent. Rather, Plaintiffs stated in their depositions that they just assumed that Harmony Tours was affiliated with Defendant because Harmony Tours had a desk in the Hotel’s lobby. (Pls.’ Br. P 5.) In fact, Plaintiff Harrell testified that nobody at Harmony Tours or the Hotel ever represented that the two entities were affiliated. (Harrell Dep. Tr. at 34-35.) Plaintiffs have simply not offered any evidence that shows Defendant held out Harmony Tours as its agent.

Additionally, the undisputed evidence shows that Harmony Tours actually supplied [*6] Plaintiffs with direct information that Harmony Tours was not an agent of Defendant. Both parties submitted photographs of Harmony Tours’ display desk in the Hotel. (Pls.’ Br. Ex. 4; Def.’s Br. Ex. D.) Behind the desk was a large sign that listed each of the tours that were available. In large capital bold letters, the top of the sign stated “HARMONY TOURS.” Furthermore, the following language was printed on the tour tickets that Plaintiffs purchased:

take notice that Harmony Tours Ltd. which conducts tours and excursions sold at this desk is an independent contractor. Holiday Inn (Jamaica) Inc. is not responsible for any loss, damage or injury which anyone may suffer arising out of, or in the course of, or in connection with any such tour or excursion. n2 (Def.’s Br. Ex. C.)

Not only is there no evidence that Defendant made representations that it was Harmony Tours’ principal, but Harmony Tours directly represented to Plaintiffs that it was an independent contractor that was not affiliated with Defendant.

Accordingly, Plaintiffs cannot meets its burden of proving apparent authority or agency by estoppel.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n2 Plaintiffs argue that this language is an exculpatory clause, and that the validity of such clauses should be determined by a jury. Plaintiffs argument, however, misses the point. Defendant does not offer this language to show that it cannot be held liable for negligence. Rather, Defendant offers this language to show that Harmony Tours informed its customers that it was an independent contractor and not an agent of Defendant; therefore, Plaintiffs cannot succeed on a theory of apparent authority.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [*7]

Lastly, even if Plaintiffs could show that Defendant made a representation that it was affiliated with Harmony Tours, Plaintiffs must then show that they justifiably relied on the representation. Myszkowski, 634 A.2d at 629.

Plaintiffs have not supplied any evidence that they relied on any representation made by Defendant. In fact, during her deposition, with regard to purchasing a ticket for the tour, Plaintiff Frederika Harrell testified as follows:

Q. Would you have not bought that ticket if you found out Harmony Tours was not affiliated with Holiday Inn?

A. I don’t know. I mean, I probably would have, because I wanted to take the tour. (Pls.’ Mot. P 5.)

Plaintiff Harrell’s own testimony shows that even if Defendant had made a representation that it was affiliated with Harmony Tours, she did not rely on that representation in any way. She would have taken the tour regardless of who was offering it.

IV. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is granted and judgment is entered against Plaintiffs and on behalf of Defendant. An appropriate Order follows.

ORDER

CIVIL ACTION NO. 03-3611 [*8]

AND NOW, this 19th day of February, 2004, upon consideration of Defendant Six Continents Hotels’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 7), Plaintiffs Malleria Cash’s and Frederika Harrell’s Opposition thereto (Docket No. 10) and Defendant’s Reply to Plaintiffs’ Opposition (Docket No. 11), it is hereby ORDERED that Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED and judgment is entered on behalf of Defendant and against Plaintiffs. This case is now CLOSED.

BY THE COURT:

RONALD L. BUCKWALTER, S.J.


Dare v. Freefall Adventures, Inc., 349 N.J. Super. 205; 793 A.2d 125; 2002 N.J. Super. LEXIS 155

Dare v. Freefall Adventures, Inc., 349 N.J. Super. 205; 793 A.2d 125; 2002 N.J. Super. LEXIS 155

Joseph Dare and Patricia Dare, his Wife, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Freefall Adventures, Inc., John Ed-Dowes, Warren Acron and Eric Keith Johnson, Defendants-Respondents. Joseph Dare and Patricia Dare, his Wife, Plaintiffs-Respondents, v. Freefall Adventures, Inc., and John Eddowes, Defendants-Appellants, Warren Acorn and eric Keith Johnson, Defendants.

A-2629-00T1, A-2789-00T1

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, APPELLATE DIVISION

349 N.J. Super. 205; 793 A.2d 125; 2002 N.J. Super. LEXIS 155

February 4, 2002, Argued

March 21, 2002, Decided

COUNSEL: Stephen Cristal, argued the cause for Joseph and Patricia Dare, appellants in A-2629-00T1 and respondents in A-2789-00T1 (Mark J. Molz, attorney; Mr. Cristal, on the brief).

Kelly Johnson, argued the cause for Freefall Adventures, Inc. and John Eddowes, respondents in A-2629-00T1 and appellants in A-2789-00T1 (Ms. Johnson, on the brief).

Vincent J. Pancari, argued the cause for respondent Eric K. Johnson in A-2629-00T1 (Kavesh, Pancari, Tedesco & Pancari, attorneys; Robert Pancari, on the brief).

JUDGES: Before Judges HAVEY, COBURN and WEISSBARD. The opinion of the court was delivered by HAVEY, P.J.A.D.

OPINION BY: HAVEY

OPINION

[**127] [*209] The opinion of the court was delivered by

[**128] HAVEY, P.J.A.D.

Plaintiff Joseph Dare was injured in a skydiving accident when he attempted to avoid colliding with defendant Eric Keith Johnson, a co-participant in the jump. 1 Prior to the jump, plaintiff signed a release/waiver agreement with the operator of the skydiving facility, defendant Freefall Adventures, Inc. (Freefall), under [*210] hich plaintiff released [***2] Freefall from any claims for injuries arising from Freefall’s negligence. The agreement further provided that, in the event plaintiff instituted a suit against Freefall, plaintiff agreed to pay Freefall’s counsel fees incurred in defending the suit. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of all defendants dismissing plaintiffs’ personal injury action. The court concluded that plaintiffs failed to establish a prima facie case of negligence. 2 It also dismissed Freefall’s counterclaim in which it demanded counsel fees in accordance with the release/waiver agreement, as well as the Frivolous Claims Statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-59.1, and Rule 1:4-8.

1 Two appeals, A-2629-00T1, filed by plaintiffs, and A-2789-00T1, filed by defendants Freefall and John Eddowes, have been consolidated for purpose of this opinion.

2 Plaintiff Patricia Dare, Joseph’s wife, filed a per quod claim.

We conclude that the recklessness standard applied to Johnson and the ordinary negligence standard [***3] applied to Freefall, and, based on the evidentiary material submitted, see Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 666 A.2d 146 (1995), summary judgment was properly granted to all defendants. We further hold that the fee-shifting provision under the release/waiver agreement signed by plaintiff is void as against public policy, and that Freefall is not entitled to counsel fees under the Frivolous Claims Statute. We therefore affirm dismissal of Freefall’s counterclaim.

Considering the evidentiary material in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, id. at 523, 666 A.2d 146, these are the facts. On July 9, 1995, plaintiff Joseph Dare, a licensed and experienced skydiver, having jumped on 137 prior occasions, utilized the skydiving facilities operated by Freefall 3 in Williamstown, Gloucester County. Plaintiff had been using the Freefall facility for over two years and nearly every week for the six months preceding his accident.

3 Freefall refers also to defendant John Eddowes, part owner of Freefall, and defendant Warren Acorn who, according to plaintiffs’ complaint, was a Freefall employee.

[***4] Prior to his jump on July 9, 1995, plaintiff executed a five-page “Waiver of Rights, Release and Indemnity Agreement” which [*211] defined the risks of injury or death associated with skydiving.

Page 3 of the waiver provided:

1. I hereby RELEASE AND DISCHARGE . . . FREEFALL . . . from any and all liability, claims, demands or causes of action that I may hereinafter have for injuries and damages arising out of my participation in parachuting activities.

2. I further agree that I WILL NOT SUE OR MAKE CLAIM against [Freefall] for damages or other losses sustained as a result of my participation in parachuting activities. . . . I also agree to INDEMNIFY AND HOLD [Freefall] HARMLESS from all claims, judgments and costs, including attorneys’ fees, incurred in connection with any action brought as a result of my participation in parachuting activities. . . .

Page 4 provided:

2. EXEMPTION FROM LIABILITY. [Plaintiff] . . . releases [Freefall] [**129] . . . from any and all liability . . . arising out of any . . . injury to [plaintiff] . . . while participating in any of the activities contemplated by this AGREEMENT . . . whether such . . . injury results [***5] from the negligence of [Freefall] . . . .

3. COVENANT NOT TO SUE. [Plaintiff] agrees never to institute any suit or action at law or otherwise against [Freefall], its owners, officers, agents, employees, servants, or lessors . . . by reason of injury to [plaintiff] . . . arising from the activities contemplated by this AGREEMENT. . . .

[Emphasis added.]

A second “Agreement and Release,” signed by plaintiff, in favor of Cross Keys Airport, Inc. and Freefall stated:

5. REIMBURSEMENT FOR LEGAL FEES AND EXPENSES. The [plaintiff] expressly agrees and covenants to fully reimburse [Freefall] for all legal costs and reasonable counsel fees . . . paid by [Freefall], for the . . . defense of any and all actions or cause of action or claim or demand for damages whatsoever, which may hereafter arise or be instituted or recovered against [Freefall], by the [plaintiff] . . . regardless of any negligence on the part of [Freefall] . . . .

[Emphasis added.]

On the day of the jump, plaintiff was accompanied by defendant Eric Johnson, another licensed and experienced skydiver, in the airplane transporting the divers to the drop [***6] zone. Johnson jumped first, followed by plaintiff. Plaintiff claims that he was injured because he was required to make an emergency turn during his descent in order to avoid colliding with Johnson. In his certification, plaintiff states:

Defendant Johnson [was] skydiving in a reckless manner; he was far outside the [landing] pattern, he was too low to the ground over the airplane runway. It was reckless of him to be that close to the runway at that altitude. It is one of the [*212] most basic rules of skydiving that you cannot land on or near a runway. Defendant Johnson was essentially being a “hot-dog,” which is inappropriate.

Because Defendant Johnson was so far outside the [landing] pattern, he had to recklessly cut across wind back toward the drop zone, and in doing so was heading right into [plaintiff’s] path of travel. Had [plaintiff] not maneuvered, [they] would have collided. In trying to avoid the collision, [plaintiff] maneuvered quickly, which caused [plaintiff] to fall down to the ground.

In his deposition plaintiff stated that during his descent the closest he came to Johnson was between 150 and 175 feet. He further acknowledged that since Johnson jumped first, [***7] Johnson had the right of way. 4 Plaintiff also admitted that prior to the jump he had arranged with his wife to have her photograph him during his jump. According to defendants, this plan required plaintiff to steer his flight toward a concession trailer operated by his wife, which was surrounded by buildings and other dangerous obstacles. Defendants argue that plaintiff’s sudden diversion from this path was necessary to avoid striking the buildings near his wife’s trailer.

4 [HN1] The United States Parachute Association, Skydiver’s Information Manual § 4.19F (1995), provides:

Right-of-way: The lower person has the right of way, both in freefall and under canopy. The higher person should always yield to anyone below. It is important to avoid collisions at all costs.

[**130] [HN2] The New Jersey Department of Transportation regulates parachuting centers in order “to foster, control, supervise and regulate sport parachuting. . . .” N.J.A.C. 16:58-1.2. The pertinent rules require participants to meet various training and licensing [***8] standards before parachuting, and define the manner and place where a jumper should exit the aircraft. However, the regulations do not impose any express duties upon the operator of the skydiving facility or define the standard controlling a skydiver’s conduct during his descent. See N.J.A.C. 16:58-1.1 to -3.1. Also, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has appointed the United States Parachuting Association (USPA) to oversee the sport of parachuting. The USPA promulgates rules which: (1) require licensing; (2) prohibit jumps into hazardous areas and the use of [*213] alcoholic beverages and drugs; and (3) establish standards regarding canopy control, maneuvering and landing. See Skydiver’s Information Manual, supra, at § 4.06C(1); § 4.19; § 4.20D and § 4.23. Otherwise, skydiving is a self-regulated industry.

I

In granting summary judgment in favor of Johnson, the trial court concluded that even under the negligence, rather than the recklessness, standard, see Crawn v. Campo, 136 N.J. 494, 643 A.2d 600 (1994), plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate a prima facie case. The court stated:

The facts basically are that this defendant, Johnson, exited the [***9] airplane prior to [plaintiff] exiting the airplane. At the time . . . just before the accident, the plaintiff indicates that the closest he got to Mr. Johnson was between 150 and 175 feet which is half a football field away. Everyone concedes that the person lowest–closest to the ground has the right-of-way. Clearly, [plaintiff] was altering his drop pattern to some extent. His observation was that he thought Johnson was closer to the runway than he should have been, but that does not appear to me to be any proximate cause at all.

I frankly don’t see how reasonable men could differ on this even giving all of the necessary inferences to the plaintiff for this particular motion. I think I am compelled to grant the summary judgment in favor of this defendant. Given the fact that there is no expert to give us any guidance with respect to any other standard of care, even applying a basic standard of care in a negligence matter, I just can’t see how [Johnson] could have contributed to this accident at all.

We are satisfied that plaintiffs had the burden of proving that Johnson’s conduct was reckless, rather than negligent. In Crawn, a case involving an injury during an informal [***10] softball game, the Court held that [HN3] “the duty of care applicable to participants in informal recreational sports is to avoid the infliction of injury caused by reckless or intentional conduct.” Id. at 497, 643 A.2d 600. The Court’s determination was grounded on two policy considerations; the promotion of vigorous participation in athletic activities, and the avoidance of a flood of litigation generated by voluntary participation in games and sports. Id. at 501, 643 A.2d 600. The Court added:

[HN4] Our conclusion that a recklessness standard is the appropriate one to apply in the sports context is founded on more than a concern for a court’s ability to discern [*214] adequately what constitutes reasonable conduct under the highly varied circumstances of informal sports activity. The heightened standard will more likely result in affixing liability for conduct that is clearly unreasonable and [**131] unacceptable from the perspective of those engaged in the sport yet leaving free from the supervision of the law the risk-laden conduct that is inherent in sports and more often than not assumed to be “part of the game.”

[Id. at 508, 643 A.2d 600 (emphasis added).]

Since Crawn, the recklessness [***11] standard of care has been applied to other informal sports activities. See, e.g., Obert v. Baratta, 321 N.J. Super. 356, 729 A.2d 50 (App.Div.1999) (applying recklessness standard when softball player sued teammate for injuries sustained as a result of teammate’s pursuit of fly ball during informal intra-office game); Calhanas v. South Amboy Roller Rink, 292 N.J. Super. 513, 679 A.2d 185 (App.Div.1996) (applying recklessness standard where roller skater suffered broken leg from collision with another skater). In Schick v. Ferolito, 167 N.J. 7, 767 A.2d 962 (2001), where a golfer was struck by an errant tee-shot, the Court expanded the Crawn holding to “all recreational sports,” whether perceived as “contact” or “noncontact” activities. Id. at 18, 767 A.2d 962. The Court observed that:

The applicability of the heightened standard of care for causes of action for personal injuries occurring in recreational sports should not depend on which sport is involved and whether it is commonly perceived as a “contact” or “noncontact” sport. The recklessness or intentional conduct standard of care articulated in Crawn was [***12] not meant to be applied in a crabbed fashion. That standard represented the enunciation of a more modern approach to our common law in actions for personal injuries that generally occur during recreational sporting activities.

[Id. at 18-19, 767 A.2d 962]

[HN5] Skydiving is a popular, “risk-laden” recreational sport. Crawn, supra, 136 N.J. at 508, 643 A.2d 600. Therefore, there is no basis in fact or law to conclude that the recklessness standard under Crawn is inapplicable. Moreover, Crawn’s policy underpinnings clearly apply. As in recreational softball games or golf, it would hardly promote “vigorous participation” in the activity if skydivers were exposed to lawsuits when their mere negligence during descent caused an injury to a co-participant. Further, application of the simple negligence standard may invite a floodgate of [*215] litigation generated by voluntary participation in the activity. Id.136 N.J. at 501, 643 A.2d 600.

Even considering plaintiffs’ proofs most indulgently, we conclude that plaintiffs fail to meet the recklessness standard. [HN6] Reckless behavior entails highly unreasonable conduct, involving “an extreme departure from ordinary care, in a situation where a high degree of danger [***13] is apparent.” Schick, supra, 167 N.J. at 19, 767 A.2d 962 (citing Prosser & Keeton on Torts § 34, at 214 (5th Ed.1984)). “The standard is objective and may be proven by showing that a defendant ‘proceeded in disregard of a high and excessive degree of danger either known to him [or her] or apparent to a reasonable person in his [or her] position.'” Ibid. “Recklessness, unlike negligence, requires a conscious choice of a course of action, with knowledge or a reason to know that it will create serious danger to others.” Schick, supra, 167 N.J. at 20, 767 A.2d 962.

It is undisputed that Johnson, who jumped first, had the right-of-way during the descent and, according to skydiving standards, plaintiff had a duty to yield if, as plaintiff claims, Johnson altered his course. In addition, plaintiff was never closer than 150 to 175 feet to Johnson during the descent. Plaintiffs fail to demonstrate how, considering such a distance, Johnson “‘proceeded in disregard of a [**132] high and excessive degree of danger'” to plaintiff. Id. 167 N.J. at 19, 767 A.2d 962.

Moreover, unlike the applicable standard of care governing an informal softball game, where expert testimony is not required, [***14] Crawn, supra, 136 N.J. at 508-09, 643 A.2d 600, skydiving requires the training and licensing of participants. According to the record, it involves knowledge and conduct peculiar to the activity, including an understanding of wind direction and velocity, proper diver spacing, control of descent, and avoidance of ground hazards. The trial court correctly determined that because of the complexities and variables involved in applying pertinent skydiving guidelines, expert testimony was necessary to establish what standard of care applied to Johnson, and how he deviated from that [*216] standard. See Butler v. Acme Markets, Inc., 89 N.J. 270, 283, 445 A.2d 1141 (1982) [HN7] (expert testimony is necessary when the subject matter “is so esoteric that jurors . . . cannot form a valid judgment as to whether the conduct of the party was reasonable”); see also Giantonnio v. Taccard, 291 N.J. Super. 31, 43-44, 676 A.2d 1110 (App.Div.1996) (holding that expert testimony was required to establish the standard of care in the safe conduct of a funeral procession). Plaintiffs presented no such expert testimony, despite the opportunity to do so. In the circumstances, summary judgment was properly granted in [***15] favor of Johnson.

II

Plaintiffs next argue that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Freefall, contending that fact issues exist as to whether Freefall maintained and operated a reasonably safe skydiving facility. Freefall contends that Crawn’s recklessness standard applies.

Plaintiffs submitted certifications stating that Freefall: (1) exercised no control over the “reckless” behavior of skydivers using the facility; (2) permitted the consumption of drugs and alcohol by skydivers; (3) did not conform to applicable skydiving standards of care; and (4) established a drop zone that was not in conformance with industry standards.

We first reject Freefall’s argument that the recklessness standard applies. The Crawn/Schick recklessness standard was imposed in the context of claims arising out of injuries caused by a co-participant in the sports activity. Here, the question is what duty of care is owed by the operator of a facility where the injury occurred. Since Crawn, we have addressed this distinction.

For example, in Underwood v. Atlantic City Racing Ass’n, 295 N.J. Super. 335, 685 A.2d 40 (App.Div.1996), certif. denied, [***16] 149 N.J. 140, 693 A.2d 110 (1997), we held that the Crawn standard did not apply where a jockey was injured during a race because plaintiff’s theory was that the accident occurred as a result of the [*217] negligent installation of lighting by the racetrack, a condition that was not “inherent in sports and . . . not assumed to be ‘part of the game.'” Id. at 343, 685 A.2d 40 (quoting Crawn, supra, 136 N.J. at 508, 643 A.2d 600).

Similarly, in Rosania v. Carmona, 308 N.J. Super. 365, 367, 706 A.2d 191 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 154 N.J. 609, 713 A.2d 500 (1998), we concluded that the recklessness standard did not apply where a karate (dojo) student was injured by an instructor, holding that:

in this commercial setting, the jury should have been charged that defendants owed a duty to patrons of the dojo not to increase the risks inherent in the sport of karate under the rules a reasonable student would have expected to be in effect at that dojo . . . . the jury [**133] should have been charged that the correct scope of duty owed by the expert instructor and the academy was one of due care . . . .

[Id. at 368, 706 A.2d 191 (emphasis added).]

Thus, the [***17] question for the jury was whether the risks inherent in the karate match between plaintiff and his instructor “were materially increased beyond those reasonably anticipated,” applying “the ordinary duty owed to business invitees. . . .” Id. at 374, 706 A.2d 191.

Finally, in Schneider v. Am. Hockey & Ice Skating Ctr., Inc., 342 N.J. Super. 527, 777 A.2d 380 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 170 N.J. 387, 788 A.2d 722 (2001), we held that the owner of a sports facility owed a “limited” duty to protect spectators from flying hockey pucks by providing secure seats for those spectators who request them, and also to screen any seats “that pose an unduly high risk of injury. . . .” Id. 342 N.J. Super. at 534, 777 A.2d 380. We concluded that imposition of this limited duty was “indirectly” supported by Crawn’s observation that [HN8] “‘the risk of injury is a common and inherent aspect of informal sports activity'” and “‘participants . . . assume the ordinary risks of those activities.'” Id. at 535, 777 A.2d 380 (quoting Crawn, supra, 136 N.J. at 500-01, 643 A.2d 600). We added:

[HN9] Although the operator of a sports facility is subject to a standard of care based on negligence rather than the recklessness [***18] standard applicable to participants in recreational sporting activities, McLaughlin [v. Rova Farms, Inc.], supra, 56 N.J. [288] at 303-04, 266 A.2d 284, it is appropriate in defining a sports facility [*218] operator’s duty of care to consider that any spectators choose to “assume the ordinary risks” of being struck by a flying ball or puck in order to obtain an unobstructed view of the playing field and that these are “common and inherent” risks of attending a baseball or hockey game. Crawn, supra, 136 N.J. at 500-01, 643 A.2d 600.

[Schneider, supra, 342 N.J. Super. at 535, 777 A.2d 380 (emphasis added).]

Consequently, the question here was whether, under the ordinary duty owed to business invitees, considering the nature of the risks associated with skydiving and the foreseeability of injury, Kuzmicz v. Ivy Hill Park Apartments, Inc., 147 N.J. 510, 515, 688 A.2d 1018 (1997), plaintiff’s risk of injury was materially increased beyond those reasonably anticipated by skydiving participants as a result of the manner by which Freefall operated its facility. Rosania, supra, 308 N.J. Super. at 374, 706 A.2d 191. Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate such a material increase [***19] in risk.

There was absolutely no evidence presented that Freefall failed to supervise the divers on the day of plaintiff’s accident. The record established that the loading of the aircraft, its operation, and the jumps themselves, were uneventful. Nothing suggests that Freefall personnel knew or should have known that plaintiff, or any other diver, was in peril because of the conduct of other participants. Moreover, Freefall had no way of controlling plaintiff’s, Johnson’s, or any other jumper’s maneuvering of their parachute canopies during the descent. Both plaintiff and Johnson were trained and licensed skydivers. It is undisputed that [HN10] once airborne, it was their duty alone to proceed with due care.

Further, no competent proof of drug abuse was presented; plaintiff conceded that he knew of no incident of drug use on the day in question. Also, John Eddowes, owner of Freefall, testified that his facility adhered to the industry’s “eight hour rule,” prohibiting consumption of alcohol within eight hours of a jump. Johnson [**134] testified that he complied with this rule, and there was no other evidence presented that Freefall personnel knew or should have known that Johnson or other jumpers [***20] had not complied with it. Although plaintiff stated that he smelled alcohol while on the aircraft, he was unable to say from whom the odor emanated. [*219] Moreover, there was no showing of how, even if alcohol had been consumed, that fact contributed to plaintiff’s accident. Tellingly, plaintiff opted to jump notwithstanding his alleged awareness of alcohol consumption.

Finally, plaintiffs claimed that Freefall’s drop zone was not in accordance with regulatory minimum size requirements. But no evidence, expert or otherwise, was presented to establish: (1) how, and to what degree, Freefall’s drop zone was not in compliance with industry standards; and (2) if the drop zone was substandard, how this deficiency was a proximate cause of plaintiff’s injury. Indeed, it is undisputed that Freefall’s facility was licensed and inspected by the Department of Transportation, and the facility was never cited for the size or condition of the drop zone. We conclude that summary judgment was properly granted in Freefall’s favor.

III

In its separate appeal, Freefall argues that the trial court erred in dismissing its counterclaim demanding counsel fees due it under the release/waiver signed by plaintiff. [***21] Alternatively, Freefall claims that counsel fees should have been awarded to it pursuant to the Frivolous Claims Statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-59.1, and the court rule governing frivolous actions. R. 1:4-8.

As noted, prior to his jump plaintiff signed an agreement releasing Freefall from any liability in the event plaintiff is injured, even if the injury was a result of Freefall’s own negligence. Moreover, the agreement had a fee-shifting provision, requiring plaintiff to pay Freefall’s counsel fees in the event plaintiff instituted suit seeking damages. The trial court found it unnecessary to address the enforceability of the release/waiver agreement, since, as it observed during Freefall’s motion for reconsideration, the sole “issue was whether or not [plaintiffs’] claim was frivolous.” In concluding that Freefall failed to make a viable claim under the Frivolous Claims Statute, the court underscored [*220] New Jersey’s public policy “to afford litigants an opportunity to have access to the courts.”

[HN11] In New Jersey, disclaimers or limitations of liability are not favored. Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motors, Inc., 32 N.J. 358, 373, 161 A.2d 69 (1960). [***22] Nevertheless, courts in other jurisdictions have upheld exculpatory contracts signed by participants in skydiving or parachuting. See e.g., Allan v. Snow Summit, Inc., 51 Cal.App.4th 1358, 59 Cal. Rptr.2d 813 (Cal.App.1996); Paralift, Inc. v. Superior Court, 23 Cal.App.4th 748, 29 Cal. Rptr.2d 177 (Cal.App.1993); Hulsey v. Elsinore Parachute Ctr., 168 Cal. App. 3d 333, 214 Cal. Rptr. 194 (Cal.App.1985); Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781 (Colo.1989); Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370 (Colo.1981). Other cases hold that such releases are void as to a claim of gross negligence or willful or wanton conduct. See e.g., In re Pacific Adventures, Inc., 27 F. Supp. 2d 1223 (D.Haw.1998); Wheelock v. Sport Kites, Inc., 839 F. Supp. 730 (D.Haw.1993); Falkner v. Hinckley Parachute Ctr., Inc., 178 Ill. App. 3d 597, 533 N.E.2d 941, 127 Ill. Dec. 859 (1989).

Although New Jersey courts have not addressed release/waiver agreements in the context of skydiving, we have considered the effect of such agreements in other sporting activities. For example, we have observed [***23] that a release from liability for injuries arising from ski injuries in an application to become a member of a condominium [**135] association, may be void as against public policy because of its adhesive nature, and further because the release cannot relieve the owner of the ski resort from its statutory duty of care under N.J.S.A. 5:13-3a. Brough v. Hidden Valley, Inc., 312 N.J. Super. 139, 155, 711 A.2d 382 (App.Div.1998). But see McBride v. Minstar Inc., 283 N.J. Super. 471, 486, 662 A.2d 592 (LawDiv.1994), aff’d 283 N.J. Super. 422, 662 A.2d 567 (App.Div.) , certif. denied, 143 N.J. 319, 670 A.2d 1061 (1995) (upholding an exculpatory clause as part of an agreement to purchase ski equipment, because, in part, the release does not undermine a statutory duty of care or contravene public policy).

[*221] In McCarthy v. Nat. Ass’n for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc., 87 N.J. Super. 442, 449-50, 209 A.2d 668 (LawDiv.1965), aff’d, 90 N.J. Super. 574, 218 A.2d 871 (App.Div.) , certif. granted, 47 N.J. 421, 221 A.2d 221 (1966), aff’d, 48 N.J. 539, 226 A.2d 713 (1967), the Law Division determined that [***24] a release in NASCAR’s favor was void because NASCAR’s obligation to inspect plaintiff’s vehicle was a “positive duty” imposed by New Jersey’s statutory law. See also Chemical Bank of New Jersey Nat. Ass’n v. Bailey, 296 N.J. Super. 515, 527, 687 A.2d 316 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 150 N.J. 28, 695 A.2d 671 (1997) (holding that while an exculpatory clause in a private contract may limit liability, courts will not enforce such a clause “if the party benefitting from exculpation is subject to a positive duty imposed by law or . . . if exculpation of the party would adversely affect the public interest”).

In this case, we need not decide whether, under the agreement signed by plaintiff, he waived his right to sue Freefall, since we have affirmed the summary judgment dismissing plaintiffs’ suit on substantive grounds. However, we must determine whether the contractual fee-shifting provision under the agreement is enforceable.

[HN12] “New Jersey has a strong policy disfavoring shifting of attorneys’ fees.” North Bergen Rex Transp., Inc. v. Trailer Leasing Co., 158 N.J. 561, 569, 730 A.2d 843 (1999). We adhere to the “American rule” that “‘the prevailing [***25] litigant is ordinarily not entitled to collect a reasonable attorneys’ fee from the loser.'” Rendine v. Pantzer, 141 N.J. 292, 322, 661 A.2d 1202 (1995) (quoting Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v. Wilderness Soc’y, 421 U.S. 240, 247, 95 S.Ct. 1612, 1616, 44 L. Ed. 2d 141, 147 (1975)). Thus, our Supreme Court’s basic approach has been “‘that sound judicial administration is best advanced if litigants bear their own counsel fees.'” Satellite Gateway Communications, Inc. v. Musi Dining Car Co., Inc., 110 N.J. 280, 285, 540 A.2d 1267 (1988) (quoting State of New Jersey, Dep’t of Envtl. Prot. v. Ventron Corp., 94 N.J. 473, 504, 468 A.2d 150 (1983)).

[*222] Nevertheless, New Jersey law permits parties to a contract to shift liability for attorneys’ fees. See Cohen v. Fair Lawn Dairies, Inc., 86 N.J. Super. 206, 214-16, 206 A.2d 585 (App.Div.), certif. granted, 44 N.J. 412, 209 A.2d 145 aff’d, 44 N.J. 450, 210 A.2d 73 (1965). “However, even where attorney-fee shifting is controlled by contractual provisions, courts will strictly construe that provision in light of the general policy disfavoring the award of attorneys’ [***26] fees.” North Bergen Rex Transp., Inc., supra, 158 N.J. at 570, 730 A.2d 843. Notably, New Jersey cases which uphold enforcement of such fee-shifting provisions generally involve breach of agreements entered into in the commercial setting, such as leases, sale of goods, construction contracts and promissory notes. See Hatch v. T & L Assocs., 319 N.J. Super. 644, 648, 726 A.2d 308 (App.Div.1999) (promissory note); [**136] McGuire v. City of Jersey City, 125 N.J. 310, 327, 593 A.2d 309 (1991) (lease); Glenfed Fin. Corp. v. Penick Corp., 276 N.J. Super. 163, 182-83, 647 A.2d 852 (App.Div.1994) (loan agreement), certif. denied, 139 N.J. 442, 655 A.2d 444 (1995); Specialized Med. Sys., Inc. v. Lemmerling, 252 N.J. Super. 180, 185-86, 599 A.2d 578 (App.Div.1991) (sale of goods), certif. granted, 127 N.J. 565, 606 A.2d 375, app. dism. 142 N.J. 443, 663 A.2d 1352 (1992). Freefall has cited no New Jersey case holding that a fee-shifting provision as part of a waiver or release given in a sports activity is enforceable.

Essentially, the fee-shifting clause in Freefall’s release/waiver may be construed as an indemnification agreement, [***27] whereby plaintiff has agreed to pay counsel fees incurred by Freefall in defending plaintiffs’ suit, even if the cause of plaintiff’s injuries was Freefall’s own negligence. Such agreements, of course, must also be strictly construed against the indemnitee. Ramos v. Browning Ferris Indus. of So. Jersey, Inc., 103 N.J. 177, 191, 510 A.2d 1152 (1986). Nevertheless, we have held “that [HN13] ‘there is no essential public policy impediment to an indemnitor undertaking to indemnify the indemnitee in respect of the indemnitee’s own negligence.'” Leitao v. Damon G. Douglas Co., 301 N.J. Super. 187, 192, 693 A.2d 1209 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 151 N.J. 466, [*223] 700 A.2d 879 (1997) (quoting Doloughty v. Blanchard Constr. Co., 139 N.J. Super. 110, 116, 352 A.2d 613 (Law Div. 1976)). However, this public policy statement has generally been applied in the context of indemnification clauses under construction contracts. See Leitao, supra, 301 N.J. Super. at 192-93, 693 A.2d 1209, and cases cited therein. That principle is derived “from the judicial recognition that ordinarily the financial responsibility for the risk of injury during the course of a construction [***28] project is shifted in any event by the primary parties to their insurance carriers. . . .” Doloughty, supra, 139 N.J. Super. at 116, 352 A.2d 613.

Against this backdrop, we conclude that the fee-shifting provision in Freefall’s agreement is void as against public policy. It obviously runs counter to our strong policy disfavoring fee shifting of attorneys’ fees. Clearly, it discourages the average recreational participant from seeking the refuge of our courts for fear that he may face the retribution of a substantial legal fee if he does so. [HN14] It is one thing to hold a party to a fee-shifting provision in a contract negotiated in a commercial setting; it is another when an amateur sports participant is asked to agree to such a provision shortly before he engages in the activity. The deterrent effect of enforcing such a fee-shifting agreement offends our strong policy favoring an injured party’s right to seek compensation when it is alleged that the injury was caused by the tortious conduct of another.

Also significant is the fact that both the FAA and New Jersey’s Department of Transportation have recognized that skydiving is a high-risk sport. By regulating the activity, the agencies have [***29] made it a matter of public interest that skydiving facilities be licensed and that agency oversight is necessary to assure that the facilities be operated in a safe and compliant manner. To allow an operator to recoup its counsel fees when, as here, the injured party claims that the operator deviated from those regulations, obviously runs counter to that sound policy. See McCarthy, supra, 87 N.J. Super. at 448-49, 209 A.2d 668 [HN15] (although an immunity [*224] clause may be enforceable if it does not contravene public policy, “[t]he situation becomes entirely different in the eyes of the law when the legislation in question is, as here, [**137] legislation obviously intended for the protection of human life. In such event, public policy does not permit an individual to waive the protection which the statute is designed to afford him”).

IV

We reject Freefall’s argument that the trial court erred in denying its application for counsel fees under the Frivolous Claims Statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-59.1, and Rule 1:4-8. We cannot say that plaintiffs’ complaint was filed in bad faith or that plaintiffs knew or should have known that their complaint was without reasonable basis in law or [***30] equity, and could not be supported by a good faith argument under existing law. N.J.S.A. 2A:15-59.1b(1) and 59.1b(2). See also McKeown-Brand v. Trump Castle Hotel & Casino, 132 N.J. 546, 548-49, 626 A.2d 425 (1993). In our view, the validity of the release/waiver agreement signed by plaintiff was at least debatable. See McCarthy, supra, 87 N.J. Super. at 446-47, 209 A.2d 668. Furthermore, because the negligence, rather than recklessness, standard applied to Freefall, plaintiffs’ theory based on purported violations of industry standards, though not factually supported, cannot be deemed frivolous. Finally, although we agree with the trial court that ultimately expert testimony was necessary to establish a case against Freefall, that question was at least open to debate when plaintiffs filed their complaint. See Crawn, supra, 136 N.J. at 508-10, 643 A.2d 600 (holding that plaintiff was not required to produce expert testimony to establish tortious conduct of a co-participant in an informal softball game).

Affirmed.


Wilson v. United States of America, 989 F.2d 953; 1993 U.S. App. LEXIS 6165

Wilson v. United States of America, 989 F.2d 953; 1993 U.S. App. LEXIS 6165

Mark D. Wilson; Janet L. Wilson, Appellants, v. United States of America; The Boy Scouts of America, Appellees. Mark D. Wilson; Janet L. Wilson, Plaintiffs, v. The Boy Scouts of America, Defendants. Jason S. Harbian; Michael Harbian; Sharon Harbian; Daniel R. Winfrey, a Minor, by Susan Crump, his Mother and Next Friend, and; Susan Crump, Appellants, v. United States of America; The Boy Scouts of America, Appellees.

No. 92-1438, No. 92-3363

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT

989 F.2d 953; 1993 U.S. App. LEXIS 6165

September 18, 1992, Submitted

March 29, 1993, Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [**1] Rehearing Denied May 10, 1993, Reported at: 1993 U.S. App. LEXIS 10903.

PRIOR HISTORY: Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. District No. 89-1696-C-7. Jean C. Hamilton, U.S. District Judge.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed

CASE SUMMARY:

COUNSEL: For MARK D. WILSON, JANET L. WILSON, Plaintiffs – Appellants: Alan E. DeWoskin, 314-727-6330, Suite 426, 225 S. Meramec Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63105.

For UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant – Appellee: Joseph Moore, Asst. U.S. Attorney, 314-539-3280, U.S. ATTORNEY’S OFFICE, 1114 Market Street, St. Louis, MO 63101. Robert William Cockerham, BROWN & JAMES, 705 Olive Street, Suite 1100, St. Louis, MO 63101, 314-421-3400. For BOY SCOUTS, OF AMERICA, Defendants – Appellees: Russell F. Watters, Robert William Cockerham, Thomas Michael Ward, BROWN & JAMES, 705 Olive Street, Suite 1100, St. Louis, MO 63101, 314-421-3400.

JUDGES: Before HANSEN, Circuit Judge, and HEANEY and ROSS, Senior Circuit Judges.

OPINION BY: ROSS

OPINION

[*954] ROSS, Senior Circuit Judge.

Appellants Mark Wilson and Janet Wilson, the parents of Anthony Wilson, and [*955] Jason Harbian and Daniel Winfrey, and their parents, appeal from the trial court’s 1 grant of summary judgment in favor of appellees United States of America and the Boy Scouts of America, in an action arising out of the death of Anthony Wilson and the injuries sustained by Jason Harbian and Daniel Winfrey.

1 The Honorable Jean C. Hamilton, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Missouri.

On April 22, 1988, Anthony Wilson, Daniel Winfrey and Jason Harbian, members of Troop 392 of the Boy Scouts of America, St. Louis Area Council, along with other boy scouts and five adult leaders, went to Fort Leonard Wood, a United States Army military post, on a boy scout trip as part of the Army’s Youth Tour Program. A pile of lightweight aluminum [**2] alloy irrigation pipes, approximately thirty feet in length, were stacked outside Building 1614, where the troop was billeted for the weekend. The pipes had been used for irrigation of the athletic field adjacent to the building, and when not in use, were stored alongside the building. The pipes had been stacked in this manner for approximately six years.

On the second night of their weekend stay, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Anthony, age thirteen, and five or six other scouts, ages twelve to sixteen, were outside Building 1614, while the leaders were inside the building. Anthony, Daniel and Jason picked up one of the aluminum pipes, carried it approximately twenty feet west of the building, and raised it to a near vertical position, causing the pipe to come in contact with a 7,200 volt power line which ran over the building. All three scouts received electric shocks; Anthony died as a result of the injuries he sustained.

Mark and Janet Wilson brought a wrongful death action against the United States pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, and against the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) pursuant to Missouri state law, for negligent supervision and failure to train the adult supervisors. [**3] Sometime later the Harbian/Winfrey plaintiffs filed personal injury actions against both the United States and the BSA, and eventually these cases were consolidated with the Wilson case for trial. Motions for summary judgment filed by the United States and the BSA were eventually granted as against all appellants. 2

2 On December 4, 1992, following oral argument of the Wilson appeal before this court, the Harbian and Winfrey cases were consolidated with the Wilson appeal. All parties agree that these cases arose from the same occurrence and are identical in material fact and law. The Harbians and the Winfreys rely on the briefs and oral argument submitted in the Wilson appeal. The Wilsons, Harbians and Winfreys will be collectively referred to as “appellants.”

The appellants’ theory of recovery against the BSA is based on an alleged agency relationship between the BSA and the adult volunteers supervising the scouts. The district court granted the BSA’s motion for summary judgment, concluding [**4] that appellants failed to produce any evidence that the national organization of the BSA had a duty to control, supervise or train volunteer leaders for the Fort Leonard Wood activity. The district court also granted the United States’ motion for summary judgment based on its finding that the United States owed no duty of care to the scouts because they were recreational users of the property under Missouri’s Recreational Land Use Statute. See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.346. After careful consideration of each allegation raised by the appellants, we affirm the decision of the district court.

I. United States of America

The action against the United States arises [HN1] under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671-2680, thus, the “United States shall be liable . . . in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances.” Id. at § 2674. Further, the United States is “entitled to assert any defense based upon judicial or legislative immunity which otherwise would have been available to the employee of the United States . . . as well as any other defenses to which the United States is entitled.” [**5] Id. Therefore, the United States is entitled to [*956] the benefit of state recreational use statutes, if applicable, when it is sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act. See Hegg v. United States, 817 F.2d 1328, 1329 (8th Cir. 1987) (construing the Iowa Recreational Use Statute); Umpleby v. United States, 806 F.2d 812, 815 (8th Cir. 1986) (applying North Dakota’s Recreational Use Statute).

[HN2] The Missouri Recreational Land Use Statute, Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 537.345 – 537.348 immunizes landowners who make their property available for the recreational use of others without an entry charge. The statute specifically provides:

[HN3] Except as provided in sections 537.345 to 537.348, an owner of land owes no duty of care to any person who enters on the land without charge to keep his land safe for recreational use or to give any general or specific warning with respect to any natural or artificial condition, structure, or personal property thereon.

Id. at § 537.346. “Charge” is defined in the statute as:

[HN4] the admission price or fee asked by an owner of land or an invitation or permission without price or fee to use land for recreational [**6] purposes when such invitation or permission is given for the purpose of sales promotion, advertising or public goodwill in fostering business purposes.

Id. at § 537.345(1). “Recreational use” as defined in the statute includes outdoor activities, such as “hunting, fishing, camping, picnicking, biking, nature study [and] winter sports. Id. at § 537.345(4).

[HN5] While providing for a general immunity against liability, a landowner may nonetheless be liable if found to have been either maliciously or grossly negligent in failing to guard or warn against a dangerous condition which the owner knew or should have known to be dangerous, or if the landowner negligently failed to warn or guard against an ultrahazardous condition. Id. at § 537.348(1). Other exceptions to the nonliability of the statute include injuries occurring on or in any “noncovered land,” which is defined as land used primarily for commercial, industrial or manufacturing purposes. Id. at § 537.348(3)(d).

The appellants contend that the Missouri Recreational Land Use Statute does not apply to the United States because (1) the Army charged $ 2.00 per person to be billeted in Building 1614; (2) the United States [**7] receives an economic benefit from offering its land; (3) the Boy Scouts were not members of the “general public,” and thus were not covered by the Act; (4) the injury occurred on “noncovered land;” and (5) the United States negligently failed to protect against an ultrahazardous condition.

A.

Fort Leonard Wood is an open military post, where members of the public can freely enter without being stopped or questioned by guards or military police. Specified areas are open to the public for fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, picnicking or canoeing. Many tours are given to various groups, such as senior citizens and church and school groups, free of charge. The Fort also offers a Youth Tour Program which is open only to national youth organizations, such as the Boy Scouts of America. The program includes activities which are not available to the general public, such as visits to the Fort’s museum, an indoor rifle range, an obstacle course and a cannon range.

If a troop in the Youth Tour Program chooses to stay overnight in Building 1614, a $ 2.00 per person/per night lodging fee is charged. This fee covers the cost of maintaining and equipping the facility with mattresses, toilet paper, [**8] soap, and other supplies. If a troop chooses to stay overnight but no beds are available, the lodging fee is reduced to $ 1.00 per person/per night. Significantly, the lodging fee is charged on a per person/per night basis, while there is no charge for the tour itself, which is offered only on Saturdays.

The interpretation of the various recreational use statutes is controlled by the precise language of each statute. Courts that have construed recreational land use statutes with language similar to the Missouri statute have interpreted “charge” as ” [*957] an admission fee to enter the land.” For example, in Genco v. Connecticut Light and Power Co., 7 Conn. App. 164, 508 A.2d 58, 62 (Conn. App. Ct. 1986), noting that the Connecticut General Statute § 52-557f defines “charge” as “the admission price or fee asked in return for invitation or permission to enter or go upon the land,” the court held that “the only way to avoid inconsistent application of the Act . . . is to interpret the word ‘charge’ as an actual admission price paid for permission to enter the land at the time of its use for recreational purposes.” Id. (emphasis added).

Furthermore, a parking fee paid by [**9] a camper is not a charge within the meaning of the Nebraska Recreational Use Statute, which defines “charge” as “the amount of money asked in return for an invitation to enter or go upon the land.” Garreans v. City of Omaha, 216 Neb. 487, 345 N.W.2d 309, 313 (Neb. 1984) (emphasis added). In Garreans, the court noted that the

charges were made for the right to park a camper on a pad, for the right to pitch a tent in a tent camping area, and for the use of camper dumping facilities. Payment of the fee . . . did not entitle . . . [the person paying the fee] to a greater right to use any of the park’s other facilities than that had by the general public.

Id.

As in Jones v. United States, 693 F.2d 1299, 1303 (9th Cir. 1982), where a one dollar fee was charged the injured plaintiff to rent an inner tube for snow sliding, the fee paid by the scouts to bunk in Building 1614 was not “charged to members of the public for entry on to the land or for use of the land.” Id. Rather, the scouts paid the $ 2.00 fee to bunk in Building 1614, but entered the park without paying a fee. The Jones court held that the plaintiff [**10] “could have used . . . the Park without making any payment if she had brought her own tube.” Id. Similarly, the appellants could have used Fort Leonard Wood without making this $ 2.00 payment if they had chosen not to stay overnight. The Missouri statute does not provide that the immunity for an entire parcel should be nullified if a landowner charges for admission to a different portion of the parcel, nor would such a rule be consistent with the statute’s purpose. “Consideration should not be deemed given . . . unless it is a charge necessary to utilize the overall benefits of a recreational area so that it may be regarded as an entrance or admission fee.” Moss v. Department of Natural Resources, 62 Ohio St. 2d 138, 404 N.E.2d 742, 745 (Ohio 1980) (emphasis added).

The appellants herein paid $ 2.00 per night for the right to stay overnight in Building 1614. There is no evidence in the record to indicate that this fee would have been charged to either participate in the Youth Tour Program, or to enter Fort Leonard Wood, if the scouts had elected not to stay overnight. In fact, all of the Fort Leonard Wood documents relating to this fee provide that it is a “lodging” [**11] fee and that it is assessed on a per person/per night basis. The appellants have failed to present any evidence that the fee was required in order to enter Fort Leonard Wood.

B.

The remainder of appellants’ arguments with regard to the liability of the United States are also without merit. The appellants contend that the United States is outside the protection of the Missouri Recreational Land Use Statute because the scouts are not “members of the general public.” They contend that because only members of national youth organizations are eligible to participate in the Youth Tour Program, the scouts should be treated as guests or invitees. Appellants’ argument, however, relies upon a distinction not made within the language of the Missouri Recreational Land Use Statute. The plain language of the statute indicates that a landowner owes no duty of care “to any person who enters on the land without charge” for recreational purposes. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.346 (emphasis added).

We also reject the appellants’ argument that the United States is outside the protection of the Missouri statute because the Army’s purpose in allowing admission to Fort Leonard Wood is to develop public [*958] goodwill [**12] in fostering a business purpose. See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.345(1). When Boy Scout troops visit the Fort, they are not recruited or encouraged in any way to join the Army, nor are any records kept of scouts who have participated in the Youth Tour Program. Further, appellants have failed to establish that the Army operates as a business within the intended meaning of the statute.

Finally, appellants’ argument that Building 1614 was essentially a commercial “hotel” located in a “populated, residential area,” and therefore falls within the “noncovered land” exception of section 537.348(3)(d) is without merit. The record does not support appellants’ contention that the Fort was “predominately used for residential purposes,” nor that Building 1614 was operated as a commercial enterprise. Nor can we accept appellants’ argument that the United States acted with willful and wanton disregard for the safety of the troops or negligently failed to protect them against an ultrahazardous condition. There simply has been no evidence presented to establish either of these theories.

The judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of the United States is affirmed.

II. Boy [**13] Scouts of America

The appellants also challenge the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Boy Scouts of America. The appellants contend there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether an agency relationship existed between the BSA and the adult volunteers of Troop 392 so as to provide for vicarious liability for any negligence on the part of the adult leaders. The appellants claim the BSA had the right to control and supervise Troop 392’s adults, that the BSA is liable for the negligent acts of the troop’s adult leaders which were committed within the scope and course of their agency relationship, and further that the troop’s adult leaders were clothed with implied and apparent authority to act on behalf of the BSA when they were present at Fort Leonard Wood.

The appellants first argue that the district court improperly considered the affidavit of Lloyd Roitstein, Area Director in the North Central Region of the Boy Scouts of America, in considering the relationship between the national organization and the individual troops because the affidavit was not based on personal knowledge. We agree with the district court that Roitstein’s role as an Area Director [**14] establishes his personal familiarity with the Boy Scout organization and conclude that the affidavit was properly considered.

The Boy Scouts of America is a congressionally chartered benevolent national organization, which is divided into geographic areas known as local councils. Three hundred ninety-eight local councils are chartered in the United States. Local sponsors, such as schools, churches or civic organizations apply for charters from the BSA through their local council. Local volunteers form a patrol leaders’ council to plan troop activities. BSA does not conduct or require any training for these adult volunteers. Troops do not need permission from BSA before participating in activities, with the exception of tours outside the United States or five hundred miles or more from the local council. The BSA had no advanced notice of Troop 392’s trip to Fort Leonard Wood. The troop was not required, nor did it receive, permission from the BSA to go to Fort Leonard Wood.

[HN6] Under the doctrine of respondeat superior an employer is liable for the negligent acts or omissions of his employee which are committed within the scope of his employment. Light v. Lang, 539 S.W.2d 795, 799 (Mo. App. Ct. 1976). [**15] Liability based on respondeat superior requires some evidence that a master-servant relationship existed between the parties. Usrey v. Dr. Pepper Bottling Co., 385 S.W.2d 335, 338 (Mo. Ct. App. 1964). The test to determine if respondeat superior applies is whether the person sought to be charged as a master had “the right or power to control and direct the physical conduct of the other in the performance of the act.” Id. at 339. If there is no right to control, there is no liability.

Courts of other jurisdictions that have addressed the issue now before this court have rejected the imposition of liability against the BSA or the local councils, [*959] noting the lack of control these entities exercise over individual troops and their sponsoring organizations. For example, in Mauch v. Kissling, 56 Wash. App. 312, 783 P.2d 601 (Wash. Ct. App. 1989), the court found there was no basis for the doctrine of apparent authority because the plaintiff had not presented evidence that BSA consented to or had control of the scoutmaster’s activities. Id. at 605.

Similarly, in Anderson v. Boy Scouts of America, Inc., 226 Ill. App. 3d 440, 589 N.E.2d 892, 168 Ill. Dec. 492 (Ill. App. Ct. 1992), [**16] the court found the plaintiffs had failed to establish that an agency relationship existed between the plaintiffs and the local council or the BSA:

We find no provisions in the charter, bylaws, rules and regulations promulgated by the BSA, nor can plaintiffs cite to any provisions within these documents, which specifically grant BSA or its district councils direct supervisory powers over the method or manner in which adult volunteer scout leaders accomplish their tasks.

Id. at 894-95.

Recently, the Missouri Court of Appeals considered the Wilson’s cause of action against the St. Louis Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, arising from the same circumstances of the instant case. The Missouri court dismissed the suit against the local council, finding that “Council neither controlled the actions of the troop leaders nor ran the program at Fort Leonard Wood.” While the Missouri state court decision involved the local council, it is instructional here because the relationship between the national organization and the individual troop leaders is even more remote.

Appellants also contend that sufficient facts establish a jury question as [**17] to whether a principal/agent relationship existed under a theory of implied agency or apparent authority. Implied agency and apparent authority, however, are based on manifestations by the principal which causes a third person reasonably to believe that an agent of the principal is authorized to do certain acts. Barton v. Snellson, 735 S.W.2d 160, 162 (Mo. Ct. App. 1987). Appellants contend the use of common uniforms, emblems, books and awards in the scouting program, a national insurance program, issuance of the national membership card and other printed materials locally, as well as other indicia of a relationship between BSA and the local council, create a manifestation of authority upon which an innocent third party might reasonably rely.

Appellants fail, however, to produce any evidence that BSA manifested that it had direct control over the specific activities of individual troops or that it had a duty to control, supervise or train volunteer leaders for the Fort Leonard Wood activity. On the contrary, the Boy Scout Handbook clearly provides, “what the troop does is planned by the patrol leaders’ council.” The organizational structure of the BSA [**18] leaves the control of the specific activities at the level closest to the individual troop. Appellants have produced no direct or circumstantial evidence to suggest that in this case BSA manifested control.

In summary, we conclude that the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the Boy Scouts of America and the United States. The judgment of the district court is affirmed.


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