Lewis v. Snow Creek, Inc., 6 S.W.3d 388; 1999 Mo. App. LEXIS 421
Carrie Lewis, Lesa Moffatt, Appellants, v. Snow Creek, Inc., Respondent.
COURT OF APPEALS OF MISSOURI, WESTERN DISTRICT
6 S.W.3d 388; 1999 Mo. App. LEXIS 421
March 31, 1999, Opinion Filed
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [**1] Respondent’s Motion for Rehearing and/or Transfer to Supreme Court Passed June 1, 1999. Respondent’s Motion for Rehearing and/or Transfer to the Supreme Court Denied July 27, 1999. Opinion Readopted and Mandate Issued January 6, 2000, Reported at: 2000 Mo. App LEXIS 7.
PRIOR HISTORY: Appeal from the Circuit Court of Platte County, Missouri. The Honorable Ward B. Stuckey, Judge.
DISPOSITION: Affirmed in part and reversed in part.
COUNSEL: Fritz Edmunds, Jr., Overland Park, KS, for Appellants.
Thomas Magee, St. Louis, MO, for Respondent.
JUDGES: Albert A. Riederer Judge. Lowenstein and Stith, JJ., concur.
OPINION BY: ALBERT A. RIEDERER
[*391] This is an appeal from summary judgments granted in each of two separate suits filed by two different plaintiffs making identical claims against Respondent. Pursuant to a motion filed by Appellants and Respondent, the cases have been consolidated on appeal. Because we find that there is disputed evidence regarding both Respondent’s liability as a possessor of land and Appellant’s implied assumption of the risk, and because we find that express assumption of the risk did not apply under the facts in this record, we reverse on those issues. However, because there is no disputed evidence regarding count III of the petitions, and because Respondent is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on that count, we affirm as to that count.
Factual and Procedural Background
On January 8, 1995, Appellant Lesa Moffatt rented skis at Snow [**2] Creek Ski Area and signed a “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form.” On January 21, 1995, Appellant Carrie Lewis rented skis at Snow Creek Ski Area and signed a “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form.” The form states in pertinent part:
10. I hereby release from any legal liability the ski area and its owners, agents and employees, as well as the manufacturers and distributors of this equipment from any and all liability for damage and injury or death to myself or to any person or property resulting from the selection, installation, maintenance, adjustment or use of this equipment and for any claim based upon negligence, breach of warranty, contract or other legal theory, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage, injury or death which may result.
This document was signed by both Lewis and Moffatt during the process of renting equipment. Lewis and Moffatt both stood in line with people in front of and behind them when they received this form. The form had to be completed before obtaining skis and equipment. Both Lewis and Moffatt claim that they felt pressured to move along and did not have an adequate opportunity to read and fully comprehend the rental form.
Lewis [**3] and Moffatt both fell on ice at Snow Creek and were injured. Lewis and Moffatt each filed a separate petition against Respondent which included the same four counts: I. Defendant owed a duty to plaintiff as a business invitee, and breached that duty by failure to warn of the icy condition where the fall occurred; II. Defendant negligently adjusted and maintained the bindings on Plaintiff’s skis because they failed to properly release when plaintiff fell, injuring plaintiff’s leg; III. Defendant created a dangerous condition by making artificial snow; and IV. Defendant was grossly negligent in failing to warn plaintiff of the dangerous condition on its premises. Respondent generally [*392] denied Appellant’s claims in its answer and asserted affirmative defenses of comparative fault and assumption of the risk.
Respondent filed a motion for summary judgment in each case. Respondent submitted as evidence the “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form” and the deposition of the plaintiff in each case. In response to Respondent’s motions for summary judgment, each Appellant submitted additional evidence in the form of her own affidavit. Both motions for summary judgment were granted. Lewis’ and Moffatt’s [**4] claims are identical, and they have been consolidated on appeal.
Standard of Review
[HN1] Our standard of review of a summary judgment is essentially de novo. Lawrence v. Bainbridge Apartments, 957 S.W.2d 400, 403 (Mo. App. 1997) (citing, ITT Commercial Finance Corp., v. Mid-America Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993)). We review the record in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was entered and grant the non-moving party the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the record. Id. [HN2] To be entitled to summary judgment a movant must demonstrate that there is no genuine dispute of material fact and that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.
In accordance with the law, we analyze whether summary judgment is appropriate on the record developed by the parties and presented to this court. The Respondent advances several arguments why summary judgment is appropriate. First, it claims as a possessor of land, it has no duty to warn a business invitee of dangers which are open and obvious as a matter of law and that the ice alleged to have caused the fall and injury was [**5] open and obvious as a matter of law. Second, it claims Appellants expressly assumed the risk of this injury by signing the Rental Form. Third, it claims Appellants impliedly assumed the risk of this injury by engaging in the sport of skiing. Fourth, it claims the Rental Form operates as a release.
I. Duty of the Possessor of Land
Respondent claims that the presence of ice on a ski slope should be determined to be an open and obvious danger as a matter of law.
A. Duty Owed To A Business Invitee
” [HN3] The standard of care owed by a possessor of land is dependent upon the status of the injured party.” Peterson v. Summit Fitness, Inc., 920 S.W.2d 928, 932 (Mo. App. 1996). An invitee “is a person who is invited to enter or remain on land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the possessor of the land.” Harris v. Niehaus, 857 S.W.2d 222, 225 (Mo. banc 1993) (quoting, Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 332 (1965). As [HN4] business invitees, the Appellants were entitled to reasonable and ordinary care by Respondent to make its premises safe. Peterson, 920 S.W.2d at 932. A possessor of land is [**6] liable to an invitee only if the possessor:
(a) knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such invitees, and
(b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger or will fail to protect themselves against it, and
(c) fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger.
Id. Generally, [HN5] a possessor of land does not have a duty to protect invitees against conditions that are open and obvious as a matter of law. Id. at 933. “The exception to this rule is where ‘the possessor should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness.’” Id. A condition is open and obvious if invitees should reasonably be expected to discover it. Id.
Given the preceding principles, the pivotal question is whether the ice was an open and obvious condition on the land [*393] as a matter of law. If we determine the ice was an open and obvious condition on the land as a matter of law, Respondent as possessor has no liability – unless he should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness. Id. [**7] Thus, the next question would be whether Respondent could reasonably rely on its invitees – skiers – to protect themselves from the danger of ice or whether Respondent should have expected that skiers would not appreciate the danger thus posed. Harris, 857 S.W.2d at 226. We need not reach the second question because this court is unwilling, under the facts as developed in this case, to declare that the conditions on Respondent’s property, which allegedly caused the fall, were open and obvious as a matter of law. To the contrary, we find there is a genuine dispute regarding a material fact: the nature and character of the ice alleged to have caused the fall. “For purposes of Rule 74.04, [HN6] a ‘genuine issue’ exists where the record contains competent materials that evidence two plausible, but contradictory, accounts of the essential facts.” ITT, 854 S.W.2d at 382. “A ‘genuine issue’ is a dispute that is real, not merely argumentative, imaginary or frivolous.” Id. In this case, Appellants characterized the ice as large areas of thick impenetrable ice hidden under a dusting of snow. The evidence is that the Appellants fell on ice which they did not see because [**8] of the snow. Respondent maintained that both Appellants encountered ice on trails that the Appellants had been down several times before they fell. This is not sufficient evidence for this court to find that the ice Appellants encountered was an open and obvious danger as a matter of law. It is not clear that the Appellants should have reasonably been expected to have discovered the icy condition. Peterson, 920 S.W.2d at 933. ” [HN7] When there is disputed evidence – as in this case – on whether the landowner had reason to expect this type of accident . . ., the case properly belongs to the jury.” Harris, 857 S.W.2d at 229. Therefore, we find that Respondent was not entitled to summary judgment because there is a genuine issue regarding the ice, and the ice in question was not an open and obvious danger as a matter of law.
II. Assumption of Risk
Appellants claim that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because the defense of assumption of the risk requires a jury determination as to disputed material facts. Specifically, Appellants claim that a jury should decide whether they knew of the ice and whether they understood and appreciated the [**9] danger posed by the ice. Respondent claims that the Appellants’ injuries were the result of a risk inherent in the sport of skiing, and therefore, the Appellants assumed the risk, or in the alternative, that Appellants expressly assumed the risk by signing the rental form. [HN8] Assumption of risk is generally categorized as express, implied primary, and implied secondary (reasonable and unreasonable). Sheppard v. Midway R-1 School District, 904 S.W.2d 257, 261-62 (Mo. App. 1995).
A. Express Assumption of Risk
[HN9] Express assumption of risk occurs when the plaintiff expressly agrees in advance that the defendant owes him no duty. Id. Recovery is completely barred since there is no duty in the first place. Id. Respondent argues that the Rental Form, signed by both Appellants, specifically mentioned the snow. Respondent correctly argues that the Rental Form relieves it of liability for injury due to snow. The evidence is that the Appellants knew about the snow and voluntarily assumed that risk. However, we cannot agree that the Rental Form relieves Respondent from injury liability due to ice. First, the Rental Form did not mention injury due to ice. [**10] In addition, the Rental Form could only relieve Respondent of such liability if the general reference to “negligence” is sufficient to do so. The clause of the Rental Form reads as follows:
[*394] 10. I hereby release from any legal liability the ski area and its owners, agents and employees, as well as the manufacturers and distributors of this equipment from any and all liability for damage and injury or death to myself or to any person or property resulting from the selection, installation, maintenance, adjustment or use of this equipment and for any claim based upon negligence, breach of warranty, contract or other legal theory, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage, injury or death which may result.
” [HN10] Although exculpatory clauses in contracts releasing an individual from his or her own future negligence are disfavored, they are not prohibited as against public policy.” Alack v. Vic Tanny International of Missouri, Inc., 923 S.W.2d 330, 334 (Mo. 1996). “However, contracts exonerating a party from acts of future negligence are to be ‘strictly construed against the party claiming the benefit of the contract, and clear and explicit language [**11] in the contract is required to absolve a person from such liability.’” Id. (quoting, Hornbeck v. All American Indoor Sports, Inc., 898 S.W.2d 717, 721 (Mo. App. 1995)).
“Historically, [HN11] Missouri appellate courts have required that a release from one’s own future negligence be explicitly stated.” 923 S.W.2d at 336 (emphasis in original). The Court in Alack determined that the best approach was to follow precedent and decisions from our state as well as others and to require [HN12] clear, unambiguous, unmistakable, and conspicuous language in order to release a party from his or her own future negligence. 923 S.W.2d at 337. The language of the exculpatory clause must effectively notify a party that he or she is releasing the other party from claims arising from the other party’s own negligence. Id. General language will not suffice. Id. “The words ‘negligence’ or ‘fault’ or their equivalents must be used conspicuously so that a clear and unmistakable waiver and shifting of risk occurs.” Id. [HN13] Whether a contract is ambiguous is a question of law to be decided by the court. Id. “An ambiguity arises when there is [**12] duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty in the meaning of the words used in the contract.” Id.
Respondent’s exculpatory clause uses the term “negligence.” However, that does not end our inquiry. We must determine whether the exculpatory clause uses “clear, unmistakable, unambiguous and conspicuous language.” Id. The exculpatory clause purports to shield Respondent from “any claim based on negligence and . . . any claim based upon . . . other legal theory. . . .” Alack teaches us that “there is no question that one may never exonerate oneself from future liability for intentional torts or for gross negligence, or for activities involving the public interest.” Id. Respondent argues that the language from paragraph 8 of the rental form “does not purport to release defendant from liability for intentional torts, gross negligence, or activities involving the public interest ” and that use of the word “negligence” results in a clear understanding of the acts for which liability is released. We disagree. The exculpatory clause uses general language, to wit, “any claim based on . . . other legal theory.” This language includes intentional torts, [**13] gross negligence or any other cause of action not expressly listed. ” [HN14] A contract that purports to relieve a party from any and all claims but does not actually do so is duplicitous, indistinct and uncertain.” Id. Here, the Rental Form purports to relieve Respondent of all liability but does not do so. Thus, it is duplicitous, indistinct and uncertain, Id., and thence arises an ambiguity. Rodriguez v. General Accident, 808 S.W.2d 379, 382 (Mo. banc 1991).
In addition, the exculpatory language and its format did not effectively notify the Appellants that they were releasing Respondent from claims arising from its negligence. The form the Appellants signed was entitled “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form.” It did not indicate it [*395] was a release. This title was in large type and could not be reasonably construed to include release of liability. By contrast, the exculpatory clause is in approximately 5 point type at the bottom of the form. “[ [HN15] A] provision that would exempt its drafter from any liability occasioned by his fault should not compel resort to a magnifying glass and lexicon.” Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 335. The Appellants had to sign [**14] the Rental Form to receive ski equipment and had to do so while in a line. The language and format of the exculpatory clause leaves doubt that a reasonable person agreeing to the clause actually would understand what future claims he or she is waiving. Id. at 337-38. The language drafted by Respondent is not “unambiguous” or “conspicuous,” and thus does not meet the standard of Alack. Id.
Thus, Respondent cannot rely on that language to claim the Appellants expressly assumed the risk of the injury complained of in the petition.
B. Implied Assumption of Risk
[HN16] Implied assumption of risk includes two sub-categories, implied primary and implied secondary. Implied primary assumption of risk involves the question of whether the defendant had a duty to protect the plaintiff from the risk of harm. Sheppard, 904 S.W.2d at 261. It applies where the parties have voluntarily entered a relationship in which the plaintiff assumes well-known incidental risks. Id. The plaintiff’s consent is implied from the act of electing to participate in the activity. Id. Implied primary assumption of the risk is also a complete bar [**15] to recovery. Id. at 262. On the other hand, [HN17] implied secondary assumption of the risk occurs when the defendant owes a duty of care to the plaintiff but the plaintiff knowingly proceeds to encounter a known risk imposed by the defendant’s breach of duty. Id. In implied secondary assumption of the risk cases, the question is whether the plaintiff’s action is reasonable or unreasonable. Id. If the plaintiff’s action is reasonable, he is not barred from recovery. Id. If the plaintiff’s conduct in encountering a known risk is unreasonable, it is to be considered by the jury as one element of fault. Id. This case involves implied primary assumption of the risk.
Appellants claim the trial court erred when it ruled, “the court finds that the Plaintiff assumed the risk of injury by skiing on the Defendant’s ski slope and that Plaintiff’s injuries were of a type inherent to the sport of skiing and that this incident involves dangers so obvious that the Defendant does not owe a duty to the Plaintiff and therefore is not required to warn the Plaintiff of such danger.” Respondent argues that the Appellants are barred by [**16] implied primary assumption of risk because by engaging in the sport of skiing, they impliedly assumed the risk of falling on the ice.
“Generally, [HN18] assumption of risk in the sports context involves primary assumption of risk because the plaintiff has assumed certain risks inherent in the sport or activity.” Id.
[HN19] Under comparative fault, if the plaintiff’s injury is the result of a risk inherent in the sport in which he was participating, the defendant is relieved from liability on the grounds that by participating in the sport, the plaintiff assumed the risk and the defendant never owed the plaintiff a duty to protect him from that risk. If, on the other hand, the plaintiff’s injury is the result of negligence on the part of the defendant, the issue regarding the plaintiff’s assumption of that risk and whether it was a reasonable assumption of risk, is an element of fault to be compared to the defendant’s negligence by the jury.
Id. at 263-64. [HN20] The basis of implied primary assumption of risk is the plaintiff’s consent to accept the risk. Id. “If the risks of the activity are perfectly obvious or fully comprehended, plaintiff has consented to [**17] them and defendant has performed [*396] his or her duty.” Martin v. Buzan, 857 S.W.2d 366, 369 (Mo. App. 1993).
[HN21] As a “defending party,” Respondent may establish a right to summary judgment by showing that there is no genuine dispute as to the existence of each of the facts necessary to support its properly pleaded affirmative defense and that those factors show Respondent is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. ITT, 854 S.W.2d at 381. In order for Respondent to have established its right to summary judgment based upon implied primary assumption of the risk, Respondent had to show that there was no genuine dispute that the Appellants’ injuries were the result of falling on ice, and that ice was a risk inherent in the sport of skiing. While there is no question that the Appellants’ injuries were a result of falling on ice, there is a genuine dispute regarding whether encountering the ice in this case is an inherent risk of skiing. Respondent notes that many states including Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, and West Virginia have all enacted statutes which codify assumption of the risk as is pertains to the sport [**18] of snow skiing. However, there is no such statute in Missouri, and this court is not willing to say, as a blanket rule, that all ice encountered on Respondent’s property is an inherent risk in the sport of snow skiing. There is a genuine dispute as to the nature of the ice. Was it “large areas of thick impenetrable ice hidden under a dusting of snow on the ski slopes,” as the Appellants claim, or was it ice on the slopes that the Appellants had been over several times prior to falling. These are questions which must be answered by a fact-finder. [HN22] While the basis of implied primary assumption of the risk is the plaintiff’s consent to accept the risk, the plaintiff must be aware of the facts that create the danger and they must appreciate the danger itself. Shepard, 904 S.W.2d at 264. Thus, the standard is a subjective one: “what the particular plaintiff in fact sees, knows, understands and appreciates.” Id. Here, the record does not include evidence that the Appellants were aware of the facts that created the danger or that they appreciated the danger itself. In fact, there was only evidence to the contrary, that the Appellants did not know, understand or appreciate [**19] the ice because it was under snow.
Therefore, we find that summary judgment cannot, on this record, be based upon express or implied primary assumption of the risk.
Respondent argues on appeal that the “Rental Form” operated as a release. Respondent did not plead release as an affirmative defense in its answer. [HN23] Release is an affirmative defense that must be pleaded in an answer. Rule 55.08. Failure to plead an affirmative defense constitutes a waiver of the defense. Leo’s Enterprises, Inc. v. Hollrah, 805 S.W.2d 739, 740 (Mo. App. 1991). Since Respondent did not plead the affirmative defense of release, summary judgment would not be proper based upon the theory of release.
We affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment on Count III of the Appellants’ petitions. The Appellants state in Count III of their petitions that Respondent created a dangerous condition by making artificial snow and dispersing it on the ski slope and that Respondent owed a duty to them as business invitees not to create dangerous conditions on the premises. The trial court was correct in granting Respondent’s summary judgment [**20] on Count III, because [HN24] a possessor of land does not have a duty to protect invitees against conditions that are open and obvious as a matter of law. Peterson, 920 S.W.2d at 933. A condition is open and obvious if invitees should reasonably be expected to discover it. Id. Respondent could be liable only if it was not reasonable [*397] for it to expect the Appellants to see and appreciate the risk and to take reasonable precautions. Harris, 857 S.W.2d at 226. Artificial snow at Snow Creek is an open and obvious condition, and it is reasonable for Respondent to expect the Appellants to see and appreciate the risk of artificial snow and to take appropriate precautions.
The judgment of the trial court is affirmed as to Count III of each of the petitions. It is reversed and remanded for further proceedings on counts I, II, & IV.
Albert A. Riederer, Judge
Lowenstein and Stith, JJ., concur.
By Recreation Law Recfirstname.lastname@example.org James H. Moss Jim Moss
In order to recover in a collision on the ski slope the plaintiff must prove the defendant’s actions were reckless or intentional.
This case is between an injured adult and a young snowboarder. The snowboarder and his friends were on the same slope as the adult and his friends. The snowboarders went through the terrain park and upon exiting collided with the plaintiff.
The plaintiff sued for his injuries. The trial court dismissed the complaint based on the assumption of the risk. The plaintiff appealed, and the appellate court reversed the trial court agreeing with the plaintiffs that the Ohio statute created liability on the part of skiers and boarders for any collision.
The Ohio Supreme Court also sent the case back to the trial court but only to determine if the actions of the defendant snowboarder were reckless or intentional. The Supreme Court found that the statute in question, Ohio R.C. 4169.08 or 4169.09 only applied to the ski areas and did not apply to skiers and boarders.
Once the Supreme court held that the statute did not apply, the legal issue was easily decided. The statute in question stated that skiing was a hazardous sport regardless of the safety measures that could be taken.
Under Ohio’s law on sports had held that:
[w]here individuals engage in recreational or sports activities, they assume the ordinary risks of the activity and cannot recover for any injury unless it can be shown that the other participant’s actions were either reckless or intentional
In Ohio, primary assumption of the risk means that a “defendant owes no duty whatsoever to the plaintiff.” The assumption is limited to those risks directly associated with the activity. “To be covered under the [primary-assumption-of-the-risk] doctrine, the risk must be one that is so inherent to the sport or activity that it cannot be eliminated.”
The court then held:
Accordingly, we hold that skiers assume the ordinary risks of skiing, which include collisions with other skiers, and cannot recover for an injury unless it can be shown that the other skier’s actions were reckless or intentional.
So Now What?
Ohio joins most other states with ski areas that require more than simple negligence on the part of the defendant for the plaintiff to recover for a collision on the slopes.
Without this standard of care, the risk of the sport would be totally removed, and skiers and boarders would enter a turnstile before they could enter the slope.
All sports have risk and if you are not willing to accept the risk of the sport then you should search for a sport that has risks that are what you can deal with. Checkers or chess are what I would suggest, although you could be hit by an angry knight if your opponent loses their temper.
Ski Area: Boston Mills Ski Area
Plaintiffs: Angel Horvath and Eugene Horvath
Defendants: David Ish, Tyler Ish and their cousins
Plaintiff Claims: Plaintiff had acted negligently, carelessly, recklessly, willfully, and wantonly in causing the collision with Defendant
Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk
Holding: Reversed and sent back to determine if the defendant acted intentional or recklessly when he collided with the plaintiff.
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Brookner v New York Roadrunners Club, Inc., et al., 2008 NY Slip Op 4638; 51 A.D.3d 841; 858 N.Y.S.2d 348; 2008 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4393Posted: October 8, 2012
Brookner v New York Roadrunners Club, Inc., et al., 2008 NY Slip Op 4638; 51 A.D.3d 841; 858 N.Y.S.2d 348; 2008 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4393
[*1] Larry Brookner, Appellant, v New York Roadrunners Club, Inc., et al., Respondents. (Index No. 2902/06)
SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT
2008 NY Slip Op 4638; 51 A.D.3d 841; 858 N.Y.S.2d 348; 2008 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4393
May 20, 2008, Decided
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Appeal denied by Brookner v. N.Y. Roadrunners Club, Inc., 11 NY3d 704, 894 NE2d 1198, 2008 N.Y. LEXIS 2654, 864 NYS2d 807 (N.Y., Sept. 9, 2008)
Release–Scope of Release
COUNSEL: David A. Kapelman, P.C., New York, N.Y. (Richard H. Bliss of counsel), for appellant.
Havkins Rosenfeld Ritzert & Varriale, LLP, New York, N.Y. (Steven Rosenfeld and Carmen Nicolaou of counsel), for respondents.
JUDGES: ANITA R. FLORIO, J.P., HOWARD MILLER, MARK C. DILLON, WILLIAM E. McCARTHY, JJ. FLORIO, J.P., MILLER, DILLON and McCARTHY, JJ., concur.
In an action to recover damages for personal injuries, the plaintiff appeals (1) from an order of the Supreme Court, Kings County (Ambrosio, J.), dated December 18, 2006, which, in effect, granted that branch of the defendants’ motion pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (5) which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against the defendant New York Roadrunners Club, Inc., and (2), as limited by his brief, from so much of an order of the same court dated February 8, 2007, as, in effect, granted that branch of the defendants’ motion pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (5) which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against the defendant City of New York.
Ordered that the order dated December 18, 2006, is affirmed; and it is further,
[***349] Ordered that the order dated February 8, 2007, is affirmed insofar as appealed from; and it is further,
Ordered that one bill of costs is awarded to the defendants.
The plaintiff commenced this action to recover damages after he allegedly sustained injuries while participating in the 2004 ING Marathon in New York City. Prior to the event, the plaintiff signed a waiver and release, which unambiguously stated his intent to release the defendants from [*2] any liability arising from ordinary negligence (see Bufano v National Inline Roller Hockey Assn., 272 AD2d 359, 359-360, 707 NYS2d 223 ; cf. Gross v Sweet, 49 NY2d 102, 109-110, 400 NE2d 306, 424 NYS2d 365 ; Doe v Archbishop Stepinac High School, 286 AD2d 478, 479, 729 NYS2d 538 ). In light of this waiver and release, [**842] the Supreme Court properly granted those branches of the defendants’ motion which were to dismiss the complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (5) insofar as asserted against the defendants New York Road Runners Club, Inc. (hereinafter NYRRC) and City of New York (see Fazzinga v Westchester Track Club, 48 AD3d 410, 851 NYS2d 278 ; see also Booth v 3669 Delaware, 92 NY2d 934, 703 NE2d 757, 680 NYS2d 899 ; Lee v Boro Realty, LLC, 39 AD3d 715, 716, 832 NYS2d 453 ; Koster v Ketchum Communications, 204 AD2d 280, 611 NYS2d 298 ).
Contrary to the plaintiff’s contentions, General Obligations Law § 5-326 does not invalidate the release, since the entry fee the plaintiff paid to the NYRRC was for his participation in the marathon, and was not an admission fee allowing him to use the City-owned public roadway over which the marathon was run (see Stulweissenburg v Town of Orangetown, 223 AD2d 633, 634, 636 NYS2d 853 ). Further, the public roadway in Brooklyn where the plaintiff alleges he was injured is not a “place of amusement or recreation” (Tedesco v Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Auth., 250 AD2d 758, 673 NYS2d 181 ; see Fazzinga v Westchester Track Club, 48 AD3d 410, 851 NYS2d 278 ).
The plaintiff’s remaining contentions are without merit. Florio, J.P., Miller, Dillon and McCarthy, JJ., concur.
N.H., a minor child, v. Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87452
N.H., a minor child, by and through his parents Jorge Hernandez and Elizabeth Hernandez and Jorge Hernandez and Elizabeth Hernandez, Individually, v. Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87452
April 30, 2012, Filed
CORE TERMS: punitive damages, trail, gross negligence, recklessly, survive, failed to properly, bike, damages claim, reasonable inference, entitlement to relief’, plausibility, punitive, reckless, biking, summer camp, proximate cause, proximate result, mountain
COUNSEL: [*1] For Jorge Hernandez, Individually Minor N. H, Elizabeth Hernandez, Individually Minor N. H., Plaintiffs: Thomas C Jessee, Jessee & Jessee, Johnson City, TN.
For Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America, defendant: Suzanne S Cook, LEAD ATTORNEY, Hunter, Smith & Davis – Johnson City, Johnson City, TN.
JUDGES: J. RONNIE GREER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
OPINION BY: J. RONNIE GREER
This personal injury action is before the Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Pending before the Court is the defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ demand for punitive damages pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). [Doc. 5]. For the reasons which follow, the motion is GRANTED.
The following facts are taken from plaintiffs’ Complaint and are assumed true for the purposes of defendant’s motion to dismiss. In June 2010, the minor plaintiff was registered by his parents to participate in a summer camp owned and operated by defendant in an attempt to earn merit badges towards becoming an Eagle Scout. On June 15, 2010, while at this summer camp, the minor plaintiff participated in a mountain biking activity/class sponsored by defendant. During the course of his participation, the minor plaintiff discovered [*2] that the brakes on his bike were not working, and he rode off the trail and struck a tree, sustaining severe bodily injuries.
The defendant was allegedly negligent as follows: (1) it failed to keep the mountain bike trails in a reasonably safe condition; (2) it failed to warn the minor plaintiff of hidden perils of the trails which defendant knew, or by reasonable inspection, could have discovered; (3) it failed to properly train its employees; (4) it failed to properly mark the bike trail; (5) it failed to properly evaluate and assess the skill of the minor plaintiff before allowing him to ride the trail; and (6) it was “negligent in other manners.” [Doc. 1 at ¶19]. The Complaint also states that “the negligence of Defendant . . . was the proximate cause of the injuries to the minor plaintiff.” Id. at ¶20. The Complaint contains a number of additional paragraphs that allege how the “negligence” of the defendant was the proximate cause of various other consequences. Id. at ¶¶22-27. The final paragraph of the Complaint states, “As a proximate . . . result of the negligence of Defendant, the Plaintiffs have been damaged . . . in an amount not to exceed $600,000.00 actual damages. As a [*3] direct and proximate result of the gross negligence of the Defendant, the Plaintiffs believe they are entitled to recover punitive damages . . ..” Id. at ¶28 (emphasis added).
Defendant has filed a motion asking the Court to dismiss the Complaint so far as punitive damages are concerned on the ground that the plaintiffs have failed to adequately plead a factual basis that would provide for the award of punitive damages.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) requires “a short and plain statement of the claims” that “will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the ground upon which it rests.” The Supreme Court has held that “[w]hile a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitlement to relief’ requires more than just labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007).
“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, [*4] accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Thus, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 1950. When considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all of the plaintiff’s allegations as true in determining whether a plaintiff has stated a claim for which relief could be granted. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S. Ct. 2229, 81 L. Ed. 2d 59 (1984).
“In a diversity action . . . the propriety of an award of punitive damages for the conduct in question, and the factors the jury may consider in determining their amount, are questions of state law.” Browning-Ferris Indus. of Vt., Inc., v. Kelco Disposal, Inc., 492 U.S. 257, 278, 109 S. Ct. 2909, 106 L. Ed. 2d 219 (1989). Thus, to survive a motion to dismiss, a claim for punitive damages must be plausible as defined by Tennessee law.
The Tennessee Supreme Court has held that punitive damages are available in cases involving “only the most egregious of wrongs.” [*5] Hodges v. S.C. Toof & Co., 833 S.W.2d 896, 901 (Tenn. 1992). Accordingly, under Tennessee law, “a court may . . . award punitive damages only if it finds a defendant has acted either (1) intentionally, (2) fraudulently, (3) maliciously, or (4) recklessly.” Id. 1
1 The Tennessee Supreme Court has expressly stated that punitive damages are not available for “gross negligence.” Hodges, 833 S.W.2d at 900-901. However, the legal sufficiency of a complaint does not depend upon whether or not the plaintiffs invoked the right “magic words,” but instead whether the facts as alleged may plausibly be construed to state a claim that meets the standards of Rule 12(b)(6). See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009)(clarifying the dismissal standard under Rule 12(b)(6) and noting that “Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era”). Consequently, the Court will construe the plaintiffs’ allegations of “gross negligence” in paragraph 28 of the Complaint as an allegation that defendant behaved “recklessly.”
Here, defendant asserts that “Although the Complaint cursorily mentions ‘gross negligence’ one time in a conclusory manner, the Complaint [*6] lacks any facts or allegations that aver an utter lack of concern or reckless disregard such that a conscious indifference can even be implied . . ..” [Doc. 6 at 3]. The plaintiff counters that “The plaintiff in this case has identified specific detailed acts of negligence on the part of the defendant and . . . [consequently] it is clear that a jury could decide that the actions of the defendant were grossly negligent.” [Doc. 7 at 2].
The Court has reviewed the Complaint and agrees with the defendant. “Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant’s liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Such is the case with the Complaint in this matter. The entirety of the Complaint is dedicated to explaining why the defendant was negligent. However, there is no separate mention made regarding why the defendant was reckless. To be sure, the plaintiff could argue that by alleging in multiple paragraphs that defendant “knew, or should have known,” of certain unsafe conditions, he has sufficiently pled both negligence and recklessness. However, plaintiff would be mistaken in asserting such [*7] argument.
Under Tennessee law, “A person acts recklessly when the person is aware of, but consciously disregards, a substantial and unjustifiable risk of such a nature that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances.” Hodges, 833 S.W.2d at 901. An examination of the Complaint reveals that plaintiffs have failed to allege how or why the defendant was aware of the deficiencies in the bicycle and the biking trail. This is fatal to plaintiffs’ claim for punitive damages. See Carrier Corp. v. Outokumpu Oyj, 673 F.3d 430, 445 (6th Cir. 2012) (“To survive a motion to dismiss . . . allegations must be specific enough to establish the relevant ‘who, what, where, when, how or why.”); See also, Tucker v. Bernzomatic, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43771, 2010 WL 1838704 (E.D.Pa. May 4, 2010) (Dismissing punitive damages claim in products liability action because consumer did not allege how or why manufacturer knew that its product was dangerous).
In light of the foregoing, the Court concludes that the Complaint does not contain sufficient factual content to allow the Court to draw the reasonable inference that defendant has acted recklessly. [*8] See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The punitive damages claim will therefore be dismissed.
For the foregoing reasons, defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ demand for punitive damages [Doc. 5] is GRANTED and plaintiffs’ demand for punitive damages is DISMISSED.
/s/ J. RONNIE GREER
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Cotty v Town of Southampton, et al., 2009 NY Slip Op 4020; 64 A.D.3d 251; 880 N.Y.S.2d 656; 2009 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3919Posted: July 23, 2012
Cotty v Town of Southampton, et al., 2009 NY Slip Op 4020; 64 A.D.3d 251; 880 N.Y.S.2d 656; 2009 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3919
[*1] Karen Cotty, plaintiff-respondent, v Town of Southampton, et al., defendants-appellants-respondents, Suffolk County Water Authority, defendant-appellant- respondent/fourth-party plaintiff-respondent, Elmore Associates Construction Corp., defendant third-party plaintiff, et al., defendant; Peter Deutch, third-party defendant/fourth-party defendant-appellant, et al., fourth-party defendant. (Index No. 20312/03)
SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT
2009 NY Slip Op 4020; 64 A.D.3d 251; 880 N.Y.S.2d 656; 2009 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3919
May 19, 2009, Decided
THE LEXIS PAGINATION OF THIS DOCUMENT IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE PENDING RELEASE OF THE FINAL PUBLISHED VERSION. THIS OPINION IS UNCORRECTED AND SUBJECT TO REVISION BEFORE PUBLICATION IN THE OFFICIAL REPORTS.
COUNSEL: Thomas C. Sledjeski, PLLC (Anita Nissan Yehuda, P.C., Roslyn Heights, N.Y., of counsel), for defendant-appellant-respondent Town of Southampton.
Shayne, Dachs, Corker, Sauer & Dachs, LLP, Mineola, N.Y. (Norman H. Dachs and Jonathan A. Dachs of counsel), for defendant-appellant-respondent/fourth-party plaintiff-respondent Suffolk County Water Authority and defendant-appellant-respondent CAC Contracting Corp (one brief filed).
Loccisano & Larkin, Hauppauge, N.Y. (Robert X. Larkin of counsel), for third-party [*2] defendant/fourth-party defendant-appellant Peter Deutch.
Rosenberg & Gluck, LLP, Holtsville, N.Y. (Andrew Bokar of counsel), for plaintiff-respondent.
JUDGES: PETER B. SKELOS, J.P., MARK C. DILLON, FRED T. SANTUCCI, RUTH C. BALKIN, JJ. DILLON, SANTUCCI and BALKIN, JJ., concur.
OPINION BY: SKELOS
[**252] [***658] APPEAL by the defendant Town of Southampton, in an action to recover damages for personal injuries, as limited by its brief, from so much of an order of the Supreme Court (Robert W. Doyle, J.), dated August 6, 2007, and entered in Suffolk County, as denied its motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and all cross claims insofar as asserted against it; SEPARATE APPEAL by the defendants Suffolk County Water Authority and CAC Contracting Corp., as limited by their brief, from so much of the same order as denied their motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and all cross claims insofar as asserted against them; and SEPARATE APPEAL by the fourth-party defendant Peter Deutch, as limited by his brief, from so much of the same order as denied that branch of his separate cross motion which was for summary judgment dismissing the fourth-party complaint and all related cross claims insofar as asserted against him. Justice Dillon has been substituted for former Justice Lifson (see 22 NYCRR 670.1[c]).
OPINION & ORDER
SKELOS, J.P. [HN1] When a person voluntarily participates in certain sporting events or athletic activities, an action to recover damages for injuries resulting from conduct or conditions that are inherent in the sport or activity is barred by the doctrine of primary assumption of risk. In this case, where the plaintiff was injured while riding a bicycle on a paved public roadway, we confront the threshold question of whether the plaintiff was engaged in an activity that subjected her to the doctrine of primary assumption of risk.
Beginning on July 24, 2002, pursuant to a contract with the defendant Suffolk County Water Authority (hereinafter SCWA), the defendant CAC Contracting Corp. replaced the asphalt in a trench that had been dug along the edge of Deerfield Road in Southampton for the purpose of installing a conduit for a water [**253] main. Two layers of asphalt were to be laid to fill the trench and bring it level with the preexisting roadway, but at the time of the subject accident, only one layer of asphalt had been laid, leaving a “lip” approximately one inch deep, parallel to the length of the road, where the preexisting roadway and the newly paved section met. At the site of the accident, the lip was not marked by any barricades or traffic cones.
On July 27, 2002, the plaintiff, a member of a bicycle club which engaged in long-distance rides, was the last bicyclist in one of several groups of eight riders cycling on Deerfield Road during a 72-mile ride. The plaintiff testified at a deposition that the road “was not perfectly smooth,” and contained potholes. She had previously ridden on the subject road approximately 20 to 30 times, as recently as two to four weeks before the accident, and was aware of construction activity on various portions of the road. The road had no shoulder, and the plaintiff was riding approximately one to two feet from the edge of the road, and approximately 1 to 11/2 wheel lengths behind the fourth-party defendant, Peter Deutch, at a maximum speed of 17 to 18 miles per hour. The bicyclists in the front of the line began a “hopping” maneuver with their bicycles to avoid the “lip” in the road. Deutch unsuccessfully attempted the hopping maneuver, and fell in the plaintiff’s path. Seeking to avoid Deutch, the plaintiff swerved and slid into the road where she collided with an oncoming car, sustaining injuries.
The plaintiff commenced this personal injury action against, among others, the Town of Southampton, the SCWA, and CAC Contracting Corp. (hereinafter collectively the defendants), and the SCWA impleaded Deutch. The defendants moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and all cross claims insofar as asserted against each of them, and Deutch cross-moved for summary judgment dismissing the fourth-party complaint and all related cross claims insofar as asserted against him. The defendants and Deutch (hereinafter collectively the appellants) contended, inter alia, that the plaintiff had assumed the risks commonly associated [***659] with bicycle riding. The Supreme Court denied the appellants’ motions.
[HN2] Under the doctrine of primary assumption of risk, a person who voluntarily participates in a sporting activity generally consents, by his or her participation, to those injury-causing events, conditions, and risks which are inherent in the activity (see Morgan v State of New York, 90 NY2d 471, 484, 685 N.E.2d 202, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421; Turcotte v Fell, 68 NY2d 432, 439, 502 N.E.2d 964, 510 N.Y.S.2d 49). Risks inherent in a sporting [**254] activity are those which are known, apparent, natural, or reasonably foreseeable consequences of the participation (see Morgan v State of New York, 90 NY2d at 484; Turcotte v Fell, 68 NY2d at 439). Because determining the existence and scope of a duty of care requires “an examination of plaintiff’s reasonable expectations of the care owed him by others” (Turcotte v Fell, 68 NY2d at 437), the [*3] plaintiff’s consent does not merely furnish the defendant with a defense; it eliminates the duty of care that would otherwise exist. Accordingly, when a plaintiff assumes the risk of participating in a sporting event, “the defendant is relieved of legal duty to the plaintiff; and being under no duty, he cannot be charged with negligence” (id. at 438, quoting Prosser and Keeton, Torts § 68, at 480-481 [5th ed]).
The policy underlying the doctrine of primary assumption of risk is “to facilitate free and vigorous participation in athletic activities” (Benitez v New York City Bd. of Educ., 73 NY2d 650, 657, 541 N.E.2d 29, 543 N.Y.S.2d 29). Without the doctrine, athletes may be reluctant to play aggressively, for fear of being sued by an opposing player. [HN3] As long as the defendant’s conduct does not unreasonably increase the risks assumed by the plaintiff, the defendant will be shielded by the doctrine of primary assumption of risk (see Morgan v State of New York, 90 NY2d at 485; Benitez v New York City Bd. of Educ., 73 NY2d at 658; Muniz v Warwick School Dist., 293 AD2d 724, 743 N.Y.S.2d 113).
[HN4] The doctrine also has been extended to the condition of the playing surface. If an athlete is injured as a result of a defect in, or feature of, the field, court, track, or course upon which the sport is being played, the owner of the premises will be protected by the doctrine of primary assumption of risk as long as risk presented by the condition is inherent in the sport (see Trevett v City of Little Falls, 6 NY3d 884, 849 N.E.2d 961, 816 N.Y.S.2d 738; Sykes v County of Erie, 94 NY2d 912, 728 N.E.2d 973, 707 N.Y.S.2d 374; Ribaudo v La Salle Inst., 45 AD3d 556, 846 N.Y.S.2d 209). If the playing surface is as safe as it appears to be, and the condition in question is not concealed such that it unreasonably increases risk assumed by the players, the doctrine applies (see Fintzi v New Jersey YMHA-YWHA Camps, 97 NY2d 669, 765 N.E.2d 288, 739 N.Y.S.2d 85; Turcotte v Fell, 68 NY2d at 439; Rosenbaum v Bayis Ne’Emon, Inc., 32 AD3d 534, 820 N.Y.S.2d 326; Joseph v New York Racing Assn., 28 AD3d 105, 108, 809 N.Y.S.2d 526).
The Court of Appeals has had no occasion to expound upon the threshold question of what type of activity qualifies as participation in a sporting event for purposes of applying the doctrine of primary assumption of risk. In Turcotte v Fell, for [**255] example, the Court had little difficulty in concluding that the doctrine applied to the plaintiff, a professional jockey riding in [***660] a horse race at a track owned and operated by the New York Racing Association. Here, had the plaintiff been a professional athlete involved in a bicycle race on a track or a closed course, the doctrine of primary assumption of risk clearly would apply (cf. Morgan v State of New York, 90 NY2d at 486; Joseph v New York Racing Assn., 28 AD3d at 108-109). This case, however, presents different circumstances.
[HN5] In determining whether a bicycle rider has subjected himself or herself to the doctrine of primary assumption of risk, we must consider whether the rider is engaged in a sporting activity, such that his or her consent to the dangers inherent in the activity may reasonably be inferred. In our view, it is not sufficient for a defendant to show that the plaintiff was engaged in some form of leisure activity at the time of the accident. If such a showing were sufficient, the doctrine of primary assumption of risk could be applied to individuals who, for example, are out for a sightseeing drive in an automobile or on a motorcycle, or are jogging, walking, or inline roller skating for exercise, and would absolve municipalities, landowners, drivers, and other potential defendants of all liability for negligently creating risks that might be considered inherent in such leisure activities. Such a broad application of the doctrine of primary assumption of risk would be completely disconnected from the rationale for its existence. The doctrine is not designed to relieve a municipality of its duty to maintain its roadways in a safe condition (see Sykes v County of Erie, 94 NY2d at 913 ["the doctrine of assumption of risk does not exculpate a landowner from liability for ordinary negligence in maintaining a premises"]), and such a result does not become justifiable merely because the roadway in question happens to be in use by a person operating a bicycle, as opposed to some other means of transportation (see Caraballo v City of Yonkers, 54 AD3d 796, 796-797, 865 N.Y.S.2d 229 ["the infant plaintiff cannot be said, as a matter of law, to have assumed risk of being injured by a defective condition of a pothole on a public street, merely because he was participating in the activity [*4] of recreational noncompetitive bicycling, and using the bicycle as a means of transportation”] [citations omitted]).
In prior decisions involving injuries sustained by bicycle riders, this Court has concluded that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk applies in some situations, but not in others. For example, in Calise v City of New York (239 AD2d 378, [**256] 657 N.Y.S.2d 430), the plaintiff was thrown from a mountain bike, which he was riding on an unpaved dirt and rock path in a park, when the bike struck an exposed tree root. This Court held that the plaintiff’s action was barred by the doctrine of primary assumption of risk, reasoning that “[a]n exposed tree root is a reasonably foreseeable hazard of the sport of biking on unpaved trails, and one that would be readily observable” (id. at 379; see Rivera v Glen Oaks Vil. Owners, Inc., 41 AD3d 817, 820-821, 839 N.Y.S.2d 183 [doctrine of primary assumption of risk applied to plaintiff who was injured when his bicycle struck a hole in a dirt trail located in a wooded area]; Restaino v Yonkers Bd. of Educ., 13 AD3d 432, 785 N.Y.S.2d 711 [doctrine of primary assumption of risk applied to plaintiff whose bicycle struck "a pothole or rut in the closed parking lot/driveway area of a public school"]; Goldberg v Town of Hempstead, 289 AD2d 198, 733 N.Y.S.2d 691 [doctrine of primary assumption of risk applied to plaintiff who was injured when her bicycle struck a hole in the [***661] ground as she rode on a dirt base path of a baseball field]).
By contrast, in both Vestal v County of Suffolk (7 AD3d 613, 776 N.Y.S.2d 491) and Moore v City of New York (29 AD3d 751, 816 N.Y.S.2d 131), this Court held that the plaintiffs, who were injured while riding their bicycles on paved pathways in public parks, ” cannot be said as a matter of law to have assumed risk of being injured as a result of a defective condition on a paved pathway merely because [they] participated in the activity of bicycling’” (Moore v City of New York, 29 AD3d at 752, quoting Vestal v County of Suffolk, 7 AD3d at 614-615; see Caraballo v City of Yonkers, 54 AD3d at 796-797; Berfas v Town of Oyster Bay, 286 AD2d 466, 729 N.Y.S.2d 530 [defendant failed to establish, as a matter of law, that action by plaintiff, who was thrown from his bicycle when he hit a rut in a paved road, was barred by primary assumption of risk doctrine]). Significantly, this Court reached the same conclusion in Phillips v County of Nassau (50 AD3d 755, 856 N.Y.S.2d 172), holding that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk did not apply to a plaintiff who was injured when his bicycle struck a raised concrete mound on a public roadway, even though the plaintiff, like the plaintiff in the instant case, was “an avid bicyclist” and was participating in “a noncompetitive, recreational bicycle ride with about eight or nine other riders” (id. at 756).
These decisions recognize that [HN6] riding a bicycle on a paved public roadway normally does not constitute a sporting activity for purposes of applying the primary assumption of risk doctrine. By contrast, mountain biking, and other forms of off-road [**257] bicycle riding, can more readily be classified as sporting activity. Indeed, the irregular surface of an unimproved dirt-bike path is “presumably the very challenge that attracts dirt-bike riders as opposed to riding on a paved surface” (Schiavone v Brinewood Rod & Gun Club, Inc., 283 AD2d 234, 237, 726 N.Y.S.2d 615).
Of course, the distinction between using a bicycle to engage in a sporting activity and using a bicycle for some other purpose will sometimes be elusive. It is important to draw that line, however, because “[e]xtensive and unrestricted application of the doctrine of primary assumption of risk to tort cases generally represents a throwback to the former doctrine of contributory negligence, wherein a plaintiff’s own negligence barred recovery from the defendant’” (Trupia v Lake George Cent. School Dist., 62 A.D.3d 67, 875 N.Y.S.2d 298, 2009 NY Slip Op 01571, [3d Dept 2009], quoting Pelzer v Transel El. & Elec. Inc., 41 AD3d 379, 381, 839 N.Y.S.2d 84). That tendency is illustrated by the appellants’ briefs in this case, which repeatedly emphasize that the plaintiff was riding too closely behind Deutch. That argument is misplaced, since the issue of whether the plaintiff was following too closely, or otherwise acted negligently, is a matter of [HN7] comparative fault, which must be determined by the factfinder at trial and not as a matter of law at the summary judgment stage (see CPLR 1411; Roach v Szatko, 244 AD2d 470, 471, 664 N.Y.S.2d 101; Cohen v [*5] Heritage Motor Tours, 205 AD2d 105, 618 N.Y.S.2d 387).
In sum, [HN8] it cannot be said, as a matter of law, that merely by choosing to operate a bicycle on a paved public roadway, or by engaging in some other form of leisure activity or exercise such as walking, jogging, or roller skating on a paved public roadway, a plaintiff consents to the negligent maintenance of such roadways by a municipality or a contractor. Adopting such a rule could have the arbitrary effect [***662] of eliminating all duties owed to participants in such leisure or exercise activities, not only by defendants responsible for road maintenance, but by operators of motor vehicles and other potential tortfeasors, as long as the danger created by the defendant can be deemed inherent in such activities. We decline to construe the doctrine of primary assumption of risk so expansively.
For the foregoing reasons, the appellants failed to make a prima facie showing that the primary assumption of risk doctrine is applicable to the activity in which the plaintiff was engaged at the time of her accident. Thus, the Supreme Court properly denied the defendants’ motions for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and all cross claims insofar as asserted [**258] against them and Deutch’s cross motion for summary judgment dismissing the fourth-party complaint and all related cross claims insofar as asserted against him as barred by the doctrine of primary assumption of risk.
Moreover, the defendants failed to establish as a matter of law that the unbarricaded lip created by the road construction was not a “unique and . . . dangerous condition over and above the usual dangers that are inherent” (Owen v. R.J.S. Safety Equipment, Inc.., 79 N.Y.2d 967, 970, 591 N.E.2d 1184, 582 N.Y.S.2d 998) in the activity of bicycle riding on a paved roadway (see Vestal v County of Suffolk, 7 AD3d 613, 614, 776 N.Y.S.2d 491 [plaintiff did not assume risk of being injured while riding bicycle on defective paved pathway where there were "no signs, chains, or barriers" present "to indicate that it was not suitable for bicycling"]; see also Phillips v County of Nassau, 50 AD3d 755, 856 N.Y.S.2d 172; Berfas v Town of Oyster Bay, 286 AD2d 466, 729 N.Y.S.2d 530).
The appellants’ remaining contentions are without merit.
Accordingly, we affirm the order insofar as appealed from.
DILLON, SANTUCCI and BALKIN, JJ., concur.
ORDERED that the order is affirmed insofar as appealed from, with one bill of costs payable by the appellants appearing separately and filing separate briefs.
Gregorie v. Alpine Meadows Ski Corporation, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20275
Daniel Gregorie, in his individual capacity and as Successor In Interest to Jessica Gregorie, deceased, and Margaret Gregorie, in her individual capacity and as Successor In Interest to Jessica Gregorie, deceased, Plaintiffs, v. Alpine Meadows Ski Corporation, a California Corporation and Powder Corp., a Delaware Corporation, Defendants.
NO. CIV. S-08-259 LKK/DAD
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20275
February 9, 2011, Decided
February 10, 2011, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: Gregorie v. Alpine Meadows Ski Corp., 405 Fed. Appx. 187, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 26328 (9th Cir. Cal., Dec. 7, 2010)
COUNSEL: [*1] For Daniel Gregorie, in his individual capacity and as Successor in Interest to Jessica Gregorie, deceased, Margaret Gregorie, in her individual capacity and as Successor in Interest to Jessica Gregorie, deceased, Plaintiffs: Alisha M. Louie, Melvin D. Honowitz, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Constance J. Yu, Sideman and Bancroft, LLP, San Francisco, CA.
For Alpine Meadows Ski Corporation, a California corporation, POWDR Corporation, a Delaware corporation, Defendants: Jill Haley Penwarden, John E. Fagan, Michael L. Reitzell, Duane Morris LLP, Truckee, CA.
JUDGES: LAWRENCE K. KARLTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SENIOR JUDGE.
OPINION BY: LAWRENCE K. KARLTON
Before the court is defendant’s bill of costs. For the reason described below, the court awards some and denies some costs sought by defendant.
A. Factual background
Plaintiffs brought an action in wrongful death as the parents and successors in interest of decedent, Jessica Gregorie. Gregorie, a twenty-four year old woman and experienced snowboarder, died while snowboarding at defendant Alpine Meadows Ski Corporation’s (“Alpine Meadows”) ski resort on February 5, 2006. Gregorie had signed a waiver in conjunction with a season pass she purchased from [*2] Alpine Meadows, which provided her agreement to assume all risks of skiing beyond the area boundary, and releasing defendants from liability.
On the date of her death, decedent went snowboarding with her friend Joe Gaffney. Gregorie passed two signs posted at the base of the lift, warning of potential danger. While hiking the “High Beaver Traverse” to reach the “Beaver Bowl” area, Gregorie slipped due to the icy snow conditions. Gregorie was unable to stop, and slid past a large tree with a sign stating “Ski Area Boundary.” A helicopter transported Gregorie to Washoe Medical Center in Reno where she died later that day.
B. Procedural History
Plaintiffs Daniel and Margaret Gregorie commenced this action on February 1, 2008 against Alpine Meadows and Powdr Corporation. In their first and fourth causes of action, plaintiffs alleged premises liability. Their second cause of action alleged misrepresentation of risk of harm. Their third cause of action alleged negligence. Their fifth cause of action alleged breach of the season pass contract entered between Jessica Gregorie and Alpine Meadows. The sixth and eighth causes of action sought recision of that contract on the basis of fraud in the [*3] inducement. The seventh cause of action sought declaratory relief regarding Gregorie’s and defendant’s respective rights and duties under the contract. In addition to declaratory relief, plaintiff’s sought damages, punitive damages, and costs.
On May 29, 2009 defendants moved for summary judgement or adjudication on the basis that the plaintiffs were barred by the doctrines of primary and express assumption of risk and on the basis that Powdr Corporation is not a proper defendant. On August 6, 2009 this court entered an order granting summary judgment as to all causes of action in favor of defendants.
Defendants then submitted a Bill of Costs totaling $72,515.36 on August 7, 2009. Bill of Costs Submitted, Doc. No. 134 (August 14, 2009). Plaintiffs filed objections to the defendants’ Bill of Costs pursuant to Local Rule 54-292(c) and request a hearing.1 Objections, Doc. No. 136 (Aug. 24, 2009). In response to the objections, defendants withdraw their request for taxation of fees for the Clerk in the amount of $350.00, duplicate fees for invoice costs in the amount of $1,974.98, and fees for service of process to Randall Heiken. Response to Objection, Doc. No. 143, (Sept. 15, 2009). Costs [*4] for service of process to Jack Palladino and the California Ski & Snowboard Association, for the deposition transcript of Jack Palladino, the continued deposition transcript of Stanley Gale (Vol. 2), and the continued deposition transcript of Daniel Gregorie (Vol. 3) remain in dispute. Additionally, costs for the videographic recording of those depositions for which the stenographic transcript will also be taxed remain disputed. These include the depositions of Jack Palladino, Stanley Gale, Daniel Gregorie, Billy Martin, Joe Gaffney, Brian Martinezmoles, and Mike Leake.
1 The court finds that a hearing is not necessary in this matter.
A. Taxation of Costs Generally
[HN1] Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) and Eastern District Local Rule 292(f) govern the taxation of costs, other than attorney’s fees, awarded to the prevailing party in a civil matter. The Supreme Court has interpreted Rule 54(d)(1) to require that district courts consider only those costs enumerated in 28 U.S.C. § 1920. See Crawford Fitting Co. v. J.T. Gibbons, Inc., 482 U.S. 437, 441-42, 107 S. Ct. 2494, 96 L. Ed. 2d 385 (1987). Section 1920 provides that
[HN2] [a] judge or clerk of the court may tax the following:
(1) Fees of the clerk and marshal;
(2) [*5] Fees for printed or electronically recorded transcripts necessarily obtained for use in the case;
(3) Fees and disbursements for printing and witnesses;
(4) Fees for exemplification and the costs of making copies of any materials where the copies are necessarily obtained for use in the case;
(5) Docket fees under section 1923 of this title
(6) Compensation of court appointed experts, compensation of interpreters, and salaries, fees, expenses, and costs of special interpretation services under section 1828 of this title.
A bill of costs shall be filed in the case and, upon allowance, included in the judgment or decree.
28 U.S.C. § 1920.
[HN3] Rule 54(d)(1) provides that costs, “other than attorney’s fees shall be allowed as of course to the prevailing party unless the court otherwise directs.” Fed R. Civ. P. 54(d)(1). This provision establishes a presumption that costs will be awarded to the prevailing party, but allows the court discretion to decide otherwise. Association of Mexican American Educators v. State of California, 231 F.3d 572, 591-92 (9th Cir. 2000). Courts may also interpret the meaning of the items listed in § 1920. Alflex Corp. v. Underwriters Laboratories, Inc., 914 F.2d 175, 177 (9th Cir. 1990); [*6] BDT Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International Inc., 405 F.3d 415, 419 (6th Cir. 2005). But see In re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litigation, 221 F.3d 449, 459, 461 (4th Cir. 2000) (asserting plenary review of the District Court’s interpretation of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1)).
[HN4] Courts may deny an award of full costs when they state a sound basis for doing so. Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1038-39 (11th Cir. 2000). The losing party bears the burden of showing that an award is inequitable under the circumstances. Paoli 221 F.3d at 462-63. Among many factors, a prevailing party’s bad conduct is relevant to the determination of whether or not to tax if such conduct is responsible for excessive costs. Id. at 463.
Here, plaintiffs objects to several items on defendants’ bill of costs. They are addressed in turn.
B. Deposition Transcripts
[HN5] In deciding whether a copy of a deposition is taxable as a cost, the court must determine whether it was “necessarily obtained for use in the case” under 28 U.S.C. § 1920. “The court has great latitude in determining whether an award of deposition costs is warranted.” Allen v. United States Steel Corporation, 665 F.2d 689, 697 (5th Cir. 1982); See [*7] also 10 Wright, Miller, & Kane Federal Practice and Procedure § 2676 (3d ed. & Supp. 2010). If the depositions are for investigatory or for discovery purposes only, rather than for presentation of the case, courts have found that they are not taxable. Wright, Miller, Kane supra, § 2676. Where a motion for summary judgment is granted, “whether [the cost of a deposition] can be taxed is generally determined by deciding whether the deposition reasonably seemed necessary at the time it was taken.” Wright, Miller, Kane supra, § 2676.
i. Deposition of Jack Palladino
Jack Palladino is the family attorney of plaintiff Daniel Gregorie and private investigator to the law firm Siderman & Bancroft, LLP, plaintiffs’ counsel in this action. Objections, Doc. No. 136, at 3 (Aug. 24, 2009). Plaintiffs object to taxation of the costs incurred in the deposition of Palladino, especially for two days. They claim that the deposition was not necessary because of plaintiffs good faith effort to provide investigative reports of Palladino and because much of the testimony is protected by attorney-client privilege. Further, they contend that defendants deposed Palladino as a “fishing expedition and [for] harassment [*8] purposes only.” Id. at 3. The court now determines that under the circumstances, at least in part, the deposition of Palladino was conceivably taken for use in the case.
Although the parties initially disputed whether to conduct this deposition, the defendants withdrew their motion to compel the deposition. This suggests that the parties agreed to the conditions of the deposition which did occur. Motion to Compel, Doc. #64 (May 19, 2009); Withdrawal of Motion to Compel, Doc. #66 (May 21, 2009). In the parties’ Joint Statement Regarding Discovery Disagreement, defendants state that they “believe Mr. Palladino has crucial evidence as to statements made by eyewitnesses very shortly after the accident occurred” and that he has “likely interviewed additional witnesses and conduct [sic.] further inquiry into the facts and circumstances” surrounding the accident. Joint Statement, Doc. No. 65 at 5 (May 19, 2009). This suggests that at least in part the deposition was taken for investigative purposes. It is also true that the Magistrate Judge overruled several of the plaintiffs’ privilege-based objections. Exhibit G to Penwarden Declaration, Doc. No. 151 (Sept. 15, 2009). It is difficult for [*9] the court to parse the circumstances and make a certain judgement as to what percentage of the deposition was reasonably believed to be necessary for trial and what percentage was for other purposes. It appears clear, however, that at least one motivation was to piggyback on Palladino’s investigation. The court determines that one half the cost of the deposition of the stenographically recording of this deposition is taxable.
ii. Continued Deposition of Daniel Gregorie (Vol. 3)
Daniel Gregorie is the plaintiff in this action. Plaintiffs concede that defendants were justified in deposing Daniel Gregorie, but contend that questioning directed to Gregorie in his capacity as founder of the California Ski & Snowboard Association (CSSO), during the second and third days of the deposition, was not warranted. Objections, Doc. No. 136, at 4 (Aug. 24, 2009). However, the Magistrate Judge appears to have ordered Gregorie to answer questions directed to his CSSO activities. Minutes, Doc. #57 (April 3, 2009). The Magistrate Judge apparently found that this line questioning was likely to lead to admissible evidence. While the length appears excessive, the Magistrate Judge’s judgment appears sufficient [*10] to dispose of the issue, and the costs of this deposition will be taxed.
iii. Continued Deposition of Stan Gale (Vol. 2)
Stan Gale was designated by plaintiffs as an expert in ski safety. In their objection, plaintiffs maintain that there was no reasonable basis to depose Stan Gale for the full second day of deposition, during which he was questioned in his capacity as a percipient witness. Objections, Doc. No. 136, at 3, 4 (Aug. 24, 2009).
However, the plaintiffs agreed to the questioning of Mr. Gale in his capacity as a percipient witness at the time of the deposition. Objections, Doc. 136, at 4 (Aug. 24, 2009). The defendants were reasonable in believing that testimony obtained from a percipient witness would produce admissible evidence or information useful in presentation of the case. Therefore, the deposition was reasonably necessary at the time it was taken, and stenographic transcription of the full second day of Mr. Gale’s testimony is taxable.
C. Taxing the costs of both stenography and videography for the same deposition.
[HN6] The Ninth Circuit has not addressed the issue of taxation for both stenographic and videographic costs of the same deposition. Several Circuits have expressly [*11] approved of the practice.2 Little v. Mistubishi Motors North America, Inc., 514 F.3d 699, 702 (7th Cir. 2008); BDT Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International Inc., 405 F.3d 415, 420 (6th Cir. 2005); Tilton v. Capital/ABC, Inc., 115 F.3d 1471, 1478 (10th Cir. 1997); Morrison v. Reichhold Chemicals, Inc., 97 F.3d 460, 465 (11th Cir. 1996). The Tenth and Fourth Circuits have gone further by stating that ordinarily a “stenographic transcript of a videotaped deposition will be necessarily obtained for the case” because the deposing party will be required to provide the transcript in a variety of circumstances. Tilton, 115 F.3d at 1478-79 (internal quotations omitted); Little, 514 F.3d at 702.3
2 Defendants cite an unreported case from the Northern District of California allowing taxation of both stenographic and videographic recording of a deposition. MEMC Electronic Materials, No. C-01-4925 SBA, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29359, 2004 WL 5361246, at *5 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 22, 2004). It is worth noting that MEMC Electronic Materials, the losing party had requested that the depositions be videotaped. 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29359, [WL] at *5.
3 This rationale presumes as valid taxation of the videographic recording in the first place, focusing on the question of stenography [*12] as an additional cost.
In 2008, after the above circuit cases were decided, Congress amended a relevant portion of 28 U.S.C. § 1920. Subsection (2) of the statute, which once allowed taxation of “fees of the court reporter for all or any part of the stenographic transcript necessarily obtained for use in the case.” [HN7] The statute now allows taxation of simply “fees for printed or electronically recorded transcripts necessarily obtained for use in the case.” 28 U.S.C. § 1920 (emphasis added). See also EEOC v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc., No. 07-CV-95-LRR, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11125, 2010 WL 520564, at *5 (N.D. Iowa Feb. 9, 2010). In Boot, the district court held that the amended language justified taxation of “either stenographic transcription or videotaped depositions-not both.” CRST Van Expedited, Inc., [WL] at *5. The court agrees with the reasoning on Boot, and declines to tax the videotaped depositions.4
4 The court notes that there may be some unusual circumstance where both a transcription and a video deposition may be taxed because both are necessary. This case does not present such an exceptional circumstance.
F. Service of Process
[HN8] Fees for service of process are properly taxed under section 1920. Alflex Corp. v. Underwriters Laboratories, Inc., 914 F.2d 175, 177 (9th Cir. 1990). [*13] The district court regularly taxes costs for service of process. Avila v. Willits Environment, No. C 99-03941 SI, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130416, 2009 WL 4254367, at *5 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 24, 2009); Campbell v National Passenger R.R. Corp., 718 F. Supp. 2d 1093, 1106-07 (N.D. Cal. 2010). The question is whether these subpoenas were necessary for use in the case.
i. Jack Palladino
According to plaintiffs, the cost of service of process to Jack Palladino should not be taxed because Palladino was voluntarily available for a deposition. Objections, Doc. No. 136, at 5 (Aug. 24, 2009). However, Palladino’s voluntary availability was subject to conditions, limitations, and claims of privilege. Defendant’s point out that the Magistrate Judge ruled that some of these limitations were “baseless.” Exhibit G to Penwarden Declaration, Doc. #151 at 19 (Sept. 15, 2009). The Magistrate Judge’s order requiring the plaintiff to answer questions, which he would not answer voluntarily, is sufficient to support this court’s finding that the cost of service of process was necessary for the defendants’ use in the case. Accordingly this cost will be taxed.
Plaintiffs object to the costs for service of process to the California Ski & Snowboard [*14] Association (CSSO), an organization founded by plaintiff, Dr. Daniel Gregorie. Defendants note that Dr. Gregorie refused to answer questions during his deposition about the CSSO, and that counsel invited the defendants to subpoena the CSSO to obtain responses. Bill of Costs Submitted, Doc. No. 143, at 10 (Sept. 15, 2009). Because plaintiffs do not show why service of process pursuant to their own suggestion was unreasonable, this cost will be taxed.
For the foregoing reasons, the court ORDERS as follows:
(1) Plaintiffs SHALL BE TAXED in the amount of $51,042.76.
(2) Plaintiffs SHALL NOT BE TAXED for the costs of videotaping any depositions, for half the cost of the transcript of Palladino’s deposition, and for the costs withdrawn by defendants.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED: February 9, 2011.
/s/ Lawrence K Karlton
LAWRENCE K. KARLTON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Bernstein v Wysoki et al., 77 A.D.3d 241; 907 N.Y.S.2d 49; 2010 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 6579; 2010 NY Slip Op 6475; 244 N.Y.L.J. 43Posted: February 13, 2012
Bernstein v Wysoki et al., 77 A.D.3d 241; 907 N.Y.S.2d 49; 2010 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 6579; 2010 NY Slip Op 6475; 244 N.Y.L.J. 43
77 A.D.3d 241; 907 N.Y.S.2d 49; 2010 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 6579; 2010 NY Slip Op 6475; 244 N.Y.L.J. 43
August 24, 2010, Decided
PRIOR HISTORY: Appeals from orders of the Supreme Court, Nassau County (Thomas P. Phelan, J.), entered June 13, 2008 and September 30, 2008. The order entered June 13, 2008, insofar as appealed from, denied that branch of the cross motion of defendants Randee Wysoki, Dina Farrell, Michael Farrell and Gregory Scagnelli to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against them pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and 501 based on a forum selection clause. The order entered September 30, 2008, insofar as appealed from, upon reargument, adhered to the original determination and denied that branch of the cross motion of defendant Julie Higgins which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against her pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and 501 based on the forum selection clause.
Bernstein v. Wysoki, 2008 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 10774 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., Sept. 26, 2008)
Bernstein v. Wysoki, 2008 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 9483 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., June 10, 2008)
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Defendants, hospital doctors, camp doctor, and nurse, appealed an order by the Nassau County Supreme Court (New York) that, upon reargument, adhered to the original denial of their cross-motions to dismiss a medical malpractice action filed by plaintiffs, mother and child, based on CPLR 501.
OVERVIEW: The mother entered into a contract with defendant sponsor for her child to attend a summer camp in Pennsylvania. The contract gave the sponsor the authority in all medical matters, inter alia, to hospitalize and treat the child if necessary. The contract also provided that venue was in Pennsylvania. When the child developed a pain in his lower abdomen, he was initially treated by the camp doctor and then sent to a hospital where he was treated by the hospital doctors and nurse. Allegedly due to the failure of the defendants to timely recognize and properly care for and treat the child’s condition, he sustained various injuries. The appellate court found, inter alia, that the forum selection clause was valid. However, since nothing in the contract indicated that the sponsor intended to use the hospital doctors and nurse in particular in the event the child required “off-camp” medical services, they lacked a sufficiently close relationship with the sponsor such that their enforcement of the forum selection clause was foreseeable. However, because the camp doctor was the sponsor’s on-site medical employee, she could enforce the forum selection clause under § 501.
OUTCOME: The order was modified by deleting the provision thereof denying the camp doctor’s cross-motion to dismiss, and by substituting therefor a provision vacating that portion of the order; and as so modified, the order was affirmed.
CORE TERMS: forum selection clause, doctor, infant, venue, signatory, inter alia, foreseeable, reargument, sufficiently close, nonsignatory, summer camp, enforceable, assigns, camper, prima facie, action to recover damages, non-signatory, medical malpractice, hospitalize, deprived, practical purposes, applicability, overreaching, beneficiary, nonparty, modified, unjust, refund, summons, bind
Contracts Law > Third Parties > General Overview
[HN1] Non-parties to an agreement containing a forum selection clause may be entitled to enforce a forum selection clause where the relationship to the signatory is sufficiently close or where the liability of a corporation and an officer is based on the same alleged acts.
Contracts Law > Contract Conditions & Provisions > Forum Selection Clauses
[HN2] A contractual forum selection clause is prima facie valid and enforceable unless it is shown by the challenging party to be unreasonable, unjust, in contravention of public policy, invalid due to fraud or overreaching, or it is shown that a trial in the selected forum would be so gravely difficult that the challenging party would, for all practical purposes, be deprived of its day in court.
Contracts Law > Contract Conditions & Provisions > Forum Selection Clauses
[HN3] Absent a strong showing that it should be set aside, a forum selection agreement will control.
Contracts Law > Contract Conditions & Provisions > Forum Selection Clauses
[HN4] As a general rule, only parties in privity of contract may enforce terms of the contract such as a forum selection clause found within the agreement.
Contracts Law > Contract Conditions & Provisions > Forum Selection Clauses
Contracts Law > Third Parties > General Overview
[HN5] There are three sets of circumstances under which a non-party may invoke a forum selection clause: First, an entity or individual that is a third-party beneficiary of the agreement may enforce a forum selection clause found within the agreement. Second, parties to a global transaction who are not signatories to a specific agreement within that transaction may nonetheless benefit from a forum selection clause contained in such agreement if the agreements are executed at the same time, by the same parties or for the same purpose. Third, a non-party that is closely related to one of the signatories can enforce a forum selection clause. The relationship between the non-party and the signatory in such cases must be sufficiently close so that enforcement of the clause is foreseeable by virtue of the relationship between them.
Contracts — Construction – Forum Selection Clause — Prima Facie Validity and Enforceability
1. In an action to recover damages for medical malpractice arising out of injuries sustained by the infant plaintiff while at summer camp, the forum selection clause in the summer camp contract between the camp and plaintiff mother was prima facie valid and enforceable. Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the forum selection clause was unreasonable or unjust, or that a trial in the selected forum would be so gravely difficult that, for all practical purposes, plaintiffs would be deprived of their day in court. Plaintiffs also failed to allege, let alone demonstrate, that the forum selection clause was the result of fraud or overreaching. Under the circumstances, plaintiffs failed to make any showing, let along a strong showing, that the forum selection clause should be set aside on such bases.
Contracts — Construction — Forum Selection Clause — Applicability
2. The forum selection clause in the summer camp contract between defendant camp and plaintiff mother was applicable in plaintiffs’ action to recover damages for medical malpractice arising out of injuries sustained by the infant plaintiff while at camp. Notwithstanding the placement of the forum selection clause in the paragraph of the camp contract which otherwise pertained to fees, tuition and refund policies, the applicability of the forum selection clause did not turn on the type or nature of the dispute between the parties. Rather, by its express language, the forum selection clause applied to “any dispute that may arise out of this agreement or otherwise between the parties to which the camp or its agents is a party.”
Contracts — Construction – Forum Selection Clause — Enforceability
3. The Pennsylvania forum selection clause in the summer camp contract between the camp and plaintiff mother was enforceable in plaintiffs’ action to recover damages for medical malpractice arising out of injuries sustained by the infant plaintiff while at camp even though it did not include any language expressly providing that plaintiffs and the camp intended to grant exclusive jurisdiction to Pennsylvania. The forum selection clause related to both jurisdiction and venue, and employed mandatory venue language.
Courts — Jurisdiction — Enforcement of Forum Selection Clause by Nonsignatory
4. In an action to recover damages for medical malpractice arising out of injuries sustained by the infant plaintiff while at summer camp, the doctors and nurse who treated the infant plaintiff were not entitled to dismissal of the complaint against them based on the Pennsylvania forum selection clause in the summer camp contract between the infant plaintiff’s mother and the camp. Those defendants were not signatories to the camp contract and did not have a sufficiently close relationship with the camp such that enforcement of the forum selection clause by them was foreseeable to plaintiffs by virtue of that relationship. Although plaintiffs had granted authority to the camp and to its “assigns” to hospitalize and treat the infant plaintiff, nothing in the camp contract indicated that the camp intended to use those defendants or the hospital where they worked in the event the infant plaintiff required off-camp medical services. Nor was there anything in the camp contract indicating that the camp intended to use the hospital where those defendants worked–located in a different state from the camp–in the event that the infant plaintiff required medical services.
Courts — Jurisdiction — Enforcement of Forum Selection Clause by Nonsignatory
5. In an action to recover damages for medical malpractice arising out of injuries sustained by the infant plaintiff while at summer camp, defendant doctor, who worked at the camp and treated the infant plaintiff before taking him to the hospital, was entitled to enforce the forum selection clause in the summer camp contract between the infant plaintiff’s mother and the camp, despite defendant’s status as a nonsignatory to the camp contract. The forum selection clause itself applied to any dispute arising out of the agreement or otherwise between the parties to which the camp or its agents was a party. Moreover, the camp’s relationship with defendant, its on-site medical employee, was sufficiently close so that enforcement of the clause was foreseeable.
COUNSEL: [***1] Martin Clearwater & Bell, LLP, New York City (William P. Brady, Timothy M. Smith and Stewart G. Milch of counsel), for appellants.
Napoli Bern Ripka, LLP, New York City (Denise A. Rubin of counsel), for respondents.
JUDGES: REINALDO E. RIVERA, J.P., HOWARD MILLER, THOMAS A. DICKERSON, SHERI S. ROMAN, JJ. RIVERA, J.P., MILLER and ROMAN, JJ., concur.
OPINION BY: DICKERSON, J.
[*243] [***2] [**51] Dickerson, J.
Factual Background and the Camp Contract
On or about June 25, 2007 the plaintiff Malka Bernstein (hereinafter Malka) entered into a contract (hereinafter the Camp Contract) with the defendant Camp Island Lake (hereinafter the Camp) for her then 13-year-old son, the plaintiff Jordan Bernstein (hereinafter Jordan), to attend the Camp during summer 2007. The Camp is located in Starrucca, Wayne County, Pennsylvania, where it also maintains a summer office. The Camp maintains a winter office in New York City.
The second paragraph of the Camp Contract provided:
“If it is necessary to obtain off-camp medical/surgical/dental services for the camper, such expenses shall be paid by the parent except the portion supplied by the camp medical staff. Authority is granted without limitation to the camp/assigns in all medical matters to hospitalize/treat/order injections/anesthesia/surgery for the camper. The parent is responsible for all pre-existing medical conditions, out of camp medical/surgical/hospital/pharmaceutical/allergy expenses and for providing [*244] adequate quantities [***3] of necessary medications and allergy serums to camp in pharmacy containers with doctor’s instructions. The parent(s) or legal guardian(s) hereby states that the camper is in good, normal health and has no abnormal physical, emotional, or mental handicaps” (emphasis added).
The Camp Contract also contained a forum selection clause. The sixth paragraph of the Camp Contract provided:
“Enclosed with this agreement is $ 1000 per child enrolled in program. Payments on account of tuition (less $ 100 registration fee) will be refunded if requested before January 1st. Cancellations of sessions will not be accepted after January 1st. Thereafter, no refunds will be made. All refunds will be made on or about May 1st. Installments on the balance will be due on January 1st, March 1st, & May 1st. A returned check fee of $ 25 will be applied to all returned checks. These rates are subject to change without notice. Any outstanding balance precludes admission to camp. The [***4] venue of any dispute that may arise out of this agreement or otherwise between the parties to which the camp or its agents is a party shall be either the local District Justice Court or the Court of Common Pleas, Wayne County, Pennsylvania” (emphasis added).
The eighth and final paragraph of the Camp Contract provided, in part, “[t]he parent represents that he/she has full authority [**52] to enroll the camper/to authorize participation in activities/medical care and to contract the aforesaid.”
On or about August 8, 2007, while enrolled at the Camp, Jordan developed a pain in his lower abdomen. The defendants Randee Wysoki and Jill Tschinkel, who were the doctor and registered nurse, respectively, working at the Camp at the time, allegedly cared for Jordan at the Camp before taking him to the defendant Wilson Memorial Regional Medical Center (hereinafter Wilson Memorial), in Johnson City, Broome County, New York, in the vicinity of the Camp. While at Wilson Memorial from August 8, 2007 through August 10, 2007, Jordan allegedly received care and treatment from the defendants Dina Farrell, M.D., Michael Farrell, M.D., Gregory Scagnelli, M.D., Julie Higgins, R.P.A., Patricia Grant, R.N., and [***5] William Kazalski, R.N. Allegedly due to the failure of the defendants to timely recognize and properly care for and treat Jordan’s condition, he sustained various injuries.
[*245] The Instant Action
In November 2007, Jordan and Malka, both as Jordan’s guardian and in her individual capacity, commenced the instant action, inter alia, to recover damages for medical malpractice in the Supreme Court, Nassau County, against, among others, the Camp, Wilson Memorial, “Randy ‘Doe,’ M.D.,” ” ‘Jane Doe’ R.N.,” Dina Farrell, and Michael Farrell. Thereafter, the plaintiffs amended their complaint to substitute Wysoki for the defendant Randy “Doe,” and to add Scagnelli as a defendant.
After joinder of issue, the Camp moved, inter alia, to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against it pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and 501 based on the forum selection clause in the Camp Contract.
The plaintiffs moved for leave to serve an amended summons and complaint to add Higgins and Jill Tschinkel, R.N., as defendants.
The defendants Grant, Kazalski, and Wilson Memorial jointly cross-moved to change the venue of the action from Nassau County to Broome County pursuant to CPLR 510 and 511 (a) on the grounds that the defendants [***6] Grant, Kazalski, Dina Farrell, Michael Farrell, Scagnelli, and Higgins worked and/or resided in, or within approximately 10 minutes of, Broome County, and also because Wilson Memorial was located in Broome County.
The defendants Wysoki, Dina Farrell, Michael Farrell, and Scagnelli (hereinafter collectively the doctor defendants) jointly cross-moved, inter alia, to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against them pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and 501 based on the forum selection clause in the Camp Contract. The doctor defendants observed that, pursuant to the last paragraph of the Camp Contract, Malka represented that she had the authority to bind Jordan to the Camp Contract. The doctor defendants further pointed out that the Camp Contract “outlined the terms and conditions of [Jordan's] attendance at the Camp, including any necessary medical care and treatment or care and treatment decisions for [Jordan].” In that regard, according to the doctor defendants, “as all the parties to the instant action either provided care and treatment to [Jordan] at the Camp or at [Wilson Memorial] based on the Camp’s decision as to what care and treatment [Jordan] needed to receive, any litigation [***7] between the parties in this matter is subject to the terms and conditions of the [Camp Contract].”
[*246] Specifically, the doctor defendants argued that Wysoki was covered by the Camp Contract because she “was the physician working at the Camp who sent [Jordan] to [Wilson Memorial]” and thus “is part of this lawsuit through her work at [**53] the Camp.” The doctor defendants further argued that Dina Farrell, Michael Farrell, and Scagnelli were covered by the Camp Contract because they “treated [Jordan] at [Wilson Memorial] pursuant to the Camp’s decision as ‘in loco parentis’ and with the authority granted to the Camp . . . to have [Jordan] treated at a hospital” and thus “became involved in the care and treatment of [Jordan] based on the decision made of the Camp to take [Jordan] to [Wilson Memorial].”
The doctor defendants also argued that the Camp Contract contained a prima facie valid forum selection clause that should be enforced “absent a strong showing that it should be set aside.” The doctor defendants further argued that the forum selection clause, which by its terms applied to “any dispute that may arise out of this agreement or otherwise between the parties to which the camp or its agents [***8] is a party,” applied to the instant action, since the plaintiffs’ tort claims depended on the existence of the Camp Contract. In that regard, the doctor defendants noted that “there would be no [tort claims] had [Jordan] not been a camper at the Camp during the Summer of 2007,” and that Jordan “would not have been a camper at the Camp without the terms and conditions of the [Camp Contract] being accepted and agreed to by [Malka].” Finally, the doctor defendants “noted that the Courts have held that [HN1] non-parties to an agreement containing a forum selection clause may be entitled to enforce a forum selection clause where the relationship to the signatory is sufficiently close or where the liability of a corporation and an officer is based on the same alleged acts” (citations omitted).
In an order entered June 13, 2008, the Supreme Court, inter alia, denied that branch of the Camp’s motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against it based on the forum selection clause, denied that branch of the doctor defendants’ cross motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against them based on the forum selection clause, and granted the plaintiffs’ motion for [***9] leave to serve an amended summons and complaint (2008 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS, 9483, 2008 NY Slip Op 31711[U]).
The doctor defendants appeal, as limited by their brief, from so much of the foregoing order as denied that branch of their cross motion which was to dismiss the complaint based on the forum selection clause.
[*247] The Camp moved for leave to reargue that branch of its motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against it based on the forum selection clause. The Camp argued that the Supreme Court “blurred the distinctions between [a parent's] legal ability to bind an infant plaintiff to the terms of a forum selection clause as opposed to a release of liability,” and that, “contrary to a release of liability, the law permits a parent of a minor child who signs a contract with a forum selection clause to bind the minor child to the terms and agreements set forth by the forum selection clause.”
The doctor defendants moved, inter alia, for leave to reargue that branch of their cross motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against them based on the forum selection clause. The doctor defendants argued that the Supreme Court erred in finding that Malka could not bind Jordan to the terms of the Camp Contract, [***10] including the forum selection clause, stating, “[t]he Courts have consistently held that non-signatory infants, who are the subject of and obtain benefit from an agreement signed by the parent, such as a camp enrollment contract, are considered to be third-party beneficiaries for the purpose of enforcing the terms of the contract.” Therefore, according to the doctor defendants, because Jordan “was a [**54] third-party beneficiary of the [Camp Contract] and as the forum selection clause in the [Camp Contract] is valid, the forum selection clause must be found to be applicable to [Jordan's] claims as well as [Malka's claims].”
The doctor defendants further argued that the Supreme Court erred in finding “that there was no factual predicate for the foreseeable enforcement [of the forum selection clause in the Camp Contract] by the non-signatory [doctor defendants].” Specifically, noting that the Camp Contract granted authority ” ‘without limitation to the camp/assigns in all medical matters to hospitalize/treat/order injections/anesthesia/surgery for the camper,’ ” the doctor defendants argued that the Camp “contract itself contemplated and provided the factual predicate for the medical treatment [***11] at issue.”
The doctor defendants argued that they “are exactly the ‘assigns’ that were contemplated by the [Camp Contract], as the same sentence in the contract states that the assigns may ‘hospitalize/treat’ [Jordan] and/or ‘order injections/anesthesia/surgery’ for [Jordan].” Thus, according to the doctor defendants, “the [Camp Contract] is the only mechanism by which [they as non-signatories] were able to ‘hospitalize/treat’ [Jordan] [*248] and, thus, the [Camp Contract] is the only mechanism by which there are claims for the non-signatory hospitalization and treatment at issue.”
The doctor defendants further argued that “there was a sufficiently ‘close relationship’ between the signatories to the [Camp Contract] and the non-signatory [doctor] defendants, to reasonably foresee that [the doctor defendants] or noted ‘assigns’ in the contract would seek to enforce the terms of the contract” (emphasis omitted).
Finally, regarding Wysoki in particular, the doctor defendants argued that the Supreme Court erred in finding “that the same acts are not alleged with regard to the claimed liability of the Camp and Dr. Wysoki.”
At some point in time, the plaintiffs served a supplemental summons and a second [***12] amended summons and complaint, inter alia, adding Higgins as a defendant. Higgins moved, inter alia, to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against her based on the forum selection clause.
In an order entered September 30, 2008, the Supreme Court, inter alia, granted leave to reargue to both the Camp and the doctor defendants, and, upon reargument, adhered to its original determination denying the respective branches of the Camp’s motion and the doctor defendants’ cross motion which were to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against them based on the forum selection clause (2008 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS,10774, 2008 NY Slip Op 33610[U]). The Supreme Court also denied that branch of Higgins’ motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against her based on the forum selection clause.
The doctor defendants appeal from so much of the second order as, upon reargument, adhered to the original determination denying that branch of their cross motion which was to dismiss the complaint based on the forum selection clause, and Higgins jointly appeals from so much of the same order as denied that branch of her motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against her based on the forum selection clause.
[HN2] ” ‘A [***13] contractual forum selection clause is prima facie valid and enforceable unless it is shown by the challenging party to be unreasonable, unjust, in contravention of public policy, invalid due to fraud or overreaching, or it is shown that a trial in the [*249] selected forum would be so gravely difficult that the challenging party would, [**55] for all practical purposes, be deprived of its day in court’ ” (Stravalle v Land Cargo, Inc., 39 AD3d 735, 736, 835 NYS2d 606 , quoting LSPA Enter., Inc. v Jani-King of N.Y., Inc., 31 AD3d 394, 395, 817 NYS2d 657 ; see Harry Casper, Inc. v Pines Assoc., L.P., 53 AD3d 764, 765, 861 NYS2d 820 ; Fleet Capital Leasing/Global Vendor Fin. v Angiuli Motors, Inc., 15 AD3d 535, 790 NYS2d 684 ).
[HN3] ” ‘Absent a strong showing that it should be set aside, a forum selection agreement will control’ ” (Horton v Concerns of Police Survivors, Inc., 62 AD3d 836, 836, 878 NYS2d 793 , quoting Di Ruocco v Flamingo Beach Hotel & Casino, 163 AD2d 270, 272, 557 NYS2d 140 ).
The Forum Selection Clause Is Prima Facie Valid and Enforceable
In Horton v Concerns of Police Survivors, Inc. (62 AD3d 836-837, 878 NYS2d 793 ), considering a forum selection clause under similar circumstances, we concluded,
“Here, the plaintiff failed to make the requisite ‘strong showing’ that the forum selection clause in her employment [***14] agreement, which requires disputes to be decided in the courts of the State of Missouri, should be set aside. Although the plaintiff averred that she is a single mother who resides with her teenaged daughter in Dutchess County, New York, this claim was insufficient, standing alone, to demonstrate that enforcement of the forum selection clause would be unjust. The plaintiff offered no evidence that the cost of commencing a wrongful discharge action in Missouri would be so financially prohibitive that, for all practical purposes, she would be deprived of her day in court. Moreover, the plaintiff did not allege that the inclusion of a forum selection clause in her employment contract was the product of overreaching, and she did not demonstrate that the clause is unconscionable.” (Citations omitted.)
 Similarly, here, the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the forum selection clause is unreasonable or unjust, or that a trial in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, would be so gravely difficult that, for all practical purposes, they would be deprived of their day in court. Moreover, the plaintiffs failed to allege, let [*250] alone demonstrate, that the forum selection clause was the [***15] result of fraud or overreaching. Under these circumstances, the plaintiffs failed to make any showing, let alone a strong showing, that the forum selection clause should be set aside on such bases (id.; see Trump v Deutsche Bank Trust Co. Ams., 65 AD3d 1329, 1331-1332, 887 NYS2d 121 ; compare Yoshida v PC Tech U.S.A. & You-Ri, Inc., 22 AD3d 373, 803 NYS2d 48  [the Supreme Court properly declined to enforce a contractual forum selection clause fixing Tokyo as the forum for any litigation between the parties, since the plaintiff made "a strong showing that a trial in Tokyo would be so impracticable and inconvenient that she would be deprived of her day in court"]).
The Forum Selection Clause Applies to this Action
 Further, the forum selection clause applies to the instant tort action. Notwithstanding the placement of the forum selection clause in the sixth paragraph of the Camp Contract, which otherwise pertains to fees, tuition, and refund policies, the applicability of the forum selection clause does not turn on the type or nature of the dispute between the parties. Rather, by its express language, the forum selection clause applies to “any dispute that may arise out of this agreement or otherwise between the [***16] parties to which the camp or its agents is a party” (see [**56] Tourtellot v Harza Architects, Engrs. & Constr. Mgrs., 55 AD3d 1096, 1097-1098, 866 NYS2d 793  [rejecting the defendant's claim that the subject forum selection clause in its agreement with the third-party defendant " 'was never intended to apply to third-party claims in personal injury and products liability actions such as . . . plaintiff's action here,' (since) under its broad and unequivocal terms, the applicability of the subject forum selection clause does not turn on the type or nature of the dispute between them; rather, it applies to 'any dispute arising under or in connection with' their agreement"]; see also Buhler v French Woods Festival of Performing Arts, 154 AD2d 303, 304, 546 NYS2d 591  [in a personal injury action to recover damages for negligence, the plaintiffs were bound by a forum selection clause in a camp enrollment contract which provided that "(t)he venue of any dispute that may arise out of this agreement or otherwise between the parties to which the camp or its agents is a party shall be either the Village of Hancock, N.Y. Justice Court or the County or State Supreme Court in Delaware County"]).
Jurisdiction and Venue
 Moreover, the forum [***17] selection clause is enforceable as a general matter even though it does not include any language [*251] expressly providing that the plaintiffs and the Camp intended to grant exclusive jurisdiction to Pennsylvania. The forum selection clause relates to both jurisdiction and venue, and employs mandatory venue language, providing that the venue of any dispute arising out of the agreement or otherwise between the parties “shall be either the local District Justice Court or the Court of Common Pleas, Wayne County, Pennsylvania.” Accordingly, since the forum selection clause addresses jurisdiction and contains mandatory venue language, the clause fixing venue is enforceable (see Fear & Fear, Inc. v N.I.I. Brokerage, L.L.C., 50 AD3d 185, 187, 851 NYS2d 311 ; John Boutari & Son, Wines & Spirits, S.A. v Attiki Importers & Distribs. Inc., 22 F3d 51, 52 ).
Enforceability of Forum Selection Clause by Nonsignatories
Notwithstanding the fact that the forum selection clause is prima facie valid and enforceable and applicable to the instant tort action as a general matter, this Court must further determine whether the defendant doctors and Higgins, who are not signatories to the Camp Contract, may enforce the forum selection clause.
[HN4] As [***18] a general rule, “only parties in privity of contract may enforce terms of the contract such as a forum selection clause found within the agreement” (Freeford Ltd. v Pendleton, 53 AD3d 32, 38, 857 NYS2d 62 ; see ComJet Aviation Mgt. v Aviation Invs. Holdings, 303 AD2d 272, 758 NYS2d 607 ). However,
[HN5] “there are three sets of circumstances under which a non-party may invoke a forum selection clause: First, it is well settled that an entity or individual that is a third-party beneficiary of the agreement may enforce a forum selection clause found within the agreement. Second, parties to a ‘global transaction’ who are not signatories to a specific agreement within that transaction may nonetheless benefit from a forum selection clause contained in such agreement if the agreements are executed at the same time, by the same parties or for the same purpose. Third, a nonparty that is ‘closely related’ to one of the signatories can enforce a forum selection clause. The relationship between the nonparty and the signatory in such cases must be sufficiently close so that enforcement of the clause is foreseeable by [**57] virtue of the relationship between them.” (Freeford Ltd. v Pendleton, 53 AD3d at 38-39 [citations [*252] omitted]; see Direct Mail Prod. Servs. v MBNA Corp., 2000 US Dist LEXIS 12945, *8, 2000 WL 1277597,*3 [SD NY 2000]; [***19] cf. EPIX Holding Corp. v Marsh & McLennan Cos., Inc., 410 NJ Super 453, 463, 982 A2d 1194, 1200  ["It is clear that in certain situations, a non-signatory to an arbitration agreement may compel a signatory to arbitrate. Since arbitration agreements are analyzed under traditional principles of state law, such principles allow a contract to be enforced by or against nonparties to the contract through assumption, piercing the corporate veil, alter ego, incorporation by reference, third-party beneficiary theories, waiver and estoppel" (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)].)
 Here, relying on the provision in the Camp Contract by which the plaintiffs granted authority to the Camp and to its “assigns” in all medical matters, inter alia, to hospitalize and treat Jordan, Dina Farrell, Michael Farrell, Scagnelli, and Higgins claim to have a sufficiently close relationship with the Camp such that enforcement of the forum selection clause by them was foreseeable to the plaintiffs by virtue of that relationship. Significantly, however, there is nothing in the Camp Contract indicating that the Camp intended to use Dina Farrell, Michael Farrell, Scagnelli, and Higgins in particular in [***20] the event Jordan required “off-camp” medical services. In fact, there is nothing in the Camp Contract indicating that the Camp intended to use Wilson Memorial–located in a different state from the Camp–and its physicians and physician assistants in the event Jordan required medical services.
Under these circumstances, Dina Farrell, Michael Farrell, Scagnelli, and Higgins do not have a sufficiently close relationship with the Camp such that enforcement of the forum selection clause by them was foreseeable to the plaintiffs by virtue of that relationship (cf. Freeford Ltd. v Pendleton, 53 AD3d at 40-41 ["Even a cursory examination of these two agreements makes clear that (defendants) Lane Pendleton and Cairnwood Management had every reason to foresee that (plaintiff) Freeford would seek to enforce the forum selection clause against them"]; Dogmoch Intl. Corp. v Dresdner Bank, 304 AD2d 396, 397, 757 NYS2d 557  ["(a)lthough defendant was a nonsignatory to the account agreements, it was reasonably foreseeable that it would seek to enforce the forum selection clause given the close relationship between itself and its (signatory) subsidiary"]; Direct [*253] Mail Prod. Servs. v MBNA Corp., 2000 US Dist LEXIS 12945, *10-14, 2000 WL 1277597, *4-5 [***21] [where "a number of . . . clauses in the Agreement between (plaintiff) Direct Mail and (nonparty) MBNA Direct indicate that the signatories intended the contract to benefit related (nonsignatory defendant) MBNA companies," MBNA Corporation and MBNA America Bank, N.A., were sufficiently closely related to MBNA Direct such that it was foreseeable that they would seek to enforce a forum selection clause contained in the subject agreement]).
 Conversely, however, we conclude that Wysoki, as an employee of the Camp, is entitled to enforce the forum selection clause despite her status as a nonsignatory to the Camp Contract. The forum selection clause itself applies to “any dispute that may arise out of this agreement or otherwise between the parties to which the camp or its agents is a party” (emphasis added). Moreover, we find that the [**58] Camp’s relationship with Wysoki, its on-site medical employee, was “sufficiently close so that enforcement of the clause [was] foreseeable by virtue of the relationship between them” (Freeford Ltd. v Pendleton, 53 AD3d at 39). Thus, Wysoki, despite being a nonsignatory to the Camp Contract, was entitled to enforce the valid forum selection clause. Accordingly, [***22] the Supreme Court should have granted that branch of the doctor defendants’ cross motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Wysoki based on the forum selection clause.
The Supreme Court properly denied that branch of Higgins’ motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against her pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and 501 based on the forum selection clause. However, the Supreme Court improperly, upon reargument, adhered to its prior determination denying that branch of the doctor defendants’ cross motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Wysoki pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and 501 based on the forum selection clause.
Accordingly, the appeal from the order entered June 13, 2008 is dismissed, as that order was superseded by the order entered September 30, 2008, made upon reargument. The order entered September 30, 2008 is modified, on the law, by deleting the provision thereof, upon reargument, adhering to the determination in the order entered June 13, 2008, denying that branch of the doctor defendants’ cross motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Wysoki pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) [***23] and 501 based on the forum selection clause and substituting therefor a provision, upon reargument, vacating the determination in the order entered June 13, 2008 denying that branch of the doctor defendants’ cross motion which was to dismiss the complaint [*254] insofar as asserted against Wysoki pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and 501 based on the forum selection clause and thereupon granting that branch of the cross motion. As so modified, the order entered September 30, 2008 is affirmed insofar as appealed from.
Rivera, J.P., Miller and Roman, JJ., concur.
Ordered that the appeal from the order entered June 13, 2008 is dismissed, without costs or disbursements, as that order was superseded by the order entered September 30, 2008, made upon reargument; and it is further,
Ordered that the order entered September 30, 2008 is modified, on the law, by deleting the provision thereof, upon reargument, adhering to the determination in the order entered June 13, 2008, denying that branch of the cross motion of the defendants Randee Wysoki, Dina Farrell, Michael Farrell, and Gregory Scagnelli which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Randee Wysoki pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and [***24] 501 based on a forum selection clause and substituting therefor a provision, upon reargument, vacating the determination in the order entered June 13, 2008, denying that branch of the cross motion of the defendants Randee Wysoki, Dina Farrell, Michael Farrell, and Gregory Scagnelli which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Randee Wysoki pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and 501 based on a forum selection clause and thereupon granting that branch of the cross motion; as so modified, the order entered September 30, 2008, is affirmed insofar as appealed from, without costs or disbursements.
Miglino, Jr., etc., v Bally Total Fitness of Greater New York, Inc., et al., 2011 NY Slip Op 9603; 2011 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 9478Posted: January 30, 2012
Miglino, Jr., etc., v Bally Total Fitness of Greater New York, Inc., et al., 2011 NY Slip Op 9603; 2011 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 9478
[*1] Gregory C. Miglino, Jr., etc., respondent, v Bally Total Fitness of Greater New York, Inc., et al., appellants. (Index No. 7729/08)
SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT
2011 NY Slip Op 9603; 2011 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 9478
December 27, 2011, Decided
COUNSEL: [**1] Morrison Mahoney, LLP, New York, N.Y. (Demi Sophocleous of counsel), for appellants.
Scott E. Charnas (John V. Decolator, Garden City, N.Y., of counsel), for respondent.
JUDGES: PETER B. SKELOS, J.P., JOHN M. LEVENTHAL, LEONARD B. AUSTIN, SANDRA L. SGROI, JJ. SKELOS, J.P., LEVENTHAL and AUSTIN, JJ., concur.
APPEAL by the defendants, in an action, inter alia, to recover damages for negligence, from an order of the Supreme Court (Jeffrey Arlen Spinner, J.), dated June 9, 2010, and entered in Suffolk County, which denied their motion pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action.
OPINION & ORDER
SGROI, J.On this appeal we consider whether General Business Law § 627-a, which mandates that certain health clubs in the State of New York provide an automated external defibrillator device, as well as a person trained in its use, also imposes an affirmative duty of care upon the facility so as to give rise to a cognizable statutory cause of action in negligence for failure to use the device. We conclude that such a cause of action is cognizable. We also conclude that the plaintiff stated a cause of action to recover damages for common-law negligence against the [**2] defendant Bally Total Fitness of Greater New York, Inc. (hereinafter Bally).
At around 7:00 A.M. on March 26, 2007, Gregory Miglino, Sr. (hereinafter the decedent), was playing racquetball at a club located in Lake Grove (hereinafter the gym), owned and operated by Bally, when he suddenly collapsed. According to an affidavit submitted by Kenneth LeGrega, a Bally employee working at the gym that morning, “a gym member informed the front desk” that the decedent had collapsed and a 911 emergency call was then immediately placed. According to the affidavit, LaGrega was a personal trainer who had also completed a course in the operation of automated external defibrillator (hereinafter AED) devices, and had obtained a certification of completion of a course in the training of cardiopulmonary resuscitation provided by the American Heart Association. LaGrega’s affidavit further stated:
“I ran to assess the situation [and] [w]hen I arrived at the scene, I observed the decedent lying on his back with his eyes open, breathing heavily and with normal color. I checked for and found a faint pulse at that time. When I later returned to the scene, [another employee] was on the scene and had brought [**3] the club’s AED to the decedent’s side. Additionally, a medical doctor and medical student were attending to the decedent.”
The report of the ambulance crew that responded to the 911 call stated, inter alia, that the emergency call was received at 6:59 A.M., the emergency medical services crew arrived at the gym at 7:07 A.M., and the ambulance arrived at Stony Brook Hospital at 7:45 A.M. The report further indicated that the decedent was “unconscious and unresponsive . . . on arrival [and] fine V-fib shocked.” The decedent could not be revived and he was pronounced dead after arriving at the hospital.
In early 2008 the plaintiff, Gregory C. Miglino, Jr., as executor of the decedent’s estate, commenced an action against Bally and Bally Total Fitness Corporation seeking, inter alia, to recover damages for negligence. The complaint alleged two causes of action, one against each defendant. Each cause of action sounded in negligence and was based upon the defendants’ failure to use an AED on the decedent. The complaint alleged, in part, as follows:
“[On the date of the incident Bally] was required by New York State statute to have in attendance at all times during business hours, at least one [**4] employee . . .who held a valid certification of completion of a course in the study of the operation of AED’s and a valid certification of completion of a course in the study of cardiopulmonary resuscitation provided by a nationally recognized organization . . . [Bally] negligently failed to use the AED on plaintiff’s decedent and/or failed to use said AED within sufficient time to save his life, and was otherwise negligent in regard to its failure to employ or properly employ life-saving measures regarding plaintiff’s decedent.”
Before any discovery had taken place, the defendants moved pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action. The defendants argued that the branch of the motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Bally Total Fitness Corporation should be granted because it had no ownership or management interest in the gym. The defendants further argued that the branch of the motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Bally should be granted because it was “immune from liability arising out of the lack of success of emergency response efforts by virtue of . . . Public Health Law § 3000-a [**5] [which provides] that a person who voluntarily renders emergency treatment outside of a hospital or other location is not liable for injuries to or death of the person receiving the emergency treatment.” The defendants further argued that Bally’s employees had no affirmative duty to use the available AED upon the decedent after he collapsed.
In opposition, the plaintiff argued, inter alia, that the gym was required, by statute, to have an AED on its premises, and a person trained to use such device, and that Bally could not rely upon the Good Samaritan statutes (General Business Law § 627-a; Public Health Law § 3000-a) to insulate itself from liability. The plaintiff did not oppose that branch of the motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Bally Total Fitness Corporation, and conceded that “[said] entity apparently does not own, operate or manage the [gym].”
The Supreme Court denied the defendants’ motion, stating simply that “the pleadings maintain causes of action cognizable at law.” This appeal by the defendants ensued.
We begin our analysis with a summary of the statutes relevant to the issues raised herein.
“General Business Law § 627-a: automated [**6] external defibrillator requirements:
“1. Every health club [with more than 500 members] shall have . . . at least one [AED], and shall have in attendance, at all times during staffed business hours, at least one individual performing employment . . . who holds a valid certification of completion of a course in the study of the operation of AEDs and a valid certification of the completion of a course in the training of cardiopulmonary resuscitation provided by a nationally recognized organization or association.
“2. Health clubs and staff[s] pursuant to subdivision one of this section shall be deemed a public access defibrillation provider’ as defined in [Public Health Law § 3000-b] and shall be subject to the requirements and limitation[s] of such section.
“3. Pursuant to [Public Health Law §§ 3000-a and 3000-b], any public access defibrillation provider, or any employee . . . of the provider who, in accordance with . . . this section, voluntarily and without expectation of monetary compensation renders emergency medical or first aid treatment using an AED which has been made available pursuant to this section, to a person who is unconscious, ill or injured, shall be liable only pursuant [**7] to [Public Health Law § 3000-a].
“Public Health Law § 3000-a: Emergency medical treatment:
“1. [A]ny person who voluntarily and without expectation of monetary compensation, renders first aid or emergency treatment . . . outside a hospital, doctor’s office or any other place having proper and necessary medical equipment, to a person who is unconscious, ill or injured, shall not be liable for damages . . . for the death of such person alleged to have occurred by reason of an act or omission in the rendering of such emergency treatment unless it is established that such injuries [or death] was caused by gross negligence on the part of such person.
“2. (i) An [entity that makes available an AED as required by law], or (ii) an emergency health care provider under a collaborative agreement pursuant to [Public Health Law § 3000-b] with respect to an AED . . . shall not be liable for damages arising either from the use of that equipment by a person who voluntarily and without expectation of monetary compensation renders first aid or emergency treatment at the scene of . . . a medical emergency or . . .; provided that this subdivision shall not limit the person’s or entity’s . . . or emergency [**8] health care provider’s liability for his, her or its own negligence, gross negligence or intentional misconduct.
“Public Health Law § 3000-b: Automated external defibrillators
“1. Definitions . . . (b) Emergency health care provider’ means (i) a physician . . . or (ii) a hospital . . . (c) Public access defibrillation provider’ means a person . . . or other entity possessing or operating an [AED] pursuant to a collaborative agreement under this section.
“2. Collaborative agreement. A person . . . or other entity may purchase, acquire, possess and operate an [AED] pursuant to a collaborative agreement with an emergency health care provider. The collaborative agreement shall include a written agreement and written practice protocols, and policies and procedures that shall assure compliance with this section. The public access defibrillation provider shall file a copy of the collaborative agreement with the department and with the appropriate regional council prior to operating the [AED].
“3. Possession and operation of [AED] No person may operate an [AED without proper training]. However, this section shall not [*4] prohibit operation of an [AED] by a person who operates the [AED] other than [**9] as part of or incidental to his employment or regular duties, who is acting in good faith, with reasonable care, and without expectation of monetary compensation, to provide first aid that includes operation of an [AED]; nor shall this section limit any good samaritan protections provided in section [3000-a] of this article.”
This Court has not previously interpreted any of these statutes under circumstances such as those presented by this case. The only other Appellate Division case which has addressed similar factual circumstances is Digiulio v Gran, Inc. (74 AD3d 450, affd 17 NY3d 765), wherein the plaintiff’s decedent suffered an apparent heart attack while exercising at a health club facility. In the Digiulio case, the plaintiff commenced an action against the health club owner and then moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability based on common-law negligence, or pursuant to a theory of negligence per se based upon an alleged violation of General Business Law § 627-a. The defendants opposed the motion and cross-moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. The Supreme Court denied the plaintiff’s motion and granted the defendants’ motion. On appeal, the [**10] Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed, stating, in part:
“We agree with the motion court that plaintiff has not established a common-law negligence claim . . . After the heart attack, the club’s employees more than fulfilled their duty of care by immediately calling 911 and performing CPR, had no common-law duty to use the AED, and could not be held liable for not using it . . . Turning to the statutory claim, we reject plaintiff’s argument that [GBL] § 627-a implicitly obligated the club to use its AED to treat [the decedent]. While the statute explicitly requires health clubs to have AEDs and people trained to operate them on their premises, it is silent as to the club’s duty, if any, to use the devices” (Digiulio v Gran, Inc., 74 AD3d at 453).
While the Digiulio case involved a motion for summary judgment, the First Department’s reasoning suggests that there is no viable cause of action against a health club based upon the failure to use an available AED.
Thereafter, the plaintiff in Diguilio was granted leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals. In a decision dated June 14, 2011, the Court decided as follows:
“Assuming arguendo that General Business Law § 627-a implicitly created [**11] a duty for defendants to use the [AED] the section required them to provide at their facility, plaintiff cannot recover because she failed to raise a triable issue of fact demonstrating that defendants’ or their employees’ failure to access the AED was grossly negligent (see General Business Law § 627-a; Public Health Law § 3000-a). Defendants did not breach any common-law duty to render aid to the decedent” (DiGiulio v Gran, Inc., 17 NY3d 765, 767).
The Court of Appeals left open the question of whether General Business Law § 627-a creates a duty upon a health club to use the AED which it is required to provide. We conclude that there is such a duty.
The risk of heart attacks following strenuous exercise is well recognized, and it has also been documented that the use of AED devices in such instances can be particularly effective if defibrillation is administered in the first few minutes after the cardiac episode commences (see e.g. Balady, Chaitman, Foster, Froelicher, Gordon & Van Camp, Automated External Defibrillators in Health/Fitness Facilities, Circulation Journal of the American Heart Association 2002, available at http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/105/9/1147 full; Senate [**12] Introducer Mem in Support, Bill jacket, L 1998, ch 552, at 4 ["Sudden cardiac arrest is a major unresolved health problem. Each year, it strikes more than 350,000 Americans--nearly 1,000 per day. More than 95% of these people die because life-saving defibrillators arrive on the scene too late, if at all. The American Heart Association estimates that close to 100,000 deaths nationwide could be prevented each year if automated external defibrillators . . . were more widely distributed."]). It is also clear that the [*5] Legislative intent behind General Business Law § 627-a was to make AED devices readily available for use in gyms. Indeed, the 2004 Legislative Memorandum in support of General Business Law § 627-a states the following as “[j]ustification” for the statute:
“This [bill] would ensure a higher level of safety for thousands of individuals who belong to health clubs. According to the American Heart Association, 250,000 Americans die every year due to sudden cardiac arrest. A quarter of these deaths could be avoided if an [AED] is on hand for immediate use at the time of emergency . . . Because health clubs are places where individuals raise their heart rates through physical exercise, [**13] the chance of cardiac arrest increases. Having an AED on hand could save lives” (NY Assembly Mem in Support, Bill Jacket, L 2004, ch 186, at 4).
Accordingly, the laudatory purpose of the statute was to increase the number of lives that could be saved through the use of available AED devices at health club facilities. Although the statute does not contain any provision that specifically imposes an affirmative duty upon the facility to make use of its required AEDs, it also does not contain any provision stating that there is no duty to act (cf. Public Health Law § 1352-b, which provides for the mandatory posting in public eating establishments of instructions to aid in choking emergencies, but also contains a provision entitled “no duty to act”). Moreover, it is illogical to conclude that no such duty exists. We are aware that ” legislative enactments in derogation of [the] common law, and especially those creating liability where none previously existed,’ must be strictly construed” (Vucetovic v Epsom Downs, Inc., 10 NY3d 517, 521, quoting Blue Cross & Blue Shield of N.J., Inc. v Philip Morris USA Inc., 3 NY3d 200, 206; see McKinney’s Cons Laws of NY, Book 1, Statutes § 301[c]). Nevertheless, [**14] such strict construction should not be utilized to eviscerate the very purpose for which the legislation was enacted. “A court should avoid a statutory interpretation rendering the provision meaningless or defeating its apparent purpose” (State of New York v Cities Serv. Co., 180 AD2d 940, 942; see Matter of Industrial Commr. of State of N.Y. v Five Corners Tavern, 47 NY2d 639, 646-647; see also Zappone v Home Ins. Co., 55 NY2d 131, 137; McKinney’s Cons Laws of NY, Book 1, Statutes § 145). “It is the spirit, the object, and purpose of the statute which are to be regarded in its interpretation” (Westchester County Socy. for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v Mengel, 266 App Div 151, 154-155, affd 292 NY 121).
Applying these principles, and inasmuch as there is no dispute that General Business Law § 627-a requires certain health club facilities to provide an AED on the premises, as well as a person trained to use such device, it is anomalous to conclude that there is no duty to use the device should the need arise. Stated differently, why statutorily mandate a health club facility to provide the device if there is no concomitant requirement to use it? This conclusion is further buttressed [**15] by the fact that the Legislature deemed it appropriate to partially immunize the health clubs from liability, which may arise from their use of the AED, by including language within General Business Law § 627-a that referenced the “Good Samaritan” provisions of the Public Health Law (see General Business Law § 627-a ; Public Health Law § 3000-a). Such “protection” could be considered superfluous if the statute did not also impose a duty upon the health clubs to use, or attempt to make use of, the device, depending upon the circumstances of the particular medical emergency. In addition, pursuant to General Business Law § 627-a, as defined by Public Health Law § 3000-b(1)(b), (c), and § 3000-b(2), the gym was a “public access defibrillation provider” and, thus, was required to have in place a “collaborative agreement” with an emergency health care provider (i.e., cardiac emergency doctor or hospital providing emergency care) (Public Health Law §§ 3000-a, 3000-b). Again, the requirement of such an agreement could be viewed as unnecessary if there were no obligation upon the health club facility to attempt to use the AED if the circumstances warranted such use.
In the case at bar, it [**16] is undisputed that, at the time the decedent collapsed, the gym had an available AED on its premises and there was an employee present who had been trained in the use of the device. Indeed, it was this individual, LaGrega, who initially responded to the decedent. LaGrega also stated in his affidavit that “the club’s AED [had been brought] to the decedent’s side.” However, for reasons that are not entirely clear, the gym’s AED device was never used on the decedent. LaGrega’s affidavit suggests that he perhaps deferred to the medical doctor who responded to the internal announcement which had been made in the gym, seeking the [*6] assistance of anyone with medical training. Hence, it may be that the doctor decided that the AED was contraindicated. However, based upon the record before us, such a conclusion would amount to mere speculation.
In any event, unlike the procedural posture of Digiulio v Gran, Inc. (74 AD3d 450), which involved motions for summary judgment, the defendants herein seek dismissal for failure to state a cause of action pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7). In determining a motion for failure to state a cause of action, the court must “accept the facts as alleged in the complaint [**17] as true, accord plaintiffs the benefit of every possible favorable inference, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory” (Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83, 87-88; see Nonnon v City of New York, 9 NY3d 825). “Whether [the] plaintiff can ultimately establish [his] allegations is not part of the calculus in determining a motion to dismiss [made pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7)]” (ECBI, Inc. v Goldman, Sachs & Co., 5 NY3d 11, 19; see Ginsburg Dev. Cos., LLC v Carbone, 85 AD3d 1110). Accordingly, in light of the facts as alleged by the plaintiff, coupled with our conclusion that General Business Law § 627-a imposes an inherent duty to make use of the statutorily required AED, we conclude that the complaint states a cognizable cause of action to recover damages based upon Bally’s failure to use its AED upon the decedent.
To the extent that the defendants argue that the complaint should have been dismissed insofar as asserted against Bally because it is immune from liability under the Good Samaritan provisions of General Business Law § 627-a, that argument is misplaced. The issue at bar is not whether Bally was negligent in the course of its use of the AED. [**18] Instead, as set forth in the beginning of this opinion, our focus is whether General Business Law § 627-a gives rise to a statutory cause of action sounding in negligence based upon the failure to use the device. While General Business Law § 627-a does incorporate the provision of the Good Samaritan law requiring a showing of gross negligence when the statutorily required AED is used, where, as here, the cause of action is based on the failure to employ the device, as opposed to the manner in which it was employed, the gross negligence standard is not applicable.
In addition, the defendants were not entitled to dismissal of the complaint insofar as asserted against Bally for failure to state a cause of action based solely upon common-law negligence. It is settled that a duty of reasonable care owed by a tortfeasor to a plaintiff is elemental to any recovery in negligence (see Pulka v Edelman, 40 NY2d 781, 782; Palsgraf v Long Is. R.R. Co., 248 NY 339, 344). To prove a prima facie case of negligence, a plaintiff must demonstrate the existence of a duty of care owed to the plaintiff, a breach of that duty, and that the breach of such duty was a proximate cause of his or her injuries (see [**19] Pulka v Edelman, 40 NY2d 781; Gordon v Muchnick, 180 AD2d 715; see also Akins v Glens Falls City School Dist., 53 NY2d 325,333). Absent a duty of care, there is no breach, and without a breach, there can be no liability (see Pulka v Edelman, 40 NY2d 781; Gordon v Muchnick, 180 AD2d 715). In addition, foreseeability of an injury does not determine the existence of duty (see Strauss v Belle Realty Co., 65 NY2d 399, 402; Pulka v Edelman, 40 NY2d 781). However, “[u]nlike foreseeability and causation, both generally factual issues to be resolved on a case-by-case basis by the fact finder, the duty owed by one member of society to another is a legal issue for the courts” (Eiseman v State of New York, 70 NY2d 175, 187, citing De Angelis v Lutheran Med. Center, 58 NY2d 1053, 1055).
Therefore, the question is whether Bally owed any duty to the decedent. Generally speaking, one does not owe a duty to come to the aid of a person in peril, whether the peril is medical or otherwise (see McDaniel v Keck, 53 AD3d 869, 872; Walsh v Town of Cheektowaga, 237 AD2d 947; see also Plutner v Silver Assoc., Inc, 186 Misc 1025; Chappill v Bally Total Fitness Corp., 2011 NY Slip Op 30146[U]). However, ” one [**20] who assumes a duty to act, even though gratuitously, may thereby become subject to the duty of acting carefully’” (Mirza v Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 2 AD3d 808, 809, quoting Nallan v Helmsley-Spear, Inc., 50 NY2d 507, 522).
In the case at bar, LaGrega assumed a duty by coming to the decedent’s assistance. By his own admission, LaGrega directed that a 911 emergency call be made, sought medical assistance within the club, and took the decedent’s pulse. However, he did not make use of the available AED, even though the device had been brought to the decedent’s side. It could be argued that since LaGrega was trained in the use of the AED, his failure to use the device was tantamount to not acting carefully. On the other hand, it may ultimately be proven that LaGrega acted reasonably under the circumstances, and that no liability can attach to the defendants for the decedent’s death. These are questions which cannot be resolved at this procedural juncture. Moreover, as noted in our above discussion regarding the statutory duty under General Business Law § 627-a, the issue of [*7] whether the plaintiff can ultimately prove his factual allegations also does not figure into the determination [**21] of whether the common-law negligence claim should be dismissed for failure to state a cause of action. Accordingly, we conclude that the separate cause of action based upon common-law negligence was not subject to dismissal for failure to state a cause of action (see CPLR 3211[a]; Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83). Therefore, the Supreme Court properly denied that branch of the defendants’ motion pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) which was to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action insofar as asserted against Bally.
As indicated, the plaintiff did not oppose that branch of the motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against the defendant Bally Total Fitness Corporation and, in fact, conceded that “[said] entity apparently does not own, operate or manage the subject health club.” Moreover, even on appeal, the plaintiff does not dispute the contention by Bally Total Fitness Corporation that it was entitled to dismissal of the complaint insofar as asserted against it. Accordingly, that branch of the motion which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against that defendant should have been granted.
The order is modified, on the law and the facts, [**22] by deleting the provision thereof denying that branch of the defendants’ motion pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Bally Total Fitness Corporation, and substituting therefor a provision granting that branch of the motion; as so modified, the order is affirmed.
SKELOS, J.P., LEVENTHAL and AUSTIN, JJ., concur.
ORDERED that the order is modified, on the law and the facts, by deleting the provision thereof denying that branch of the defendants’ motion pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) which was to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against Bally Total Fitness Corporation, and substituting therefor a provision granting that branch of the motion; as so modified, the order is affirmed, without costs or disbursements.
Releases are legal documents and need to be written by an attorney that understands the law and the risks of your program/business/activity and your guests/members/clientele.Posted: February 28, 2011
Wycoff v. Grace Community Church of the Assemblies of God, 2010 Colo. App. LEXIS 1832
The case is a little confusing to read because there was another case that was appealed by the same parties whom this case refers to. Additionally, the act of the trial court in reducing the damages is confusing. However, this case is a very clear example of how a badly written release is going to cost the church and its insurance company millions.
A church group had taken kids to a camp for a “Winterama 2005.” The church had rented the camp for the weekend. The plaintiff was 17 and not a member of the church. Her parents had paid a reduced fee for her to attend the activity. As part of that registration her mother signed a “Registration and information” form. One of the activities was pulling them behind an ATV on an inner tube on a frozen lake.
There was a large boulder embedded in the lake. On the second loop, the plaintiff’s inner tube hit the boulder breaking her back.
The plaintiff’s mother had signed the “Registration and Information” form. On the form was the following sentence.
I will not hold Grace Community Church or its participants responsible for any liability, which may result from participation.
The case went to trial, and the jury returned a $4M verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The defendant and plaintiff appealed after the judge reduced the damages to the limits of the insurance policy of the church, $2M plus interest.
The appellate court first looked at Colorado case law on releases and the legislative history of § 13-22-107(3), C.R.S. 2010. That statute, C.R.S. § 13-22-107(3), was enacted to allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. The statute, and the decision in Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981), has a requirement that the parental decision must be “informed” and with the intent to release the [defendant] from liability. Jones v. Dressel was the first Supreme Court review of releases in the state of Colorado as they applied to recreational activities.
The court looked at the language in the “Registration and Information” form to see if it informed the parents of the activities and risks their child would be undertaking. The court looked at the language and found:
There is no information in Grace’s one-page registration form describing the event activities, nothing describing the associated risks. Stating that the children would participate in “Winterama 2005 and all activities associated with it” does not indicate what the activities would involve and certainly does not suggest they would include ATV-towed inner-tube excursions around a frozen lake.
The court also looked at prior decisions concerning releases and found that “in every Colorado Supreme Court case upholding an exculpatory clause. The clause contained some reference to waiving personal injury claims based on the activity being engaged in.”
The court concluded that:
Grace’s [the defendant’s] form made no reference to the relevant activity or to waiving personal injury claims. The operative sentence (the third one in a paragraph) states only that plaintiff will not hold Grace “responsible for any liability which may result from participation.” Surrounding sentences address other issues: the first gives permission to attend; the second consents to medical treatment; and the fourth agrees to pick up disobedient children.
… nowhere does the form provide parents with information allowing them to assess the degree of risk and the extent of possible injuries from any activity. The form is legally insufficient to release plaintiff’s personal injury claims.
The court then looked at the second major issue that has been surfacing in many outdoor recreation cases of late. The plaintiff sued claiming a violation of the duties owed by the landowner, a premises liability claim. That means that the landowner owed a duty to the plaintiff to warn or eliminate dangers, which the landowner failed to do.
The defendant argued that it was not the landowner; it had just leased the land for the weekend. However, the court found this argument lacking. The premise’s liability statute § 13-21-115(1), C.R.S. 2010, defines landowner to include someone leasing the property.
This places two very important burdens on anyone leasing land or using land.
- They must know and identify the risks of the land before bringing their clients/guests/members on the land.
- The release must include premise liability language.
The second one is relatively easy to do; however, the effectiveness is going to be difficult. The first places a tremendous burden on anyone going to a camp, park or other place they do not own for the day, weekend or week.
- Your insurance policy must provide coverage for this type of claim.
- You need to inspect the land in advance, do a due diligence to make sure you know of any risks or dangers on the land.
- You must inform your guests/members/clients of those risks.
The final issue that might be of some importance to readers is the court reviewed the legal concept of charitable immunity. At one time, charities could not be sued because they “did good” for mankind. That has evolved over time so that in most states charitable immunity no longer exists. At present, and with this court decision, the assets of the charity held may not be levied by a judgment. What that means is after someone receives a judgment against a charity, the plaintiff with the judgment then attempts to collect against the assets of the charity. Some of the assets may not be recovered by the judgment creditor because they are part of the charitable trust.
What does that mean? If you are a charity, buy insurance.
Of note in this case is the plaintiffs are the injured girl and her insurance company: The opinion states “Plaintiff and her insurer, intervenor American Medical Security Life Insurance Company (insurer).” Although set forth in the decision, her insurance company is probably suing under its right in the subrogation clause. A subrogation clause in an insurance policy says your insurance policy has the right to sue under your name or its own name against anyone who caused your damages that the insurance company reimbursed.
As I have said numerous times, your release must be written by an attorney that understands two things.
- Release law
- The activities you are going to engage in.
- The risks those activities present to your guests/members/clients.
- Any statutes that affect your activity and/or your guests/members/clients.
Any release should include a good review of the risks of the activities and a description of the activities so adults and parents can read and understand those risks. Any minor who can read and understand the risks should also sign the release as proof the child assumed the risk. Assumption of the risk works to win cases against minors when the release is thrown out or in those cases where a release cannot be used against a minor.
Find a good attorney that knows and understands your activities, those risks and the laws needed to write a release to protect you.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
Copyright 2010 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law, Recreation.Law@Gmail.com
Releases are the foundation of most adventure outfitters program to prevent lawsuits. Dependent upon your base of operation and/or your area of operation a release or waiver is the best way to inform your guests of the risks and stop lawsuits. However, the law concerning releases has changed dramatically in four states over the past 18 months.
Changes started February of 2005 when the Wisconsin Supreme court overturned its law on releases. In a case involving a drowning at a
health club, Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2
the Wisconsin Supreme Court set up a series of requirements for releases which will be impossible to meet. Each of the requirements allows the guest to invalidate the release or takes the legal teeth out of the release. The final requirement is a bargain for exchange requirement. This means the outfitter must offer the guest the opportunity to take the trip without signing a release for an additional charge. The additional charge to enjoy the adventure without signing a release must only be a nominal amount; however that does not make economic sense. (For a more thorough analysis see the Outdoor Recreation Law Review
Wisconsin Supreme Court decision threatens businesses relying on releases.)
In Arizona, in a race car mishap, the Arizona Supreme Court took an approach to releases no other state has adopted. In Phelps v. Firebird Raceway, Inc., 2005 Ariz. LEXIS 53, the Arizona Supreme Court held that releases, written contracts, are only an acknowledgement of risk. As such, the trier of fact, normally the jury, must decided whether the injured patron understood the risk of the activity and the release is additional, but not substantive proof of the knowledge. As such, releases in Arizona are not just proof of acknowledgement of risk rather than a contract to prevent a lawsuit. In the future, a defendant relying upon a release will be forced to go to trial to prove the injured guest understood the risk of the activity that injured him. (See the Outdoor Recreation Law Review
Surprising Arizona Supreme Court Decision Further Endangers Release Language.)
The New Mexico Supreme Courtdetermined that a statute designed to protect the Equine industry prevented the use of a release by a stable.
In Berlangieri et al. v. Running Elk Corporation, et al., 48 P. 3d 70 (N.M. App. April, 2002 the New Mexico Supreme Court stated the New Mexico Equine Liability act provided the only protection for equine outfitters and therefore it prevented the use of a release. This decision is limited to only equine activities; however a similar decision in West Virginia was the beginning of a series of decisions invalidating releases. This is an example of a statute that was meant to protect an industry doing more harm than good. (See the Outdoor Recreation Law Review
Release of Liability Found to Violate Public Policy.)
The final decision is a Connecticut Supreme Court decision, Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corporation
et al. 276 Conn. 314, 2005 Conn. LEXIS 500 that overruled a case with the identical fact situation six years earlier. In this case a patron at a tubing hill signed a release and was injured tubing. He sued and the Connecticut Supreme Court overruled itself stating releases were no longer valid in the state because it removed the incentive for the tubing operator to keep the premises safe. The Supreme Court held that releases for recreational activities violate public policy. Public policy is the protection the courts extend to the public to protect them when they cannot protect themselves. Those protections are normally limited to those necessities of live that the public cannot live without such as utilities or public transportation. (See the Outdoor Recreation Law Review
Connecticut Supreme Court takes yet another bite out of releases with latest decision.)
All of these decisions are discouraging; however there are methods to change the results for a particular outfitter. The easiest and most important way is by using an effective Jurisdiction and Venue clause in a release. Jurisdiction means the law that will be applied and Venue means the location of the court that will hear the case. If you are operating in any of these four states, or another state that prohibits the use of a release, you can specify in the release the state where the case will be heard and the law that will be applied.
For Additional Analysis of these cases or to read the legal opinion, go to the Outdoor Recreation and Fitness Law Review.