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US Army and BSA not liable for injured kids on Army base. No control by the BSA and recreational use defense by US Army.

Agency requires more than just relationship; it requires actual control over the alleged agents.

Wilson v. United States, 989 F.2d 953; 1993 U.S. App. LEXIS 6165, (8th Cir. 1993)

State: Missouri, United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Plaintiff: Mark D. Wilson; Janet L. Wilson, Jason S. Harbian; Michael Harbian; Sharon Harbian; Daniel R. Winfrey, a Minor, by Susan Crump, his Mother and Next Friend, and; Susan Crump

Defendant: United States of America; the Boy Scouts of America

Plaintiff Claims: Federal Tort Claims Act, and against the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) pursuant to Missouri state law, for negligent supervision and failure to train the adult supervisors

Defendant Defenses: No relationship between the BSA and the adult volunteers and the Missouri Recreational Use Statute

Holding: for the Defendant

Year: 1993

A group of Boy Scouts and their adult leaders were at Fort Leonard Wood, a US Army military post for the weekend to participate in the Army’s Youth Tour Program. The boys and adults stayed in a barrack. Stacked beside the barrack were aluminum alloy irrigation pipes that were approximately 30’ long. The pipes were stacked there when not in use for six years.

Three of the boys grabbed one of the pipes and carried it 20’ west of the building and raised it to a vertical position. It came in contact with a high-voltage line injuring two boys and killing one.

Because one of the defendants was the United States, as the owner of the land and property under the supervision and control of the US Army, the case was brought in the Federal District Court of Missouri for the Eastern District of Missouri.

The trial court dismissed the claims of all plaintiffs because of the Missouri recreational use act for the defendant US Army, and the BSA did not owe the plaintiff’s a duty of care. The plaintiff’s appealed.

Analysis

To sue an agency of the United States, your claims must meet the requirements of the Federal Tort Claims Act. The act allows the defendant to assert any defense allowed under the act and as allowed under the law of the state where the incident occurred.

In this case, the defendant US raised the defense provided by the Missouri Recreational Land Use Statute, Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 537.345 – 537.348. The act provides immunity to landowners who make their property available for recreation without an entry charge.

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

Recreational use is defined by the act as “hunting, fishing, camping, picnicking, biking, nature study [and] winter sports.”

The immunity is available unless the landowner is:

…found to have been either maliciously or grossly negligent in failing to guard or warn against a dangerous condition which the owner knew or should have known to be dangerous, or if the landowner negligently failed to warn or guard against an ultrahazardous condition. Other exceptions to the nonliability of the statute include injuries occurring on or in any “noncovered land,” which is defined as land used primarily for commercial, industrial or manufacturing purposes.

The Army charged $2.00 per person to say in the building. The plaintiff’s argued that the recreational use act then did not apply to the defendant US Army.

1) the Army charged $ 2.00 per person to be billeted in Building 1614; (2) the United States receives an economic benefit from offering its land; (3) the Boy Scouts were not members of the “general public,” and thus were not covered by the Act; (4) the injury occurred on “noncovered land;” and (5) the United States negligently failed to protect against an ultrahazardous condition.

The Fort was called an open military post. That means that members of the public were allowed to visit the post. The post was open to the public for “fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, picnicking or canoeing.” The Fort also offered the Youth Tour Program which allowed national youth organizations such as the BSA special programs not available to the general public. These programs included “visits to the Fort’s museum, an indoor rifle range, an obstacle course and a cannon range.”

If the youth group or in this case, the BSA, want to spend the night, the Army charges a $2.00 per person fee.

This fee covers the cost of maintaining and equipping the facility with mattresses, toilet paper, soap, and other supplies. If a troop chooses to stay overnight but no beds are available, the lodging fee is reduced to $ 1.00 per person/per night.

The application of the Missouri Recreational Use Statute, construes fees in the act as defined to enter upon the land. The $2.00 fee was paid to stay overnight in the building, entrance onto the base was free.

There is no evidence in the record to indicate that this fee would have been charged to either participate in the Youth Tour Program, or to enter Fort Leonard Wood, if the scouts had elected not to stay overnight. In fact, all the Fort Leonard Wood documents relating to this fee provide that it is a “lodging” fee, and that it is assessed on a per person/per night basis.

The remaining arguments presented by the plaintiffs were quickly dismissed by the court in a paragraph for each argument.

The court then turned to the claims against the Boy Scouts of America. In order to hold the National Council of the BSA liable for the acts of the volunteer adult leaders in Missouri, the plaintiff has to prove an agency relationship existed between the BSA and the adults. This would allow the plaintiff’s to argue a vicarious liability claim against the BSA.  

The appellants claim the BSA had the right to control and supervise Troop 392’s adults, that the BSA is liable for the negligent acts of the troop’s adult leaders which were committed within the scope and course of their agency relationship, and further that the troop’s adult leaders were clothed with implied and apparent authority to act on behalf of the BSA when they were present at Fort Leonard Wood.

The court then accurately related the legal relationship between the BSA national office and volunteers of a unit.

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

The court then examined the requirements of respondeat superior, needed to hold an employer liable for the acts of an employee.

Liability based on respondeat superior requires some evidence that a master-servant relationship existed between the parties. The test to determine if respondeat superior applies is whether the person sought to be charged as a master had “the right or power to control and direct the physical conduct of the other in the performance of the act.” If there is no right to control, there is no liability.

The plaintiff failed to produce any evidence that the BSA national council has any control over the “specific activities of individual troops, or that it had a duty to control, supervise or train volunteer leaders for the Fort Leonard Wood activity.”

The appellate court upheld the lower court’s dismissal of the case.

So Now What?

This is another situation where the recreational use statute has been parsed by how the many paid were used by the landowner. Money paid to enter the land does not allow the landowner to use the defense of the state recreational use statute. Money paid for other things once on the land may still allow the use of the statute as a defense.

However, this is a narrow reading of the law and would be specific to each state law. Make sure you have consulted with a local attorney familiar with the law before making this decision to charge for other items.

The Boy Scouts of America do not supervise, control or have any power or authority over its volunteers.

 

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By Recreation Law       Rec-law@recreation-law.com              James H. Moss

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