The age that minors become adults.

I am constantly writing about the different legal issues of minors, here you can check on what that means for your state.

The age when a minor becomes an adult is currently 18 in 47 states. Alabama and Nebraska state law says an adult is someone who is 19 or older and Mississippi an adult is 21 or older.

There are exceptions for all the laws on minority in each state. A minor can become an adult if they marry, if they are emancipated or by special statutory exceptions.

Age of Majority

State

Statute

Age of adulthood

Alabama

Ala. Code tit. § 26-1-1 (age 19) and § 26-10A-2 § 27-14-25, § 27-14-5 (contract for insurance at age 15), § 30-4-16 (18 to get married).

19

Alaska

Alaska Stat. §  25.20.010(1977).

18

Arizona

Ariz. Rev. Stat. §  1-215 (1973).

18

Arkansas

Ark. Stat. Ann. §  57-103 (Supp. 1977).

18

California

Cal. Civ. Code §  25 (West Supp. 1978).

18

Colorado

Colo. Rev. Stat. §  13-22-101 (1973)

18

Connecticut

Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. §  1-1d (West Supp. 1978)

18

Delaware

Del. Code tit. 6 §  2705 (Revised 1974)

18

Florida

Fla. Stat. Ann. §  743.07 (West Supp. 1978)

18

Georgia

Ga. Code Ann. §  74-104 (Revision 1973)

18

Hawaii

Haw. Rev. Stat. §  577-1 (Supp. 1975)

18

Idaho

Idaho Code §  29-101 (1967), §  32-101 (Supp. 1978)

18

Illinois

Ill. Ann. Stat. ch. 3 §  131 (Smith- Hurd 1978)

18

Indiana

Ind. Code Ann. §  34-1-2-5.5 (Burns Supp. 1977)

18

Iowa

Iowa Code Ann. §  599.1 (West Supp. 1978)

18

Kansas

Kan. Stat. Ann. § 38-101 (1973).

18

Kentucky

Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §  2.015 (Baldwin 1975)

18

Louisiana

La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 1782 (West 1952), art. 37 (West Supp. 1978)

18

Maine

Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 1 §  73 (Supp. 1973)

18

Maryland

Md. Com. Law Code Ann. §  1-103(a) (1975)

18

Massachusetts

Mass. Ann. Laws. ch. 4, §  7(48) (Michie/Law Coop Supp. 1978)

18

Michigan

Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. §  722.52 (Supp. 1978)

18

Minnesota

Minn. Stat. Ann. §  645.45(14) (West Supp. 1978)

18

Mississippi

Miss. Code Ann. §  1-3-27 (1972) However in other statutes defines minors as over 18 § 81-5-61 (minors may rent safety deposit boxes), § 93-3-11 (homestead exemption), § 93-19-1 (real estate), § 97-37-13 (illegal to give a minor weapons, under age 18),

21

Missouri

Mo. Ann. Stat. §  431.055 (Vernon Supp. 1978)

18

Montana

Mont. Rev. Codes Ann. §  64-101 (Supp. 1977)

18

Nebraska

Neb. Rev. Stat. §  38-101 (Reissue 1974)

19

Nevada

Nev. Rev. Stat. §  129.010 (1977)

18

New Hampshire

N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §  21-B:1 (Supp. 1977)

18

New Jersey

N.J. Stat. Ann. §  9:17B-3 (West 1976)

18

New Mexico

N.M. Stat. Ann. § § 12-2-2 (K); 28-6-1 (1978 Replacement Vol.)

18

New York

N.Y. Gen. Oblig. Law §  3-101 (McKinney 1978)

18

North Carolina

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 48A-2 (1976 Replacement Vol.)

18

North Dakota

N.D. Cent. Code §  14-10-01 (1971 Replacement Vol. Supp. 1977)

18

Ohio

Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §  3109.01 (Page Supp. 1977)

18

Oklahoma

Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 15 § §  11, 13 (West 1972)

18

Oregon

Or. Rev. Stat. § 109.510 (1977 Replacement Vol.)

18

Pennsylvania

73 Pa. Cons. Stat. §  2021 (Purdon Supp. 1978)

18

Rhode Island

R.I. Gen. Laws §  15-12-1 (Supp. 1977)

18

South Carolina

S.C. Const. art. 17 §  14 (1973, amended 1975)

18

South Dakota

S.D. Codified Laws Ann. 26-1-1 (Revision 1976)

18

Tennessee

Tenn. Code Ann. §  1-313 (Supp. 1977)

18

Texas

Tex. Rev. Civ. Stat. Ann. art. 5923b (Vernon Supp. 1978)

18

Utah

Utah Code Ann. §  15-2-1 (Supp. 1977)

18

Vermont

Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 1 §  173 (Supp. 1978)

18

Virginia

Va. Code § 1-13-42 (1973 Replacement Vol.)

18

Washington

Wash. Rev. Code §  26.28.015 (1976)

18

West Virginia

W. Va. Code §  2-3-1 (Supp. 1978)

18

Wisconsin

Wis. Stat. Ann. §  990.01(20) (West Supp. 1978)

18

Wyoming

Wyo. Stat. §  8-3-103 (a) (i) & (a) (iv), §  16-3-101 (1977)

18

Like everything, statutes change when legislators decide something needs corrected. Although this list is probably fairly stagnant, you should make sure you are aware of the age of adulthood in each of the states where you operate.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Rare issue this case looked at a release signed by a minor that prevented a suit for his injuries after turning age 18

This decision was just overturned by the Oregon Supreme Court in Bagley v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., dba Mt. Bachelor Ski and Summer Resort, 2014 Ore. LEXIS 994 on December 18, 20014

The term is disaffirm, the minor must disaffirm the release or contract after reaching age 18 or the release or contract is valid.

Date of the Decision: September 5, 2013

Plaintiff: Myles A. Bagley, individually, Plaintiff-Appellant, and Al Bagley, individually; and Lauren Bagley, individually, Plaintiffs

Defendant: Mt. Bachelor, Inc., dba Mt. Bachelor Ski and Summer Resort

Plaintiff Claims: (1) concluding that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether Bagley ratified, after reaching the age of majority, a release agreement entered into while he was a minor; (2) concluding that the release agreement was not contrary to public policy; and (3) concluding that the release agreement was neither substantively nor procedurally unconscionable.

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the defendant. The minor took advantage of the benefits of the contract (release) and did not disaffirm the contract upon reaching the age of majority (18).

This is a rare review of release or contract law because the odds are against it. A contract is voidable by the minor when the minor signs the contract. However, if the contract is in effect when the minor reaches the age of majority, the minor can either disaffirm the contract which puts the parties back in the position before the contract was signed or if he or she fails to do that he or she takes advantages of the benefits of the contract and continues to use it the contract is in force.

To determine the age of majority or the age a minor becomes an adult in each state see The age that minors become adults.

The minor signed a season pass release at the defendant ski area. His father signed a minor release and indemnity agreement. Two weeks later and before the plaintiff had started snowboarding he turned 18. Once he started snowboarding, after reaching age 18, he boarded at the defendant’s resort 26 different days and his pass was scanned 119 times.

Going through the terrain park where he seemed to spend most of his time, the plaintiff was injured on a jump which resulted in permanent paralysis.

The minor and his parents sued the resort. The trial court dismissed his complaints after the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the release the minor had signed.

Summary of the case

The appellate court reviewed the facts and pointed several of the facts out repeatedly.

He was also an experienced snowboarder, had signed release agreements at other ski resorts in the past, and had purchased a season pass and signed a release agreement for each of the preceding three years that he spent snowboarding at Mt. Bachelor.

After reaching age 18 the plaintiff used the release 119 times over 26 days during a four month period. Once you affirm a contract, by using it and not disaffirming it, you cannot later disaffirm the contract. A contract is affirmed if the contract is not disaffirmed which requires an act on the part of the plaintiff. Meaning if the minor does not make an affirmative act to disaffirm the release then the release stands.

In Oregon, a former minor may disaffirm a contract within a “reasonable time” after reaching the age of majority, or, conversely, may ratify a contract after reaching the age of majority by manifesting an intent to let the contract stand, “[I]f an infant after reaching the age of majority engages in any conduct that objectively manifests an intent to regard the bargain as binding, the former minor will be held as a matter of law to have ratified the contract.”).

In this case the only disaffirmance occurred two years later when the plaintiff started his lawsuit.

The plaintiff then argued that because he had no knowledge of the power to disaffirm this release he should not be held to his failure to disaffirm. However the court shot this down with the standard statement. “However, we have previously stated that “[i]gnorance of the law is not a basis for not enforcing a contract.“”

The court then reviewed the requirements for a valid release under Oregon law. “[W]hen one party seeks to contract away liability for its own negligence in advance of any harm, the intent to do so must be ‘clearly and unequivocally expressed.”

The public policy argument was also shot down in a very common sense manner.

“[T]here are no public policy considerations that prevent a diving school from limiting liability for its own negligence. The diving school does not provide an essential public service[.]”). A ski resort, like a diving school, primarily offers “recreational activities” (with possible exceptions that do not apply here, e.g., training for search-and-rescue personnel) and does not provide an “essential public service.

The release was also found to not be unconscionable.

[T]he doctrine of unconscionability does not relieve parties from all unfavorable terms that result from the parties’ respective bargaining positions; it relieves them from terms that are unreasonably favorable to the party with greater bargaining power. Oregon courts have been reluctant to disturb agreements between parties on the basis of unconscionability, even when those parties do not come to the bargaining table with equal power. In those rare instances in which our courts have declared contractual provisions unconscionable, there existed serious procedural and substantive unfairness

The court followed up the public policy quote with “…albeit in dictum and in the context of addressing public-policy arguments, suggested that standard-form release agreements in the context of recreational activities are not impermissibly adhesive.”

A recreational activity is not subject to public policy arguments because the signer can:

“…simply walk away without signing the release and participating in the activity, and thus the contract signed under such circumstances is not unconscionable”

“[T]he release from liability is not invalid as a contract of adhesion, because [the] plaintiff voluntarily chose to ski at Mt. Bachelor and the ski resort does not provide essential public services.”

Because it was the plaintiff’s choice to board at the defendants ski area the release did not violate public policy.

When an individual enters a ski shop to buy ski equipment, s/he does not have a need for those goods and services, merely a desire. Should the seller demand exculpation as a condition for the sale of the equipment, the purchaser is free to walk away.

The one misstatement in my opinion which the court also pointed out was language that exempted the release for intentional acts. “THE ONLY CLAIMS NOT RELEASED ARE THOSE BASED UPON INTENTIONAL MISCONDUCT.” The capitalized print made this statement in the release even standout. The court, found this to be curious and probably was thinking the same way I did, why give the plaintiff’s a way out of the release.

The Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the release as a defense to the claims of the plaintiff.

So Now What?

When a guest enters their date of birth in the information form indicating they are under the age of majority, this always creates a problems because minor’s cannot sign releases. However, if the minor can read the release, even the release is voided by the minor, it can still be used to prove assumption of the risk by the minor.

If the minor is turning the age of majority during the term of the release you can have the minor reaffirm the release or sign a new release after his birthday.

The court repeatedly pointed out how many times the plaintiff had used the release, how many releases at this resort and other resorts the plaintiff had signed before and the experience of the plaintiff. Keep track of this information because it will be valuable in any case showing that the release was an accepted contract for the plaintiff.

Never write in your release the ways the plaintiff can sue you. Here the statement in the release that it was not effective for intentional misconduct is the same as telling the plaintiff to write their complaint to couch the injury as an intentional act on the part of the defendant.

On the good side, the ski area had the minor sign the release, even though the release at the time was of no value. A release signed by a minor might have value later as in this case or might be able to prove assumption of the risk.

The Oregon Supreme Court has just accepted this case for review of this decision. So please learn from this article but do not rely upon it yet. (http://rec-law.us/1jaw8g2)

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Copyright 2014 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

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How Long Should I hold onto Releases/Assumption of the risk Forms

There are several factors you need to find out before you can identify the exact number of years to hold on to contracts, assumption of the risk forms and releases. However, with modern technology, it does not matter anymore, hold onto them forever.

The old method

When boxes of releases were common, we used to calculate how long you should hold onto documents. The calculation relied on two major factors: The statute of limitations for a tort in your state and the age of the participant or person signing the document.

In most states, the statute of limitations for torts is two or three years. For an adult, you would hold on to a release for the statute of limitations plus one year. That plus one year is ” in case” (also translated meaning lawyer paranoia). That means in Colorado three years after an event, trip or whatever had ended you can shred the documents.

If the person was a minor, no matter if the minor signed it or their parent, you hold onto the document for the number of years until the minor turns eighteen (19 in Mississippi and 21 in Nebraska). (See The age that minors become adults.) You add those years to the statute of limitations.

As an example

Statute of Limitations in Colorado is two years for a tort.    2

Minor was 14 at the time of his injury: 18-14 =    4

One year just in case.    1

You would hold onto that release for seven years.    7

The reason for this is the minor can sue once he reaches the age of 18, until the statute of limitations runs. 99% of lawsuits for minors are started immediately, but you never know when a minor might decide that mom, and dad missed the boat when college tuition is needed.

However, sorting releases and assumption of the risk agreements signed by minors from those signed by adults was time consuming so the length of time to hold onto a release became forever. It was easier to collect and store the files then it was to sort them.

New Method = Forever, but a lot faster and easier

Scan the releases into a PDF file and store them on several hard drivers, thumb drives or in the cloud forever. You DO NOT need to sort them by name or separate them out into individual files. Just store them by date.

So, everyone who went Whitewater rafting on June 2, 2019 would be in the PDF dated 6.2.19. If you needed the release, you can just pull up the file and search or do a manual scan for the right release. Since a copy of the original is as good as the original, you do not need to keep the original. Colorado Rules of Evidence 1002; Federal Rules of Evidence 1002.

The exception to this rule would be if you know that someone was injured. You then need to go through a multi-step process.

  1. Scan the releases, including the one signed by the injured party and store them like all other releases. You do this with all the participants on the trip or program. You may need to contact the other parties as witnesses and having them in the same group as the injured party makes the other people at the event or on the boat easy to find.
  2. Collect all other necessary data that may be important years later. Examples of this might include:
    1. A roster of participants at the event
    2. A roster of staff attending the event
    3. All witness lists.
    4. All information and marketing material used to promote the event.
    5. Copy of the Weather report, water level, snow report, etc. for the day
    6. Program, Handouts, Agenda’s etc.
    7. Maintenance logs for equipment used in the event.
    8. Training, certifications, etc., of all staff for the activity
    9. Any photographs/videos of the activity
      1. Any photographs/videos from before the activity
      2. Any photographs/videos from after the activity
    10. Map of the area, as current as possible
    11. Etc.
  3. Take this information you have collected and scan it all into an electronic format.
    1. Send copies to your attorney(s)
    2. Send copies to your insurance company

      Tell them it is for safe keeping.

  4. Make paper copies of all paper and send a complete set of copies to your insurance company and attorney. Ask both what to do with the originals.
    1. Keep one good set of copies for yourself if you are told to send the originals to the insurance company or attorney, if not keep the originals.

For paper files, I suggest using a file or folder color that will attract attention, so they are not thrown out by accident. Red, Orange or Yellow good colors of files or folder colors to use. Keep the paperwork in a closed folder or envelope. Put everything in and seal it shut so nothing can fall out and the store this file somewhere so everyone knows where it is and why. If you find more information after you have sealed the first envelope or folder, create a second one, and write 1 of 2 and 2 of 2 on them. Put a large rubber band around both or secure them some way, so they do not get separated. Always right the last name of the injured party and the date on the outside so they don’t have to be opened to determine what files they contain.

After 10 years, you can shred these files.

Instead of having a warehouse full of releases or a back wall of your office with an additional 12 inches of insulation, you can have a hard drive of all the necessary documents needed in case of litigation.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2018 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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If you are interested in having me write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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Oregon Supreme Court finds release signed at ski area is void as a violation of public policy. Less than a week later the lawsuits are being filed in droves.

This is a monumental decision that will affect all recreational activities in Oregon, not just ski areas. A decision that will give injured plaintiffs of any recreational activity the opportunity to void releases for any number or reasons.

Bagley v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., dba Mt. Bachelor Ski and Summer Resort, 2014 Ore. LEXIS 994

State: Oregon Supreme Court

Plaintiff: Myles A. Bagley, Al Bagley, and Lauren Bagley

Defendant: Mt. Bachelor, Inc., dba Mt. Bachelor Ski and Summer Resort

Plaintiff Claims: negligent in the design, construction, maintenance, and inspection of the jump in the terrain park.

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the Plaintiff

Year: 2014

Prior Article written about the Appellate Decision in this Case: Rare issue this case looked at a release signed by a minor that prevented a suit for his injuries after turning age 18

The facts of this case have been copies from Rare issue this case looked at a release signed by a minor that prevented a suit for his injuries after turning age 18.

This is a rare review of release or contract law because the odds are against it. A contract is voidable by the minor when the minor signs the contract. However, if the contract is, in effect, when the minor reaches the age of majority, the minor can either disaffirm the contract which puts the parties back in the position before the contract was signed or if he or she fails to do that he or she takes advantages of the benefits of the contract and continues to use it the contract is in force.

To determine the age of majority or the age a minor becomes an adult in each state see The age that minors become adults.

The minor signed a season pass release at the defendant ski area. His father signed a minor release and indemnity agreement. Two weeks later and before the plaintiff had started snowboarding, he turned 18. Once he started snowboarding, after reaching age 18, he boarded at the defendant’s resort 26 different days, and his pass was scanned 119 times.

Going through the terrain park where he seemed to spend most of his time, the plaintiff was injured on a jump which resulted in permanent paralysis.

The minor and his parents sued the resort. The trial court dismissed his complaints after the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the release the minor had signed.

The court also brought out in this case, signs posted at lifts terminals which restated the ticket was a release of liability. Oregon is the only court that had held that a lift ticket purchased to ski was a release. See Silva v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55942.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The court first stated it had not reviewed releases in decades. The court then reviewed the legal importance of contracts.

It is a truism that a contract validly made between competent parties is not to be set aside lightly. (“When two or more persons competent for that purpose, upon a sufficient consideration, voluntarily agree to do or not to do a particular thing which may be lawfully done or omitted, they should be held to the consequences of their bargain.”). The right to contract privately is part of the liberty of citizenship, and an important office of the courts is to enforce contractual rights and obligations. (so stating). As this court has stated, however, “contract rights are [not] absolute; * * * [e]qually fundamental with the private right is that of the public to regulate it in the common interest.”

The only contracts that will not be enforced, according to this decision, are those that are contrary to law, morality or public policy.

It is elementary that public policy requires that * * * contracts [between competent parties], when entered into freely and voluntarily, shall be held sacred and shall be enforced by the courts of justice, and it is only when some other overpowering rule of public policy * * * intervenes, rendering such agreement illegal, that it will not be enforced.

The court then looked at what issues surrounding or in a contract will void a contract based on a public policy issue. It is not that a contract may be harsh to one party to the contract. “…[t]he test is the evil tendency of the contract and not its actual injury to the public in a particular instance…” However, the court then did a 180-degree turn and stated that in this case:

Thus, for the sake of convenience–if not doctrinal convergence–we address the parties’ public policy arguments in the context of our analysis of whether, in the particular circumstances of this case, enforcement of the release would be unconscionable.

The court then proceeded to build its argument on why this contract was a violation of public policy. It first divided public policy into two types procedural or substantive.

Procedural unconscionability refers to the conditions of contract formation and focuses on two factors: oppression and surprise.

Oppression exists when there is inequality in bargaining power between the parties, resulting in no real opportunity to negotiate the terms of the contract and the absence of meaningful choice. Surprise involves whether terms were hidden or obscure from the vantage of the party seeking to avoid them.

Generally speaking, factors such as ambiguous contract wording and fine print are the hallmarks of surprise.

In contrast, the existence of gross inequality of bargaining power, a takeit- or-leave-it bargaining stance, and the fact that a contract involves a consumer transaction, rather than a commercial bargain, can be evidence of oppression.

Substantive unconscionability was then defined as how the terms of the contract are viewed.

… generally refers to the terms of the contract, rather than the circumstances of formation, and focuses on whether the substantive terms contravene the public interest or public policy.

Either issue, whether the issues in how the contract was created, procedural unconscionability, or the terms of the agreement itself, substantive unconscionability, can void a contract.

The court then went to review the contract in light of any legislation related to the activity. Although Oregon has a Skier Responsibility Act, the court did not find it was instructive in this case.

The court did find that under Oregon law, it could void a release if the results would be harsh. “Finally, this court has held that another factor for determining whether an anticipatory release may be unenforceable is the possibility of a harsh or inequitable result for the releasing party.”

The court then listed the ways a contract could be voided under Oregon law.

We glean from those decisions that relevant procedural factors in the determination of whether enforcement of an anticipatory release would violate public policy or be unconscionable include whether the release was conspicuous and unambiguous; whether there was a substantial disparity in the parties’ bargaining power; whether the contract was offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis; and whether the contract involved a consumer transaction.

Relevant substantive considerations include whether enforcement of the release would cause a harsh or inequitable result to befall the releasing party; whether the releasee serves an important public interest or function; and whether the release purported to disclaim liability for more serious misconduct than ordinary negligence.

The court refused to provide details or procedures that would void a contract. Rather the court relied on a “totality of the circumstances” test. This means it provides great leeway for a court to determine if the facts swayed a judge, not whether the facts met any set requirements.

Nothing in our previous decisions suggests that any single factor takes precedence over the others or that the listed factors are exclusive. Rather, they indicate that a determination whether enforcement of an anticipatory release would violate public policy or be unconscionable must be based on the totality of the circumstances of a particular transaction.

The court then compared the ways it had found (created) to void a contract under Oregon law to the present situation.

This was not an agreement between equals. Only one party to the contract-defendant-was a commercial enterprise, and that party exercised its superior bargaining strength by requiring its patrons, including plaintiff, to sign an anticipatory release on a take-it-or-leave-it basis as a condition of using its facilities.

This analysis completely ignored the fact the contract covered recreational activities that most other states have found remove the take it or leave it bargaining issue. The exception being Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2. See Wisconsin decision has left the status of release law in Wisconsin in jeopardy.

The court found because the plaintiff had no opportunity to negotiate the terms or cost then there was an inequality of bargaining power between the plaintiff and the defendant. “Simply put, plaintiff had no meaningful alternative to defendant’s take-it-or-leave-it terms if he wanted to participate in downhill snowboarding.

The court found this alone was not enough to void the release. The court then looked at whether the results of enforcing the contract would be harsh and found this to be true.

As pertinent here, we conclude that the result would be harsh because, accepting as true the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint, plaintiff would not have been injured if defendant had exercised reasonable care in designing, constructing, maintaining, or inspecting the jump on which he was injured. And that harsh result also would be inequitable because defendant, not its patrons, has the expertise and opportunity to foresee and control hazards of its own creation on its premises, and to guard against the negligence of its employees.

This analysis completely ignores the issue of whether or not the plaintiff could have examined the jump or had gone over the jump before. The defendant had introduced evidence that the season pass had been used dozens of times prior to the accident.

The court then ignored the Oregon Skier Responsibility Law and stated that even though the act had reduced the liability of a ski area it had not changed its common law liability for those conditions that are not inherent in the activity.

Skier Responsibility Law provides that “[t]o the extent an injury is caused by an inherent risk of skiing, a skier will not recover against a ski area operator; to the extent an injury is a result of [ski area operator] negligence, comparative negligence applies

The court summed up its analysis to this point stating.

In short, because (1) accepting as true the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint, plaintiff would not have been injured if defendant had exercised reasonable care in designing, constructing, maintaining, or inspecting the jump on which he was injured; and (2) defendant, not its patrons, had the expertise and opportunity–indeed, the common law duty–to foresee and avoid unreasonable risks of its own creation on its business premises, we conclude that the enforcement of the release would cause a harsh and inequitable result, a factor that militates against its enforcement.

The court then looked at whether a ski area served an important public interest or function. The court found it did by adding an exception to the essential public service requirement stating that serving the public was enough.

However, like other places of public accommodation such as inns or public warehouses, defendant’s business premises–including its terrain park–are open to the general public virtually without restriction, and large numbers of skiers and snowboarders regularly avail themselves of its facilities. To be sure, defendants’ business facilities are privately owned, but that characteristic does not overcome a number of legitimate public interests concerning their operation

Because the public was invited to ski, the release violated Oregon Public Policy.

Accordingly, we reject defendant’s argument that the fact that skiing and snowboarding are “non-essential” activities compels enforcement of the release in this case. Instead, we conclude that defendant’s business operation is sufficiently tied to the public interest as to require the performance of its private duties to its patrons

The court then looked at the legal issues in a way I have never heard of before. The court accepted the plaintiff’s argument that the release was intended to prevent claims for negligence as well as for gross negligence, reckless, or intentional conduct. Although the court did not accept the argument in this case, it left the argument open for future cases.

The court summed up its opinion over a page and a half. The fact the release was written broadly caused the court’s concern.

That said, the release is very broad; it applies on its face to a multitude of conditions and risks, many of which (such as riding on a chairlift) leave defendant’s patrons vulnerable to risks of harm of defendant’s creation

However, the entire basis of its analysis was the court did not like the fact this injured plaintiff would not recover.

In the ultimate step of our unconscionability analysis, we consider whether those procedural and substantive considerations outweigh defendant’s interest in enforcing the release at issue here.

So Now What?

This case not only opened up lawsuits against ski areas but turned any recreation provider into a target. In just two weeks since the decision came down several high-dollar lawsuits have been filed in Oregon. See Mt. Hood Meadows snowboarder claims teen slammed into her, sues teen’s parents for $955,000 and Fallen tree causes Portland mountain bike racer to crash, fracture neck, $273,000 suit says.

By stating that any provider was subject to the public policy exception to releases, the court effectively found that anyone injured by a recreation provider could have their releases voided.

If you are Oregon and have a release you may want to put in that the release is only for claims of ordinary negligence. This violates every principal I have espoused over the years, but here the court found that failing to have such a clause may make an argument for voiding a release.

This decision is stretched to reach its decision, and it is written quite vaguely and broadly giving future plaintiff’s dozens of ways of voiding a release. Catastrophic injuries are going to be more likely, based on this analysis, to void a release; however, those are the ones that attract the money.

Oregon ski area ticket prices are going to increase because Oregon ski area insurance is going up.  

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

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Assumption of Risk — Checklist

Your second best or maybe only defense to a lawsuit.

The second most important section in a release is the Assumption of Risk or Acknowledgement of Risk section. Assumption of the risk is the second defense when a defense of release is not available. This means if your state does not recognize release as a defense, you should have the best assumption of risk document you can create. See States that do not Support the Use of a Release.

Assumption of the risk may be the only defense you have for claims or injuries from minors. A minor is someone who is too young and therefore, legally unable to contract. See The age that minors become adults.

Assumption of the risk is also valuable in case your defense of release is thrown out for any reason. Your legal agreement, formerly your release, may still be able to prove your guest assumed the risk of their injury.

In some states, Assumption of Risk has been incorporated into Contributory Negligence.  The overall effect is the similar.  Do not allow the legal definitions to stop you from fully explaining the risks to your client.

To prove Assumption of Risk, you must prove your client knew and understood or appreciated the specific risk that caused the injury. Assumption or Risk includes everything your client hears, sees, or understood before undertaking the activity.

Remember these points when writing an Assumption of Risk section in a release or an A/R document.

  • Your Assumption of Risk section should contain the worst-case scenarios for your operation and activities.
  • Your Assumption of Risk section should contain the most common hazards, injuries, and risk of your activity no matter how minor.

Contact your insurance company for a list of the claims they have had over the past several years in your activity to determine what should be included in your Assumption of Risk language.

  • Make sure your Assumption of Risk section includes all the risks of your activity.

Rafting includes side hikes.  Rock climbing includes hikes to the site and debris falling from the cliff.  Rope’s courses include group activities as well as high element activities. Overnight trips include sleeping in a tent or outdoors which may be a new experience and a new risk to your guests.

  • Assumption of Risk must be stated from your client’s point of view.  You understand the risks.  Your clients do not.
  • Be sure to incorporate a reference or the specific statutes in your state that affect your program. Examples would be covering specific statutes like the Colorado Equine Liability Act if you have horses in your program or the Colorado Ski Act if your program skis.
  • Look for any videos that may explain the risk and incorporate those in your safety talk or post them to your site.
  • Answer questions honestly about the risks. Never mislead a guest about the risks of the activity.
  • Your guest must agree to assume the risk and must agree that they understand the risk.
  • The more information you provide your guest the greater your chance of showing your guest assumed the risk.

Assumption of the risk is not the best defense; however, if it is or becomes your only defense, you will be glad you took the effort to work with your attorney to write the risks into your release.

For other articles about Assumption of the Risk See

Release saves riding school, even after defendant tried to show plaintiff how to win the case.                                                                 http://rec-law.us/14DC7Ad

Plaintiff tried multiple ways to sue whitewater rafting company   http://rec-law.us/12l5Ycc

In this cycle race case, the release was void by state law, but could still be used to prove assumption of the risk.                                         http://rec-law.us/OzpHzk

New York Decision explains the doctrine of Primary Assumption of the Risk for cycling.                                                                        http://rec-law.us/QrTtLl

South Carolina Supreme Court writes a clear decision on Assumption of the Risk for sporting activities.                                               http://rec-law.us/HhuYbY

Rhode Island, applying New Hampshire law states a skier assumes the risk of a collision.         http://rec-law.us/Opca1N

Assumption of the risk is used to defeat a claim for injuries on a ropes course                                                                        http://rec-law.us/SDZlBt

Assumption of the Risk                                         http://rec-law.us/wMtiET

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Copyright 2013 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

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

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News May 27, 2013

Rundown of weekly news that might be of interest!

 

Legal

The age that minors become adults.

I am constantly writing about the different legal issues of minors, here you can check on what that means for your state.

The age when a minor becomes an adult is currently 18 in 47 states. Alabama and Nebraska state law says an adult is someone who is 19 or older and Mississippi an adult is 21 or older.

There are exceptions for all the laws on minority in each state. A minor can become an adult if they marry, if they are emancipated or by special statutory exceptions.

See http://rec-law.us/13YGKFq

 

Against the law now for kids to not pay attention?

Parents sue because kids were playing. Group of kids on a YMCA outing to a miniature golf course were playing around. One kid hit another in the mouth with a golf club and injured the girl. The parents are suing for inadequate supervision.

How many adults would you have to have to keep kids from playing around? 10 kids, 20 adults? The only result of these suits is kids are not going to be taken care of by adults except their parents.

See http://rec-law.us/11s9pNV

 

Commercial whitewater fatality on the Kenai Peninsula‘s Six Mile Creek.

See http://rec-law.us/11qnIm6

 

 

Skiing

Vail just got bigger!

Vail resorts just signed a 50 year lease to run The Canyons in Utah. This will make the Vail Season pretty amazing. Nine resorts (the PR forgot about #A-Basin) will be available to season pass holders in three states: CO, UT and CA.

See http://rec-law.us/159gWWI

 

Is resort a fake? Town is

New 23 lift resort has been approved in #BC Canada. Approval was granted by a town council of a town that does not exist…..

See http://rec-law.us/11yCD3F

 

Paddlesports

Rituals v. Habits

Great article about how commercial boatman, sometimes pick up habits that become rituals in the Grand Canyon.

See http://rec-law.us/13SNq7U

 

If you can call water flowing between concrete walls on a concrete floor a river……

The Los Angeles River is now open to the public again. Or at least 2.5 miles of it.

See http://rec-law.us/15iCm3b

 

Training

Future Career or future disability

Training kids too hard to early does not create great athletic prodigies, only injuries.

See http://rec-law.us/124vKIG

#Nike has stopped its support for #LiveStrong.

See http://rec-law.us/10xQPsb

 

Mountaineering

Climb meaning sitting in you easy chair with a beer

New iOs App allows you to climb Mtn Everest.

See http://rec-law.us/18om8tK

 

One way to get down

Video of a base jump? Paraglide off Mt. Everest

See http://rec-law.us/10MdBJm

 

Overachievers!

Not satisfied to climb Mt #Everest once, David Liano Gonzalez climbed it twice, in the same season, once from the South Side (Nepalese) and once from the North Side (Chinese).

See http://rec-law.us/13nZV9j

 

It’s still climbing….right?

Companies are considering putting a ladder on the Hilliary Step on Mt. Everest. There is already a ladder on the North side.

See http://rec-law.us/ZcpsTx

Nepal demanding payment for summit broadcast

There are actually rules for climbing Mt. #Everest. One of those is you cannot #broadcast from sacred areas. The summit is a sacred area. Now Nepal wants paid for a broadcast.

See http://rec-law.us/146m6Qi

 

OR Business

Things change

#Nike has stopped its support for #LiveStrong.

See http://rec-law.us/10xQPsb

 

OR Life

Animals are amazing

Video of amazing ways that animals defend themselves.

See http://rec-law.us/13YGCWv

Oh, I’m a survivor

What happens after 400 years under a #glacier and the glacier retreats? Well if you are a #Moss you start to grow again.

See http://rec-law.us/13YGExx

 

This is just so wrong

10 Apps for Enjoying the Great Outdoors

See http://rec-law.us/159rmWq

 

 

Environment

With Glaciers retreating the mountains are coming down also.

See http://rec-law.us/16sM4o9

 

Cycling

Infographic for cycling pre-ride checklist.

See http://rec-law.us/133kAka

 

Mind the Ride

A bike riding group, Denver Cruisers (http://rec-law.us/17t1bOD) which rides every Wednesday night around downtown Denver has created a bicycle awareness campaign.

The campaign is pretty stark, very good and great for a group just not to promote themselves.

See http://rec-law.us/18z1SDb

 

 

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

Copyright 2013 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog:www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

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DiFrancesco v. Win-Sum Ski Corp., Holiday Valley, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39695

DiFrancesco v. Win-Sum Ski Corp., Holiday Valley, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39695

Bryan DiFrancesco as father and natural guardian of the infant minor, LD, Plaintiffs, v. Win-Sum Ski Corp., Holiday Valley, Inc., Defendants.

13CV148

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39695

March 20, 2017, Decided

March 20, 2017, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: DiFrancesco v. Win-Sum Ski Corp., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24784 (W.D.N.Y., Feb. 22, 2017)

COUNSEL:  [*1] For Bryan DiFrancesco, as father and natural guardian of the infant minor, LD, Bryan DiFrancesco, Individually, Plaintiffs: Philip L. Rimmler, LEAD ATTORNEY, Russell T. Quinlan, Paul William Beltz, P.C., Buffalo, NY.

For Win-Sum Ski Corp, Holiday Valley, Inc., Defendants: Maryjo C. Zweig, Steven M. Zweig, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Cheroutes Zweig, PC, Hamburg, NY.

JUDGES: Hon. Hugh B. Scott, United States Magistrate Judge.

OPINION BY: Hugh B. Scott

OPINION

CONSENT

Order

The parties then consented to proceed before the undersigned as Magistrate Judge, including presiding over a jury trial (Docket No. 37). Presently before the Court are the parties’ first round of motions in limine in preparation for a jury trial. Defendants first submitted their motion in limine (Docket No. 53). Plaintiffs’ then filed their motion in limine (Docket No. 56). Defendants then supplemented their motion in limine (Docket No. 58). As scheduled in the Final Pretrial Order (Docket No. 40), these initial motions in limine were due by January 3, 2017 (id.), later extended at the parties’ request to January 6, 2017 (Docket No. 42); responses initially were due by January 17, 2017, and they were to be argued with the Final Pretrial Conference on January 18, [*2]  2017, and then be deemed submitted (Docket No. 40). Responses to these motions were postponed then and were due by February 3, 2017 (Docket No. 63), which defendants submitted (Docket No. 65) and plaintiffs submitted (Docket No. 66); and reply by February 10, 2017 (Docket No. 63), which defendants submitted (Docket No. 67) and plaintiffs submitted (Docket No. 68); and argument was held on February 16, 2017 (Docket Nos. 63, 69 (minutes)). These motions were deemed submitted at the conclusion of oral argument. During that argument, scheduling for the Pretrial Conference and jury selection and trial were discussed with the trial reset for July 17, 2017 (Docket No. 69; see Docket Nos. 70, 71). The jury selection and trial of this case was scheduled for February 1, 2017 (Docket No. 40, Final Pretrial Order), but was later adjourned (Docket Nos. 63, 64).

Separately, this Court addressed plaintiffs’ motion for a protective Order and to quash two subpoenas (Docket Nos. 43 (motion), 70, Order of February 22, 2017), familiarity with which is presumed.

BACKGROUND

This is a diversity personal injury action. Plaintiffs are a Canadian father and daughter, while defendants are New York corporations [*3]  which operate Holiday Valley. Plaintiff LD (hereinafter “LD,” cf. Fed. R. Civ. P. 5.2) was a five-year-old in 2010 who skied at Holiday Valley. Plaintiffs allege that LD was injured falling when from a chairlift at Holiday Valley (Docket No. 1, Compl.; see Docket No. 43, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 3, Ex. B).

According to plaintiffs’ earlier motion, LD was participating in a ski lesson at Holiday Valley on February 15, 2010, under the supervision of defendants’ employee, a ski instructor, when she fell from the chairlift sustaining injuries to her left leg and left hip. Plaintiffs allege negligent instruction and supervision during the course of that lesson resulting in LD’s fall. (Docket No. 43, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶¶ 3, 9, Ex. E; see id., Pls. Memo. at 1-2.)

The Scheduling Order (after extensions, see Docket Nos. 14-15, 20, 23, 25, 27) in this case had discovery conclude on April 30, 2015 (Docket No. 27; see Docket No. 43, Pls. Atty. Decl. Ex. D). No motions to compel were filed and the parties reported on October 5, 2015, readiness for trial (Docket No. 30). Plaintiffs’ motion to quash subpoenas and for a protective Order led to the parties exchanging supplemental discovery, which was to be completed by April 5, [*4]  2017 (Docket No. 70, Order of Feb. 22, 2017, at 21, 22). Defendants’ First Motion in Limine (Docket No. 53)

Pursuant to the Final Pretrial Order (Docket No. 40), defendants filed their motion in limine, seeking preclusion of portions of the opinions of plaintiffs’ expert, Dick Penniman; evidence of defendants’ subsequent remediation; and evidence of prior and subsequent incidents similar to the accident at issue (Docket No. 53). Plaintiffs’ response and defendants’ reply will be addressed below at each particular item. Plaintiffs’ Motion in Limine (Docket No. 56)

Plaintiffs also filed their timely motion in limine (Docket No. 56), seeking to preclude evidence that infant LD assumed the risk of riding the chairlift, evidence from LD’s injury at Holimont in 2015, and evidence of a disclaimer that plaintiffs argue is against public policy (id.).

Defendants argue that plaintiffs’ motion in limine is in fact an untimely motion for summary judgment and that issues of fact exist, hence there is no basis to preclude evidence as to plaintiffs’ assumption of the risk or comparative negligence (Docket No. 65, Defs. Memo. at 5-6). They contend that the registration form with the release signed by [*5]  LD’s uncle is admissible because the release tracks the “Warning to Skiers” required by New York General Obligations Law § 18-106(1)(a) and regulations under 12 N.Y.C.R.R. § 54.5(l)(1) (id. at 7). They fault plaintiffs for not addressing Vanderwall v. Troser Management, Inc., 244 A.D.2d 982, 665 N.Y.S.2d 492 (4th Dep’t 1997), leave to appeal denied, 91 N.Y.2d 811, 694 N.E.2d 883, 671 N.Y.S.2d 714 (1998) (id.). That case charged the jury there with express assumption of the risk for exposure to drainage ditches even though those risks were not enumerated in “Warning to Skiers,” Vanderwall, supra, 244 A.D.2d at 982, 665 N.Y.S.2d at 493 (id.). Defendants’ Supplemental Motion in Limine (Docket No. 58)

Defendants later supplemented their motion in limine seeking preclusion of undisclosed expert testimony and to limit as expert testimony from LD’s parents as to her treatment (both past and future) and LD’s physical therapist testifying as to causation and diagnosis (Docket No. 58).

Plaintiffs’ respond that they did provide disclosure of future medical expenses; alternatively, they contend that defendants waived any objection to an omitted response by not moving to compel or for preclusion (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 16-18).

During oral argument of plaintiffs’ motion for a protective Order and to quash the two subpoenas (Docket No. 69), the parties submitted on their respective papers for these motions in limine (id.). They also discussed the need to supplement [*6]  their disclosure, especially LD’s future medical treatment and needs (id.).

DISCUSSION

I. Applicable Standards

In a diversity jurisdiction action, this Court initially must apply the substantive law of our forum state, New York, see Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S. Ct. 817, 82 L. Ed. 1188 (1983); Ocean Ships, Inc. v. Stiles, 315 F.3d 111, 116 n.4 (2d Cir. 2002), including its choice of law regime, Klaxon v. Stentor, 313 U.S. 487, 61 S. Ct. 1020, 85 L. Ed. 1477 (1941). This Court has to apply New York law as construed by the highest court of the state, the New York State Court of Appeals, not the local intermediate appellate court. When the New York State Court of Appeals has not ruled on the particular question, this Court then has to predict the direction the Court of Appeals would go if given that issue, see Gasperini v. Center for Humanities, Inc., 66 F.3d 427, 430 (2d Cir. 1995).

In personal injury actions, New York generally applies the law of the jurisdiction in which the injury occurred. See Cooney v. Osgood Machinery, Inc., 81 N.Y.2d 66, 612 N.E.2d 277, 595 N.Y.S.2d 919 (1993); Neumeier v. Kuehner, 31 N.Y.2d 121, 286 N.E.2d 454, 335 N.Y.S.2d 64 (1972). “New York’s current choice-of-law rules require the court to consider the following three elements: the domicile of the plaintiff, the domicile of the defendant, and the place where the injury occurred.” Lucas v. Lalime, 998 F. Supp. 263, 267 (W.D.N.Y. 1998) (Heckman, Mag. J., R&R, adopted by Arcara, J.). Where more than one element is in the same state, that state’s law should apply. Id.; Datskow v. Teledyne Continental Motors, 807 F. Supp. 941, 943 (W.D.N.Y. 1992) (Larimer, J.). Under these choice of law rules “the first step in any case presenting a potential choice of law is to [*7]  determine whether there is an actual conflict between the laws of the jurisdiction involved.” Matter of Allstate Ins. Co. (Stolarz), 81 N.Y.2d 219, 223, 613 N.E.2d 936, 597 N.Y.S.2d 904, 905 (1993).

Here, the accident and defendants are in New York, plaintiffs are from Ontario. As a second1 Neumeier situation, New York law would apply, Neumeier, supra, 31 N.Y.2d at 128, 335 N.Y.S.2d at 70; Cooney v. Osgood Machinery, Inc., 81 N.Y.2d 66, 72, 612 N.E.2d 277, 595 N.Y.S.2d 919, 922 (1993) (conduct-regulating laws, the law of the jurisdiction where the tort occurs applies while loss allocation laws have additional factors to determine which jurisdiction applies, citations omitted). In addition, the parties in effect have stipulated to apply forum (New York) law to this case. Both sides cite New York law and made no reference to any other jurisdiction’s law having application. Neither side has presented any law that conflict with New York law. New York courts enforce stipulations to choice of law, see Hamilton v. Accu-Tek, 47 F. Supp.2d 330, 343 (E.D.N.Y. 1999) (citing, among other cases, Tehran-Berkeley Civil & Envtl. Eng’rs v. Tippetts-Abett-McCarthy-Stratton, 888 F.2d 239, 242 (2d Cir. 1989) (parties briefed New York law, court applies New York law based upon implied consent of parties)); Roginsky v. Richardson-Merrell, Inc., 378 F.2d 832, 834 n.2 (2d Cir. 1967) (Friendly, J.); Klein v. Jostens, Inc., No. 83 Civ. 5351, 1985 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18115, at *6 n.1 (S.D.N.Y. July 9, 1985). As a result New York law applies and the legal issues surrounding these evidentiary disputes will be resolved under New York law.

1 The second Neumeier situation is the defendant is from state A, plaintiff from state B, state A is where tort occurs; state A allows recovery, defendant cannot invoke state B’s law, similarly if state A does not allow recovery, defendant is not liable, thus state A’s law applies; or, as stated in New York Jurisprudence Conflict of Laws § 57, 19A N.Y. Jur., where local law favors respective domiciliary, the law of the place of injury generally applies, Neumeier, supra, 31 N.Y.2d at 128, 335 N.Y.S.2d at 70.

II. Application

A. Plaintiffs’ Motion in Limine, Docket No. 56

1. Preclude Evidence of LD’s Assumption of Risk

The heart of [*8]  this case is whether this five-year-old child can assume the risk inherent with riding and dismounting from a chairlift under New York law. Cases from New York State courts leave as an issue of fact for the jury whether a particular infant (regardless of the child’s age) was capable of assuming the risk of his or her activities. New York courts do not create a bright line rule that minors at five years or older are incapable of assuming risk, but cf. Smith v. Sapienza, 115 A.D.2d 723, 496 N.Y.S.2d 538 (2d Dep’t 1985) (holding, as matter of law, that three and a half year old child victim of dog attack was incapable of being held responsible for his actions for contributory negligence). New York common law “has long disclaimed any per se rule with regard to the age at which a child cannot legally assume a risk and thereby not be responsible for comparative fault for his or her injury,” Clark v. Interlaken Owners, Inc., 2 A.D.3d 338, 340, 770 N.Y.S.2d 58, 60 (1st Dep’t 2003) (Tom, J., dissent). The majority of Clark court held that assumption of risk doctrine did not apply to a five-year-old playing around exposed construction equipment, “where the danger was even more accessible [than another case cited] and the risk at least as unappreciated by this five-year-old plaintiff,” 2 A.D.3d at 340, 770 N.Y.S.2d at 60 (emphasis supplied), citing Roberts v. New York City Hous. Auth., 257 A.D.2d 550, 685 N.Y.S.2d 23 (1st Dep’t), leave to appeal denied, 93 N.Y.2d 811, 716 N.E.2d 698, 694 N.Y.S.2d 633 (1999), concluding [*9]  that instructing the jury on assumption of the risk was error as a matter of law, Clark, supra, 2 A.D.3d at 340, 770 N.Y.S.2d at 60. In Roberts, the Appellate Division held a “six-year old under these circumstances” that is, a child exposed to a steam line fenced off by an easily breached fence next to the lawn where children played, did not have the doctrine of assumption of risk apply, 257 A.D.2d at 550, 685 N.Y.S.2d 23, 23. Roberts provided an opportunity for establishing an age-based bright line rule but the court decided on the specific facts of that case; hence the standard plaintiffs are in effect arguing was not adopted by New York courts.

Plaintiff argues that LD was just days away from being one year older than the non sui juris status of age four and being incapable as a matter of law being culpable (Docket No. 66, Pls. Opp. Memo. at 4-5). Assumption of risk is a distinct defense from contributory negligence, see Arbegast v. Board of Educ. of S. New Berlin Cent. School, 65 N.Y.2d 161, 165, 480 N.E.2d 365, 490 N.Y.S.2d 751, 754-55 (1985), but both defenses are subject to the doctrine of non sui juris, see M.F. v. Delaney, 37 A.D.3d 1103, 1104-05, 830 N.Y.S.2d 412, 414 (4th Dep’t 2007) (assumption of risk and culpable conduct by plaintiffs should have been dismissed because plaintiffs were 2 and 3 years old and hence were non sui juris). Plaintiffs point to the concept of non sui juris that absolves children of a certain age or younger from culpability since (as [*10]  a matter of law) they are incapable of comprehending danger to be negligent or responsible for her actions, Republic Ins. Co. v. Michel, 885 F. Supp. 426, 432-33 (E.D.N.Y. 1995) (Azrack, Mag. J.). Over the age of four, the status of a child is a question of fact regarding the particular child’s ability to comprehend danger and care for herself, id. at 432; younger than four years of age, “an infant . . . may be so young that he is unable to apprehend the existence of danger, take precautions against it and exercise any degree of care for his own safety. The law calls such a child, non sui juris,” id. at 433; see also id. at 433 n.8 (literal translation of Latin phrase is “not his own master,” quoting Black’s Law Dictionary 1058 (6th ed. 1990)). The non sui juris child is incapable of committing negligence, id. at 433. “Where an infant is older than four years of age, the status of that child as sui juris or non sui juris is to be determined by the trier of fact,” id. (citing cases), with factors of the child’s intelligence and maturity dictating that status, id. One federal court, applying New York contributory negligence doctrines, held that the status of a child over the age of four was a question of fact addressing “the particular child’s ability to comprehend danger and care for himself,” [*11]  Republic Ins. Co., supra, 885 F. Supp. at 432 (see Docket No. 67, Defs. Reply Memo. at 5-6). If there is a bright-line rule under New York law, the age is four years old, not five as was LD when she was injured.

The age of the plaintiff is a factor in determining whether they are capable of assuming risk of their actions, see Trupia v. Lake George Cent. Sch. Dist., 14 N.Y.3d 392, 396, 927 N.E.2d 547, 901 N.Y.S.2d 127, 130 (2010); Clark, supra, 2 A.D.3d at 340, 770 N.Y.S.2d at 60 (error to instruct on assumption of risk for five-year-old on construction vehicle) (Docket No. 54, Pls. Tr. Memo. at 6); Roberts, supra, 257 A.D.2d 550, 685 N.Y.S.2d at 24; Trippy v. Basile, 44 A.D.2d 759, 354 N.Y.S.2d 235, 236 (4th Dep’t 1974) (error to instruct jury that five and half year old child contributorily negligent, and could be so charged only if he had the age, experience, intelligence development and mental capacity to understand the meaning of the statute violated and to comply therewith) (Docket No. 54, Pls. Tr. Memo. at 5-6). As noted by the Court of Appeals in Trupia, supra, 14 N.Y.3d at 396, 901 N.Y.S.2d at 130, in an almost 12-year-old child’s claim from sliding down a bannister, that court states that children often act impulsively or without good judgment, “they do not thereby consent to assume the consequently arising dangers” for assumption of risk. Plaintiffs distinguish DeLacy v. Catamount Dev. Corp., 302 A.D.2d 735, 755 N.Y.S.2d 484 (3d Dep’t 2003), due to the plaintiffs in that case being two years older than LD was in 2010 (Docket No. 68, Pls. Reply Memo. at 5; see also Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 4; but cf. Docket No. [*12]  65, Defs. Memo. at 5-6). But the New York Court of Appeals has not ruled on this question, but the consensus of other New York courts do not recognize a bright line rule that at age five or six a child is incapable of having the requisite knowledge and maturity to assume the risks of their actions; non sui juris status is applicable to four years old and that age or older is an issue of fact.

Courts in New York have concluded that assumption of the risk is a question of fact for the jury, Moore v. Hoffman, 114 A.D.3d 1265, 1266, 980 N.Y.S.2d 684, 685 (4th Dep’t 2014), in particular, riding and dismounting a chairlift has risks that raises questions of fact, DeLacy, supra, 302 A.D.2d at 736, 755 N.Y.S.2d at 486 (questions of fact whether a seven-year-old novice skier fully appreciated the risks associated with using a chairlift) (Docket No. 65, Defs. Memo. at 6). One factual element in this case is the maturity and knowledge of LD as to whether she assumed the risk of riding the chairlift here despite being five years old. LD testified at her deposition that prior to the 2010 incident she rode chairlifts two or three other times, each time with her father plaintiff Bryan DiFrancesco who assisted her getting on and off the lift (Docket No. 56, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 18, Ex. C, LD EBT Tr. at 9), even to having Bryan hold [*13]  his ski pole over LD’s lap until it was time to get off the chairlift (id., Tr. at 9). Whether LD in her circumstances could assume the risk of riding and disembarking from the chairlift by herself is an issue of fact and evidence regarding her maturity, age, experience, intelligence, literacy, and mental capacity to understand the risks she faced is relevant and admissible. As a result, plaintiffs’ motion precluding evidence of LD assuming the risk is denied.

This is notwithstanding defendants’ argument that plaintiffs’ motion in limine here is in fact an untimely motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 65, Defs. Memo. at 5-6; Docket No. 67, Defs. Reply Memo. at 2-3). As plaintiffs rebut (Docket No. 68, Pls. Reply at 2-4), they are not seeking entry of judgment to dismiss a defense, instead they properly seek preclusion of evidence. But the factual issues in this case under New York law require production of evidence of LD’s capacity to assume risk.

2. Preclude Evidence of LD’s 2015 Snowboarding Incident

Plaintiffs next seek excluded evidence from an accident LD had at Holimont in 2015 resulting in injuries to her clavicle, contending that the evidence is prejudicial and would be admitted [*14]  to show her to be accident prone (Docket No. 56, Pls. Memo. at 7-10). LD’s injuries in 2010 were to her left leg and hip and not to her clavicle (id. at 8). As argued in the motion to quash the subpoena to Holimont (Docket No. 43, Pls. Memo. at 7), LD did not waive the physician-patient privilege for LD’s treatment of the 2015 injuries (Docket No. 56, Pls. Memo. at 8, 9-10). Plaintiffs conclude that LD’s subsequent snowboarding accident is not relevant to her 2010 injuries (id. at 9).

Defendants contend that LD’s injuries are not limited to her leg and hip, but also include loss of enjoyment of life and emotional injuries (Docket No. 65, Defs. Memo. at 12, citing Docket No. 56, Pls. Atty. Decl., Ex. H, Response to Defs. Interrog. No. 1). Again, as argued to defend the subpoena upon Holimont, defendants contend that Second Department law provides that LD put her physical condition at issue, justifying admissibility of her 2015 injuries (Docket No. 65, Defs. Memo. at 13).

But as noted in deciding plaintiffs’ earlier motion (Docket No. 43), this Court in diversity is bound by the common law of New York as settled by the New York State Court of Appeals or this Court’s prediction of how the New York Court [*15]  of Appeals would decide the issue if brought to it (see Docket No. 70, Order of February 22, 2017, at 13). This Court has held that the Court of Appeals, if it addressed the waiver of physician-patient privilege, would limit that waiver to so much of LD’s physical or mental condition placed in controversy here (id. at 17; see id. at 16-17 (holding that plaintiffs have standing to object to the subpoena based upon the unwaived privilege)). This case is about LD’s injuries from the 2010 incident, with physical injuries to her lower body. Discussion of LD’s accident five years later and to an unrelated body part is not relevant to her claims and would prejudice plaintiffs, see Fed. R. Evid. 403. Admitting evidence of the 2015 accident would introduce character evidence that LD acted in accordance with a particular trait (clumsiness), see Fed. R. Evid. 404(a)(1). Defendants have other means of establishing the limits on LD’s loss enjoyment of life and limitations on her activities after the 2010 accident (such as her father’s deposition testimony as to her activities, see Docket No. 43, Pls. Atty. Decl., Ex. C, Bryan DiFrancesco EBT Tr.10-21, 23, 95-96)).

This Court ordered plaintiffs to produce for in camera inspection the Holimont medical records [*16]  from the 2015 incident for this Court to determine if there is anything applicable to this case, such as distinguishing 2010-caused injuries from 2015 injuries or the effects of the 2015 incident on LD’s 2010 injuries (Docket No. 70, Order of Feb. 22, 2017, at 17-18). This in camera inspection was for this Court to determine if there is anything applicable to this case, such as discussion of LD’s 2010 injuries or distinguishing 2010-caused injuries from 2015 injuries or the effects of the 2015 incident had on LD’s 2010 injuries (Docket No. 70, Order of Feb. 22, 2017, at 17-18). This Court received those in camera medical records (received March 6, 2017)2 and reviewed them and find that the following documents should be produced and those that should not. Below is Table 1, a spreadsheet listing the reviewed documents and their production status.

2 These documents were not Bates numbered or otherwise identified or paginated. Thus, this Court described the reviewed documents by their date and generic type, to avoid disclosure of contents.

[Chart Removed because it would not format for this site]

The documents ordered to be produced are those relevant to LD’s 2010 injuries, namely to her left leg and hips. Excluded are those documents that refer only to her 2015 clavicle injury. The documents that plaintiffs are to produce are the April 1, 2017, memorandum; the January 4, 2015, consultation report; notes from July 30, 2015; and the July 30, 2015, notes from Hamilton Health Sciences. The remaining documents exclusive involve the 2015 incident and injury and there was not connection made to LD’s 2010 injuries.

Thus, so much of plaintiffs’ motion (Docket No. 56) to preclude evidence from LD’s 2015 Holimont accident is granted in part, denied in part, with plaintiffs only to produce the documents identified above.

3. Preclude [*18]  Evidence as Against Public Policy

Plaintiffs point to General Obligations Law § 5-326 that render defendants’ disclaimers as the operator of a place of amusement void as against public policy (Docket No. 56, Pls. Memo. at 4-5), see Rogowicki v. Troser Mgmt., 212 A.D.2d 1035, 623 N.Y.S.2d 47 (4th Dep’t 1995). Defendants counter that the statutory and regulatory scheme under the Safety in Skiing Code, N.Y. Gen. Oblig. L. § 18-106; Labor Law §§ 202-c (use of ski tows), 867 (Safety in Skiing Code), authorized the release warning given in the form signed by LD’s uncle (Docket No. 65, Defs. Memo. at 7), see Vanderwall, supra, 244 A.D.2d at 982, 665 N.Y.S.2d at 493.

Plaintiffs also argue that any release here would be ineffective as to LD since she never read or signed it, hence it could not serve as a waiver of liability for her injuries (Docket No. 56, Pls. Memo. at 5), see Franco v. Neglia, 3 Misc. 3d 15, 776 N.Y.S.2d 690 (N.Y. App. Term 2004) (release invalid against 14-year-old participant, who signed release, in first kickboxing class); Kaufman v. American Youth Hostels, Inc., 6 A.D.2d 223, 229, 177 N.Y.S.2d 587, 593 (2d Dep’t 1958) (release signed by father invalid for child’s injuries) (id.). Plaintiffs’ reply that defendants fail to address how LD’s uncle can bind LD on the registration form waiver (Docket No. 68, Pls. Reply Memo. at 4), by not distinguishing Franco, supra, 3 Misc. 3d 15, 776 N.Y.S.2d 690 (N.Y. App. Term 2004), or Kaufman, supra, 6 A.D.2d 223, 229, 177 N.Y.S.2d 587, 593 (2d Dep’t 1958) (id.). They note that General Obligations Law § 18-106(1)(a) lists the risks inherent in skiing but do not mention the risks inherent in riding a chairlift (id.). Specifically, [*19]  none of those risks include having a second child obey a sign to open the chairlift bar prematurely and the negligent location of that sign (see id. at 4-5). Plaintiffs argue that assumption of risk is not automatic for every personal injury case that a novice (regardless of their age) cannot as a matter of law assume a risk (id. at 6, citing Corrigan v. Musclemakers Inc., 258 A.D.2d 861, 863, 686 N.Y.S.2d 143, 145 (3d Dep’t 1999) (injured 49-year-old woman who never been on treadmill)).

But in Franco the infant fourteen-year-old plaintiff signed the release, 3 Misc. 3d at 16, 776 N.Y.S.2d at 691. The Supreme Court, Appellate Term, held that an infant is not bound by releases which exculpate defendants from damages for personal injury “since they lack the capacity to enter into such agreements,” id., at 16, 776 N.Y.S.2d at 691 (citing Kaufman, supra, 6 A.D.2d 223, 177 N.Y.S.2d 587). The plaintiff’s decedent fifteen-year-old child in Kaufman, supra, 6 A.D.2d at 229, 225, 177 N.Y.S.2d at 593, 589, signed the release with her father. The Appellate Division, applying Oregon law, see id. at 225, 177 N.Y.S.2d at 589, held that the effect of the father’s signature was ambiguous, id. at 229, 225, 177 N.Y.S.2d at 593, 589. The decedent’s capacity there to sign the release by reason of her infancy “was effectively exercised by [her] by the act of commencing this action,” id., at 229, 177 N.Y.S.2d at 593. The Appellate Division upheld striking the defense of decedent’s release because she disaffirmed “the agreement by reason of her infancy” exercised by her father’s commencement [*20]  of this action but reversed regarding striking that defense for the father’s separate action against the hostel, id. at 229, 177 N.Y.S.2d at 593. Neither case held that the signature of the parent or guardian alone of a release was binding upon the infant for whom the guardian signed. Thus, these cases do not go as far as plaintiffs contend to render ineffective a release signed by a guardian on behalf of an infant participating in a risky activity.

a. Infant Disaffirmance of Release

“A minor is not bound by a release executed by his parent,” Alexander v. Kendall Cent. Sch. Dist., 221 A.D.2d 898, 899, 634 N.Y.S.2d 318, 319 (4th Dep’t 1995); I.C. ex rel. Solovsky v. Delta Galil USA, 135 F. Supp. 3d 196, 209 (S.D.N.Y. 2015); Shields v. Gross, 58 N.Y.2d 338, 344, 448 N.E.2d 108, 461 N.Y.S.2d 254, 257 (conceding that infant, Brooke Shields, could under common law disaffirm consent executed by another on her behalf), rehearing denied, 59 N.Y.2d 762, 450 N.E.2d 254, 463 N.Y.S.2d 1030 (1983). The exception from this common law power of the infant to disaffirm written consents made on her behalf is where the New York State Legislature either abrogates this common law right or makes particular infant agreements binding upon the infant, Shields, supra, 58 N.Y.2d at 344-45, 461 N.Y.S.2d at 257.

While conceding that at common law an infant could disaffirm written consent made for her, the Court of Appeals in Shields recognized that the State Legislature could abrogate that right or create a right upon infants to enter into binding contracts, id., 58 N.Y.2d at 344, 461 N.Y.S.2d at 257. “Where a statute expressly permits a [*21]  certain class of agreements to be made by infants, that settles the question and makes the agreement valid and enforceable,” id., 58 N.Y.2d at 344, 461 N.Y.S.2d at 257, with that statute being construed strictly, id., 58 N.Y.2d at 344, 461 N.Y.S.2d at 257 (citing McKinney’s Consol. Laws of N.Y., Book 1, Statutes § 301(b)).

Here, the Safety in Skiing Code had as part of its legislative purpose

“(3) that it is appropriate, as well as in the public interest, to take such steps as are necessary to help reduce the risk of injury to downhill skiers from undue, unnecessary and unreasonable hazards; and (4) that it is also necessary and appropriate that skiers become apprised of, and understand, the risks inherent in the sport of skiing so that they may make an informed decision of whether or not to participate in skiing notwithstanding the risks. Therefore, the purpose and intent of this article is to establish a code of conduct for downhill skiers and ski area operators to minimize the risk of injury to persons engaged in the sport of downhill skiing and to promote safety in the downhill ski industry,”

N.Y. Gen. Oblig. L. § 18-101. The act establishing this Code empowered the New York State Commissioner of Labor to promulgate “any and all rules and regulations necessary to the timely implementation [*22]  of the provisions of this act,” 1988 N.Y. Laws ch. 711, § 4. These regulations “applies to all skiers and ski areas” and owners and operators of ski areas to which the Code applied to, N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & R. tit. 12, § 54.1 (2017) (hereinafter cited as “12 N.Y.C.R.R.”), without special provision or exception for juvenile skiers. That same act authorized the Commissioner of Labor to make rules to guard “against personal injuries to employees and the public in the use and operation of ski tows, other passenger tramways and downhill ski areas,” N.Y. Labor Law § 202-c.

The Code also imposed on skiers the additional duties “to enable them to make informed decisions as to the advisability of their participation in the sport,” to

“seek out, read, review and understand, in advance of skiing, a ‘Warning to Skiers’ as shall be defined pursuant to subdivision five of section eight hundred sixty-seven of the labor law [N.Y. Labor L. § 867(5)], which shall be displayed and provided pursuant to paragraph a of subdivision one of this section [N.Y. Gen. Oblig. L. § 18-106(1)(a)]; and . . . to obtain such education in the sport of skiing as the individual skier shall deem appropriate to his or her level of ability, including the familiarization with skills and duties necessary to reduce [*23]  the risk of injury in such sport,”

N.Y. Gen. Oblig. L. § 18-106(2), (a), (b); see N.Y. Labor Law § 867(5); 12 N.Y.C.R.R. §§ 54.5(l)(1), 54.4(c)(1); see also N.Y. Gen. Oblig. L. § 18-106(1)(a) (ski are operator’s duty to post conspicuously “Warning to Skiers”). “Unless otherwise specifically provided in this article, the duties of skiers, passengers, and ski area operators shall be governed by common law,” N.Y. Gen. Oblig. L. § 18-107.

The Safety in Skiing Code and its regulations provide an abrogation of the common law right of an infant skier to disaffirm the release signed on her behalf. First, the State Legislature used the term “skier” without expressly distinguishing the age of skier. Second, the State Legislature authorized and directed the Commissioner of Labor to enact necessary rules and regulations. Pursuant to that authority, the Commissioner enacted 12 N.Y.C.R.R. § 54.1 to have the regulations under the Safety in Skiing Code apply to “all skiers,” again without distinction due to the age of the skier. The definitions under these regulations for “skier,” 12 N.Y.C.R.R. § 54.3(h) (“Skier means any person wearing a ski or skis and any person actually on a ski slope or trail located at a ski area, for the purpose of skiing”), or “passenger,” 12 N.Y.C.R.R. § 54.3(d) (“Passenger means a person in or on or being transported by a tramway”), riding a “passenger tramway,” see 12 N.Y.C.R.R. § 54.3(e) (“Passenger [*24]  tramway means a mechanical device intended to transport skiers for the purpose of providing access to ski slopes and trails as defined by the Commissioner of Labor pursuant to Section two hundred two-c or eight hundred sixty-seven of the Labor Law [N.Y. Labor Law §§ 202-c, 267]”), also do not create a separate infant category. Although the Court of Appeals refers to the State Legislature either abrogating the infant’s common law right of disaffirmance or conferring upon the infant a recognized right to make binding contracts, Shields, supra, 58 N.Y.2d at 344, 461 N.Y.S.2d at 257, the State Legislature here enacted the code that delegated to the Commissioner of Labor the authority to enact rules and regulations necessary to implement the Code. The Commissioner, by requiring regulations to apply to “all skiers” either abrogated an infant’s common law right of disaffirmance or authorized infant skiers to enter into binding contracts with ski area operators, including the warning and release to authorize the infant skier to engage in the risky activities of skiing and the related, risky activities leading up to skiing.

The Safety in Skiing Code statutory and regulatory scheme including “all skiers” makes releases signed by adults bind infant skiers and removes the [*25]  infants’ common law right to disaffirm the releases executed in their minority. On this basis, plaintiffs’ motion in limine to exclude the Holiday Valley release (Docket No. 56) is denied.

b. Effect of General Obligations Law § 5-326

As an alternative grounds for its decision, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department in Vanderwall, supra, 244 A.D.2d at 982-83, 665 N.Y.S.2d at 493, narrowed the scope of the general provisions for amusement or recreation sites under General Obligations Law § 5-326 to exclude ski resorts from that statute, with those resorts being governed by the Safety in Skiing Code and its Warning to Skiers codified in General Obligations Law § 18-106(1)(a) (Docket No. 65, Defs. Memo. at 7), see also N.Y. Gen. Oblig. Law § 18-107 (“unless otherwise specifically provide in this article, the duties of skiers, passengers, and ski area operators shall be governed by common law”). Part of the Safety in Skiing Code includes use of a ski tow, N.Y. Labor Law § 202-c.

The Holiday Valley registration form (Docket No. 56, Pls. Atty. Decl. Ex. G) signed by LD’s uncle, Dean DiFrancesco, had the adult signer agree that he acknowledged (among other things)

“that I have read and understand the information contained in the brochure for the Holiday Valley Mountain Adventure Children’s Ski and Snowboard Program, and also understand [*26]  and am aware that there are inherent and other risks involved in participating in ski and snowboard lessons, skiing/riding, and use of lifts, which could cause death or serious injury to the registrant(s). This includes use of chairlifts and or tows or boardwalks with or without an instructor.

“[C]hildren may be required to ride chairlifts with other children in the class, ski patrol/hosts, or other persons in the lift line while loading assistance may be given by chairlift attendants. Riding a chairlift can be a hazardous activity for your child(ren). By allowing the registrant(s) to ride a chair lift, you acknowledge the dangers involved and accept any and all risks of injury to the registrant(s). Other risks include, but are not limited to, . . . boarding, riding and disembarking from moving chairlifts, rope tows or boardwalks. With full knowledge of the danger involved, I voluntarily request that the registrant(s) participate in the program. I have read this agreement to the registrant(s) and he/she has acknowledged that he/she understands its contents. On behalf of the registrant(s) and myself, I expressly assume all risks inherent in the sport of skiing and riding and any and all damages, [*27]  injury, illness, or harm which may result directly or indirectly from said risks.”

(Id., paragraphs 5, 6, emphasis added.) This release itself raises factual issues, such as whether Uncle Dean DiFrancesco actually read the release to LD and whether she understood its contents, including the risks stated therein (particularly, the risks in riding and dismounting a chairlift).

The statutory scheme for ski resorts provided in the Safety in Skiing Code provides a more specific regime that the General Obligations Law § 5-326 for other recreational facilities including the basis for the release executed by LD’s uncle. New York public policy carved out ski resorts from the general ban on releases by recreational facility operators. On this alternative ground, plaintiffs’ motion to exclude that release (Docket No. 56) is denied.

B. Defense Motions in Limine, Docket Nos. 53, 58

1. Excluding Evidence of Subsequent Remediation

In their initial motion in limine, defendants seek to exclude evidence of their subsequent remediation in changing signage at the chairlift (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 2-4). Federal Rule of Evidence 407 precludes admission of evidence of subsequent remedial measures to prove negligence, culpable conduct, or [*28]  a need for a warning (id. at 2). They also contend that evidence as a warning should be excluded under Rule 403 since the probative value is exceeded by its prejudice to them (id.). Plaintiffs counter that this evidence is admissible for impeachment or to contest the feasibility of relocating the sign to a safer location (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 1-3; see also Docket No. 68, Pls. Reply Memo. at 8), see Fed. R. Evid. 407; Pitasi v. Stratton Corp., 968 F.2d 1558 (2d Cir. 1992). Defendants reply that the impeachment exception to Federal Rule of Evidence 407 should be narrowly read, that it could only be used to avoid the jury being misled (Docket No. 67, Defs. Reply Memo. at 8-9). They conclude that plaintiffs also should be precluded from introducing evidence regarding the red light/green light system used by another ski resort, Holimont, arguing that Holimont installed this system four years after the 2010 incident at issue here (id. at 10; see also Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 3-4; Docket No. 53, Defs. Atty. Decl., Ex. C).

The questions here under Rule 407 are at what point (if ever) may plaintiffs impeach defendants with the change in the sign location, and whether the sign location can be introduced by them as to feasibility. As for impeachment, whether plaintiffs can discuss relocation of the sign will depend [*29]  upon what defense witnesses testify about to the warnings provided on site on the chairlift. Rulings on this point will await trial testimony.

As for feasibility, plaintiffs may introduce sign location and alternative locations if defendants’ witnesses testify as to the feasible location for warning signs.

As to the probative/prejudice balance under Rule 403, evidence inadmissible under Rule 407 “would also likely lead to prejudice and confusion under Rule 403,” Bak v. Metro North R.R., No. 12 Civ. 3220 (TPG), 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60736, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. May 8, 2015), but remedial evidence may be admitted for rebuttal or impeachment evidence, id., without affecting the probative/prejudice balance of Rule 403.

Finally, Holimont currently uses a red light/green light on its chairlifts to advise skiers when to disembark from the chairlift. But that system was implemented years after this incident (Docket No. 53, Defs. Atty. Decl. Ex. C, Aff. of David Riley ¶¶ 1, 4-8 (Holimont general manager); Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. 3-4). Holimont general manager David Riley stated that he had not seen this light warning system in United States slopes prior to his tour of Europe in 2014 (Docket No. 53, Defs. Atty. Decl. Ex. C, Riley Aff. ¶ 8). Thus, it was not feasible in 2010 to have such a light warning system and admission of evidence [*30]  of the Holimont lighting system would be prejudicial. Plaintiffs are precluded from introducing evidence of this system as a feasible alternative.

Defendants’ motion in limine (Docket No. 53) on this ground is granted in part, with some issues to be decided at trial upon the proffer or introduction of evidence at issue.

2. Prohibit Plaintiffs’ Liability Expert, Dick Penniman,

Defendants next seek to preclude testimony from plaintiffs’ expert, Dick Penniman, on various subjects. Plaintiffs globally respond that Penniman is a forty-year veteran of the ski industry, performing various duties as a member of ski patrol, lift operator, ski lift maintenance man, and “mountain manager/assistant operations manager” of a number of ski areas (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 11; Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶¶ 27-29, Ex. Q (Penniman curriculum vitae)). Penniman testified as an expert in Whitford v. Mt. Baker Ski Area, Inc., Case No. C11099112RSM, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40166 (W.D. Wash. Mar. 23, 2012) (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 11), opining in that case about the lift attendant’s duties and whether a catch net used at that resort was adequate, id., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40166, at *4. Plaintiffs conclude that defense objections to Penniman goes to the weight, not the admissibility, [*31]  of his expert testimony (id. at 10, 11). Plaintiffs do not provide a point-for-point refutation of defense objections to Penniman as an expert.

As noted by the court in Whitford, supra, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40166, at *3, “the trial court must act as a ‘gatekeeper’ to ensure that proffered expert testimony is both relevant and reliable,” id. citing Kumho Tire Co. Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 147, 119 S. Ct. 1167, 143 L. Ed. 2d 238 (1999). Where expert testimony is technical rather than purely scientific, “the Court must ensure that it ‘rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at hand,'” id. (quoting United States v. Hermanek, 289 F.3d 1076, 1093 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting in turn Daubert v. Merrel Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 597, 113 S. Ct. 2786, 125 L. Ed. 2d 469 (1993))). As gatekeeper, this Court has to “make certain that an expert, whether basing testimony upon professional studies or personal experience, employs in the courtroom the same level of intellectual rigor that characterize the practice of an expert in the relevant field,” Kumho, supra, 526 U.S. at 152; Whitford, supra, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40166, at *3-4. The Whitford court, in considering testimony for other specialized knowledge, construed Federal Rule of Evidence 702 liberally, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40166, at *4 (citing 9 th Circuit case and Fed. R. Evid. 702 advisory committee note, 2000 amendment, rejection of an expert is the exception rather than the rule).

From Penniman’s curriculum vitae (Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. Ex. Q), his expertise is ski patrol (including lift operation and hazard evaluation and mitigation), avalanche safety, and slope preparation. [*32]  He worked for two years supervising lift operations in Chile (id.). Since 1983, Penniman has been a consultant and expert witness; he was qualified as an expert in safe skiing including lift operations and ski instruction (id.). As a threshold matter, Penniman’s expert testimony comes from decades of performing various tasks at several ski resorts and evaluating skiing hazards.

Next, this Court turns to the specific defense objections to Penniman’s expert testimony.

a. Prohibit Penniman from Opining Regarding Relocation of Unload Sign

First, defendants seek to bar Penniman’s opinion about the proper location of signage for unloading or discharging skiers from the chairlift (the “unload/open restraint bar”) and changes in the text of the registration form (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 4-5, 6-7). As for Penniman opining on sign location, his expertise as a ski lift operator and evaluator of skiing accidents informs his opinions about such things. Penniman lists in his curriculum vitae experience in signage at two ski resorts (Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. Q), but does not specify if this includes the location of chairlift instructions or warning signage. The bulk of his stated expertise and [*33]  experience involves avalanches, so the signage Penniman is familiar with appears to be for ski trails. In his deposition regarding signage, Penniman testified that applicable New York State regulations when the Creekside lift was erected in 2003 were based on the American National Standards Institute (“ANSI”) standards from 19993 , with a 20064 amendment of ANSI standards expressly calling for sign placement (Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, Penniman EBT Tr. at 23). The 2006 ANSI amendments grandfathered pre-2006 construction to be governed by earlier standards (id., Tr. at 25), but the 2006 standard for sign location called for signs to be ahead of the off load point (id., Tr. at 25-26), while the 1999 standard did not require signage at all (id., Tr. at 24, 39). Penniman noted that one ski resort, White Pine, had its raise bar signs in front of shacks near the unload points (id., Tr. at 28), while at other resorts, Penniman observed these signs either on chairlift towers 20-30 feet before the unload area or as close to the unload area as possible (id., Tr. at 32-34; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. P, Tr. at 33-34). Penniman concluded that defendants violated New York State standards for the location [*34]  of Holiday Valley’s signs, violating ANSI 1999 and 2003 standards that signage be ahead of the offload area (Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, Tr. at 37-38). Penniman did not know if New York State inspected the location of these signs (id., Tr. at 40-41). Penniman noted that New York law also required use of the restraint bar on chairlifts; requiring a rider to not use a restraint bar for 50 yards, Penniman opined, would require the rider to violate New York law (id., Tr. at 38).

3 Pls. Ex. 67.

4 Pls. Ex. 68; Defs. Exs. 56, 65.

From review of Penniman’s deposition testimony, the issue is whether placement of the offload warning sign should be at the offload area or in advance of that area (e.g., id., Tr. at 39). Penniman’s experience seems to be from his observations at various resorts, without knowing the written policies for sign placement at those areas. A foundation, therefore, will need to be established that Penniman has sufficient expertise in sign location of chairlift instructions to credit Penniman’s opinion as an expert. Penniman’s testimony also is limited regarding subsequent changes in the sign location, as indicated above. Defendants’ motion in limine (Docket No 53) on these grounds is granted.

b. Prohibit Plaintiffs’ Expert [*35]  Penniman from Opining on Risk of Chairlift Not Being Inherent to Skiing

Next, defendants seek to preclude Penniman’s opinion on the risk of using a chairlift not being inherent to skiing (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 5-6). Plaintiffs argue that the New York Court of Appeals decision in Trupia, supra, 14 N.Y.3d 392, 901 N.Y.S.2d 127, changed the standards for primary assumption of the risk that coincides with Penniman’s opinion that use of a chairlift is distinct from the sport of skiing (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 6-7).

There is a preliminary question whether this is an evidentiary issue or a matter requiring an expert opinion at all. New York cases recognize that use of a chairlift is an inherent part of skiing, with distinct risks from the sport of skiing. There are separate, but related, duties of care with operating a chairlift and downhill skiing, Morgan v. Ski Roundtop, Inc., 290 A.D.2d 618, 620, 736 N.Y.S.2d 135, 137 (3d Dep’t 2002) (hereinafter “Ski Roundtop”) (inherent risk in skiing and “some risk of injury inherent in entering, riding and exiting from a chairlift”); see Morgan v. New York State, 90 N.Y.2d 471, 485, 685 N.E.2d 202, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421, 427 (1997); Miller v. Holiday Valley, Inc., 85 A.D.3d 1706, 1707, 925 N.Y.S.2d 785, 787-88 (4th Dep’t 2011); see also Tone v. Song Mtn. Ski Ctr., 113 A.D.3d 1126, 1127, 977 N.Y.S.2d 857, 858 (4th Dep’t 2014) (claim from chairlift, assumption of risk applied for “athletic activity,” quoting Ski Roundtop, supra, 290 A.D.2d at 620, 736 N.Y.S.2d at 137). As defendants note (Docket No. 67, Defs. Reply Memo. at 4), riding and disembarking a chairlift is inherent in Alpine downhill skiing, [*36]  see also Litz v. Clinton Cent. Sch. Dist., 126 A.D.3d 1306, 5 N.Y.S.3d 636 (4th Dep’t 2015) (assumption of risk for playing hockey applied to injury suffered in rink locker room).

Factually, Trupia involved horseplay on a bannister by a twelve-year-old, rather than engaging in a sporting activity or the steps leading to that activity (with the inherent risks of those steps), supra, 14 N.Y.3d at 393, 396, 901 N.Y.S.2d at 128, 129. Again, this is more akin to the ancillary dangers in the locker room preparing for participation in a sport, e.g., Litz, supra, 126 A.D.3d 1306, 5 N.Y.S.3d 636; but for the sporting activity, a participant would not be injured in the locker room or on the chairlift, each is necessary to prelude to athletic participation. This participant is only in these places to engage in a sport with its own inherent dangers and risks.

As noted in Whitford, supra, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40166, at *9, wherein Penniman was accepted as an expert, he “is not required to be an expert in the law; he is only required to be an expert in the subject matter of his testimony,” id. Thus, as a matter of law, there are risks, distinct from those in alpine skiing, to riding a chairlift that are related to those of skiing. This does not require an expert opinion one way or the other. Defense motion in limine on this point (Docket No. 53) is granted.

c. Prohibit Penniman from Opining on the Registration Form

Defendants [*37]  next contend that Penniman lacked any foundation to make an opinion about the registration form used by Holiday Valley (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 6-7; Docket No. 53, Defs. Atty. Decl. Ex. E, Penniman’s Supp’al Expert Report at 5; see Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl., Ex. L, at 5). They object to Penniman’s supplemental opinion that noted defendants’ changes to the registration form to require a parent to initial the form at paragraph 6 on chairlift use (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 4-5; Docket No. 53, Defs. Atty. Decl. Ex. E, at 5; see Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl., Ex. L, at 5). Plaintiffs do not respond specifically to this objection. Penniman opined that the sentence about a child riding the chairlift without adult supervision was vaguely written (Docket No. 53, Defs. Atty. Decl. Ex. E, at 5; see Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. Ex. L, at 5; Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 6).

Again, looking at the actual registration form quoted above (at pages 19-20, supra), participants are warned that children may ride with other children on the chairlift, followed by a warning that riding the chairlift “can be a hazardous activity for your child(ren)” (Docket No. 56, Pls. Atty. Decl. Ex. [*38]  G, paragraph 6). That text implies that children may ride together without an adult. As noted in detail by defendants (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 7), Penniman lacks expertise in developing ski school policies, drafting registration forms, or have expertise in human factors, engineering, or psychology. Thus, his opinion on the text of the registration form is a little more informed than that of a layperson. Penniman’s opinion in this area is excluded; defendants’ motion in limine (Docket No. 53) on this ground is granted.

As for Penniman’s observation of the post-accident changes in the form (Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. E, at 5; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. L, at 5), this also goes to proof of subsequent remediation and, unlike the impeachment use plaintiffs propose for the relocation of signs or feasibility of change, Penniman’s opinion on the changes in the registration form would only come as part of his direct testimony. Such introduction violates Rule 407 and its prejudice outweighs its probative value under Rule 403. Defendants’ motion in limine (Docket No. 53) as to Penniman’s opinion in this area is granted.

d. Prohibit Penniman from Opining on Human Factor

Defendants next argue that Penniman lacks [*39]  the qualifications to opine on the impact of the human factor in this incident (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 7-8). Penniman testified that generally an infant should have been accompanied by an adult on a chairlift based on “best practices.” Penniman based these best practices on his experience, observations, and involvement in ski schools and he concludes that a majority of ski areas “are concerned about small children riding up chairs alone, or with other kids without an adult accompanying them. There are some I have observed where they don’t care. But the majority do, and I call that best practices.” (Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, Penniman EBT Tr. at 65-67, 66; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. P, excerpts of Penniman EBT Tr. at 65-67, 66.) Penniman testified that, from the age of 8, he had observed ski schools recruit adults to ride up with unaccompanied children, that the “vast majority [of resorts] do,” or so Penniman found (Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, Tr. at 67; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. P, Tr. at 67). He noted that other ski areas do not let small children on chairlifts and “the majority of ski resorts, when it’s not an instruction situation, leave that decision up to the parents” (Docket [*40]  No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, Tr. at 67; Docket No. 66, Ex. P, Tr. at 67). But Penniman had not investigated the policies of individual ski resorts in New York whether they require adult accompaniment on chairlifts and he could not testify to written policies of ski resorts (Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, Tr. at 67; Docket No. 66, Ex. P, Tr. at 67). Penniman, however, admitted that he was not familiar with Holimont’s policies regarding adult accompaniment or the policies of other Western New York ski resorts on this issue (Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, Tr. at 18-19).

Penniman’s opinion on how small children react on chairlifts may be informed by his experience operating ski lifts, observing at ski resorts, and investigating skiing accidents, but this expertise does not rise to the level that it should be credited as an expert. Similar to the registration form objection, Penniman’s expertise is in ski resort operations and not on how patrons will react. Defendants’ motion in limine (Docket No. 53) on this ground is granted.

e. Prohibit Penniman from Opining about the Operation of a Ski School

Defendants contend that Penniman cannot render an opinion about how to operate a ski school due to lack of qualifications [*41]  on how to operate such a program and not knowing Holiday Valley’s policies (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 9). Defendants point out that Penniman testified that he was only at level one (of three levels) as a certified ski instructor by the Professional Ski Instructors of America (or “PSIA”) (id.; Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, at 11) and that Penniman was never employed as a ski instructor at any resort where he worked (Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, at 12), but he later stated that he taught skiing informally and once at a resort as a ski patroller (id. at 41-42). Penniman also admitted that he never developed policies for a ski school (Docket No. 53, Defs. Ex. F, at 13). According to plaintiffs’ retort, Penniman performed several different tasks in the ski industry for forty years (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 10-11), including experiences with ski schools and policies of the White Pine Ski Area related to children riding chairlifts (Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 29.d., Ex. P, Penniman EBT Tr. at 19-20 (being familiar with policies of resorts regarding children on chairlifts), membership in the PSIA (id., Ex. Q), and as a private ski instructor (id., ¶ 29.e., Ex. P, Penniman EBT Tr. at 42-44). [*42]  He was qualified as an expert on skiing safety including chairlift operations and ski instruction (id.).

Reviewing his experience and stated expertise, Penniman essentially provided private ski lessons, “step[ped] in once at White Pine” ski resort as an instructor while a ski patroller and provided instruction, and instructed ski patrollers (Docket No. 53, Ex. F, at 42-43). He admits to never developing policies for a ski school. Given that the focus of Penniman’s expertise is more on trails (such as avalanches); his experience is only slightly more than a layperson regarding ski school policies. This is despite the fact that Penniman has testified as an expert in Whitford (but cf. Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 11); in that case he testified about the lift attendant’s duties and the adequacy of the chairlift’s safety netting, supra, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40166, at *4. Penniman there was not asked to opine on ski school policies (see Docket No. 67, Defs. Reply Memo. at 7).

Thus, defendants’ motion in limine (Docket No. 53) on Penniman rendering his opinion on ski school policies is granted.

f. Prohibit Penniman from Opining on the Custom for Chairlift Signage

Defendants next argue that Penniman should not be allowed to testify about customary [*43]  chairlift signage or sign location (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 9-10). Again, plaintiffs apparently rely upon Penniman’s forty years of experience operating ski lifts and in the ski industry generally and do not point to specifics as to his expertise regarding the customary location of warning signage (see Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 29.e., h., Ex. P, Penniman EBT Tr. at 33-34, 68-69). Penniman’s experience as to the location of unloading signage is at three North America ski areas and his 40 years of seeing where signs have been located at those and other ski resorts (Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 29, e. h.). Again, Penniman lists experience in “signing” at two ski resorts (Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. Q) without specifying what signage he positioned. Continuing to review Penniman’s stated experience, most of his training focused on ski patrol, avalanches, and ski safety, with attendance at a congress for transportation by wire rope in 1999 and ski lift maintenance. He is affiliated with the International Society of Skiing Safety and the PSIA. These could be sources for Penniman’s opinion about the national or continental safety standards, but a foundation needs to be established [*44]  to confirm this before Penniman’s opinion on this subject is admissible. As noted above, the basis for Penniman’s opinions are from his observation of practices at ski areas and what he believes to be best practices. But he extrapolates this experience to conclude continental practices regarding where these signs are placed and should be placed without additional foundation. Absent such a foundation for a broader opinion, Penniman can only testify to his observations of what he observed at other ski resorts. Defendants’ motion in limine (Docket No. 56) on this issue is granted in part.

3. Exclude Prior and Subsequent Incidents at Holiday Valley

Finally in the initial motion in limine, defendants argue that evidence of prior and subsequent incidents of youths falling from chairlifts at Holiday Valley should not be admitted (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 10-17; Docket No. 56, sealed Exs. G-S). They argue that introducing all of these incidents would be prejudicial to them, Fed. R. Evid. 403 (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 15, 11-15). Defendants argue that the Creekside open restraint bar sign was moved to Tower 6 after LD’s accident. Therefore, subsequent incidents would allow plaintiffs, by the [*45]  “back door,” to introduce evidence of subsequent remediation (id. at 16). Further, only one incident (Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. Q) involved Creekside chairlift, while other post-2010 incidents (id., Defs. Exs. R-S) are not substantially similar to LD’s incident (see Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 16).

Plaintiffs argue that defendants did not cite federal cases on the admissibility of subsequent accidents (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 14). They claim one subsequent incident was similar (id. at 15; Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 35, Ex. X) (four-year-old fell from Mardi Gras chairlift on February 26, 2012).

Plaintiffs argue that evidence of prior incidents is admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 401 to show the existence and notice of the dangerous condition (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 12). They also claim that proof of subsequent accidents also is admissible to show the existence of the dangerous condition (id.). They reviewed defendants’ reports of similar incidents both before and after LD’s 2010 accident and argue that several of them are admissible since they present examples of youth slightly older than five-year-old LD (ages six to ten years old before the 2010 accident, and a four-year-old after5) opening the restraining [*46]  bar prematurely due to the location of the signs instructing them to open that bar (id. at 12-14; Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 34, Exs. S, T, U, V, W; ¶ 35, Ex. X). Plaintiffs argue that pictures after 2010 showing relocation of the signs would be admissible only to rebut testimony regarding feasibility, impeaching the defense of culpable conduct (id. at 14). Their claim is that “very young children were needlessly exposed to serious injury by having the ‘open restraint bar’ sign posted too far away from the unload point, and resulting in the restraint bar being lifted at a point when the chairlift is too far above the ground,” hence it was unnecessary for plaintiffs to allege that the chairlift itself was defective (id. at 15); if there was any defect, it was in the location of the signage relative to the height of the chairlift.

5 According to the report for that accident, Feb. 26, 2012, the injured four-year-old was sitting next to his father on the chairlift when he fell, Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 35.a., Ex. X.

a. Prior Incidents

As for prior incidents at Holiday Valley, they are admissible in this case provided they are “substantially similar” to the 2010 accident on trial here, Bellinger v. Deere & Co., 881 F. Supp. 813, 817 (N.D.N.Y. 1995) (case citations omitted); see Sawyer v. Dreis & Krump Mfg. Co., 67 N.Y.2d 328, 336, 493 N.E.2d 920, 502 N.Y.S.2d 696, 701 (1986) (under New York law, similar prior accidents are admissible to show dangerousness of conditions and notice) (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 11). Defendants note (id.) that New York [*47]  law allows admission of proof of similar incidents to show dangerousness of conditions and notice, Sawyer, supra, 67 N.Y.2d at 336, 502 N.Y.S.2d at 701. The parties differ here on whether the prior incidents are substantially similar to LD’s 2010 accident. As defendants concede that one incident of the eleven prior incidents at Holiday Valley identified by defendants is substantially similar to LD’s situation (id.; see Docket No. 53, Defs. Atty. Decl. Ex. A, Pls.’ Response to Interrogatories, Interrogatory No. 11), that a five-year-old novice skier riding a chairlift unaccompanied by an adult fell between Towers 5 and 6 of the Creekside chairlift. The conceded incident is admissible. The ten other prior incidents (Docket No. 56, Defs. Atty. Exs. G-P) had one or two distinguishing facts that defendants conclude makes them not sufficiently similar to be admissible.

Table 2 below lists the factors defendants argue distinguish these ten prior incidents from LD’s 2010 incident, listing the youths as they were identified by defendants (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 12-15), cf. Fed. R. Civ. P. 5.2.

[Chart Removed because it would not format for this site]

 6 Injured youth #3 rode with a brother whose name was redacted by defendants, Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 12; Docket No. 56, Ex. I. The report does not give the brother’s age; thus, it is presumed that he is a minor as well.

7 Defendants claim that this incident occurred at Creekside, Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. H; see Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. S, but defendants argue that it did not occur at a similar location, Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 12. They distinguish this incident since there is no reference to use of a restraint bar, Docket No. 67, Defs. Reply Memo. at 11. The lift operator’s description of that incident, however, said that the restraint bar was up, Docket No. 56, Ex. H, at 2.

Two of the prior incidents are also distinct due to the greater expertise of the youth skier (#8, Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 14-15; Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. N) and the age of the skier as compared with LD’s age in 2010 (#10, 16 year old, Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. P) who was involved in horseplay that led to the fall (Docket No. 53, Defs. Memo. at 15; Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. P).

Plaintiffs argue that whether these prior incidents were during a ski lesson is immaterial to whether they are similar to LD’s 2010 experience (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 12). But one factor here is that LD was a relative novice in 2010 and had not ridden on a chairlift unaccompanied by an adult. Also, plaintiffs’ claim is for inadequate supervision by the ski instructor while LD was on the chairlift (Docket No. 1, Compl. ¶ 15); that inadequacy would not occur in prior incidents that were not ski lessons. Therefore, to be sufficiently similar to LD’s circumstances, the prior instances must factor in the experience of the youth involved, shown by defendants from whether the incidents [*49]  occurred during a ski lesson (as was for LD) as well as a review of the incident reports showing whether these youths were identified as being “novices” in the ability and days skied portions of the Holiday Valley incident reports.

To plaintiffs, “the similar circumstances at issue in this case are a very young child falling off a chair lift when the restraint bar was lifted at the point indicated by the ‘open restraint bar’ sign” (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 13). The prior incidents occurred at various chairlifts at Holiday Valley and the records for each incident does not indicate either where the “open restraint bar” signs were relative to where the youths fell or the distance they were from the appropriate discharge point. At least one youth, #3 (Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. I) appears to have fallen shortly after boarding the chairlift. Another prior incident occurred at Tower 4 of School House chairlift, well before Towers 5 and 6 of Creekside where LD fell (Incident #5, Docket No. 56, Ex. K). Thus, it is difficult to determine if these falls at other chairlifts were similar to LD’s fall at Creekside.

Plaintiffs next point to five prior instances that they claim were substantially [*50]  similar to LD’s in which the restraint bar was opened prematurely and each child fell (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 13-14; Incident #2, 4, 6, 7, 9 (Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. H, J, L, M, O; see also Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. Exs. S, T, U, V, W). Defendants reply that plaintiffs’ parsing of these prior incidents focus on singular favorable points and did not meet the burden of establishing that any of these incidents were substantially similar to LD’s 2010 incident (Docket No. 67, Defs. Reply Memo. at 10-11). They again distinguish these five incidents from the 2010 incident (id. at 11-12).

Incidents where the child was riding with a parent or other adult are not substantially similar to LD riding without an adult. The location of the fall also has to be similar to the 2010 Creekside incident; one of the issues is the location of the warning signage and where the restraining bar was lifted or the youth attempted to dismount (see also Docket No. 67, Defs. Reply Memo. at 11, on Incident #4, Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. J; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. T). While not considered by the parties, the age as well as the experience of the youth involved (shown by whether use of the lift was during a ski lesson [*51]  and the identified skiing ability on the Holiday Valley incident reports) is an important factor to determine if a prior incident was substantially similar to LD’s incident.

The next table (Table 3) lists the prior incidents at issue, the defense and plaintiffs’ exhibits identifications, the age of the youth, and their skiing experience (novice or not).

[Chart Removed because it would not format for this site]

Reviewing these prior incidents, the five identified by plaintiffs are not sufficiently similar to LD’s 2010 experience to admit them into evidence. These incidents each had an adult present (#2, 4, 7, 9, Docket No. 56, Defs. Exs. H, J, M, O; Docket No. 66, Pls. Exs. S, T, V, W); or were not during a ski lesson (#2, 4, 6, 7, 9, Docket No. 56, Defs. Exs. H, J, L, M, O; Docket No. 66, Pls. Exs. S, T, U, V, W); or were not at the Creekside chairlift or the youths did not fall at a point similar to where LD fell from the Creekside chairlift [*52]  (id.). But the child in Incident #9 was a six-year-old novice who skied for two days, describing the incident as lifting the safety bar “at prescribed point” (rather than earlier), slipped forward and left the lift (#9, Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. O; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. W). Finally, LD is younger than any of the youth in the prior incidents.

One incident defendants attempt to distinguish, Incident #2, involves a fall by a seven-year-old novice skier (with two to nine days skied) at Creekside where the chairlift stopped thirty feet from the unloading ramp and the lift operator reported that the restraint bar was up (Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. H; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. S). The lift operator went to the child and “waited for parents” prior to ski patrol arriving (Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. H, at 2; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. S, at 3). It is unclear where defendants got the impression that the parents were with that child on the chairlift. This incident is similar to LD’s experience and thus is admissible.

Therefore, Incident #2 (Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. H; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. S), and the incident conceded by defendants to be similar are admissible, but the other prior incidents identified [*53]  by defendants are not similar and are inadmissible. Defendants’ motion in limine (Docket No. 53) as to the admission of evidence of prior incidents substantially similar to LD’s 2010 incident is granted in part, save for the conceded prior incident.

b. Subsequent Incidents

As for subsequent incidents (Docket No. 56, Defs. Exs. Q-S; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. X (Feb. 26, 2012, incident), Table 4 lists these incidents, with this Court continuing the incident numbering scheme the parties used for the prior incidents.

[Chart Removed because it would not format for this site]

Plaintiffs argue that one incident, #13 (Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. S; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. X) is similar to LD’s 2010 (Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 35). There, a four-year-old youth was riding with his father on February 26, 2012, and was on a different chairlift, Mardi Gras, approximately 32 yards from the bull wheel (Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. S; Docket No. 66, Pls. Ex. X). According to the eight-year-old sister of that youth, that child wiggled in the chairlift seat and fell from it (id.). These differences [*54]  distinguish this incident from LD’s by the later child riding with a parent and no mention of the restraint bar having a role in the incident. This incident is distinct from LD’s.

As for the other two incidents, the youths were older than LD and had more skiing experience. Incident #11 (Docket No. 56, Defs. Ex. Q) is the closest to LD’s 2010 experience; that incident had a 6 1/2 year old youth fall from the Creekside chairlift 62 feet above Tower 5. That youth claimed he “never really got on chair” and the chair stopped and he fell (id. at 1). Witnesses reported that the restraint bar was down as other skiers held the youth until losing their grip (id. at 7). But this incident is sufficiently distinct from what LD experienced to not admit that subsequent incident into evidence.

Thus, the subsequent incidents are inadmissible. Defendants’ motion in limine on this ground (Docket No. 53) is granted as discussed above.

4. Defense Supplemental Motion (Docket No. 58), Exclude Non-Disclosed Expert Testimony

In their supplemental motion in limine (Docket No. 58), defendants next ask that undisclosed plaintiffs’ expert testimony be excluded (id., Defs. Memo. at 2-3). Plaintiffs contend that they did disclose regarding [*55]  future medical expenses; alternatively, they argue that defendants waived any objection to that disclosure by not moving to compel further disclosure (Docket No. 66, Pls. Memo. at 16-18; see also Docket No. 68, Pls. Atty. Reply Decl.¶ 3, Ex. A (supplementing plaintiffs’ discovery). Plaintiffs also argue that defendants overstate the scope of the witnesses defendants claim are plaintiffs’ experts (plaintiff Bryan DiFrancesco, wife Natascha DiFrancesco, and brother Dean DiFrancesco); for example, uncle Dean DiFrancesco would not testify as an expert regarding inadequate supervision but would testify as to his expectation regarding supervision of youth (Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 36). During oral argument, plaintiffs offered to supplement evidence of LD’s future medical requirements (see Docket No. 69). The parties reserved the right to file a new round of motions in limine regarding this supplementation (as well as other supplemented discovery).

Plaintiffs do not list the DiFrancescos as expert witnesses in their pretrial submissions (see Docket No. 54, Pls. Pretrial Memo. at 14-15), only expressly identifying Penniman as their expert witness (id. at 21). Defendants’ supplemental motion [*56]  in limine (Docket No. 58) on this ground is deemed moot, but subject to renewal upon receipt of the supplemental discovery.

5. LD’s Mother Is Not Qualified as an Expert to Opine on LD’s Future Treatment

Defendants next contend that LD’s mother, Natascha DiFrancesco is not qualified as an expert to render an opinion as to LD’s need for future treatments (Docket No. 58, Defs. Memo. Supp’al Motion at 3), since Mrs. DiFrancesco has degrees in sociology and physical therapy and lacks the medical qualification to opine as to LD’s physical care needs (id. at 3; id., Defs. Atty. Decl. ¶ 3, Ex. C, EBT Tr. Natascha DiFrancesco).

Plaintiffs respond that the parents would testify to medical expenses incurred but health care provider witnesses would testify to the medical necessity for future treatment of LD (Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 37). They also point out Dr. Bryan and Natascha DiFrancesco are both “health care professionals and have had extensive contact and conversations with the infant plaintiff’s health care providers, an understanding of immediate health care surveillance she requires and the fact that they have been informed that the infant plaintiff is a candidate for require [sic] future [*57]  medical surveillance, treatment, injections, surgery and imaging” (id.). Both parents discussed LD’s care and future medical needs with treating orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Devin Peterson (id. ¶¶ 40, 41).

Plaintiff Bryan and Natascha DiFrancesco can testify to the facts of LD’s past treatment and the recommended follow up, with health care providers testifying as to the necessity of future medical care. Plaintiffs, however, are not holding them out as “experts,” they claim that Natascha DiFrancesco would testify as to the necessity for LD having future medical care (see Docket No. 54, Pls. Trial Memo. at 15). Thus, they cannot invoke Dr. and Mrs. DiFrancesco’s respective experience in health care professions (according to defense moving papers, Natascha DiFrancesco has degrees in occupational therapy and sociology, Docket No. 58, Defs. Atty. Decl. ¶ 8) to bolster their factual testimony as to LD’s care that any other layperson could testify to their injured daughter or son. As refined, defendants’ supplemental motion (Docket No. 58) is granted in part.

6. Physical Therapist Emily Wray Cannot Offer an Expert Opinion on Causation or Diagnosis

Defendants caution that plaintiffs’ physical therapist, [*58]  Emily Wray, is not an expert as to the cause or diagnosis for LD’s injuries (Docket No. 58, Defs. Memo. Supp’al Motion at 3-4). Defendants produced a copy of plaintiff Bryan DiFrancesco’s business website for the Active Body Clinic. This website listed among the staff of that clinic Ms. Wray (Docket No. 58, Defs. Atty. Decl., Ex. B). Plaintiffs, however, offer Ms. Wray’s testimony as to her observations in treating LD in 2015 (Docket No. 66, Pls. Atty. Decl. ¶ 38, Ex. AA; see also Docket No. 54, Pls. Memo. at 23-24). Thus, she is being called as a treating witness rather than an expert. This Court notes that Wray’s employment with Bryan’s Active Body Clinic raises issues of bias but this goes to her ultimate credibility and not to the admissibility of her testimony. Again, as modified to restrict her testimony to her factual observations, defendants’ motion (Docket No. 58) is granted.

7. Plaintiff Father Dr. Bryan DiFrancesco Cannot Opine on Fractures, Surgical Procedures on LD

Finally, defendants move to preclude plaintiff Dr. Bryan DiFrancesco from testifying as an expert on LD’s fractures and surgical procedures (Docket No. 58, Defs. Memo. Supp’al Motion at 4). Defendants contend [*59]  that plaintiff Bryan DiFrancesco is a chiropractor, acupuncturist, and physical therapist and thus lacks the expertise to render an opinion as to LD’s treatment of her fractured femur (id.; Docket No. 58, Defs. Atty. Decl. ¶¶ 3, 8, Ex. B). Defendants point out that plaintiffs have not provided disclosure of the nature and extend of future treatments that LD requires (Docket No. 58, Defs. Memo. Supp’al Motion at 4).

Again, plaintiffs are not holding Dr. Bryan out as an “expert,” his anticipated testimony is regarding LD’s condition before and after the accident, including the necessity for future treatment (Docket No. 54, Pls. Trial Memo. at 14); thus, they cannot invoke his expertise in health care professions as a chiropractor, acupuncturist and physical therapist to bolster factual testimony as to LD’s care that any other parent not in a health care profession could testify for their injured daughter or son. It is unclear in this record the extend of Dr. Bryan DiFrancesco’s medical training that he received in obtaining his chiropractic and physical therapy degrees in Canada. As refined, defendants’ supplemental motion (Docket No. 58) is granted in part.

CONCLUSION

For the reasons stated [*60]  above, plaintiffs’ motion in limine (Docket No. 56) is granted in part, denied in part as specified above. Plaintiffs’ motion to exclude evidence of infant LD’s assumption of the risk is denied, as well as evidence of the release (as being contrary to New York State public policy) is denied but on different grounds; their motion to preclude evidence of LD’s 2015 clavicle injury at Holimont is granted in part with medical records first subject to this Court’s in camera review.

Defendants’ first motion in limine (Docket No. 53) is granted in part, denied in part as provided in detail above. Their supplemental motion in limine (Docket No. 58) is granted in part, denied in part as specified above.

Jury selection and trial is set for Monday, July 17, 2017, commencing at 9:30 am (Docket Nos. 69, 71), with a Final Pretrial Conference to be scheduled and a further Pretrial Order to be separately issued. The Interim Pretrial Conference (Docket Nos. 71, 63), remains set for Wednesday, April 19, 2017, 10:30 am (Docket No. 72).

So Ordered.

/s/ Hugh B. Scott

Hon. Hugh B. Scott

United States Magistrate Judge

Dated: Buffalo, New York

March 20, 2017

 


Gomes v. Boy Scouts of America, et al., 51 Misc. 3d 1206(A); 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1088; 2016 NY Slip Op 50444(U)

Gomes v. Boy Scouts of America, et al., 51 Misc. 3d 1206(A); 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1088; 2016 NY Slip Op 50444(U)

Davide E. Gomes, Plaintiff, against Boy Scouts of America, et al., Defendants.

115435/10

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY

51 Misc. 3d 1206(A); 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1088; 2016 NY Slip Op 50444(U)

March 10, 2016, Decided

NOTICE: THIS OPINION IS UNCORRECTED AND WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED IN THE PRINTED OFFICIAL REPORTS.

PRIOR HISTORY: Gomes v. Boy Scouts of America, 2013 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 4622 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., Oct. 9, 2013)

COUNSEL: [*1] For plaintiff: Scott W. Epstein, Esq., Antich, Erlich & Epstein, LLP, New York, NY.

For Council and Troop 141: Brian P. Morrissey, Esq., Connell Foley, LLP, New York, NY.

JUDGES: Barbara Jaffe, JSC.

OPINION BY: Barbara Jaffe

OPINION

Barbara Jaffe, J.

By notice of motion, defendants Northern New Jersey Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America (Council) and Boy Scout Troop 141 (troop) (collectively, defendants) move pursuant to CPLR 3212 for an order granting them summary dismissal of the complaint against them. Plaintiff opposes.

I. PERTINENT BACKGROUND

By decision and order dated October 8, 2013 (NYSCEF 110), I granted defendant Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) motion for an order summarily dismissing the complaint against it. As set forth therein, the background of the case is as follows:

On July 24, 2005, plaintiff, then a 13-year-old Boy Scout, was participating in a Boy Scout excursion at Floodwood Mountain Scout Reservation in the Adirondacks. Plaintiff was a member of Boy Scout Troop 141. He and other scouts were accompanied by volunteer [**2] adult leaders. Near or in the shower house at the Reservation, plaintiff sustained head injuries.

In accident and witness reports created after the accident, the other scouts who were at the showers [*2] at the time of plaintiff’s accident stated that they saw plaintiff run from the shower area and discovered him lying prone on the ground and bleeding. None of them saw him fall.

In his amended complaint, plaintiff alleges that as he was walking along the common area and/or grassy area at or near the showers, he fell due to defendants’ failure to keep the area safe, in good repair, well-lit and free from obstruction or defect and supervise him and the other scouts.

In plaintiff’s supplemental verified bill of particulars, he describes the dangerous condition which caused his fall as follows: “that the area in front of the showers where the [ ] accident occurred was not lit, and/or was poorly lit, and/or was inadequately lit; was raised and un-leveled, and had rocks and/or tree limbs/branches strewn about it,” all of which defendants had constructive notice.

At an examination before trial held on December 16, 2011, plaintiff testified that he did not recall his accident or what had caused his fall, and that his last memory before falling was of walking to the showers. At the time of his accident, it was dark outside and there was no lighting outside the showers, although it was lit inside, [*3] and he noticed that there were many rocks on the ground around the shower house. He was wearing a working head lamp as he approached the showers.

(NYSCEF 110).

On this motion, the following relevant facts are undisputed:

(1)Council owns and operates Floodwood and Troop made reservations to attend camp there;

(2)plaintiff had been a scout for several years and had attended previous camping trips;

(3)defendants Lopes and Figueiredo were the two adult Troop leaders in charge of plaintiff’s troop at Floodwood;

(4)the night of plaintiff’s accident, he and the other Troop members were told to put equipment into the Troop’s van and take showers at the camp’s shower house;

(5)of the five other Troop members that accompanied plaintiff to the shower house that night, one was 14 years old, one was 15 years old, and three were 16 years [**3] old;

(6)the adult leaders did not accompany them to the van or the shower house;

(7)the shower house was used by both female and males at alternating hours, and the Troop members had to wait until 10 pm to use it; and

(8)there had been no prior incidents of misbehavior during the trip or among the Troop members.

(NYSCEF 151).

The New York State Department of Health (DOH) promulgates [*4] specific rules for children’s camps. (10 NYCRR § 7-2 et al.). As pertinent here, the regulations require adequate supervision, and that “as a minimum . . . there shall exist visual or verbal communications capabilities between camper and counselor during activities and a method of accounting for the camper’s whereabouts at all times.” (10 NYCRR § 7-2.5[o]).

Council’s written plan for Floodwood requires that supervision of campers “be maintained for the duration (24/7) of their stay at the camp.” (NYSCEF 174). Council’s Leaders Guide for Floodwood provides that “running and horseplay have no place at Scout Camps,” and all scout units must have two adult leaders with the unit at all times. (NYSCEF 175).

At a deposition held on December 16, 2011, plaintiff testified that he had been a scout since age nine, and that while a scout he participated in monthly weekend scout camping trips. During the trips, the Troop leaders would show the scouts how to use tools, and gather firewood; when gathering firewood, the scouts would go into the woods using the buddy system, which requires that scouts be accompanied by at least one other scout. When the scouts went to the bathroom, they also used the buddy system. At a camp attended [*5] by the Troop the week before the one at Floodwood, plaintiff visited the shower facilities using the buddy system or with several scouts. At Floodwood too, the buddy system was used. (NYSCEF 162).

According to plaintiff, the main purpose of the trip to Floodwood was to take a 15-mile canoe trip. On the day of the accident, the scouts and the Troop leaders spent time outside in their campsite within the camp, where “there was a little bit of horsing around,” “a little bit of pushing, playing around,” and all of the scouts were pushing and shoving each other during and after a game of touch football, which the leaders told them to stop. As he walked to the shower house the night of his accident, plaintiff wore a functioning headlamp; the area around the shower house was dark. He does not recall what happened from the time the group walked to the shower house to when he regained consciousness on the ground, bleeding from his head. (NYSCEF 162).

It is undisputed that other scouts reported that while they were in the shower house, plaintiff took a water pump from the wall and squirted water on them. When one of the scouts told him to stop, plaintiff ran out of the shower house and fell to [*6] the ground. None of the scouts knew what had caused the fall. (NYSCEF 167-171, 176).

Pictures taken by the parties at Floodwood after the accident depict the shower house as a building stationed in a large clearing or space in front of a wooded area. (NYSCEF 161; 192).

According to the Troop leaders present that day, it was not scouts’ practice to have adult leaders accompany scouts to camp showers. Both leaders testified that they had known plaintiff and the other scouts for several years, had been with them at another camp the week before they went to Floodwood, and had had no disciplinary issues or previous incidents of misbehavior between them. The leaders testified that Scout protocol differentiated between active activities, such as swimming or rock climbing, and passive activities, such as going to shower or the bathroom or retrieving firewood, and that active activities required adults to be present while passive activities did not necessarily require an adult presence. (NYSCEF 163, 164).

Lopes testified that they defined supervision as permitting the scouts to travel throughout the camp as long as the leaders knew their whereabouts, and that he believed that Scout guidelines [*7] prohibited the leaders from walking the scouts to the shower house and waiting outside while they showered in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety. He testified that it was a three to five-minute walk from the Troop’s campsite to the shower house. (NYSCEF 164).

Figueiredo testified that the Troop’s campsite was located approximately a three-minute walk from the parking lot, that the shower house was located in the general camp, and that it was a three to four-minute walk from the Troop’s campsite to the shower house. He found out about plaintiff’s accident when two of the scouts found him at their campsite, and when he arrived at the shower house, he found plaintiff sitting on the ground in front of the shower house. He investigated the incident by interviewing the other scouts, and concluded that the other scouts were inside the shower house when plaintiff fell outside the shower house. (NYSCEF 163).

Figueiredo testified that although they did not accompany the scouts to the bathroom or shower, they had them use the buddy system and knew their whereabouts and when to expect them to return, which he defined as their supervision of the scouts:

[t]hey were not in a vast wilderness, they [*8] were in a camp. So there are other people in camp, so they’re within earshot of a number of people that are in camp. It is not like . . . I sent them out into the African plains; there were other people around. They were reasonably within earshot to a bunch of people and I knew their whereabouts.

(NYSCEF 163).

At an examination before trial held on March 16, 2012, Grey Rolland, Council’s director of support services, testified, as pertinent here, that he was unaware of any other injuries to scouts at Floodwood before or after plaintiff’s accident, and that plaintiff and the other scouts used the buddy system, which Rolland considers adequate. He did not believe that the adult Troop leaders should have accompanied the scouts to the shower house given the BSA prohibition against permitting adults and youths in shower houses together, and he asserted that it would not be considered “appropriate” for the adults to escort the scouts to the shower house. He acknowledged that if a Troop leader observed scouts running around or engaging in horseplay, it was incumbent upon the leader to tell them to stop. (NYSCEF 165).

Richard Saunders testified at an EBT that at the time of plaintiff’s accident, [*9] he was 18 years old and employed at Floodwood as a camp health officer. He described Floodwood as a “high-adventure base” for scouts older than 13 to do back-country exploring. After the accident, he completed a form as required by the DOH, on which he noted, under the category “Supervision During Incident,” that the “activity was inadequately addressed in the written plan,” by which he intended to convey that he had reviewed the scout’s written plan for the trip and saw [**4] nothing therein related to supervision of the scouts while in the shower house. He also wrote that no camp staff was present when the accident occurred. Although Saunders had first written that the supervision was “adequate,” he changed it to “inadequate” based on the absence of an adult when plaintiff was injured. Saunders had never before filled out such a form, nor was it part of his job.

Saunders described Floodwood as consisting of a main camp area, which includes the buildings where food is organized and meetings occur, and the individual campsites which are approximately a five-minute walk away. The shower house was located between the campsites and the camp buildings. He estimated that the shower house was [*10] a two-minute walk from the Troop’s campsite and in “an area where boys don’t want to have adults and it would be illegal to have them being watched while showering.” As a scout and troop member attending camps like Floodwood, Saunders recalled that adult leaders did not escort scouts to the showers or stand outside while the scouts showered. (NYSCEF 166).

DOH investigated the incident, after which it and Council entered into a stipulation providing that DOH had alleged that Council had violated various camp regulations, including those relating to the supervision of scouts, and that the parties were thereby settling the matter by Council agreeing not to contest it, paying a fine, and submitting a revised camp safety plan. Additionally, by its terms, the stipulation is

not intended for use in any other forum, tribunal or court, including any civil or criminal proceeding in which the issues or burden of proof may differ, and is made without prejudice to [Council’s] rights, defenses and/or claims in any other matter, proceeding, action, hearing or litigation not involving [DOH] [and] is not intended to be dispositive of any allegations of negligence that may be made in a civil action for [*11] monetary damages.

(NYSCEF 177).

By affidavit dated August 3, 2015, Michael J. Peterson states that he is an expert on camp and conference center management, and opines, based on his experience and review of relevant documentation in this case, that defendants violated the DOH regulation which requires, at a minimum, visual or verbal communications capabilities between a camper and a counselor, and that plaintiff’s accident was reasonably foreseeable as the scouts were allowed to remain “totally unsupervised and unregulated for a lengthy period of time in a potentially dangerous/hazardous environment.” He also posits that if the Troop leaders had accompanied the scouts to the shower house, “the level of horse play outside the shower house would have been minimal to non-existent, the boys would have taken their showers without incident, and safely returned to their camp site.” He also states that the defendants should have provided adequate lighting around the shower house. (NYSCEF 193).

II. CONTENTIONS

Defendants deny that they were negligent in any manner related to the physical conditions outside the shower house as they were the ordinary and expected conditions present in a wooded camp. [*12] Troop denies having had any obligation to maintain the area. Defendants also deny having breached a duty to supervise plaintiff absent any prior incidents between plaintiff and any [**5] other Troop member that would have put them on notice of the need to supervise them more closely, and argue that plaintiff’s injury or misbehavior was not reasonably foreseeable. They observe that plaintiff cannot remember how he was injured or whether his injuries were caused by a premises condition or an assault by another scout, and deny having had notice of any prior incidents or accidents around the shower house. (NYSCEF 151).

Plaintiff argues that his inability to remember the accident permits a relaxed standard of proof on summary judgment, and contends that there are two possible explanations for his accident: (1) that he was struck over the head with a blunt object by a fellow scout, or (2) that he tripped and fell while running over the uneven and non-illuminated area around the shower house, and that in either scenario, the accident would not have happened if defendants had adequately supervised that night. He asserts that a jury could conclude that a reasonably prudent parent would not permit [*13] six minors “to wander around the woods at 10:00 pm, for an indefinite period of time, without any adult supervision whatsoever,” and maintains that any “horseplay” should have and would have been discouraged by the Troop leaders. He also observes that defendants violated their own policies by failing to have a troop leader with the troop “at all times” or “for the duration (24/7)” of their trip. (NYSCEF 190).

Plaintiff relies on the stipulation entered into between defendants and DOH, Saunders’s conclusion that factors contributing to the incident included inadequate supervision, and Peterson’s opinion, to demonstrate the lack of adequate supervision. He also argues that Council had a duty to illuminate the area around the shower house, which he characterizes as a “rugged” and “uneven and unpaved camp area containing, inter alia, grass, dirt, rocks, trees, and tree roots.” (Id.).

In reply, defendants maintain that they established, prima facie, their lack of prior knowledge or notice of any scout misbehavior at the camp or any dangerous condition around the shower house. They deny that plaintiff offers evidence that he suffers from any medical condition causing a failure of memory, and [*14] assert that his inability to remember the incident does not warrant relieving him of his burden of proof. They also dispute that the scouts were “traipsing or wandering” through the woods, observing that both Troop leaders testified that they were within the camp, not the woods, where they were within earshot, and were directed to go to the shower house, which they did. (NYSCEF 200).

Defendants also contend that Peterson’s expert affidavit is based on speculation, and that his reliance on the DOH requirement of visual or verbal communication capabilities during “activities” is inapplicable as showering or walking to the shower house is not an activity within the meaning of the rule. They observe that Peterson cites no regulations that defendants allegedly violated relating to the lighting around the shower house, that Peterson never inspected the area, and that in any event, the conditions alleged are ordinary elements of a wooded area. They also deny that Saunders’s statements in the DOH form constitute party admissions, as his completion of the form was not within the scope of his authority at Floodwood. (Id.).

III. ANALYSIS

“The proponent of a summary judgment motion must make a prima [*15] facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, tendering sufficient evidence to demonstrate the absence of any material issues of fact.” (Ayotte v Gervasio, 81 NY2d 1062, 1062, 619 N.E.2d 400, 601 N.Y.S.2d 463 [1993] [citation [**6] omitted]; Winegrad v New York Univ. Med. Ctr., 64 NY2d 851, 476 N.E.2d 642, 487 N.Y.S.2d 316 [1985]). “Failure to make such showing requires denial of the motion, regardless of the sufficiency of the opposing papers.” (Winegrad, 64 NY2d at 853; see also Lesocovich v 180 Madison Ave. Corp., 81 NY2d 982, 985, 615 N.E.2d 1010, 599 N.Y.S.2d 526 [1993]).

Once the proponent’s prima facie burden is satisfied, the opposing party bears the burden of presenting evidentiary facts sufficient to raise triable issues of fact. (Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 562, 404 N.E.2d 718, 427 N.Y.S.2d 595 [1980]; CitiFinancial Co. [DE] v McKinney, 27 AD3d 224, 226, 811 N.Y.S.2d 359 [1st Dept 2006]). Summary judgment may be granted only when it is clear that no triable issues of fact exist (Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320, 324, 501 N.E.2d 572, 508 N.Y.S.2d 923 [1986]), and “should not be granted where there is any doubt as to the existence of a triable issue” of fact (Am. Home Assur. Co. v Amerford Intl. Corp., 200 AD2d 472, 473, 606 N.Y.S.2d 229 [1st Dept 1994]; see also Color by Pergament, Inc. v Pergament, 241 AD2d 418, 420, 660 N.Y.S.2d 431 [1st Dept 1997] [“Summary judgment is an exercise in issue-finding, not issue determination, and may not be granted when material and triable issues of fact are presented”]). The court must examine the evidence in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. (Martin v Briggs, 235 AD2d 192, 196, 663 N.Y.S.2d 184 [1st Dept 1997]).

A plaintiff who, due to a failure of memory, cannot describe what led to his injury is not held to as high a degree of proof on his or her cause of action. (Noseworthy v City of New York, 298 NY 76, 80 N.E.2d 744 [1948]; see Bah v Benton, 92 AD3d 133, 936 N.Y.S.2d 181 [1st Dept 2012] [plaintiff who presented medical evidence establishing loss of memory due [*16] to accident at issue entitled to lesser standard of proof applicable to party unable to present party’s version of facts]). However, even when a plaintiff suffers from amnesia, he is not relieved of the obligation to provide “some proof from which negligence can be reasonably inferred.” (Alotta v Diaz, 130 AD3d 660, 11 N.Y.S.3d 868 [2d Dept 2015]; see Schechter v Klanfer, 28 NY2d 228, 269 N.E.2d 812, 321 N.Y.S.2d 99 [1971] [even if amnesiac plaintiff is held to lesser degree of proof, it does not “shift the burden of proof or eliminate the need for plaintiffs to introduce evidence of a prima facie case”]; Santiago v Quattrociocchi, 91 AD3d 747, 937 N.Y.S.2d 119 [2d Dept 2012] [same]).

A. Did defendants breach their duty to supervise plaintiff?

A person, other than a parent, who undertakes to control, care for, or supervise an infant, is required to use reasonable care to protect the infant . . . Such a person may be liable for any injury sustained by the infant which was proximately caused by his or her negligence. While a person caring for entrusted children is not cast in the role of an insurer, such an individual is obligated to provide adequate supervision and may be held liable for foreseeable injuries proximately resulting from the negligent failure to do so.

(Alotta v Diaz, 130 AD3d 660, 11 N.Y.S.3d 868 [2d Dept 2015], quoting Appell v Mandel, 296 AD2d 514, 745 N.Y.S.2d 491 [2d Dept 2002]).

A “summer camp is duty-bound to supervise its campers as would a parent of ordinary prudence in comparable [*17] circumstances.” (Phelps v Boy Scouts of Am., 305 AD2d 335, 762 N.Y.S.2d 32 [1st Dept 2003]). And, while the degree of supervision required depends on the surrounding circumstances, “constant supervision in a camp setting is neither feasible nor desirable.” (Id. at 335-6).

The standard for determining whether a duty to supervise a minor has been breached is “whether a parent of ordinary prudence placed in the identical situation and armed with the same [**7] information would invariably have provided greater supervision.” (Mayo v New York City Tr. Auth., 124 AD3d 606, 3 N.Y.S.3d 36 [2d Dept 2015], quoting Mary KK v Jack LL, 203 AD2d 840, 611 N.Y.S.2d 347 [3d Dept 1994]).

Moreover, “in determining whether the duty to provide adequate supervision has been breached in the context of injuries caused by the acts of fellow [campers], it must be established that [camp] authorities had sufficiently specific knowledge or notice of the dangerous conduct which caused the injury, that is, that the third-party acts could reasonably have been anticipated.” (Ragusa v Town of Huntington, 54 AD3d 743, 864 N.Y.S.2d 441 [2d Dept 2008], quoting Mirand v City of New York, 84 NY2d 44, 637 N.E.2d 263, 614 N.Y.S.2d 372 [1994]). Although if an accident occurs in “so short a span in time that even the most intense supervision could not have prevented it, any lack of supervision is not the proximate cause of the injury and summary judgment in favor of the . . . defendants is warranted.'” (Atehortua v Lewin, 90 AD3d 794, 935 N.Y.S.2d 102 [2d Dept 2011], quoting Nash v Port Wash. Union Free School Dist., 83 AD3d 136, 922 N.Y.S.2d 408 [2d Dept 2011]).

1. Was the supervision adequate?

Even though plaintiff does not remember the accident, the [*18] other boys’ versions of it are consistent and uniform, and present the following picture: Plaintiff and the other scouts walked to the shower house and went inside without incident, whereupon plaintiff obtained a water pump and started spraying water on them. When one of the scouts told plaintiff to stop, he ran out of the shower house, and fell.

Plaintiff’s contention is that for defendants’ supervision to have been adequate that night, the Troop leaders should have escorted or walked the scouts to the shower house, waited outside while they showered, and then walked them back to their campsite. As it is undisputed that the scouts ranged in age from 13 to 16, that they were at Floodwood to learn skills related to survival in the woods and to partake in a 15-mile canoe trip, that the scouts utilized a buddy system when at various camps and that Troop leaders never escorted them to the bathrooms or showers, that the shower house was approximately a three to five-minute walk from their campsite, and that the shower house was located within the camp area where other campers and adults were present and within earshot, defendants have demonstrated that a parent of ordinary prudence placed [*19] in the identical situation and armed with the same information would not have provided greater supervision than that provided by defendants.

Moreover, a parent who permits his or her child to attend an overnight camping trip in the woods where the child will be taught skills related to understanding and surviving outdoor conditions, is presumably aware of the hazards and risks of injury associated with such conditions, and it would be illogical for that same parent to require or believe it necessary for the child to be escorted personally to and from every area within the camp. Such a degree of supervision “in a camp setting is neither feasible nor desirable” (Phelps v Boy Scouts of Am., 305 AD2d 335, 762 N.Y.S.2d 32 [1st Dept 2003]), and camps “cannot reasonably be expected to continuously supervise and control all of [the campers] movements and activities” (Harris v Five Point Mission – Camp Olmstedt, 73 AD3d 1127, 901 N.Y.S.2d 678 [2d Dept 2010]).

On point is Kosok v Young Men’s Christian Assn. of Greater New York, where a group of boys at a summer camp injured the plaintiff while playing a prank involving attaching a pail to a fishing rod and letting it descend onto the heads of other unsuspecting boys. The group of boys, ranging in age from 12 to 15, occupied a cabin by themselves; the camp counselor did not stay [*20] in [**8] the cabin with them during the midday break. The Court dismissed the case, finding that there was no negligence by defendants in failing to supervise “the rest period of boys of high-school age for a short period.” (24 AD2d 113, 264 N.Y.S.2d 123 [1st Dept 1965], affd 19 NY2d 935, 228 N.E.2d 398, 281 N.Y.S.2d 341 [1967]). The Court observed that ” [r]emembering that this is a Summer camp, it will be seen that constant supervision is not feasible . . . Nor is it desirable. One of the benefits of such an institution is to inculcate self-reliance in the campers which an overly protective supervision would destroy.” (24 AD2d at 115; see also Gustin v Assn. of Camps Farthest Out, Inc., 267 AD2d 1001, 700 N.Y.S.2d 327 [4th Dept 1999] [same]).

Plaintiff’s reliance on Phelps v Boy Scouts of Am. is misplaced. As I held in granting summary judgment to Boy Scouts of America:

In Phelps . . . “very young campers” were placed in bunks at a camp with “much older campers,” who allegedly assaulted the young campers . . . The court also allowed that very young campers often require closer supervision than older campers, and that placing the younger campers in the bunks with the older campers was an apparent violation of camp policy.

Here, there is no issue of very young campers being unsupervised or placed in risky circumstances as plaintiff and his fellow scouts were all teenagers and there is no evidence that [*21] any camp policy was violated . . .

(305 AD2d 335, 762 N.Y.S.2d 32 [1st Dept 2003]).

Moreover, plaintiff’s reliance on Saunders’s conclusion or opinion in the DOH report that the accident was caused by inadequate supervision is not conclusive here, not only because he had no authority to bind defendants to his conclusion, but also based on the circumstances that he was an 18-year old who had never before filled out or even seen a DOH report, and who had received no training or guidance as to how it should be filled out or the meanings of the terms therein. In any event, Saunders testified that he wrote that there was inadequate supervision based only on the fact that the Troop leaders were not physically present at the time of the accident, which is an insufficient basis for the conclusion.

Plaintiff’s submission of the stipulation between DOH and defendants to establish that there was inadequate supervision is barred by the stipulation’s own terms.

Peterson’s expert opinion is based on speculation and is conclusory, and he cites no regulation or requirement that specifies that adequate supervision in this context means that the Troop leaders were required to escort the scouts to the shower house and wait outside until they finished [*22] showering. Indeed, any claim that such supervision is required in camps is undermined by the undisputed fact that at the camp that the scouts attended a week before going to Floodwood, the scouts went to the shower house unescorted and used only the buddy system. Reliance on the DOH requirement of “visual or verbal communication” between campers and counselors and Council’s plan for Floodwood which required the supervision of campers “24/7” is misplaced as neither requires that the Troop leaders be constantly present with the scouts. (See eg, Harris v Five Point Mission – Camp Olmstedt, 73 AD3d 1127, 901 N.Y.S.2d 678 [2d Dept 2010] [while expert concluded that camp was negligent in failing to provide plaintiff with shin guards during soccer game in which he was injured, he failed to allege that camps generally provide shin guards during games or that rules requiring use of shin guards in soccer leagues have been implemented by or [**9] accepted as accepted practice at camps]; Cherry v State of New York, 42 AD2d 671, 344 N.Y.S.2d 545 [4th Dept 1973], affd 34 NY2d 872, 316 N.E.2d 713, 359 N.Y.S.2d 276 [1974] [where camper was injured when nail he struck with hammer while building tent platform struck him, expert’s opinion that the camp was required to provide campers with safety goggles was expert’s personal opinion and neither statute nor regulations required goggles]). [*23]

References to the “traipsing” or “wandering” in the woods unsupervised have no basis in the record; the scouts remained in the camp and never went into the woods. Moreover, the accident did not occur in the woods, and there is no correlation between the woods and plaintiff’s accident.

In any event, whether or not defendants’ supervision of plaintiff was adequate is irrelevant if the accident was not foreseeable or was not proximately caused by the allegedly inadequate supervision.

2. Was plaintiff’s accident foreseeable?

As it is reasonably inferred that the accident occurred as described by the other scouts, there is no evidence suggesting that defendants were on notice that plaintiff and/or the scouts would engage in any dangerous conduct or misbehavior at the shower house. Moreover, even if some of the behavior was foreseeable, plaintiff’s bolting from the shower house, and subsequent fall, was not a foreseeable consequence of any misbehavior.

Kosok is again on point here, with the Court finding that “[a]ssuming that the boys were reasonably quiet – and there is no indication that they were not – no occasion for looking in on them was presented.” The Court also observed that:

[a] certain amount [*24] of horseplay is almost always to be found in gatherings of young people, and is generally associated with children’s camps. It is only to be discouraged when it becomes dangerous. Nothing in the incident itself or surrounding circumstances indicates any notice to defendant that such was likely to result here.

(24 AD2d at 115; see also Gibbud v Camp Shane, Inc., 30 AD3d 865, 817 N.Y.S.2d 435 [3d Dept 2006] [same]).

Even if plaintiff had been assaulted by a fellow scout rather than having tripped and fallen, there is no evidence that defendants were on notice of the possibility of an assault. (See eg Alvero v Allen, 262 AD2d 434, 692 N.Y.S.2d 116 [2d Dept 1999] [boy scout sued troop leader for injury caused by snowball fight; absent proof that leader had notice of ongoing and dangerous snowball fight, plaintiff could not prevail on inadequate supervision claim]; see also Osmanzai v Sports and Arts in Schools Foundation, Inc., 116 AD3d 937, 983 N.Y.S.2d 848 [2d Dept 2014] [injury caused by impulsive, unanticipated act of fellow camper ordinarily will not give rise to negligence claim absent proof of prior conduct that would have given notice to protect against injury-causing act]).

As it is undisputed that defendants had no notice of the possibility of misbehavior among the scouts, they have established that plaintiff’s accident was not foreseeable.

3. Was plaintiff’s accident proximately caused by defendants’ allegedly inadequate [*25] supervision?

Even if the Troop leaders had escorted the scouts to the shower house and stood outside while they showered, the alleged misbehavior occurred inside the shower house, and thus the leaders would neither have observed it nor been in a position to stop it. And unless the leaders blocked the entrance, they would not have been able to stop plaintiff from running out of the shower house and falling down.

Plaintiff’s and Peterson’s belief that the mere presence of the Troop leaders outside the shower house would have been sufficient to stop any horseplay from taking place inside is not only speculative, but unwarranted as the scouts had engaged in horseplay earlier that day while the leaders were with them. (See eg, Stephenson v City of New York, 85 AD3d 523, 925 N.Y.S.2d 71 [1st Dept 2011], affd 19 NY3d 1031, 978 N.E.2d 1251, 954 N.Y.S.2d 782 [2012] [suggestion that student’s assault on plaintiff would have been prevented by his mother accompanying her almost 14-year-old son to school every day did not rise above speculation]; see also Lizardo v Bd. of Educ. of City of New York, 77 AD3d 437, 908 N.Y.S.2d 395 [1st Dept 2010] [rejecting plaintiff’s expert’s assertion that collision between children would have been preventable by teacher watching play more closely, and opinion that incident might have been prevented by closer supervision valid only in retrospect]; Walsh v City School Dist. of Albany, 237 AD2d 811, 654 N.Y.S.2d 859 [3d Dept 1997] [finding unpersuasive allegation [*26] that presence of supervisor could have kept plaintiff and fellow student attentive and injury would have been prevented]).

In any event, the accident occurred too quickly to enable the Troop leaders to prevent it had they been outside the shower house. As in Kosok, “[e]ven if the cabin counsellor had been within earshot of the cabin, it is difficult to see how the accident would have been prevented.” (24 AD2d at 115; see Harris v Five Point Mission – Camp Olmstedt, 73 AD3d 1127, 901 N.Y.S.2d 678 [2d Dept 2010] [as plaintiff was injured at camp during 15-second time span, camp established that it did not negligently supervise him]; see also Jorge C. v City of New York, 128 AD3d 410, 8 N.Y.S.3d 307 [1st Dept 2015] [defendant established that student’s injury did not arise from inadequate supervision, but from impulsive and unanticipated acts of fellow student of finding balloon, filling it with water, and attempting to throw it at plaintiff, and plaintiff running away and looking backwards rather than ahead]).

Moreover, it was plaintiff’s own impulsive and reckless conduct in squirting the other scouts with the water pump and then running out of the shower house, that led to his injury. (See Gibbud v Camp Shane, Inc., 30 AD3d 865, 817 N.Y.S.2d 435 [3d Dept 2006] [plaintiff’s own impulsive and reckless act in grabbing camp counselor from behind, causing counselor to drop plaintiff and fracture plaintiff’s [*27] ankle, led to his injury]).

Thus, as the accident occurred in a very short time span and as plaintiff’s own impulsive conduct led to his injury, defendants have demonstrated that there is no proximate cause between their allegedly inadequate supervision and plaintiff’s accident.

B. Did Council breach their duty to illuminate adequately the area around the shower house?

Plaintiff has not identified what caused him to fall, whether it was part of the shower house or something on the ground, either a rock or tree branch or uneven patch of dirt. Absent any such evidence and even if plaintiff is unable to recall, there is no basis on which it may be found that plaintiff’s injury was proximately caused by the lack of lighting around the area. (See Lynn v Lynn, 216 AD2d 194, 628 N.Y.S.2d 667 [1st Dept 1995] [plaintiff’s amnesia did not reduce her burden of proving that allegedly defective condition of stairway was proximate cause of fall]).

Moreover, plaintiff was wearing a working headlamp at the time of the incident, and neither plaintiff nor his expert identified a regulation or rule requiring defendants to light the area around the shower house at all or in any particular manner.

Plaintiff was able, however, to recall the conditions outside of the [*28] shower house, which consisted of typical conditions in any wooded or camp area, i.e., rocks, dirt, branches, etc., and [**10] having been on several camp trips, was presumably aware of the existence and risks of such conditions. He did not identify or recall any unusual, unexpected, or dangerous conditions, nor have any such conditions been alleged.

In Kimbar v Estis, a young camper had wandered off a camp path at night and hit a tree. The Court found that the camp owners had no duty to illuminate the path in the absence of any particular danger on the path, finding:

We have before us a simple camper-camp relationship and the rustic, outdoor camp life that is the very raison d’e tre [sic] of summer establishments such as defendants’. There are certain risks incidental to camping, but these are part of an adventurous summer camp life, and are necessarily assumed by those who would participate therein . . .

Indeed, it is expected that a camp will have trees, that paths will lead through woods and that woods will be dark at night. It is not to be anticipated that floodlights will be supplied for campers through woodland paths. One naturally assumes many ordinary risks when in the woods and in [*29] the country trails are not smooth sidewalks, paths are not paved, trees, brush and insects are to be expected, and even snakes may appear occasionally. These and more are all a part of accepted camp life.

To hold summer camps to a duty of floodlighting woods would not only impose upon them a condition almost impracticable under many circumstances but would be unfair, as well, to the youth who seek the adventure of living closer to nature, participating in outdoor astronomical study at night or bird study before dawn, or when overnight hikes take them for study and adventure far from any source of electrical power. Such a duty, in short, would frequently compel camps to keep boys confined after dark and thereby effectively spell the end of some of the most desirable activities of real camping life.

1 NY2d 399, 135 N.E.2d 708, 153 N.Y.S.2d 197 [1956]).

Defendants thus establish that they breached no duty to illuminate the area around the shower house and that, in any event, the area did not constitute a dangerous condition for which they may be held liable. (See Torres v State of New York, 18 AD3d 739, 795 N.Y.S.2d 710 [2d Dept 2005] [park owner not liable for injury sustained when plaintiff tripped over tree stump in park; “landowners will not be held liable for injuries arising from a condition on the property [*30] that is inherent or incidental to the nature of the property, and that could be reasonably anticipated by those using it”]; Mazzola v Mazzola, 16 AD3d 629, 793 N.Y.S.2d 59 [2d Dept 2005] [dismissing claim by infant plaintiff who tripped and fell over exposed tree roots in backyard as alleged defect was inherent to nature of land]; Moriello v Stormville Airport Antique Show & Flea Market, Inc., 271 AD2d 664, 706 N.Y.S.2d 463 [2d Dept 2000] [owner of field not liable for injuries to plaintiff who tripped on flat rock while walking on unpaved roadway; rock was inherent to nature of unpaved roadway]; Csukardi v Bishop McDonnell Camp, 148 AD2d 657, 539 N.Y.S.2d 408 [2d Dept 1989] [campground owner not liable to person who tripped over grass-covered stump in wooded area, as stump was incidental to nature of campground and could be reasonably anticipated by persons traversing wooded area]; Alcantara v Fed. Girl Scout Councils of Nassau County, Inc., 24 AD2d 585, 262 N.Y.S.2d 190 [2d Dept 1965] [plaintiff could not recover for injury sustained at camp when she tripped over tree stump; [**11] defendant conducted rustic outdoor camp and paths were unpaved, and condition of premises was thus incidental to nature of camp and to be ordinarily expected by plaintiff]).

IV. CONCLUSION

For all of these reasons, it is hereby

ORDERED, that the motion of defendants Northern New Jersey Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America and Boy Scout Troop 141 for summary judgment dismissing the action against them is granted, and the complaint is dismissed as against them, [*31] with costs and disbursements to said defendants as taxed by the Clerk upon the submission of an appropriate bill of costs, and is further

ORDERED, that the clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

ENTER:

Barbara Jaffe, JSC

DATED: March 10, 2016

New York, New York


Utah courts like giving money to injured kids. This decision does clarify somewhat murky prior decisions about the defenses provided to a ski area in Utah: there are none.

A minor was hurt during ski racing practice by hitting a mound of machine-made snow. The Utah Skier Safety Act is weak and Utah Supreme Court interpretations of the act do nothing but weaken it more. This act clarified those weaknesses and what a Utah ski area can do to protect itself from lawsuits, which is not much really. This court, not finding the act weak enough, agreed with the Utah Supreme Court and eliminated releases as a defense for ski areas in the state of Utah.

Rutherford v. Talisker Canyons Finance Co., LLC, 2014 UT App 190; 767 Utah Adv. Rep. 41; 2014 Utah App. LEXIS 201

State: Utah

Plaintiff: Philip Rutherford and Wendy Rutherford, on Behalf of Their Minor Child, Levi Rutherford

Defendant: Talisker Canyons Finance Co., LLC and ASC UTAH, LLC (The Canyons Ski Area) and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association

Plaintiff Claims: the machine that produced the snow mound was not functioning properly, that the Ski Resort could have warned patrons of the hazard by marking the mound or closing the trail, and that the Ski Resort did not adequately monitor the snowmaking taking place on the Retreat run that day

Defendant Defenses: release, Utah Ski Act,

Holding: For the Plaintiff

Year: 2014

Utah famously does not award money for adults who are injured; however, if a minor is injured, as a defendant, be prepared to write a big check. For such a conservative state, the judgments for a minor’s injuries can be massive. In this case, the trial court bent over backwards to allow a case by a minor to proceed even with numerous valid defenses. In all but one case, the appellate court agreed with the plaintiffs.

The minor was going to a race practice. He skied down the hill without changing his position and not turning. He hit a mound of man-made snow and was hurt. His parents sued.

The plaintiff’s sued the resort, Canyons which was identified in the case citation by two different names. The plaintiff also sued the US Ski and Snowboard Association, which were not part of the appeal, but mentioned frequently.

The defendants filed an interlocutory appeal after all of their motions of summary judgment were denied. An Interlocutory appeal is one that is made to a higher court before the lower court has issued a final ruling. The appeal is based on intermediary rulings of the trial court. The appeal can only be heard upon a limited set of rules, which are set out by each of the courts. Interlocutory appeals are rare, normally, when the decision of the lower court will force a new trial because of the rulings if the case goes to trial.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The first issue is the application of the Utah’s Inherent Risks of Skiing Act to the case. The trial court ruled the plaintiff was not a competitor as defined by the act. Like many state ski acts the act; a competitor assumes greater risks, and the ski area owes fewer duties to competitors. The trial court based this decision on its review of the facts and determined:

…skiing on an open run that any member of the public could ski on” and that his accident indisputably did not occur during a ski race, while skiing through gates, or while otherwise “negotiating for training purposes something that had been specifically designated as a race course

However, the plaintiffs in their motions and pleadings as well as the plaintiff’s expert witness report stated the minor plaintiff was engaged in race training and practice. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision on this. However, instead of holding the plaintiff was a competitor and assumed more risk; the appellate court required the trial court to determine if plaintiff’s “engagement in race training at the time of his injury is truly undisputed by the parties.”

The next issue was whether the phrase machine-made snow in the act was an inherent risk or an exemption from the risks assumed. The plaintiff’s argued the snow machine was malfunctioning and because of that the resort was negligent. The statute states:

§ 78B-4-402.  Definitions

    (b) snow or ice conditions as they exist or may change, such as hard pack, powder, packed powder, wind pack, corn, crust, slush, cut-up snow, or machine-made snow;

The appellate court agreed with the trial court because the supreme court of Utah had found the Utah act:

…does not purport to grant ski area operators complete immunity from all negligence claims initiated by skiers” but protects ski-area operators “from suits to recover for injuries caused by one or more of the dangers listed [in the Act] only to the extent those dangers, under the facts of each case, are integral aspects of the sport of skiing.

This interpretation of the act is the exact opposite of how statutes are normally interpreted and how all other courts have interpreted other state skier safety acts. Instead of providing protection, the act simply lists items the act may protect from litigation. The act is to be interpreted every time by the trial court to determine if the risk encountered by the skier in Utah was something the act my say the skier assumed.

This means most injuries will receive some money from the ski area. The injured skier can sue and the resort and its insurance company will settle for a nominal amount rather than pay the cost of going to trial to prove the injury was something that was an inherent risk as defined by the Utah’s Inherent Risks of Skiing Act.

The court as part of this analysis then looked at the phrase “inherent risk.”

The term ‘inherent risk of skiing,’ using the ordinary and accepted meaning of the term ‘inherent,’ refers to those risks that are essential characteristics of skiing–risks that are so integrally related to skiing that the sport cannot be undertaken without confronting these risks.

This is a normal definition applied to inherent risk. However, the court then went on and quoted the Utah Supreme court as stating.

The court divided these risks into two categories, the first of which represents “those risks, such as steep grades, powder, and mogul runs, which skiers wish to confront as an essential characteristic of skiing.” Under the Act, “a ski area operator is under no duty to make all of its runs as safe as possible by eliminating the type of dangers that skiers wish to confront as an integral part of skiing.”

The second category of risks consists of those hazards which no one wishes to confront but cannot be alleviated by the use of reasonable care on the part of a ski resort,” such as weather and snow conditions that may “suddenly change and, without warning, create new hazards where no hazard previously existed. For this category of risks, “[t]he only duty ski area operators have . . . is the requirement set out in [the Act] that they warn their patrons, in the manner prescribed in the statute, of the general dangers patrons must confront when participating in the sport of skiing.

Then the interpretation of the Supreme Court decision goes off the chart.

However, this does not exonerate a ski-area operator from any “duty to use ordinary care to protect its patrons”; “if an injury was caused by an unnecessary hazard that could have been eliminated by the use of ordinary care, such a hazard is not, in the ordinary sense of the term, an inherent risk of skiing and would fall outside of [the Act].”

Instead of the act providing protection from a list of risks that are part and parcel of skiing, the act in Utah only provides of hazards that if not eliminated will still allow litigation. That is any injury is worth filing suit over because the cost of defending the case will exceed the cost of settling.

How does this apply in this case? The act refers to machine made snow. The complaint states the plaintiff was injured because the snow making machine was not functioning properly. There was no allegation that the snow was at issue, which is protected by the act, just the machine that makes the snow. However, this was enough for the trial court and the appellate court to say the act did not provide immunity for the ski area.

That is the defense of the tree on the side of the road scared me, so I opened the passenger-side door and knocked down the pedestrian. If the snow making machine was malfunctioning, unless it is making “bad” snow that has nothing to do with hitting a mound of snow.

The next issue is the defense of release. This part of the decision actually makes sense.

The US Ski and Snowboard Association has members sign releases. The majority of racing members of the USSA are minors, hoping to become major racers for the US. The USSA is based in Park City, Utah. Utah has always held that a parent cannot sign away a minor’s right to sue. So the USSA made its choice of law provision Colorado in an attempt to take advantage of Colorado’s laws on releases and minors and releases. (See States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.)

However, courts won’t and this court did not, let you get away with such a stretch. The venue and jurisdiction clause in a release must have a basis with where the defendant is located, where the activity (and as such accident) happens or where the plaintiff lives. Here the USSA is based in Park City Utah, the plaintiff lives in Utah and the accident happened in Utah; the Utah trial court and Appellate court properly held the jurisdiction and venue clause in the release was not valid.

On top of that, you need to justify why you are using a foreign state for venue and jurisdiction, in the jurisdiction and venue clause in the release. You need to state with a reasonable degree of plausibility why you are putting the venue in a certain place if it is not the location where the parties are located or the accident occurred. State in the release that in order to control litigation, the jurisdiction and venue of any action will be in the state where the defendant is located.

The release was thrown out before getting to whether a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue, which the Utah Supreme Court has never upheld. (See States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.) However, the appellate court reviewed this issue and also threw the release out because Utah does not allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. (The Utah Equine and Livestock Activities Act has been amended to allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue for Equine injuries.)

The court then looked at what releases are viable in the ski industry in Utah. In 90 days, the Utah Supreme Court voided a release in a ski case and then upheld a release in a ski case. (See Utah Supreme Court Reverses long position on releases in a very short period of time.) This court stated the differences where a release is void under Utah’s law for recreational skiers. “Our supreme court has interpreted this public policy statement as prohibiting pre-injury releases of liability for negligence obtained by ski-area operators from recreational skiers.”

The public policy statement is the preamble of the Utah’s Inherent Risks of Skiing Act.

The Legislature finds that the sport of skiing is practiced by a large number of residents of Utah and attracts a large number of nonresidents, significantly contributing to the economy of this state. It further finds that few insurance carriers are willing to provide liability insurance protection to ski area operators and that the premiums charged by those carriers have risen sharply in recent years due to confusion as to whether a skier assumes the risks inherent in the sport of skiing. It is the purpose of this act; therefore, to clarify the law in relation to skiing injuries and the risks inherent in that sport, to establish as a matter of law that certain risks are inherent in that sport, and to provide that, as a matter of public policy, no person engaged in that sport shall recover from a ski operator for injuries resulting from those inherent risks.

Simply put this is an analysis of the action of the legislature, by the court, to say, the legislature gave you this, so we, the court, are going to take away releases.

In other words, the Act prohibits pre-injury releases of liability for negligence entirely, regardless of the age of the skier who signed the release or whether the release was signed by a parent on behalf of a child.

The court explained that the Act was designed to strike a “bargain” with ski-area operators by freeing them “from liability for inherent risks of skiing so that they could continue to shoulder responsibility for noninherent risks by purchasing insurance.

The court then looked at whether this release could be applied if the plaintiff was a competitive skier? (Yeah, confusing to me also.)

Following that confusing analysis this court then determined the release by a competitive skier was also invalid, contrary to what the Supreme Court had decided in Berry v. Greater Park City Co., 2007 UT 87, ¶ 17, 171 P.3d 442. However, the court rationalized the analysis by saying the amendment to the ski act, which occurred before the Berry decision, but after the accident giving rise to Berry, made a competitive skier the same as a recreational skier for the purposes of the act therefore no releases were valid in Utah for skiing.

Here is the conclusion of the case.

The trial court’s determination that Levi was not engaged in race training at the time of his injury, especially in the face of the fact, apparently undisputed by the parties, that he was injured during racing practice, was improper in the context of the Ski Resort’s motions for summary judgment. The trial court correctly denied the Ski Resort’s joinder in the Ski Team’s motion for summary judgment based on the Act and correctly granted the Rutherfords’ related partial motion for summary judgment, based on the court’s determination that there were disputed issues of material fact regarding the applicability of the machine-made snow exemption. We affirm the trial court’s denial of the Ski Resort’s motion for summary judgment based on the USSA release and the court’s determination that the Colorado choice-of-law provision in the USSA release is inapplicable here. We agree with the trial court that the release, as it pertains to the Ski Resort, is unenforceable under Utah law, but base this conclusion on different grounds than the trial court.

It almost reads like it is a normal case. The court sent the issue back to the lower court, basically handing the plaintiff the decision. The only thing left to do is determine the amount.

So Now What?

It’s a kid thing in Utah. Kids get hurt the courts’ hand out money. Even the ski industry is not big enough, or organized enough, to do anything about it.

I don’t know of any other reason why this decision would come out this way.

This decision which eliminates releases as a defense for the ski area may trickle down to other recreational activities. Let’s hope not.

So we know the following about Utah and ski areas.

1.       Releases are not a valid defense unless you are racing, actually on the course for a race or practice.

2.      A competitor under the Utah’s Inherent Risks of Skiing Act is only a competitor when racing or running gates.

3.      The Utah’s Inherent Risks of Skiing Act only sets out the defenses available to a ski area if they ski area was not negligent and could not have prevented the accident or risk which caused the accident.

4.      Minor’s in Utah always win.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Wycoff v. Grace Community Church of the Assemblies of God, 2010 Colo. App. LEXIS 1832

Wycoff v. Grace Community Church of the Assemblies of God, 2010 Colo. App. LEXIS 1832
Taylor Wycoff, Plaintiff-Appellee and Cross-Appellant, and American Medical Security Life Insurance Company, a Wisconsin insurance company, Intervenor-Appellee and Cross-Appellant, v. Grace Community Church of the Assemblies of God, a Colorado nonprofit corporation, Defendant-Appellant and Cross-Appellee.
Court of Appeals Nos. 09CA1151, 09CA1200 & 09CA1222
COURT OF APPEALS OF COLORADO, DIVISION SIX
2010 Colo. App. LEXIS 1832
December 9, 2010, Decided
NOTICE:
THIS OPINION IS NOT THE FINAL VERSION AND SUBJECT TO REVISION UPON FINAL PUBLICATION
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Related proceeding at Wycoff v. Seventh Day Adventist Ass’n of Colo., 2010 Colo. App. LEXIS 1826 (Colo. Ct. App., Dec. 9, 2010)
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]
Boulder County District Court No. 07CV35. Honorable M. Gwyneth Whalen, Judge.
DISPOSITION: JUDGMENT AFFIRMED IN PART, VACATED IN PART, AND CASE REMANDED WITH DIRECTIONS.
COUNSEL: Wilcox & Ogden, P.C., Ralph Ogden, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee and Cross-Appellant.
David Lichtenstein, Denver, Colorado, for Intervenor-Appellee and Cross-Appellant.
Cooper & Clough, P.C., Paul D. Cooper, Jeremy L. Swift, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant and Cross-Appellee.
JUDGES: Opinion by JUDGE CONNELLY. Carparelli, J., concurs. Furman, J., dissents.
OPINION BY: CONNELLY
OPINION
Plaintiff, Taylor Wycoff, was seriously injured at a winter event held by defendant, Grace Community Church (Grace). Plaintiff and her insurer, intervenor American Medical Security Life Insurance Company (insurer), sued Grace and another defendant. Claims against that other defendant are addressed in Wycoff v. Seventh Day Adventist Ass’n, P.3d , 2010 Colo. App. LEXIS 1826 (Colo. App. Nos. 09CA1034 & 09CA1065, Dec. 9, 2010).
The jury returned verdicts against Grace totaling more than $ 4 million. The court reduced the total to $ 2 million (the limits of Grace’s insurance), awarding some $ 1.775 million to plaintiff and $ 225,000 to insurer. After prejudgment interest and costs, the court [*2] entered judgment of $ 2.6 million for plaintiff and $ 324,000 for insurer. We generally affirm but vacate the judgment, and we order the trial court to enter judgment in the higher amounts unreduced by any insurance limits.
I. Background
Plaintiff was seventeen years old at the time of the accident. Though not a church member, she was one of sixty youths to attend a three-day, two-night event that Grace called “Winterama 2005.”
Grace contracted with Seventh Day Adventist Association of Colorado (SDA) to hold the event at Glacier View Ranch, in Ward, Colorado. Grace paid SDA for rooms, meals, and use of the ranch.
Plaintiff’s father paid Grace $ 40 for plaintiff to attend the event. Grace states that plaintiff did not pay more because it awarded her a “partial scholarship.” Plaintiff and her mother signed Grace’s one-page “Registration and information” form, which Grace contends released the personal injury claims now at issue.
After arriving and checking in at the ranch, plaintiff participated in church-sponsored activities. One activity was riding an inner tube tied to an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) driven around a frozen lake. This activity had been conducted in past years by Grace, and [*3] also by SDA, without incident.
A large boulder was embedded in the lake some thirty-five feet from shore. A Grace chaperone, accompanied by another man, drove the ATV towing youth participants around the frozen lake. Plaintiff got on an inner tube, and the chaperone began towing her. On plaintiff’s second loop around the lake, the Grace chaperone drove the ATV between the boulder and shoreline. Plaintiff’s inner tube, still tied to the ATV, veered off and crashed into the boulder.
The crash broke plaintiff’s back. She was rushed to intensive care and was hospitalized for several weeks. She suffered loss of bowel and bladder control, loss of vaginal sensation, and numbness in both legs making it difficult for her to walk and unable to run, bend, or squat.
II. Enforceability of the Alleged Release
A. Background
The purported release was in a one-page “Registration and information” form. It consisted of the third sentence (emphasis not in the original) in the following paragraph:
I give permission for my child to participate in [Grace’s] Winterama 2005 and all activities associated with it. I further give consent for any medical treatment necessary to be given to my child in case of injury [*4] or sickness. I will not hold Grace Community Church or it’s [sic] participants responsible for any liability which may result from participation. I also agree to come and pick up my child should they not obey camp rules.
The form was the subject of trial testimony after the court denied Grace’s motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff testified that she knew the activities would include riding on an ATV-towed inner tube but that her mother did not know this. The trial court denied Grace’s C.R.C.P. 50 motion for directed verdict at the close of plaintiff’s case-in-chief, ruling that the jury could find either that plaintiff’s mother had not made an informed release or alternatively that Grace had acted in a reckless manner not covered by any release.
Grace did not call plaintiff’s mother to testify in the defense case. At the close of all the evidence, and outside the jury’s presence, the parties discussed whether and how the jury should be instructed on the purported release. The trial court, for reasons not reflected in the record, ruled as a matter of law that the permission slip did not release Grace. It instructed the jury that the purported release was out of the case and should no [*5] longer be considered.
B. Overview of Exculpatory Clauses Affecting Minors
[HN1] The validity of exculpatory clauses purporting to release or waive future negligence claims is governed by four factors set out in Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981). Usually, the issue turns on the final factor: “whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.” Id.
In 2002, our supreme court held as a matter of public policy that parents cannot prospectively waive liability on behalf of minor children. Cooper v. Aspen Skiing Co., 48 P.3d 1229 (Colo. 2002). The next year, [HN2] the General Assembly superseded Cooper by enacting a statute allowing parents to “release or waive the child’s prospective claim for negligence.” § 13-22-107(3), C.R.S. 2010.
The statute superseding Cooper declared that parents have a fundamental right to make decisions on behalf of their children, including deciding whether the children should participate in risky activities. § 13-22-107(1)(a)(I)-(V), C.R.S. 2010. It added that “[s]o long [*6] as the decision is voluntary and informed, the decision should be given the same dignity as decisions regarding schooling, medical treatment, and religious education.” § 13-22-107(1)(a)(V). But it further provided that the statute does not permit a parent to waive a child’s prospective claim for “willful and wanton, … reckless, … [or] grossly negligent” acts or omissions. § 13-22-107(4).
C. Standard of Review
[HN3] The relevant facts are undisputed, and our review is de novo. See Wolf Ranch, LLC v. City of Colorado Springs, 220 P.3d 559, 563 (Colo. 2009) (de novo review of statutory issues); Jones, 623 P.2d at 376 [HN4] (de novo review of validity of exculpatory clause prospectively releasing liability claims). Thus, while the record does not reflect the trial court’s reasoning, we are able independently to review the form to determine whether it was a legally effective release.
D. Analysis
The statute does not elucidate what is necessary to render a parent’s decision to release a child’s prospective claims “voluntary and informed,” § 13-22-107(1)(a)(V). Grace contends this statutory language simply adopts the Jones standards for adults’ prospective releases of their own claims. We disagree.
The statute [*7] uses language not found in Jones or its progeny. The supreme court in Jones noted that the release there did not “fall within the category of agreements affecting the public interest.” 623 P.2d at 377. The inquiry relevant to this case — “whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language,” id. at 376 — does not expressly require that the decision to release one’s own prospective claims be an “informed” one. [HN5] We presume the legislature was aware of case law in this area, see Specialty Restaurants Corp. v. Nelson, 231 P.3d 393, 403-04 (Colo. 2010), and that its use of a new term was intended to have some significance. Thus, the statutory requirement that the parental decision be an “informed” one must mean something more than that, as already required by Jones, the form’s language be sufficiently clear to manifest intent to release liability.
We need not set forth in this case precisely how much information is required for a parental release to satisfy the statute. An “informed” decision — whether involving a legal or medical consent — typically means the “agreement to allow something to happen, [was] made with full knowledge of the risks involved [*8] and the alternatives.” Bryan A. Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary 346 (9th ed. 2009) (defining “informed consent”); cf. People v. Maestas, 199 P.3d 713, 717 & n.9 (Colo. 2009) (“informed consent” for decisions waiving conflict-free counsel); Garhart ex rel. Tinsman v. Columbia/Healthone, L.L.C., 95 P.3d 571, 587 (Colo. 2004) (“informed consent” for medical decisions). In the present context, however, the legislature allowed parental releases “to encourage the affordability and availability of youth activities in this state.” § 13-22-107(1)(a)(VI), C.R.S. 2010. Arguably, this legislative aim could be undercut if courts required the same level of information to release a claim as to consent to a medical procedure.
There is no information in Grace’s one-page registration form describing the event activities, much less their 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.
We are not persuaded by Grace’s argument that it was denied an opportunity to offer evidence — [*9] in particular, testimony of plaintiff’s mother — that the parental waiver was informed. We will assume for purposes of this case that a facially deficient exculpatory contract could be cured by extrinsic evidence. But cf. Brooks v. Timberline Tours, Inc., 127 F.3d 1273, 1275 n.2 (10th Cir. 1997) (noting “some dispute in the Colorado case law about whether a plaintiff’s experience or lack of experience should be considered when determining the ambiguity of a release”). Even so, the trial court did not preclude Grace from offering any evidence bearing on the validity of the purported release. And it took this issue away from the jury only after the close of all the evidence. Grace thus could have called plaintiff’s mother (whom it had listed as a potential trial witness), but it chose not to do so.
Finally, Grace’s clause does not pass muster even under Jones. [HN6] Such clauses “must be closely scrutinized,” Jones, 623 P.2d at 376, because they are “disfavored.” Chadwick v. Colt Ross Outfitters, Inc., 100 P.3d 465, 467 (Colo. 2004); accord Boles v. Sun Ergoline, Inc., 223 P.3d 724, 726 (Colo. 2010). A release need not contain any magic words to be valid; in particular, it need not specifically [*10] refer to waiver of “negligence” claims. Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781, 784-85 (Colo. 1989). But, 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. See, e.g., Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 468 (release detailed risks of hunting trip with animals and participant agreed to “‘RELEASE [outfitter] FROM ANY LEGAL LIABILITY … for any injury or death caused by or resulting from” participation in hunt); Heil Valley Ranch, 784 P.2d at 782 (release form stated that riding horse involved inherent risks, and participant “EXPRESSLY ASSUMES SUCH RISK AND WAIVES ANY CLAIM HE SHE MIGHT STATE AGAINST THE STABLES AS A RESULT OF PHYSICAL INJURY INCURRED IN SAID ACTIVITIES”); Jones, 623 P.2d at 372 (skydiving plaintiff released company “from any and all liability, claims, demands or actions or causes of action whatsoever arising out of any damage, loss or injury” resulting from “negligence … or from some other cause”).
Grace’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 [*11] 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.
Grace contends its “waiver included liability for ‘any’ injuries related to ‘all activities’ conducted at Winterama 2005.” But the form does not say this. And 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.
III. Issues Under the Premises Liability Act
Grace contends the court made two errors under the Premises Liability Act, § 13-21-115, C.R.S. 2010. First, Grace denies being a “landowner” covered by the Act. Second, it contends that plaintiff was a “licensee” rather than an “invitee.” Because the facts relevant to these issues are undisputed, our review is de novo. Lakeview Associates, Ltd. v. Maes, 907 P.2d 580, 583-84 (Colo. 1995).
[HN7] The Act provides the sole remedy against landowners for injuries on their property. Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322, 328-29 (Colo. 2004). [*12] A landowner’s duties turn on a trial court’s determination of whether the plaintiff was an “invitee,” a “licensee,” or a “trespasser.” § 13-21-115(3) & (4), C.R.S. 2010. The greatest duty is owed to an “invitee”: a landowner must “exercise reasonable care” to protect such a person from dangers of which the landowner knew or should have known. Lombard v. Colorado Outdoor Educ. Center, Inc., 187 P.3d 565, 575 (Colo. 2008) (construing § 13-21-115(3)(c)(I)). In contrast, a “licensee” is owed lesser, and a “trespasser” owed the least, duties. See Vigil, 103 P.3d at 328.
A. Grace was a “Landowner”
[HN8] The Act’s definition of a “landowner” is broader than the term might suggest. See § 13-21-115(1), C.R.S. 2010 (“‘landowner’ includes, without limitation, an authorized agent or a person in possession of real property and a person legally responsible for the condition of real property or for the activities conducted or circumstances existing on real property”). Thus, a “person need not hold title to the property to be considered a ‘landowner.'” Burbach v. Canwest Investments, LLC, 224 P.3d 437, 441 (Colo. App. 2009) (citing Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc., 48 P.3d 1215, 1219 (Colo. 2002)).
It [*13] is not apparent why Grace seeks to avoid landowner status under the Act. The Act, meant to “protect landowners,” § 13-21-115(1.5)(e), C.R.S. 2010 (emphasis added), eliminates common law negligence claims while imposing only a duty of reasonable care toward invitees and even lesser duties toward licensees and trespassers. See Vigil, 103 P.3d at 328-29. If Grace were correct that it was not covered by the Act, it still would have owed plaintiff a duty of reasonable care and could not argue that plaintiff was a mere licensee owed only lesser duties under the Act.
In any event, we have little difficulty concluding that Grace was a landowner as defined by the Act. A landowner includes one “legally responsible … for the activities conducted … on real property.” § 13-21-115(1). This definition, which covers one “who is legally conducting an activity on the property,” Pierson, 48 P.3d at 1221, plainly encompassed Grace. It was clear, from Grace’s reservations agreement and understandings with SDA, that Grace was authorized to conduct (if not principally responsible for conducting) activities involving its group on the ranch property.
Grace’s arguments against this straightforward conclusion [*14] are unpersuasive. Its argument that SDA owned the property fails, because the Act is not limited to property owners. See Burbach, 224 P.3d at 441.
Grace further argues that it was “only present on the property for a short time” and thus “in a much worse position than SDA to know of the conditions of the property, or to know whether a particular activity would be dangerous on the property.” But [HN9] the Act is not limited to those in exclusive possession of land, see Pierson, 48 P.3d at 1220, and the Act expressly contemplates that there may be multiple landowners in a case. See § 13-21-115(4). There accordingly is no need for a binary choice as to which entity, as between Grace and SDA, was better able to protect plaintiff against injury. If Grace in fact had no reason to know of the relevant danger, that could provide a factual defense at trial rather than an exemption from the Act’s coverage.
Grace finally suggests that treating it as a landowner would lead to absurd results because everyone engaged in activities on the ranch, including plaintiff herself, would also be a landowner. The instant appeal does not present any issue regarding who, other than Grace, might have been a landowner. [*15] We note, however, that the Act’s definition of a landowner does not extend to everyone lawfully participating in activities on land; rather, it covers those “legally responsible … for the activities conducted” on land. § 13-21-115(1). It is doubtful that a mere participant such as plaintiff was “legally responsible” for the activities conducted at the ranch. Regardless, we are convinced there is nothing unfair, much less absurd, in applying the Act to Grace — an entity that indisputably was responsible for the ATV activity conducted on the ranch.
B. Plaintiff was an “Invitee” rather than “Licensee”
Grace’s contention that plaintiff was not an “invitee” but was merely a “licensee” affects the duty owed by Grace to plaintiff. If plaintiff was an invitee, then the trial court correctly instructed the jury that Grace had to use reasonable care to protect against dangers of which it knew or reasonably should have known. Lombard, 187 P.3d at 570-71, 575. In contrast, had plaintiff been a mere licensee, Grace’s duties would have been limited to actually known dangers. See Vigil, 103 P.3d at 328. We conclude that plaintiff was an invitee and, therefore, that the trial court correctly instructed [*16] the jury regarding Grace’s obligations toward her.
[HN10] An “invitee” is one who enters or remains on another’s land “to transact business in which the parties are mutually interested or … in response to the landowner’s express or implied representation that the public is requested, expected, or intended to enter or remain.” § 13-21-115(5)(a), C.R.S. 2010. [HN11] A “licensee” is one who enters or remains on another’s land “for the licensee’s own convenience or to advance his own interests, pursuant to the landowner’s permission or consent.” § 13-21-115(5)(b). The statute expressly provides that the latter category “includes a social guest.” Id.
[HN12] The principal distinction between an “invitee” and a “licensee” turns on whether that person’s presence on the land was affirmatively invited or merely permitted. The Second Restatement distinguishes an “invitation” from “mere permission” as follows: “an invitation is conduct which justifies others in believing that the possessor desires them to enter the land; permission is conduct justifying others in believing that the possessor is willing that they shall enter if they desire to do so.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332 cmt. b (1965).
The Second Restatement [*17] gives examples of licensees whose presence is merely permitted rather than encouraged. “Examples of licensees” include those “taking short cuts across land with the consent of the possessor,” “[l]oafers, loiterers, and those who enter only to get out of the weather, with permission to do so,” and “[s]pectators and sightseers not in any way encouraged to come.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 330 reporter’s notes (1965).
Here, Grace affirmatively encouraged, and did not simply permit, the presence of plaintiff and other youth attendees. Grace sponsored the event, secured access to the land and lodgings, and arranged for meals. It took affirmative steps — including driving plaintiff and the others to the ranch — to facilitate their attendance and participation. To further encourage plaintiff’s attendance, Grace provided her with what it describes as a “partial scholarship.”
Simply put, Grace invited plaintiff and the other youths to attend its organized event. Grace’s actions demonstrate that Grace was affirmatively interested in having youths attend the event. Plaintiff’s situation was not comparable to that of a licensee merely permitted but not invited to be on another’s land.
[HN13] Only [*18] one type of licensee is categorically deemed not to be an invitee despite having affirmatively been encouraged to enter another’s land: a “social guest.” See § 13-21-115(5)(b). As one treatise puts it, such a guest “is an invitee who is not an invitee.” 5 Harper, Gray, and James on Torts § 27.11, at 234 (3d ed. 2008).
We are not persuaded by Grace’s contention that plaintiff was merely its social guest. Social hosts do not typically require their guests to sign permission slips and pay for their hospitality. Here, unlike a social guest accepting a host’s unrequited hospitality, plaintiff attended an organized group event — for which her father paid Grace $ 40 — intended to serve the mutual interests of the attendees and sponsor.
In contrast to the inapposite licensee categories, plaintiff falls more naturally within the Premises Liability Act’s definition of an invitee. [HN14] The Act creates two sometimes overlapping subcategories of invitees: (1) those present to transact business of mutual interest, and (2) public invitees. § 13-21-115(5)(a); see also Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332 & cmt. a (1965) (creating two similar subcategories, of “business visitors” and “public invitees,” but [*19] explaining that many invitees could be placed in either class).
Grace contends that plaintiff was not an invitee because her invitation did not involve transacting business and was not extended to the general public. We disagree.
As to the former subcategory, commercial business was transacted between Grace and plaintiff: plaintiff’s father paid Grace $ 40 so plaintiff could attend the event. [HN15] That Grace ultimately may not have profited (because the $ 40 was included among monies paid over to SDA or because Grace defrayed remaining costs through award of a “partial scholarship”) is not relevant under the Premises Liability Act.
Moreover, [HN16] those present on land “to transact business in which the parties are mutually interested,” § 13-21-115(5)(a), need not invariably be engaged in commercial activity. See generally Bryan A. Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary 226 (9th ed. 2009) (definition of “business” can include “transactions or matters of a noncommercial nature”); cf. In re Parental Responsibilities of H.Z.G., 77 P.3d 848, 851-53 (Colo. App. 2003) (holding that Colorado’s long-arm statute, extending personal jurisdiction based on “[t]he transaction of any business within this state,” § 13-21-124(1)(a), C.R.S. 2010, [*20] applies to noncommercial activities; following out-of-state cases). Thus, other courts have extended “business invitee” status where nonprofit entities encouraged attendance by individuals whose presence provided no apparent economic benefit. See, e.g., Thomas v. St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, 283 N.W.2d 254, 258 (S.D. 1979) (visiting high school basketball player injured at a church school gymnasium was the church’s “business invitee”); Home v. N. Kitsap School Dist., 92 Wn. App. 709, 965 P.2d 1112, 1118 (Wash. Ct. App. 1998) (visiting assistant football coach at game where no admission was charged was an invitee because “[h]is presence was related to [public school district’s] business of running its schools”).
As to the latter subcategory, [HN17] one can be a “public” invitee where an invitation is extended to “the public, or classes or members of it.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332 cmt. c (emphasis added). Thus, a garden club member was an invitee of an estate “opened to those members of the public who were on the Palm Beach Garden Club tour of homes.” Post v. Lunney, 261 So. 2d 146, 148 (Fla. 1972). And a girl-scout leader was an invitee where a bank allowed the troop (“a segment of the public”) [*21] free use of its facilities. McKinnon v. Washington Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass’n, 68 Wn.2d 644, 414 P.2d 773, 777-78 (Wash. 1966).
Ultimately, plaintiff was an invitee because Grace’s invitation carried an implicit assurance that Grace would act with reasonable care to protect her. See Dan B. Dobbs, The Law of Torts 600 (2000) (“The real point is that [HN18] anyone who receives implicit or explicit assurance of safety is entitled to the invitee status and the reasonable care that goes with it.”). Grace’s post hoc denials of such implicit assurances are unpersuasive. Few youths would attend — and even fewer parents would allow and pay for their child’s attendance at — an overnight event whose sponsor disclaimed any intent or ability to make the event reasonably safe.
IV. Pretrial and Trial Proceedings
A. Pretrial Election
Though the case went to the jury only on a Premises Liability Act (PLA) claim, Grace argues that plaintiff should have been required to elect before trial between PLA and negligence claims. But it would have been unfair to compel such an election before resolving Grace’s contentions that it was not subject to the PLA. In any event, Grace was not prejudiced by lack of an earlier election. Cf. Thornbury v. Allen, 991 P.2d 335, 340 (Colo. App. 1999) [*22] (harmless error to instruct jury on both negligence and PLA claims).
B. Evidentiary Ruling
The trial court, over Grace’s objection, allowed into evidence the rental agreement that prohibited Grace from using the ATVs to tow anything. Grace renews its CRE 401-403 contentions that this contract was irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial.
[HN19] Trial courts have “broad discretion” to decide if documentary evidence should be admitted over relevancy and unfair prejudice objections. Uptain v. Huntington Lab, Inc., 723 P.2d 1322, 1329 (Colo. 1986). Here, it was within the trial court’s broad discretion to conclude that the rental contract was relevant and had probative value that was not significantly outweighed by any danger of unfair prejudice. That Grace used the rented ATVs for a contractually prohibited activity — the very activity that injured plaintiff — could properly be considered by the jury in evaluating whether Grace used reasonable care under all the circumstances of this case.
C. Closing Argument
Grace contends that plaintiff’s counsel’s closing argument was improper in various respects. None of Grace’s current objections was timely raised in the trial court. Indeed, after the case had [*23] been submitted, Grace’s counsel noted just one alleged error in plaintiff’s closing argument; as to that single argument, he stated, “I don’t know what a remedy for that is, but I think the record should reflect that [this argument] did occur.” The trial court responded that “[t]he record reflects what it was.”
Our review of these unpreserved objections is exceptionally limited. [HN20] There is no civil rule analogue to the criminal rule, Crim. P. 52(b), allowing plain error review. In civil damages cases, moreover, liberty is not at stake and there is no constitutional right to effective counsel. Thus, only in a “rare” civil case, involving “unusual or special” circumstances — and even then, only “when necessary to avert unequivocal and manifest injustice” — will an appellate court reverse based on an unpreserved claim of error. Harris Group, Inc. v. Robinson, 209 P.3d 1188, 1195 (Colo. App. 2009) (discussing Blueflame Gas, Inc. v. Van Hoose, 679 P.2d 579, 586-87 (Colo. 1984), and Robinson v. City & County of Denver, 30 P.3d 677, 684 (Colo. App. 2000)).
Grace’s unpreserved challenges to plaintiff’s closing arguments do not come close to meeting this demanding standard. The closing arguments [*24] were not plainly improper and did not result in any manifest injustice.
V. Amount of Judgment
The final issue is whether judgment should have entered in the full amount of the jury verdicts or a lesser amount covered by Grace’s insurance. The trial court reduced the judgment to $ 2 million total but, because it construed Grace’s policy to cover them, added prejudgment interest and costs. All sides challenge this amount. Grace contends the trial court acted erroneously (or at least precipitously) in construing the policy to cover prejudgment interest on top of the $ 2 million policy limits, while plaintiff and insurer contend that the amount of judgment should have been tied to the higher jury verdicts regardless of any lesser insurance coverage carried by Grace. We agree with plaintiff and insurer.
The issue turns on a construction of section 7-123-105, C.R.S. 2010. That statute dates to 1967, a year after a fractured supreme court case (generating a majority opinion, a separate concurrence, two separate dissents, and an “addendum” by the author of the majority opinion) grappled with the common law doctrine of charitable trust immunity. See Hemenway v. Presbyterian Hospital Ass’n, 161 Colo. 42, 419 P.2d 312 (1966). [*25] Surprisingly, the statute has never been construed in a published appellate opinion.
Before addressing the statute, we summarize the common law backdrop against which it was enacted. One thing was clear under Colorado common law: funds held in “trust” for charitable purposes could not be “depleted” by a tort judgment. St. Mary’s Academy v. Solomon, 77 Colo. 463, 468, 238 P. 22, 24 (1925). Later cases also stated, however, that while this “trust-fund rule does not bar an action against a charitable institution based on the tort of its agents,” “it does prohibit the levying of an execution under a judgment procured against it in such a suit on any property which is a part of the charitable trust.” O’Connor v. Boulder Colorado Sanitarium Ass’n, 105 Colo. 259, 261, 96 P.2d 835, 835 (1939), quoted and followed in St. Luke’s Hospital Ass’n v. Long, 125 Colo. 25, 28-29, 240 P.2d 917, 920 (1952).
Colorado cases thus distinguished between a permissible tort suit or judgment against a charity and the exemption of trust funds from levy or execution. In 1960, our supreme court wrote that “so-called charitable immunity does not protect from suit or judgment” and “immunity from attachment of trust [*26] funds does not come into play until such attachment is attempted.” Michard v. Myron Stratton Home, 144 Colo. 251, 258, 355 P.2d 1078, 1082 (1960).
The distinction became blurred, and confusion was spawned, where it was undisputed a defendant charity had no non-trust-fund assets available to satisfy any judgment. That was the situation in Hemenway, where the justices divided over the propriety of pretrial dismissal. Compare 161 Colo. at 45, 419 P.2d at 313 (affirming dismissal because “no useful purpose would be served by directing this action to proceed to judgment” where parties stipulated there were no non-trust-fund assets available), with id. at 46, 419 P.2d at 314 (McWilliams, J., concurring) (agreeing dismissal should be affirmed, but only because parties had stipulated to it if trust-fund doctrine remained viable), and with id. (Pringle, J., dissenting) (issue was “premature” because “in this State charitable immunity is not immunity from suit or liability for tort, but only a recognition that trust funds cannot be seized upon by execution nor appropriated to the satisfaction of tort liability”).
That confusion should not have extended to the present case, where Grace indisputably [*27] had a $ 2 million insurance policy. Even under common law it was clear that insurance funds could be executed on to satisfy a tort judgment. See O’Connor, 105 Colo. at 261-62, 96 P.2d at 836.
In any event, the author of Hemenway invited Colorado’s legislature to address the issue. See 161 Colo. at 49-53, 419 P.2d at 316-17 (addendum of Moore, J.). The General Assembly accepted this invitation a year later when it enacted the predecessor of the statute now codified as section 7-123-105. See Ch. 327, sec. 1, § 31-24-110, 1967 Colo. Sess. Laws 655.
[HN21] The statute, titled “Actions against nonprofit corporations,” does two things by its express terms. First, it removes any possible immunity from suit by providing that “[a]ny other provision of law to the contrary notwithstanding, any civil action permitted under the law of this state may be brought against any nonprofit corporation.” § 7-123-105. Second, it allows for levy and execution against otherwise immune assets of nonprofit entities “to the extent” the entity would be reimbursed by liability insurance. See id. (“the assets of any nonprofit corporation that would, but for articles 121 to 137 of this title, be immune from levy and execution [*28] on any judgment shall nonetheless be subject to levy and execution to the extent that such nonprofit corporation would be reimbursed by proceeds of liability insurance policies carried by it were judgment levied and executed against its assets”).
Thus, under the statute’s plain terms, there is no longer (if there ever was) any impediment to suits against nonprofit organizations. The statute, moreover, does not limit the amount of any resulting judgment, but simply addresses “the extent” to which any such judgment is “subject to levy and execution.” Id.
We conclude, under the plain language of the statute and under the prior common law, that the existence and amount of liability insurance provides no basis for limiting a judgment against a nonprofit or charitable defendant. Rather, the issue of liability insurance is relevant only when a plaintiff seeks to levy and execute on a judgment.
Here, therefore, it is premature to construe Grace’s insurance policy to determine the extent of its coverage, including whether the policy would cover prejudgment interest in addition to any liability limit. Regardless of insurance coverage, plaintiff and insurer were entitled to entry of judgment against [*29] Grace to the full amount of a judgment that would have been entered against a for-profit entity. Whether and to what extent plaintiff and insurer ultimately can execute on their judgment is a separate issue that need not be decided at this juncture.
VI. Conclusion
The judgment is vacated as to the amount, and the case is remanded for entry of a new judgment unreduced by any limits on Grace’s insurance coverage. The judgment is affirmed in all other respects.
JUDGE CARPARELLI concurs.
JUDGE FURMAN dissents.
DISSENT BY: FURMAN
DISSENT
JUDGE FURMAN dissenting.
Plaintiff was seriously injured at a youth retreat (Winterama 2005) sponsored by Grace Community Church. She sued Grace for negligence. The jury returned verdicts against Grace totaling more than $ 4 million. I disagree with the majority as to
(1) the duties Grace owed plaintiff under the premises liability statute,
(2) the interpretation of the parental waiver statute, and
(3) various evidentiary errors.
Therefore, I respectfully dissent.
I. Colorado’s Premises Liability Statute
I agree with the majority that Grace was a landowner under Colorado’s premises liability statute. Section 13-21-115(1), C.R.S. 2010, of Colorado’s premises liability statute provides: “For [*30] the purposes of this section, ‘landowner’ includes, without limitation, an authorized agent or a person in possession of real property and a person legally responsible for the condition of real property or for the activities conducted or circumstances existing on real property.” See Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc., 48 P.3d 1215, 1221 (Colo. 2002)(construing the word “and” to distinguish between two broad classes of landowners).
As a landowner, Grace owed plaintiff duties depending on whether plaintiff was a “licensee” or an “invitee.” Subsections (3)(b) and (c) of section 13-21-115 state, in relevant part:
(3)(b) A licensee may recover only for damages caused:
(I) By the landowner’s unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care with respect to dangers created by the landowner of which the landowner actually knew . . . .
(c)(I). . . [A]n invitee may recover for damages caused by the landowner’s unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care to protect against dangers of which he actually knew or should have known.
The landowner’s intent in offering the invitation determines the status of the visitor and establishes the duty of care the landowner owes the visitor. See § 13-21-115(5)(a), [*31] (b); see also Carter v. Kinney, 896 S.W.2d 926, 928 (Mo. 1995). The status of the visitor and duty of care the landowner owes are questions of law for the court to decide. § 13-21-115(4) (“In any action to which this section applies, the judge shall determine whether the plaintiff is a trespasser, a licensee, or an invitee . . . .”).
If a landowner invites a person to enter his land, and the landowner either expects a commercial benefit from that person or has extended an invitation to the public at large, the person is an invitee. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332(2), (3) & cmts. c, d, e (1965); see Carter, 896 S.W.2d at 928; see also Wolfson v. Chelist, 284 S.W.2d 447, 448 (Mo. 1955)(invitee status arises “when the owner invites the use of his premises for purposes connected with his own benefit, pleasure and convenience,” and when this occurs, “the duty to take ordinary care to prevent [the invitee’s] injury is at once raised and for the breach of that duty an action lies” (emphasis in original)(quoting Glaser v. Rothschild, 221 Mo. 180, 120 S.W. 1, 3, (Mo. 1909))). Conversely, if a landowner either permits a person’s entry onto his land or invites that person as his social guest, but the landowner [*32] does not expect a commercial benefit, that person is a licensee. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 330 cmts. a, h (1965). I conclude plaintiff was not an invitee because Grace neither expected a commercial benefit from plaintiff nor extended an invitation to the public at large.
A. Invitee Status
Section 13-21-115(5)(a) defines “invitee” as
a person who enters or remains on the land of another to transact business in which the parties are mutually interested or who enters or remains on such land in response to the landowner’s express or implied representation that the public is requested, expected, or intended to enter or remain.
The two categories of invitees in section 13-21-115(5)(a) track those identified in the Second Restatement of Torts. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332(2), (3) (creating categories of “business visitor” and “public invitee”). I conclude plaintiff did not satisfy either category.
1. Business Visitor
Concerning the “business visitor” category, the majority concludes noncommercial activity can confer invitee status. However, the majority’s conclusion conflicts with the opinion of another division of this court, which expressly recognized that “the General Assembly [*33] intended the ‘invitee’ status to apply in circumstances in which the ‘landowner’ receives a financial benefit from the relationship.” Maes v. Lakeview Assocs., Ltd., 892 P.2d 375, 377 (Colo. App. 1994)(citing legislative history), aff’d, 907 P.2d 580 (Colo. 1995); see also Wolfson, 284 S.W.2d at 450 (invitation to invitee must confer some “material benefit motive”); Brian A. Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary 226 (9th ed. 2009)(defining “business” as “[a] commercial enterprise carried on for profit,” “commercial enterprises,” or “[a] [c]ommercial transaction”).
The majority quotes a portion of Black’s definition of “business” for the proposition that “‘business’ can include ‘transactions or matters of a noncommercial nature.'” However, that definition has as its example, “the courts’ criminal business occasionally overshadows its civil business.” Hence, in that context, “business” means some type of purposeful activity not related to the other party, rather than business transactions “in which the parties are mutually interested.” § 13-21-115(5)(a).
Thus, I believe the majority’s holding that the “business” contemplated by section 13-21-115(5)(a) includes “transactions or matters of a noncommercial [*34] nature” (an activity that confers no commercial benefit) irreconcilably conflicts with the legislature’s carefully chosen language. Moreover, in the two out-of-state cases relied on by the majority, there is little to no analysis of this issue. In Thomas v. St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, the court baldly concludes the plaintiff was a “business invitee.” 283 N.W.2d 254, 258 (S.D. 1979). And in Home v. North Kitsap School District, the court merely recites its adoption of the Second Restatement to conclude that the plaintiff was an invitee without discussing the fact that the activity was noncommercial. 92 Wn. App. 709, 965 P.2d 1112, 1118 (Wash. App. 1998); see id. at 1117 nn. 17-19.
Grace’s then-youth pastor testified at trial, and it is not disputed, that when Grace received the monies from the youth for Winterama, he transferred those monies to SDA as a matter of course. Grace was thus a mere intermediary for the business transaction that occurred between plaintiff and SDA. Accordingly, because Grace derived no commercial benefit from the visit, I conclude plaintiff was not a business visitor. See Maes, 892 P.2d at 377; see also Mooney v. Robinson, 93 Idaho 676, 471 P.2d 63, 65 (Idaho 1970)(holding that the “rendition [*35] by a social guest of an incidental economic benefit to the occupier of the premises will not change the licensee’s status to that of an invitee”).
Moreover, no evidence was adduced at trial to support the trial court’s finding that plaintiff rendered financial compensation–a commercial benefit–to Grace for its supervision of her. Rather, the undisputed evidence demonstrates that every dollar Grace received it remitted to SDA, and that the chaperones were not compensated. Thus, the trial court’s conclusion that plaintiff was an invitee because “she entered on the property to transact business which was namely the promotion of spirituality, positive youth relationships for which she paid Grace to provide the supervision,” which conferred no commercial benefit on Grace, was error. See Maes, 892 P.2d at 377; see also Carter, 896 S.W.2d at 928.
2. Public Invitee
Concerning the “public invitee” category, the majority concludes invitee status may lie where the invitation applies merely to “classes or members of” the public.
However, in discussing situations where a landowner extends an invitation to “classes or members of” the public, the Second Restatement includes the term “classes or members [*36] of” in the context of a variety of landowners inviting the public at large to enter:
The nature of the use to which the possessor puts his land is often sufficient to express to the reasonable understanding of the public, or classes or members of it, a willingness or unwillingness to receive them. Thus the fact that a building is used as a shop gives the public reason to believe that the shopkeeper desires them to enter or is willing to permit their entrance, not only for the purpose of buying, but also for the purpose of looking at the goods displayed therein or even for the purpose of passing through the shop.
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332 cmt. c (emphasis added).
Moreover, section 13-21-115(5)(a) defines “invitee” as “a person who enters or remains on the land of another . . . in response to the landowner’s express or implied representation that the public is requested, expected, or intended to enter or remain.” The commonly accepted and understood meaning of “public” is “the people as a whole: populace, masses.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 1836 (2002). Hence, in a “public invitee” situation the landowner must invite the public at large or imply that the public [*37] at large is expected to enter or remain. This construction satisfies the legislative purpose “to clarify and to narrow private landowners’ liability.” Pierson, 48 P.3d at 1219.
Trial evidence reveals Grace did not extend its invitation to attend Winterama 2005 to the public at large, but limited its invitation to Grace’s youth group and their friends. Grace’s then-youth pastor testified that the Winterama waiver forms were mailed only to those youth who were on a list that the church had on file, that youth group students “would pick [the forms] up Wednesday night during a program,” and that “[s]ome students took permission slips home to give to their friends.” Likewise, when plaintiff was asked how she perceived Winterama 2005 before the event occurred, she confirmed that she understood Winterama to be “essentially a church retreat.” Accordingly, I conclude plaintiff could not be a “public invitee” because there simply was no invitation to the public at large.
The majority’s reliance on out-of-state cases, to conclude the invitation may apply only to select classes or members of the public, is misplaced. In Post v. Lunney, the plaintiff was declared to be a public invitee because she [*38] had been “invited to enter [land] which had been opened to those members of the public” who were on a tour of area homes. 261 So. 2d 146, 148 (Fla. 1972). There is no indication that the small subset of the public of which the plaintiff was a part was the only group or type of group that was allowed to tour the homes. The Post court expressly relied on subsection 2 of section 332 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which reads, “A public invitee is a person who is invited to enter or remain on land as a member of the public for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public.” Id. (emphasis added). And in McKinnon v. Washington Federal Savings & Loan Ass’n, where the court determined the plaintiff also was a public invitee, the defendant held its premises open “for the free use of local clubs and organized groups for meetings and conferences, either during regular office hours or in the evenings,” 68 Wn.2d 644, 414 P.2d 773, 774 (Wash. 1966), and not solely for the plaintiff’s select group. Thus, in both Post and McKinnon, the premises were otherwise held open to the public at large.
B. Licensee (Social Guest) Status
A member of Grace’s youth group asked plaintiff to attend Winterama 2005, [*39] and Grace provided its permission (after it received the parental consent form) before she could do so. Thus, I conclude plaintiff was a social guest (licensee) of Grace, and Grace owed plaintiff the duty to make safe dangers of which it was aware. § 13-21-115(3)(b), (5)(b); see Carter, 896 S.W.2d at 928.
Section 13-21-115(5)(b) defines “licensee” as “a person who enters or remains on the land of another for the licensee’s own convenience or to advance [the licensee’s] own interests.” A social guest is one who has received a social invitation, and is a subclass of licensees. § 13-21-115(5)(b) (“‘Licensee’ includes a social guest.”); see Carter, 896 S.W.2d at 928.
The majority concludes plaintiff was not a social guest because “social hosts do not typically require their guests to sign permission slips and pay for their hospitality.” Although the majority implies that social hosts may require their guests to sign permission slips, I believe the majority’s conclusion overlooks the important difference between “invitation” and “permission.” When courts decide if an individual is an invitee or a licensee, the distinction between invitation and permission is critical:
Although invitation does [*40] not in itself establish the status of an invitee, it is essential to it. An invitation differs from mere permission in this: an invitation is conduct which justifies others in believing that the possessor desires them to enter the land; permission is conduct justifying others in believing that the possessor is willing that they shall enter if they desire to do so. . . .
Mere permission, as distinguished from invitation, is sufficient to make the visitor a licensee . . . ; but it does not make him an invitee, even where his purpose in entering concerns the business of the possessor.
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332 cmt. b. Thus, if there is no invitation extended to the prospective plaintiff as would be extended to the general public, he or she is not an invitee, but rather a licensee who is on the land “pursuant to the landowner’s permission or consent.” § 13-21-115(5)(b).
Grace restricted its permission to attend Winterama 2005 to its own youth and their friends whose parents had waived in writing their right to hold Grace responsible for “any liability which may result from participation.” Grace consented to the attendance of the youth on condition that the waiver was signed. The [*41] precondition of a waiver demonstrates that the Winterama participants were permitted to come rather than invited, which “is sufficient to make the visitor a licensee.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332 cmt. b.
The Second Restatement’s definition of “social guest” affirms that:
[A]lthough a social guest normally is invited, and even urged to come, he is not an “invitee,” within the legal meaning of that term . . . . He does not come as a member of the public upon premises held open to the public for that purpose, and he does not enter for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the possessor. The use of the premises is extended to him merely as a personal favor to him.
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 330 cmt. h(3).
Plaintiff was not a member of Grace, and her attendance at Winterama 2005 was due solely to the influence of a male classmate of hers at the Denver School of the Arts, who expressly persuaded her to come to Winterama. She testified that her perception of Winterama 2005 was that “we would leave our everyday lives and go try to further our spiritual enlightenment.” See Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary 776 (social guest is “[a] guest who is invited [*42] to enter or remain on another person’s property primarily for private entertainment as opposed to entertainment open to the general public”); Webster’s Third New International Dictionary at 1008 (a guest is “a person to whom hospitality . . . is extended”).
Further, the majority surmises that Grace’s invitation carried an “implicit or explicit assurance” that Grace would act with reasonable care to protect plaintiff. The majority reasons that “[f]ew youths would attend — and even fewer parents would allow and pay for their child’s attendance at — an overnight event whose sponsor disclaimed any intent or ability to make the event reasonably safe.” However, in its section on licensees, the Second Restatement explains that
there is a common understanding that the guest is expected to take the premises as the possessor himself uses them, and does not expect and is not entitled to expect that they will be prepared for his reception, or that precautions will be taken for his safety, in any manner in which the possessor does not prepare or take precautions for his own safety, or that of the members of his family.
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 330 cmt. h(3). Thus, as a social guest, plaintiff [*43] could rely on precautions that a landowner would take as he would for himself or for his family.
The evidence reveals the leaders regarded the youth attending Winterama 2005 as “social guests” because the leaders took precautions for the safety of the attendees as they would for their own safety. One chaperone testified he personally rode the inner tube towed by the ATV around the lake three or four times before plaintiff rode the inner tube. And the then-youth pastor testified that the leaders “walk[ed] pretty much the entirety of the lake, or [they] [would] get on the ATVs and drive it, too,” to inspect the lake for “potential hazards” exhaustively before the ATV activity started. He said these hazards were the type that “could cause a safety issue with the activities that [they] were going to do on the ice” and that included sharp objects that could “cause the tube to puncture.”
Another chaperone who drove the ATV–and who also participated in the inspection of the lake–testified that he had used an ATV and inner tubes to tow people “700 to 1000 times” and that he had in fact towed his own daughter behind the ATV on the lake such that “[he] treated [his daughter] just like any of [*44] the other students.” Because the evidence shows Grace’s chaperones not only took precautions that they would have for their own safety, but also took the same care for members of their own families as for other attendees, plaintiff was a licensee of Grace at Winterama 2005.
Because plaintiff was a licensee, Grace was entitled to additional protections under the premises liability statute. See Pierson, 48 P.3d at 1219 (overriding purpose of premises liability statute was “to clarify and to narrow private landowners’ liability to persons entering their land, based upon whether the entrant is a . . . licensee[] or invitee”). Accordingly, Grace was liable to plaintiff only “with respect to dangers created by the landowner of which the landowner actually knew.” § 13-21-115(3)(b)(I). Because the jury was not so instructed, I would reverse the judgment and remand for a new trial.
II. Colorado’s Parental Waiver Statute
The majority interprets the word “informed” in section 13-22-107, C.R.S. 2010, Colorado’s parental waiver statute, to mean “made with full knowledge of the risks involved and the alternatives” (quoting Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary at 346). The majority implies Grace’s waiver [*45] form was facially deficient because it delineated neither the specific activities in which the youth would engage nor the risks associated with each activity. Because I conclude the majority’s resolution of this issue vitiates the legislative intent expressed in the statute, I respectfully dissent.
The legislature explicitly stated the purpose of Colorado’s parental waiver statute:
(I) Children of this state should have the maximum opportunity to participate in sporting, recreational, educational, and other activities where certain risks may exist;
(II) Public, private, and non-profit entities providing these essential activities to children in Colorado need a measure of protection against lawsuits, and without the measure of protection these entities may be unwilling or unable to provide the activities;
(III) Parents have a fundamental right and responsibility to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children. The law has long presumed that parents act in the best interest of their children.
(IV) Parents make conscious choices every day on behalf of their children concerning the risks and benefits of participation in activities that may involve risk;
(V) These [*46] are proper parental choices on behalf of children that should not be ignored. So long as the decision is voluntary and informed, the decision should be given the same dignity as decisions regarding schooling, medical treatment, and religious education; and
(VI) It is the intent of the general assembly to encourage the affordability and availability of youth activities in this state by permitting a parent of a child to release a prospective negligence claim of the child . . . .
§ 13-22-107(1)(a)(I)-(VI). Hence, the legislature intended (1) to afford children the “maximum opportunity” to engage in “essential activities” having “certain risks”; (2) to uphold and effectuate the choices of parents for their children “concerning the risks and benefits of participation in” potentially risky activities; and (3) to give “public, private, and non-profit entities . . . a measure of protection” by insulating them from liability for negligent conduct during “activities that may involve risk.” Id. Based on these purposes, the legislature stated, “A parent of a child may, on behalf of the child, release or waive the child’s prospective claim for negligence.” § 13-22-107(3). Accordingly, the word “informed” [*47] ought to be construed in light of the statutory scheme, which is geared toward expanding children’s access to activities involving risk yet simultaneously contracting the liability exposure of entities providing those activities, so that those entities might have a “measure of protection” and not be “unwilling or unable to provide the activities.” § 13-22-107(1)(a)(I), (II), (VI).
A. Informed Consent
Section 13-22-107 does not define the term “informed.” I agree with the majority that “informed” as defined in Black’s Law Dictionary at 346–“made with full knowledge of the risks involved and the alternatives”–should govern this analysis. Accordingly, I conclude the term “informed” in section 13-22-107 means only that a parent be “informed” as to the possible risks involved.
Applying this definition, I conclude the waiver in this case was sufficient, for several reasons. First, the waiver identified the general nature of the activities to which the waiver applied: “Winterama 2005 and all activities associated with it.” Second, the waiver identified the possible risks associated with Winterama 2005–“injury or sickness”–and even required the parent to consent to any medical treatment Grace [*48] might need to administer or pay for in the event of such injury or sickness. Third, even though the waiver did not state verbatim, “I recognize I have the right to sue Grace in the event the negligence of Grace or its agents causes my child personal injury, but I give up that right voluntarily,” the waiver nevertheless more than accomplished this purpose–by stating the signing parent “will not hold [Grace] or it’s [sic] participants responsible for any liability which may result from participation.” Thus, I conclude the waiver was sufficient to give Grace the “measure of protection” from legal liability that section 13-22-107 envisions.
In canvassing the case law where the supreme court upheld the validity of waivers, the majority concludes that a waiver must “contain[] some reference to waiving personal injury claims based on the activity being engaged in.” I disagree with this conclusion because I believe the majority reads the statute more broadly than the legislature intended. The majority would require public, private, or nonprofit organizations to include in their waiver forms a plethora of activities and, with respect to each, “assess the degree of risk and the extent of possible [*49] injuries from any activity.” I believe the logical result would be absurd disclosure requirements, such as,
Children attending Winterama 2005 will be staying in cabins. The paths and steps leading to each cabin may be snow-packed and icy. There is a risk that your child may slip and fall on the paths or steps and a fall may result in serious injuries including, without limitation, broken bones, concussions, and paralysis,
or lengthy booklets describing every conceivable activity and associated possible injury. I disagree with this approach because, in my opinion, it would unduly expose those entities to liability for activities that the entities inadvertently failed to identify and include in their parental waiver forms, or for activities that they could not possibly know or anticipate. Further, such an approach runs contrary to the legislative intent of providing “a measure of protection against lawsuits,” and without that measure of protection, these entities may be unwilling or unable to provide these “essential activities” to children in Colorado. I believe it is not reasonable to expect organizations operating under section 13-22-107 to anticipate every permutation of a recreational [*50] event.
Moreover, I would not engage in what I respectfully believe to be the majority’s parsing of the waiver. The waiver at issue is addressed to the everyday, commonsense parent. I submit the everyday, commonsense parent would not analyze what each sentence of a waiver specifically addresses apart from each other sentence, but rather would comprehend what the waiver addresses en toto: a release of his or her child’s prospective claim for negligence. See § 13-22-107(3).
B. The Parental Waiver Affirmative Defense
In addition, I conclude the trial court committed reversible error when, on the morning of closing arguments, it sua sponte precluded the jury from considering the affirmative defense of parental waiver. See Pollock v. Highlands Ranch Community Ass’n, 140 P.3d 351, 354 (Colo. App. 2006).
The day before closing arguments occurred, the trial court originally determined that a jury instruction concerning the effect of the waiver could not be given because the supreme court assigned the determination of the effect of the waiver to the trial court as a question of law. Cf. Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781, 784 (Colo. 1989). But after counsel for Grace pointed out the [*51] court’s resolution of this issue essentially would be “to take that from the jury” and that the court “need[ed] to state the basis” for its ruling, the court said it would “hold off on the jury instruction piece.”
When the issue arose again late that same day, after the close of evidence and during the jury instructions conference, plaintiff’s counsel argued the language in the waiver did not suffice to make plaintiff’s mother “informed.” The court asked plaintiff’s counsel to state his position on the affirmative defense of waiver, and he said,
What I think — what I would like to see the Court do, Your Honor, is to declare the effect of this release, and I think the effect of this permission slip doesn’t say this, does not have the effect of releasing the defendant’s [sic] from the premises liability claims.
The court responded, “I want to take a few minutes to think about this. . . . We’ll be in recess.” After that exchange and a brief statement from counsel for SDA, the record abruptly ceases. There is nothing about the court’s thoughts on the waiver until early the next day during its instructions to the jury right before closing arguments. At this time, the court announced to the [*52] jury that “the Court has ruled as a matter of law that Exhibit 85 [the parental waiver] is not a defense to Plaintiff’s claims in this case” and struck the waiver from the record with no further elaboration.
In my view, the trial court erred in taking the issue away from the jury. I acknowledge that “[t]he determination of the sufficiency and validity of an exculpatory agreement is [primarily] a question of law for the court to determine.” Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981). However, contrary to the majority, I conclude Grace presented sufficient evidence for the trial court to submit to the jury the parental waiver as an affirmative defense.
“An affirmative defense ‘is a legal argument that a defendant, who is capable of being sued, may assert to require the dismissal of a claim or to prevail at trial.'” Paratransit Risk Retention Group Ins. Co. v. Kamins, 160 P.3d 307, 319 (Colo. App. 2007)(quoting State v. Nieto, 993 P.2d 493, 507 (Colo. 2000)). The parental waiver defense, if successful, would allow Grace to avoid premises liability. Accordingly, it is an affirmative defense.
Because waiver is an affirmative defense, the defendant has the burden to prove waiver. C.R.C.P. 8(c); [*53] see City of Westminster v. Centric-Jones Constructors, 100 P.3d 472, 480 (Colo. App. 2003)(“Failure to mitigate damages is an affirmative defense under C.R.C.P. 8(c) on which the defendant bears the burden of proof.”); see also Fidelity & Deposit Co. v. Colo. Ice & Storage Co., 45 Colo. 443, 449, 103 P. 383, 386 (1909)(defendant had burden of proof to sustain proffered affirmative defense); Tracz v. Charter Centennial Peaks Behavioral Health Sys., Inc., 9 P.3d 1168, 1174 (Colo. App. 2000)(concluding defendants “met their initial burden of production to establish their affirmative defense”). And section 13-22-107 is an affirmative defense to premises liability because section 13-21-115 “does not exclusively limit defenses and does not abrogate statutorily created defenses, which were available to landowners before the 2006 amendment and afterward.” Tucker v. Volunteers of Am. Colo. Branch, 211 P.3d 708, 711 (Colo. App. 2008), aff’d sub nom. Volunteers of Am. v. Gardenswartz, P.3d , 2010 Colo. LEXIS 861 (Colo. No. 09SC20, Nov. 15, 2010).
At trial, under C.R.C.P. 8(c), the trial court’s only responsibility was to assess whether Grace presented sufficient evidence to support the affirmative defense of [*54] parental waiver. See Fair v. Red Lion Inn, 943 P.2d 431, 437 (Colo. 1997)(holding that failure to mitigate damages, an affirmative defense under C.R.C.P. 8(c), “will not be presented to the jury unless the trial court determines there is sufficient evidence to support it”); cf. Stauffer v. Karabin, 30 Colo. App. 357, 363-64, 492 P.2d 862, 865 (1971)(where doctor in malpractice suit presented evidence that his failure to inform plaintiff of all risks attendant to an operation was consistent with community medical standards, “the determination then becomes one for the jury and a directed verdict in favor of plaintiff would not be warranted”).
I believe the trial court misapprehended its duty with regard to the legal sufficiency of Grace’s parental waiver. The question whether a parental waiver is “voluntary” is answered if the parent is shown to have signed the waiver. The question whether a parental waiver is “informed” is answered if the waiver on its face defines the possible risks and the general nature of the activities to which the waiver applied. See Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary at 346 (“informed” is “made with full knowledge of the risks involved and the alternatives”). To this [*55] end, the parental waiver statute focuses on the risks involved in recreational activities for children as it affirms the conscious choices that parents make for their children. § 13-22-107(1)(a)(I), (IV). Thus, if the parental waiver is both “voluntary” and “informed,” the trial court must submit the affirmative defense of parental waiver to the jury.
I would conclude Grace presented sufficient evidence to support its affirmative defense of parental waiver. The parental waiver was signed voluntarily because, as plaintiff herself testified, her mother signed the waiver two days before Winterama 2005 occurred. And the parental waiver on its face not only informed mother of the possible risks associated with Winterama 2005– “injury or sickness”–but also revealed her willingness to “not hold [Grace] or it’s [sic] participants responsible for any liability which may result from participation.” Thus, I conclude the trial court should have permitted the jury to consider Grace’s affirmative defense of parental waiver, and believe it erred in not doing so.
Moreover, the way the trial court ruled on the evidence of waiver throughout the case–until it removed Exhibit 85 from the trial evidence [*56] and jury’s consideration–reveals that Grace had no reason to expect it had to clear up any lingering questions of fact for the jury to consider the affirmative defense of parental waiver. For example, before trial, Grace moved for summary judgment on the issue of waiver, but the court ruled there was a question of fact “as to whether a permission slip was signed on behalf of Plaintiff.” (The original apparently was lost by the hospital.) In response, during plaintiff’s case-in-chief, counsel for Grace established that plaintiff’s mother in fact had signed the waiver, and that Grace received the waiver before the Winterama event.
Based on this uncontroverted testimony, at the close of plaintiff’s case Grace moved for a directed verdict. But the court found “the jury could conclude that there was inadequate notice to the mother” and “a jury could conclude that the activity [in question] was a reckless act or grossly negligent act for which a parent is not permitted to waive the child’s prospective claim for such conduct.” The court concluded this despite the fact that plaintiff in her complaint did not assert any claim for tortious conduct rising above the level of simple negligence. [*57] Again, in response, Grace used both expert testimony and lay testimony in its case to establish that the ATV activity was done in a safe manner. Nevertheless, as noted, on the morning of closing arguments the court told the jury that it could not consider the parental waiver. At that point, its role should have been limited to deciding whether Grace had presented sufficient evidence to support the existence of the parental waiver as an affirmative defense. The court did not so limit its role.
Accordingly, I would reverse the judgment and remand for a new trial.
III. The ATV Rental Contract
The majority concludes the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the ATV rental contract into evidence over Grace’s objection. I respectfully disagree. There was nothing in the contract, and no evidence regarding the parties’ intent was adduced, to suggest plaintiff’s injury was a danger that Blue Sky Motors–who was not a party to this case–and Grace, the two parties to the ATV contract, knew about or should have known about in this premises liability case.
For all these reasons, I would reverse the judgment and remand for a new trial.


Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57; 120 S. Ct. 2054; 147 L. Ed. 2d 49; 2000 U.S. LEXIS 3767; 68 U.S.L.W. 4458

Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57; 120 S. Ct. 2054; 147 L. Ed. 2d 49; 2000 U.S. LEXIS 3767; 68 U.S.L.W. 4458
Jenifer Troxel, et vir v. Tommie Granville
No. 99-138
Supreme Court of the United States
530 U.S. 57; 120 S. Ct. 2054; 147 L. Ed. 2d 49; 2000 U.S. LEXIS 3767; 68 U.S.L.W. 4458; 2000 Cal. Daily Op. Service 4345; 2000 Daily Journal DAR 5831; 2000 Colo. J. C.A.R. 3199; 13 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 365
January 12, 2000, Argued

June 5, 2000, Decided

Prior History: On Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court of Washington.
Disposition: 137 Wash. 2d 1, 969 P. 2d 21, affirmed.

Decision:

Application of Washington state child-visitation-rights statute to allow visitation rights to paternal grandparents held to violate mother’s Fourteenth Amendment due process right to bring up her children.

Summary:

A Washington state statute (1) permitted any person to petition a state court for child visitation rights at any time, and (2) authorized the court to order visitation rights for any person when visitation might serve the best interest of the child. Pursuant to the statute, paternal grandparents filed a petition to obtain visitation rights with their deceased son’s children. After the Washington Superior Court for Skagit County granted the grandparents more visitation time than the children’s mother desired, the mother appealed. While the appeal was pending, the mother, who had never married the children’s father, was married to a father of six, who adopted the two children. The Washington Court of Appeals reversed the visitation order and dismissed the petition for visitation (87 Wash App 131, 940 P2d 698). The Washington Supreme Court, affirming the judgment of the Court of Appeals, expressed the view that the statute infringed on the fundamental right, under the Federal Constitution, of parents to rear their children (137 Wash 2d 1, 969 P2d 21).
On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court affirmed. Although unable to agree on an opinion, six members of the court agreed that application of the state statute to allow visitation rights to the paternal grandparents violated the mother’s right, under the due process clause of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, to bring up her children.
O’Connor, J., announced the judgment of the court and, in an opinion joined by Rehnquist, Ch. J., and Ginsburg and Breyer, JJ., expressed the view that (1) the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause protected the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children; and (2) as applied to the mother and her family in the instant case, the state statute unconstitutionally infringed on that fundamental right, as (a) the grandparents did not allege, and no court had found, that the mother was an unfit parent, (b) there was a traditional presumption that fit parents acted in the best interests of their children, and (c) there was no allegation that the mother ever sought to cut off visitation entirely.
Souter, J., concurring in the judgment, expressed the view that there should be a simple affirmance of the facial invalidation, by the Supreme Court of Washington, of its own state statute.
Thomas, J., concurring in the judgment, expressed the view that (1) the appropriate standard of review for the alleged infringement of fundamental constitutional rights was strict scrutiny, and (2) in the case at hand, the state lacked even a legitimate interest in second-guessing a fit parent’s decision regarding visitation with third parties.
Stevens, J., dissenting, expressed the view that (1) certiorari should have been denied, because there was no pressing need to review a decision of a state’s highest court that merely required the state legislature to draft a better statute; and (2) the due process clause left room for states to consider the impact on a child of possibly arbitrary parental decisions that neither served nor were motivated by the best interests of the child.
Scalia, J., dissenting, expressed the view that the power that the Constitution conferred upon a judge, as a judge, did not entitle the judge to deny legal effect to laws that, in the judge’s view, infringed upon what was, in the judge’s view, parents’ unenumerated constitutional right to rear their children.
Kennedy, J., dissenting, expressed the view that the Washington Supreme Court’s judgment ought to be vacated and the case ought to be remanded for further proceedings, because the Washington Supreme Court had erred in its central conclusion that the best-interests-of-the-child standard was never appropriate in third-party visitation cases.

Lawyers’ Edition Headnotes:

[***LEdHN1]

Constitutional Law §528.5

· due process—parental right to raise children—grandparents’ visitation rights Headnote:[1A][1B][1C][1D][1E]
Application of a state statute—which (1) permits any person to petition a state court for child visitation rights at any time, and (2) authorizes the court to order visitation rights for any person when visitation may serve the best interest of the child—to allow visitation rights to two children’s paternal grandparents violates the mother’s due process right, under the Federal Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, to bring up her children. [Per O’Connor, J., Rehnquist, Ch. J., and Ginsburg, Breyer, Souter, and Thomas, JJ. Dissenting:
Stevens, Scalia, and Kennedy, JJ.]
[***LEdHN2]

Constitutional Law §528.5

· due process—child visitation
Headnote:[2A][2B]
With respect to the right, under the due process clause of the Federal Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, of a custodial parent to bring up his or her children without governmental interference, the constitutionality of the application of a standard for awarding child visitation rights depends on specific factors; the constitutionality protections in this area are best elaborated with care. [Per O’Connor, J., Rehnquist, Ch. J., and Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kennedy, JJ. Dissenting in part: Scalia, J.] SYLLABUS: Washington Rev. Code § 26.10.160(3) permits “any person” to petition for visitation rights “at any time” and authorizes state superior courts to grant such rights whenever visitation may serve a child’s best interest. Petitioners Troxel petitioned for the right to visit their deceased son’s daughters. Respondent Granville, the girls’ mother, did not oppose all visitation, but objected to the amount sought by the Troxels. The Superior Court ordered more visitation than Granville desired, and she appealed. The State Court of Appeals reversed and dismissed the Troxels’ petition. In affirming, the State Supreme Court held, inter alia, that § 26.10.160(3) unconstitutionally infringes on parents’ fundamental right to rear their children. Reasoning that the Federal Constitution permits a State to interfere with this right only to prevent harm or potential harm to the child, it found that § 26.10.160(3) does not require a threshold showing of harm and sweeps too broadly by permitting any person to petition at any time with the only requirement being that the visitation serve the best interest of the child.
Held: The judgment is affirmed.
137 Wn.2d 1, 969 P.2d 21, affirmed.
Justice O’Connor, joined by The Chief Justice, Justice Ginsburg, and Justice Breyer, concluded that § 26.10.160(3), as applied to Granville and her family, violates her due process right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of her daughters. Pp. 5-17.
(a) The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause has a substantive component that “provides heightened protection against government interference with certain fundamental rights and liberty interests,” Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 720, 138 L. Ed. 2d 772, 117 S. Ct. 2258, including parents’ fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children, see, e.g., Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 651. Pp. 5-8, 31 L. Ed. 2d 551, 92 S. Ct. 1208.
(b) Washington’s breathtakingly broad statute effectively permits a court to disregard and overturn any decision by a fit custodial parent concerning visitation whenever a third party affected by the decision files a visitation petition, based solely on the judge’s determination of the child’s best interest. A parent’s estimation of the child’s best interest is accorded no deference. The State Supreme Court had the opportunity, but declined, to give § 26.10.160(3) a narrower reading. A combination of several factors compels the conclusion that § 26.10.160(3), as applied here, exceeded the bounds of the Due Process Clause. First, the Troxels did not allege, and no court has found, that Granville was an unfit parent. There is a presumption that fit parents act in their children’s best interests, Parham v. J. R., 442 U.S. 584, 602, 61 L. Ed. 2d 101, 99 S. Ct. 2493; there is normally no reason for the State to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question fit parents’ ability to make the best decisions regarding their children, see, e.g., Reno v. Flores, 507 U.S. 292, 304, 123 L. Ed. 2d 1, 113 S. Ct. 1439. The problem here is not that the Superior Court intervened, but that when it did so, it gave no special weight to Granville’s determination of her daughters’ best interests. More importantly, that court appears to have applied the opposite presumption, favoring grandparent visitation. In effect, it placed on Granville the burden of disproving that visitation would be in her daughters’ best interest and thus failed to provide any protection for her fundamental right. The court also gave no weight to Granville’s having assented to visitation even before the filing of the petition or subsequent court intervention. These factors, when considered with the Superior Court’s slender findings, show that this case involves nothing more than a simple disagreement between the court and Granville concerning her children’s best interests, and that the visitation order was an unconstitutional infringement on Granville’s right to make decisions regarding the rearing of her children. Pp. 8-14.
(c) Because the instant decision rests on § 26.10.160(3)’s sweeping breadth and its application here, there is no need to consider the question whether the Due Process Clause requires all nonparental visitation statutes to include a showing of harm or potential harm to the child as a condition precedent to granting visitation or to decide the precise scope of the parental due process right in the visitation context. There is also no reason to remand this case for further proceedings. The visitation order clearly violated the Constitution, and the parties should not be forced into additional litigation that would further burden Granville’s parental right. Pp. 14-17.
JUSTICE SOUTER concluded that the Washington Supreme Court’s second reason for invalidating its own state statute—that it sweeps too broadly in authorizing any person at any time to request (and a judge to award) visitation rights, subject only to the State’s particular best-interests standard—is consistent with this Court’s prior cases. This ends the case, and there is no need to decide whether harm is required or to consider the precise scope of a parent’s right or its necessary protections. Pp. 1-5.
JUSTICE THOMAS agreed that this Court’s recognition of a fundamental right of parents to direct their children’s upbringing resolves this case, but concluded that strict scrutiny is the appropriate standard of review to apply to infringements of fundamental rights. Here, the State lacks a compelling interest in second-guessing a fit parent’s decision regarding visitation with third parties. Pp. 1-2.
COUNSEL: Mark D. Olson argued the cause for petitioners.
Catherine W. Smith argued the cause for respondent. JUDGES: O’CONNOR, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and GINSBURG and BREYER, JJ., joined. SOUTER, J., and THOMAS, J., filed opinions concurring in the judgment. STEVENS, J., SCALIA, J., and KENNEDY, J., filed dissenting opinions.

Opinion by: O’Connor

Opinion: [*60] [**2057] [***53] [***LEdHR1A] [1A] Justice O’Connor announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which The Chief Justice, justice Ginsburg, and Justice Breyer join.
Section 26.10.160(3) of the Revised Code of Washington permits “any person” to petition a superior court for visitation rights “at any time,” and authorizes that court to grant such visitation rights whenever “visitation may serve the best interest of the child.” Petitioners Jenifer and Gary Troxel petitioned a Washington Superior Court for the right to visit their grandchildren, Isabelle and Natalie Troxel. Respondent Tommie Granville, the mother of Isabelle and Natalie, opposed the petition. The case ultimately reached the Washington Supreme Court, which held that § 26.10.160(3) unconstitutionally interferes with the fundamental right of parents to rear their children.

I

Tommie Granville and Brad Troxel shared a relationship that ended in June 1991. The two never married, but they had two daughters, Isabelle and Natalie. Jenifer and Gary Troxel are Brad’s parents, and thus the paternal grandparents of Isabelle and Natalie. After Tommie and Brad separated in 1991, Brad lived with his parents and regularly brought his daughters to his parents’ home for weekend visitation. Brad committed suicide in May 1993. Although the Troxels at first continued to see Isabelle and Natalie on a regular basis after their son’s death, Tommie Granville informed [*61] the Troxels in October 1993 that she wished to limit their visitation with her daughters to one short visit per month. In re Smith, 137 Wn.2d 1, 6, 969 P.2d 21, 23-24 (1998); In re Troxel, 87 Wn. App. 131, 133, 940 P.2d 698, 698-699 (1997). [***54]
In December 1993, the Troxels commenced the present action by filing, in the Washington Superior Court for Skagit County, a petition to obtain visitation rights with Isabelle and Natalie. The Troxels filed their petition under two Washington statutes, Wash. Rev. Code §§ 26.09.240 and 26.10.160(3) (1994). Only the latter statute is at issue in this case. Section 26.10.160(3) provides: “Any person may petition the court for visitation rights at any time including, but not limited to, custody proceedings. The [**2058] court may order visitation rights for any person when visitation may serve the best interest of the child whether or not there has been any change of circumstances.” At trial, the Troxels requested two weekends of overnight visitation per month and two weeks of visitation each summer. Granville did not oppose visitation altogether, but instead asked the court to order one day of visitation per month with no overnight stay. 87 Wn. App. at 133-134, 940 P.2d at 699. In 1995, the Superior Court issued an oral ruling and entered a visitation decree ordering visitation one weekend per month, one week during the summer, and four hours on both of the petitioning grandparents’ birthdays. 137 Wn.2d at 6, 969 P.2d at 23; App. to Pet. for Cert. 76a-78a.
Granville appealed, during which time she married Kelly Wynn. Before addressing the merits of Granville’s appeal, the Washington Court of Appeals remanded the case to the Superior Court for entry of written findings of fact and conclusions of law. 137 Wn.2d at 6, 969 P.2d at 23. On remand, the Superior Court found that visitation was in Isabelle and Natalie’s best interests:
“The Petitioners [the Troxels] are part of a large, central, loving family, all located in this area, and the Petitioners [*62] can provide opportunities for the children in the areas of cousins and music.
“ . . . The court took into consideration all factors regarding the best interest of the children and considered all the testimony before it. The children would be benefitted from spending quality time with the Petitioners, provided that that time is balanced with time with the childrens’ [sic] nuclear family. The court finds that the childrens’ [sic] best interests are served by spending time with their mother and stepfather’s other six children.” App. 70a.
Approximately nine months after the Superior Court entered its order on remand, Granville’s husband formally adopted Isabelle and Natalie. Id. at 60a-67a.
The Washington Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s visitation order and dismissed the Troxels’ petition for visitation, holding that nonparents lack standing to seek visitation under § 26.10.160(3) unless a custody action is pending. In the Court of Appeals’ view, that limitation on nonparental visitation actions was “consistent with the constitutional restrictions on state interference with parents’ fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody, and management of their children.” 87 Wn. App. at 135, 940 P.2d at 700 (internal quotation marks omitted). Having resolved the case on the statutory ground, however, the Court of Appeals did not expressly pass on Granville’s constitutional challenge to the visitation statute. Id. at 138, 940 P.2d at 701.
The Washington Supreme Court [***55] granted the Troxels’ petition for review and, after consolidating their case with two other visitation cases, affirmed. The court disagreed with the Court of Appeals’ decision on the statutory issue and found that the plain language of § 26.10.160(3) gave the Troxels standing to seek visitation, irrespective of whether a custody action was pending. 137 Wn.2d at 12, 969 P. [*63] 2d at 26-27. The Washington Supreme Court nevertheless agreed with the Court of Appeals’ ultimate conclusion that the Troxels could not obtain visitation of Isabelle and Natalie pursuant to § 26.10.160(3). The court rested its decision on the Federal Constitution, holding that § 26.10.160(3) unconstitutionally infringes on the fundamental right of parents to rear their children. In the court’s view, there were at least two problems with the nonparental visitation statute. First, according to the Washington Supreme Court, the Constitution permits a State to interfere with the right of parents to rear their children only to prevent harm or potential harm to a child. Section 26.10.160(3) fails that standard because it requires no threshold showing of harm. Id. at 15-20, 969 P.2d at 28-30. Second, [**2059] by allowing “’any person’ to petition for forced visitation of a child at ‘any time’ with the only requirement being that the visitation serve the best interest of the child,” the Washington visitation statute sweeps too broadly. Id. at 20, 969 P.2d at 30. “It is not within the province of the state to make significant decisions concerning the custody of children merely because it could make a ‘better’ decision.” Ibid., 969 P.2d at 31. The Washington Supreme Court held that “parents have a right to limit visitation of their children with third persons,” and that between parents and judges, “the parents should be the ones to choose whether to expose their children to certain people or ideas.” Id. at 21, 969 P.2d at 31. Four justices dissented from the Washington Supreme Court’s holding on the constitutionality of the statute. Id. at 23-43, 969 P.2d at 32-42.
We granted certiorari, 527 U.S. 1069 (1999), and now affirm the judgment.

II

The demographic changes of the past century make it difficult to speak of an average American family. The composition of families varies greatly from household to household. While many children may have two married parents and [*64] grandparents who visit regularly, many other children are raised in single-parent households. In 1996, children living with only one parent accounted for 28 percent of all children under age 18 in the United States. U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Census, Current Population Reports, 1997 Population Profile of the United States 27 (1998). Understandably, in these single-parent households, persons outside the nuclear family are called upon with increasing frequency to assist in the everyday tasks of child rearing. In many cases, grandparents play an important role. For example, in 1998, approximately 4 million children—or 5.6 percent of all children under age 18 — lived in the household of their grandparents. U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Census, Current Population Reports, Marital Status and Living Arrangements: March 1998 (Update), p. i (1998).
The nationwide enactment of nonparental visitation statutes is assuredly due, in some part, to the States’ recognition of these changing realities [***56] of the American family. Because grandparents and other relatives undertake duties of a parental nature in many households, States have sought to ensure the welfare of the children therein by protecting the relationships those children form with such third parties. The States’ nonparental visitation statutes are further supported by a recognition, which varies from State to State, that children should have the opportunity to benefit from relationships with statutorily specified persons—for example, their grandparents. The extension of statutory rights in this area to persons other than a child’s parents, however, comes with an obvious cost. For example, the State’s recognition of an independent third-party interest in a child can place a substantial burden on the traditional parent-child relationship. Contrary to Justice Stevens’ accusation, our description of state nonparental visitation statutes in these terms, of course, is not meant to suggest that “children are so much chattel.” Post, at 10 (dissenting opinion). Rather, our terminology is intended to highlight the fact that these [*65] statutes can present questions of constitutional import. In this case, we are presented with just such a question. Specifically, we are asked to decide whether § 26.10.160(3), as applied to Tommie Granville and her family, violates the Federal Constitution.
The Fourteenth Amendment provides that no State shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” We have long recognized that the Amendment’s Due Process Clause, like its Fifth Amendment counterpart, “guarantees more than fair process.” Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 719, 138 L. Ed. 2d 772, [**2060] 117 S. Ct. 2258 (1997). The Clause also includes a substantive component that “provides heightened protection against government interference with certain fundamental rights and liberty interests.” 521 U.S. at 720; see also Reno v. Flores, 507 U.S. 292, 301-302, 123 L. Ed. 2d 1, 113 S. Ct. 1439 (1993).
The liberty interest at issue in this case—the interest of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children—is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this Court. More than 75 years ago, in Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399, 401, 67 L. Ed. 1042, 43 S. Ct. 625 (1923), we held that the “liberty” protected by the Due Process Clause includes the right of parents to “establish a home and bring up children” and “to control the education of their own.” Two years later, in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-535, 69 L. Ed. 1070, 45 S. Ct. 571 (1925), we again held that the “liberty of parents and guardians” includes the right “to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control.” We explained in Pierce that “the child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” 268 U.S. at 535. We returned to the subject in Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 88 L. Ed. 645, 64 S. Ct. 438 (1944), and again confirmed that there is a constitutional dimension to the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children. “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary [*66] function and freedom include preparation for obligations the state can neither supply nor [***57] hinder.” 321 U.S. at 166.
[***LEdHR1B] [1B] In subsequent cases also, we have recognized the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children. See, e.g., Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 651, 31 L. Ed. 2d 551, 92 S. Ct. 1208 (1972) (“It is plain that the interest of a parent in the companionship, care, custody, and management of his or her children ‘comes to this Court with a momentum for respect lacking when appeal is made to liberties which derive merely from shifting economic arrangements’” (citation omitted)); Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 232, 32 L. Ed. 2d 15, 92 S. Ct. 1526 (1972) (“The history and culture of Western civilization reflect a strong tradition of parental concern for the nurture and upbringing of their children. This primary role of the parents in the upbringing of their children is now established beyond debate as an enduring American tradition”); Quilloin v. Walcott, 434 U.S. 246, 255, 54 L. Ed. 2d 511, 98 S. Ct. 549 (1978) (“We have recognized on numerous occasions that the relationship between parent and child is constitutionally protected”); Parham v. J. R., 442 U.S. 584, 602, 61 L. Ed. 2d 101, 99 S. Ct. 2493 (1979) (“Our jurisprudence historically has reflected Western civilization concepts of the family as a unit with broad parental authority over minor children. Our cases have consistently followed that course”); Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 753, 71 L. Ed. 2d 599, 102 S. Ct. 1388 (1982) (discussing “the fundamental liberty interest of natural parents in the care, custody, and management of their child”); Glucksberg, supra, at 720 (“In a long line of cases, we have held that, in addition to the specific freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights, the ‘liberty’ specially protected by the Due Process Clause includes the right . . . to direct the education and upbringing of one’s children” (citing Meyer and Pierce)). In light of this extensive precedent, it cannot now be doubted that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children. [*67]
Section 26.10.160(3), as applied to Granville and her family in this case, unconstitutionally infringes on that fundamental [**2061] parental right. The Washington nonparental visitation statute is breathtakingly broad. According to the statute’s text, “any person may petition the court for visitation rights at any time,” and the court may grant such visitation rights whenever “visitation may serve the best interest of the child.” § 26.10.160(3) (emphases added). That language effectively permits any third party seeking visitation to subject any decision by a parent concerning visitation of the parent’s children to state-court review. Once the visitation petition has been filed in court and the matter is placed before a judge, a parent’s decision that visitation would not be in the child’s best interest is accorded no deference. Section 26.10.160(3) contains no requirement that a court accord the parent’s decision any presumption of validity or any weight whatsoever. Instead, the Washington statute places the best-interest determination solely in the hands of the judge. Should the judge disagree with the parent’s estimation of the child’s best interests, the judge’s view necessarily prevails. Thus, in practical effect, in the State of Washington a court can disregard and overturn any [***58] decision by a fit custodial parent concerning visitation whenever a third party affected by the decision files a visitation petition, based solely on the judge’s determination of the child’s best interests. The Washington Supreme Court had the opportunity to give § 26.10.160(3) a narrower reading, but it declined to do so. See, e.g., 137 Wn.2d at 5, 969 P.2d at 23 (“[The statute] allows any person, at any time, to petition for visitation without regard to relationship to the child, without regard to changed circumstances, and without regard to harm”); id. at 20, 969 P.2d at 30 (“[The statute] allows ‘any person’ to petition for forced visitation of a child at ‘any time’ with the only requirement being that the visitation serve the best interest of the child”). [*68]
Turning to the facts of this case, the record reveals that the Superior Court’s order was based on precisely the type of mere disagreement we have just described and nothing more. The Superior Court’s order was not founded on any special factors that might justify the State’s interference with Granville’s fundamental right to make decisions concerning the rearing of her two daughters. To be sure, this case involves a visitation petition filed by grandparents soon after the death of their son—the father of Isabelle and Natalie—but the combination of several factors here compels our conclusion that § 26.10.160(3), as applied, exceeded the bounds of the Due Process Clause.
First, the Troxels did not allege, and no court has found, that Granville was an unfit parent. That aspect of the case is important, for there is a presumption that fit parents act in the best interests of their children. As this Court explained in Parham:
“Our constitutional system long ago rejected any notion that a child is the mere creature of the State and, on the contrary, asserted that parents generally have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare [their children] for additional obligations. . . . The law’s concept of the family rests on a presumption that parents possess what a child lacks in maturity, experience, and capacity for judgment required for making life’s difficult decisions. More important, historically it has recognized that natural bonds of affection lead parents to act in the best interests of their children.” 442 U.S. at 602 (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
Accordingly, so long as a parent adequately cares for his or her children ( i.e., is fit), there will normally be no reason for the State to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question the ability of that parent to make the [*69] best decisions concerning the rearing of that parent’s children. See, e.g., Flores, 507 U.S. at 304. [**2062]
The problem here is not that the Washington Superior Court intervened, but that when it did so, it gave no special weight at all to Granville’s determination of her daughters’ best interests. More importantly, it appears that the Superior Court applied exactly the opposite presumption. In reciting its oral ruling after the conclusion of closing arguments, the Superior Court judge explained:
“The burden is to show that it is in the best interest of the children to have some visitation and some quality time with their grandparents. [***59] I think in most situations a commonsensical approach [is that] it is normally in the best interest of the children to spend quality time with the grandparent, unless the grandparent, [sic] there are some issues or problems involved wherein the grandparents, their lifestyles are going to impact adversely upon the children. That certainly isn’t the case here from what I can tell.” Verbatim Report of Proceedings in In re Troxel, No. 93-3-00650-7 (Wash. Super. Ct., Dec. 14, 19, 1994), p. 213 (hereinafter Verbatim Report).
The judge’s comments suggest that he presumed the grandparents’ request should be granted unless the children would be “impacted adversely.” In effect, the judge placed on Granville, the fit custodial parent, the burden of disproving that visitation would be in the best interest of her daughters. The judge reiterated moments later: “I think [visitation with the Troxels] would be in the best interest of the children and I haven’t been shown it is not in [the] best interest of the children.” Id. at 214.
The decisional framework employed by the Superior Court directly contravened the traditional presumption that a fit parent will act in the best interest of his or her child. See Parham, supra, at 602. In that respect, the court’s presumption [*70] failed to provide any protection for Granville’s fundamental constitutional right to make decisions concerning the rearing of her own daughters. Cf., e.g., Cal. Fam. Code Ann. § 3104(e) (West 1994) (rebuttable presumption that grandparent visitation is not in child’s best interest if parents agree that visitation rights should not be granted); Me. Rev. Stat. Ann., Tit. 19A, § 1803(3) (1998) (court may award grandparent visitation if in best interest of child and “would not significantly interfere with any parent-child relationship or with the parent’s rightful authority over the child”); Minn. Stat. § 257.022(2)(a)(2) (1998) (court may award grandparent visitation if in best interest of child and “such visitation would not interfere with the parent-child relationship”); Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-1802(2) (1998) (court must find “by clear and convincing evidence” that grandparent visitation “will not adversely interfere with the parent-child relationship”); R. I. Gen. Laws § 15-5-24.3(a)(2)(v) (Supp. 1999) (grandparent must rebut, by clear and convincing evidence, presumption that parent’s decision to refuse grandparent visitation was reasonable); Utah Code Ann. § 30-5-2(2)(e) (1998) (same); Hoff v. Berg, 1999 ND 115, 595 N.W.2d 285, 291-292 (N. D. 1999) (holding North Dakota grandparent visitation statute unconstitutional because State has no “compelling interest in presuming visitation rights of grandparents to an unmarried minor are in the child’s best interests and forcing parents to accede to court-ordered grandparental visitation unless the parents are first able to prove such visitation is not in the best interests of their minor child”). In an ideal world, parents might always seek to cultivate the bonds between grandparents and their grandchildren. Needless to say, however, our world is far from perfect, and in it the decision whether such an intergenerational relationship would be beneficial in any specific case is for the parent to make in the first instance. And, if a fit parent’s decision of the kind at issue here becomes subject to judicial review, the court must accord at least some special weight to the parent’s own determination. [*71] [***60]
Finally, we note that there is no allegation that Granville ever sought to cut off [**2063] visitation entirely. Rather, the present dispute originated when Granville informed the Troxels that she would prefer to restrict their visitation with Isabelle and Natalie to one short visit per month and special holidays. See 87 Wn. App. at 133, 940 P.2d at 699; Verbatim Report 12. In the Superior Court proceedings Granville did not oppose visitation but instead asked that the duration of any visitation order be shorter than that requested by the Troxels. While the Troxels requested two weekends per month and two full weeks in the summer, Granville asked the Superior Court to order only one day of visitation per month (with no overnight stay) and participation in the Granville family’s holiday celebrations. See 87 Wn. App. at 133, 940 P.2d at 699; Verbatim Report 9 (“Right off the bat we’d like to say that our position is that grandparent visitation is in the best interest of the children. It is a matter of how much and how it is going to be structured”) (opening statement by Granville’s attorney). The Superior Court gave no weight to Granville’s having assented to visitation even before the filing of any visitation petition or subsequent court intervention. The court instead rejected Granville’s proposal and settled on a middle ground, ordering one weekend of visitation per month, one week in the summer, and time on both of the petitioning grandparents’ birthdays. See 87 Wn. App. at 133-134, 940 P.2d at 699; Verbatim Report 216-221. Significantly, many other States expressly provide by statute that courts may not award visitation unless a parent has denied (or unreasonably denied) visitation to the concerned third party. See, e.g., Miss. Code Ann. § 93-16-3(2)(a) (1994) (court must find that “the parent or custodian of the child unreasonably denied the grandparent visitation rights with the child”); Ore. Rev. Stat. § 109.121(1)(a)(B) (1997) (court may award visitation if the “custodian of the child has denied the grandparent reasonable opportunity to visit the child”); R. I. Gen. Laws § 15-5-24.3(a)(2)(iii)-(iv) [*72] (Supp. 1999) (court must find that parents prevented grandparent from visiting grandchild and that “there is no other way the petitioner is able to visit his or her grandchild without court intervention”).
Considered together with the Superior Court’s reasons for awarding visitation to the Troxels, the combination of these factors demonstrates that the visitation order in this case was an unconstitutional infringement on Granville’s fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of her two daughters. The Washington Superior Court failed to accord the determination of Granville, a fit custodial parent, any material weight. In fact, the Superior Court made only two formal findings in support of its visitation order. First, the Troxels “are part of a large, central, loving family, all located in this area, and the [Troxels] can provide opportunities for the children in the areas of cousins and music.” App. 70a. Second, “the children would be benefitted from spending quality time with the [Troxels], provided that that time is balanced with time with the childrens’ [sic] nuclear family.” Ibid. These slender findings, in combination with the court’s announced presumption in favor of grandparent visitation and its failure to accord significant weight to Granville’s already having offered meaningful visitation to the Troxels, show that this case involves nothing [***61] more than a simple disagreement between the Washington Superior Court and Granville concerning her children’s best interests. The Superior Court’s announced reason for ordering one week of visitation in the summer demonstrates our conclusion well: “I look back on some personal experiences . . . . We always spent as kids a week with one set of grandparents and another set of grandparents, [and] it happened to work out in our family that [it] turned out to be an enjoyable experience. Maybe that can, in this family, if that is how it works out.” Verbatim Report 220-221. As we have explained, [**2064] the Due Process Clause does not permit a State to infringe on the fundamental right [*73] of parents to make childrearing decisions simply because a state judge believes a “better” decision could be made. Neither the Washington nonparental visitation statute generally—which places no limits on either the persons who may petition for visitation or the circumstances in which such a petition may be granted—nor the Superior Court in this specific case required anything more. Accordingly, we hold that § 26.10.160(3), as applied in this case, is unconstitutional. [***LEdHR2A] [2A] Because we rest our decision on the sweeping breadth of § 26.10.160(3) and the application of that broad, unlimited power in this case, we do not consider the primary constitutional question passed on by the Washington Supreme Court—whether the Due Process Clause requires all nonparental visitation statutes to include a showing of harm or potential harm to the child as a condition precedent to granting visitation. We do not, and need not, define today the precise scope of the parental due process right in the visitation context. In this respect, we agree with Justice Kennedy that the constitutionality of any standard for awarding visitation turns on the specific manner in which that standard is applied and that the constitutional protections in this area are best “elaborated with care.” Post, at 9 (dissenting opinion). Because much state-court adjudication in this context occurs on a case-by-case basis, we would be hesitant to hold that specific nonparental visitation statutes violate the Due Process Clause as a per se matter. n1 See, e.g., Fairbanks [*74] v. McCarter, 330 Md. 39, 49-50, 622 A.2d 121, 126-127 (1993) (interpreting best-interest standard in grandparent visitation statute normally to [***62] require court’s consideration of certain factors); Williams v. Williams, 256 Va. 19, 501 S.E.2d 417, 418 (1998) (interpreting Virginia nonparental visitation statute to require finding of harm as condition precedent to awarding visitation).

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n1 All 50 States have statutes that provide for grandparent visitation in some form. See Ala. Code § 30-3-4.1 (1989); Alaska Stat. Ann. § 25.20.065 (1998); Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 25-409 (1994); Ark. Code Ann. § 9-13-103 (1998);
Cal. Fam. Code Ann. § 3104 (West 1994); Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-1-117 (1999);
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-59 (1995); Del. Code Ann., Tit. 10, § 1031(7) (1999);
Fla. Stat. § 752.01 (1997); Ga. Code Ann. § 19-7-3 (1991); Haw. Rev. Stat. § 571-46.3 (1999); Idaho Code § 32-719 (1999); Ill. Comp. Stat., ch. 750, § 5/607 (1998); Ind. Code § 31-17-5-1 (1999); Iowa Code § 598.35 (1999); Kan. Stat. Ann. § 38-129 (1993); Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 405.021 (Baldw. 1990); La. Rev. Stat.
Ann. § 9:344 (West Supp. 2000); La. Civ. Code Ann., Art. 136 (West Supp. 2000);
Me. Rev. Stat. Ann., Tit. 19A, § 1803 (1998); Md. Fam. Law Code Ann. § 9-102 (1999); Mass. Gen. Laws § 119:39D (1996); Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 722.27b (Supp. 1999); Minn. Stat. § 257.022 (1998); Miss. Code Ann. § 93-16-3 (1994); Mo. Rev.
Stat. § 452.402 (Supp. 1999); Mont. Code Ann. § 40-9-102 (1997); Neb. Rev. Stat.
§ 43-1802 (1998); Nev. Rev. Stat. § 125C.050 (Supp. 1999); N. H. Rev. Stat. Ann.
§ 458:17-d (1992); N. J. Stat. Ann. § 9:2-7.1 (West Supp. 1999-2000); N. M.
Stat. Ann. § 40-9-2 (1999); N. Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 72 (McKinney 1999); N. C. Gen. Stat. §§ 50-13.2, 50-13.2A (1999); N. D. Cent. Code § 14-09-05.1 (1997); Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 3109.051, 3109.11 (Supp. 1999); Okla. Stat., Tit. 10, § 5 (Supp. 1999); Ore. Rev. Stat. § 109.121 (1997); 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 5311-5313 (1991); R. I. Gen. Laws §§ 15-5-24 to 15-5-24.3 (Supp. 1999); S. C. Code Ann. § 20-7-420(33) (Supp. 1999); S. D. Codified Laws § 25-4-52 (1999); Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-6-306, 36-6-307 (Supp. 1999); Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.433 (Supp. 2000);
Utah Code Ann. § 30-5-2 (1998); Vt. Stat. Ann., Tit. 15, §§ 1011-1013 (1989);
Va. Code Ann. § 20-124.2 (1995); W. Va. Code §§ 48-2B-1 to 48-2B-7 (1999); Wis.
Stat. §§ 767.245, 880.155 (1993-1994); Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20-7-101 (1999).

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Justice Stevens criticizes our reliance on what he characterizes as merely “a guess” about the Washington courts’ interpretation of § 26.10.160(3). Post, at 2. Justice Kennedy likewise states that “more specific guidance should await a case in which a State’s highest court has considered all of the facts in the course of elaborating the protection afforded to parents by the laws of the State and by the Constitution itself.” Post, at 10. [**2065] We respectfully disagree. There is no need to hypothesize about how the Washington courts might apply § 26.10.160(3) because the Washington Superior Court did apply the statute in this very case. Like the Washington Supreme Court, then, we are presented with an actual visitation order and the reasons why the Superior Court believed [*75] entry of the order was appropriate in this case. Faced with the Superior Court’s application of § 26.10.160(3) to Granville and her family, the Washington Supreme Court chose not to give the statute a narrower construction. Rather, that court gave § 26.10.160(3) a literal and expansive interpretation. As we have explained, that broad construction plainly encompassed the Superior Court’s application of the statute. See supra, at 8-9.
[***LEdHR1C] [1C] There is thus no reason to remand the case for further proceedings in the Washington Supreme Court. As Justice Kennedy recognizes, the burden of litigating a domestic relations proceeding can itself be “so disruptive of the parent-child relationship that the constitutional right of a custodial parent to make certain basic determinations for the child’s welfare becomes implicated.” Post at 9. In this case, the litigation costs incurred by Granville on her trip through the Washington court system and to this Court are without a doubt already substantial. As we have explained, it is apparent that the entry of the visitation order in this case violated the Constitution. We should say so now, without forcing the parties into additional litigation that would further burden Granville’s parental right. We therefore hold that the application of § 26.10.160(3) to Granville and her family violated her due process right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of her daughters.
Accordingly, the judgment of the Washington Supreme Court is affirmed.
It is so ordered.

Concur By: Souter; Thomas

Concur:
Justice Souter, concurring in the judgment. [***LEdHR1D] [1D] I concur in the judgment affirming the decision of the Supreme Court of Washington, whose facial invalidation of its own state statute is consistent with this Court’s prior cases addressing the substantive interests at stake. I would say no [***63] more. The issues that might well be presented by reviewing a decision addressing the specific application of the [*76] state statute by the trial court, ante, at 9-14, are not before us and do not call for turning any fresh furrows in the “treacherous field” of substantive due process. Moore v. East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494, 502, 52 L. Ed. 2d 531, 97 S. Ct. 1932 (1977) (opinion of Powell, J.).
The Supreme Court of Washington invalidated its state statute based on the
text of the statute alone, not its application to any particular case. n1 Its
ruling rested on two independently sufficient grounds: the [**2066] failure of
the statute to require harm to the child to justify a disputed visitation order,
In re Smith, 137 Wn.2d 1, 17, 969 P.2d 21, 29 (1998), and the statute’s
authorization of “any person” at “any time” to petition and to receive visitation rights subject only to a free-ranging best-interests-of-the-child standard, 137 Wn.2d at 20-21, 969 P.2d at 30-31. Ante, at 4. I see no error in the second reason, that because the state statute authorizes any person at any time to request (and a judge to award) visitation rights, subject only to the State’s particular best-interests [*77] standard, the state statute sweeps too broadly and is unconstitutional on its face. Consequently, there is no need to decide whether harm is required or to consider the precise scope of the parent’s right or its necessary protections.

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n1 The Supreme Court of Washington made its ruling in an action where three separate cases, including the Troxels’, had been consolidated. In re Smith, 137 Wn.2d 1, 6-7, 969 P.2d 21, 23-24 (1998). The court also addressed two statutes, Wash. Rev. Code § 26.10.160(3) (Supp. 1996) and former Wash. Rev. Code § 26.09.240 (1994), 137 Wn.2d at 7, 969 P.2d at 24, the latter of which is not even at issue in this case. See Brief for Petitioners 6, n. 9; see also ante, at 2. Its constitutional analysis discussed only the statutory language and neither mentioned the facts of any of the three cases nor reviewed the records of their trial court proceedings below. 137 Wn.2d at 13-21, 969 P.2d at 27-31. The decision invalidated both statutes without addressing their application to particular facts: “We conclude petitioners have standing but, as written, the statutes violate the parents’ constitutionally protected interests. These statutes allow any person, at any time, to petition for visitation without regard to relationship to the child, without regard to changed circumstances, and without regard to harm.” Id. at 5, 969 P.2d at 23 (emphasis added); see also id. at 21, 969 P.2d at 31 (“RCW 26.10.160(3) and former RCW 26.09.240 impermissibly interfere with a parent’s fundamental interest in the care, custody and companionship of the child” (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)).

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We have long recognized that a parent’s interests in the nurture, upbringing, companionship, care, and custody of children are generally protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See, e.g., Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399, 401, 67 L. Ed. 1042, 43 S. Ct. 625 (1923); Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 535, 69 L. Ed. 1070, 45 S. Ct. 571 (1925); Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 651, 31 L. Ed. 2d 551, 92 S. Ct. 1208 (1972); Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 232, 32 L. Ed. 2d 15, 92 S. Ct. 1526 (1972); Quilloin v. Walcott, 434 U.S. 246, 255, 54 L. Ed. 2d 511, 98 S. Ct. 549 (1978); Parham v. J.
R., 442 U.S. 584, 602, 61 L. Ed. 2d 101, 99 S. Ct. 2493 (1979); Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 753, 71 L. Ed. 2d 599, 102 S. Ct. 1388 (1982); Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 720, 138 L. Ed. 2d 772, 117 S. Ct. 2258 (1997). As we first acknowledged in Meyer, the right of parents to “bring up children,” 262 U.S. at 399, and “to control the education of their own” is protected by the Constitution, 262 U.S. at 401. See also Glucksberg, supra, at 761 [***64] (SOUTER, J., concurring in judgment).
On the basis of this settled principle, the Supreme Court of Washington invalidated its statute because it authorized a contested visitation order at the intrusive behest of any person at any time subject only to a best-interests-of-the-child standard. In construing the statute, the state court explained that the “any person” at “any time” language was to be read literally, at 137 Wn.2d at 10-11, 969 P.2d at 25-27, and that “most notably the statute does not require the petitioner to establish that he or she has a substantial relationship with the child,” 137 Wn.2d at 20-21, 969 P.2d at 31. Although the statute speaks of granting visitation rights whenever “visitation may serve the best interest of the child,” Wash. Rev. Code § 26.10.160(3) (1994), the state court authoritatively read this provision as placing hardly any limit on a court’s discretion to award visitation rights. As the court understood it, the specific best-interests provision in the [*78] statute would allow a court to award visitation whenever it thought it could make a better decision than a child’s parent had done. See 137 Wn.2d at 20, 969 P.2d at 31 (“It is not within the province of the state to make significant decisions concerning the custody of children merely because it could make a ‘better’ decision”). n2 On that basis in part, the Supreme Court of Washington invalidated the State’s own statute:
“Parents have a right to limit visitation of their children with third persons.”
Id. at 21, 969 P.2d at 31.

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n2 As JUSTICE O’CONNOR points out, the best-interests provision “contains no requirement that a court accord the parent’s decision any presumption of validity or any weight whatsoever. Instead, the Washington statute places the best-interest determination solely in the hands of the judge.” Ante, at 8.

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Our cases, it is true, have not set out exact metes and bounds to the protected interest of a parent in the relationship with his child, but Meyer’s repeatedly recognized right of upbringing would be a sham if it failed to encompass the right to be free of judicially compelled visitation by “any party” at “any time” a judge believed [**2067] he “could make a ‘better’ decision” n3 than the objecting parent had done. The strength of a parent’s interest in controlling a child’s associates is as obvious as the influence of personal associations on the development of the child’s social and moral character. Whether for good or for ill, adults not only influence but may indoctrinate children, and a choice about a child’s social companions is not essentially different from the designation of the adults who will influence the child in school. Even a State’s considered judgment about the preferable political and religious character of schoolteachers is not entitled [*79] to prevail over a parent’s choice of private school. Pierce, supra, at 535 (“The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature [***65] of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations”). It would be anomalous, then, to subject a parent to any individual judge’s choice of a child’s associates from out of the general population merely because the judge might think himself more enlightened than the child’s parent. n4 To say the least (and as the Court implied in Pierce), parental choice in such matters is not merely a default rule in the absence of either governmental choice or the government’s designation of an official with the power to choose for whatever reason and in whatever circumstances.

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n3 Cf. Chicago v. Morales, 527 U.S. 41, 71, 144 L. Ed. 2d 67, 119 S. Ct.
1849 (1999) (BREYER, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) (“The ordinance is unconstitutional, not because a policeman applied this discretion wisely or poorly in a particular case, but rather because the policeman enjoys too much discretion in every case. And if every application of the ordinance represents an exercise of unlimited discretion, then the ordinance is invalid in all its applications”).
n4 The Supreme Court of Washington invalidated the broadly sweeping statute at issue on similarly limited reasoning: “Some parents and judges will not care if their child is physically disciplined by a third person; some parents and judges will not care if a third person teaches the child a religion inconsistent with the parents’ religion; and some judges and parents will not care if the child is exposed to or taught racist or sexist beliefs. But many parents and judges will care, and, between the two, the parents should be the ones to choose whether to expose their children to certain people or ideas.” 137 Wn.2d at 21, 969 P.2d at 31 (citation omitted).

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Since I do not question the power of a State’s highest court to construe its domestic statute and to apply a demanding standard when ruling on its facial constitutionality, n5 see Chicago v. Morales, 527 U.S. 41, 55, n. 22, 144 L. Ed. 2d 67, 119 S. Ct. 1849 (1999) (opinion of STEVENS, J.), this for me is the end of the case. I would simply affirm the decision of the Supreme Court of Washington that its statute, authorizing courts to grant visitation rights to any person at any time, is unconstitutional. I therefore respectfully concur in the judgment.

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n5 This is the pivot between JUSTICE KENNEDY’s approach and mine.
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JUSTICE THOMAS, concurring in the judgment.
I write separately to note that neither party has argued that our substantive
due process cases were wrongly decided and that the original understanding of
the Due Process Clause precludes judicial enforcement of unenumerated rights
under that constitutional provision. As a result, I express no view on the
merits of this matter, and I understand the plurality as well to leave the
resolution of that issue for another day. * n1
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n1 * This case also does not involve a challenge based upon the Privileges and Immunities Clause and thus does not present an opportunity to reevaluate the meaning of that Clause. See Saenz v. Roe, 526 U.S. 489, 527-528, 143 L. Ed. 2d 689, 119 S. Ct. 1518 (1999) (THOMAS, J., dissenting).

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[**2068]
[***LEdHR1E] [1E] Consequently, I agree with the plurality that this Court’s
recognition of a fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing of their
children resolves this case. Our decision in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268
U.S. 510, 69 L. Ed. 1070, 45 S. Ct. 571 (1925), holds that parents have a
fundamental constitutional right to rear their children, including the right to
determine who shall educate and socialize them. The opinions of the plurality,
JUSTICE KENNEDY, and JUSTICE SOUTER recognize such a right, but curiously none
of them articulates the appropriate standard of review. I would apply strict scrutiny to infringements of fundamental rights. Here, the State of Washington lacks even a legitimate governmental interest—to say nothing of a compelling one—in second-guessing a fit parent’s decision regarding visitation with third parties. On this basis, I would affirm the judgment below.

DISSENT BY: STEVENS; SCALIA; KENNEDY

DISSENT: [***66] JUSTICE STEVENS, dissenting.
The Court today wisely declines to endorse either the holding or the reasoning of the Supreme Court of Washington. In my opinion, the Court would have been even wiser to deny certiorari. Given the problematic character of the trial court’s decision and the uniqueness of the Washington statute, there was no pressing need to review a State Supreme [*81] Court decision that merely requires the state legislature to draft a better statute.
Having decided to address the merits, however, the Court should begin by recognizing that the State Supreme Court rendered a federal constitutional judgment holding a state law invalid on its face. In light of that judgment, I believe that we should confront the federal questions presented directly. For the Washington statute is not made facially invalid either because it may be invoked by too many hypothetical plaintiffs, or because it leaves open the possibility that someone may be permitted to sustain a relationship with a child without having to prove that serious harm to the child would otherwise result.

I

In response to Tommie Granville’s federal constitutional challenge, the State Supreme Court broadly held that Wash. Rev. Code § 26.10.160(3) (Supp. 1996) was invalid on its face under the Federal Constitution. n1 Despite the nature of this judgment, JUSTICE O’CONNOR would hold that the Washington visitation statute violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment only as applied. Ante, at 6, 8, 14-15. I agree with JUSTICE SOUTER, ANTE, at 1, and n. 1 (opinion concurring in judgment), that this approach is untenable.

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n1 The State Supreme Court held that, “as written, the statutes violate the parents’ constitutionally protected interests.” In re Smith, 137 Wn.2d 1, 5, 969 P.2d 21, 23 (1998).

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The task of reviewing a trial court’s application of a state statute to the
particular facts of a case is one that should be performed in the first instance
by the state appellate courts. In this case, because of their views of the
Federal Constitution, the Washington state appeals courts have yet to decide
whether the trial court’s findings were adequate under the [*82] statute. n2
Any as-applied critique of the trial court’s judgment that this Court might
offer could only be based upon a guess about the state courts’ application of
that State’s statute, [**2069] and an independent assessment of the facts in
this case—both judgments that we are ill-suited and ill-advised to make. n3
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n2 As the dissenting judge on the state appeals court noted, “the trial court here was not presented with any guidance as to the proper test to be applied in a case such as this.” In re Troxel, 87 Wn. App. 131, 143, 940 P.2d 698, 703 (1997) (opinion of Ellington, J.). While disagreeing with the appeals court majority’s conclusion that the state statute was constitutionally infirm, Judge Ellington recognized that despite this disagreement, the appropriate result would not be simply to affirm. Rather, because there had been no definitive guidance as to the proper construction of the statute, “the findings necessary to order visitation over the objections of a parent are thus not in the record, and I would remand for further proceedings.” Ibid.
n3 Unlike JUSTICE O’CONNOR, ante, at 10-11, I find no suggestion in the trial court’s decision in this case that the court was applying any presumptions at all in its analysis, much less one in favor of the grandparents. The first excerpt JUSTICE O’CONNOR quotes from the trial court’s ruling, ante, at 10, says nothing one way or another about who bears the burden under the statute of demonstrating “best interests.” There is certainly no indication of a presumption against the parents’ judgment, only a “’commonsensical’” estimation that, usually but not always, visiting with grandparents can be good for children. Ibid. The second quotation, ante, at 11, “’I think [visitation] would be in the best interest of the children and I haven’t been shown that it is not in [the] best interest of the children,’” sounds as though the judge has simply concluded, based on the evidence before him, that visitation in this case would be in the best interests of both girls. Verbatim Report of Proceedings in In re Troxel, No. 93-3-00650-7 (Wash. Super. Ct., Dec. 14, 1994), p. 214. These statements do not provide us with a definitive assessment of the law the court applied regarding a “presumption” either way. Indeed, a different impression is conveyed by the judge’s very next comment: “That has to be balanced, of course, with Mr. and Mrs. Wynn [a.k.a. Tommie Granville], who are trying to put together a family that includes eight children, . . . trying to get all those children together at the same time and put together some sort of functional unit wherein the children can be raised as brothers and sisters and spend lots of quality time together.” Ibid. The judge then went on to reject the Troxels’ efforts to attain the same level of visitation that their son, the girls’ biological father, would have had, had he been alive. “The fact that Mr. Troxel is deceased and he was the natural parent and as much as the grandparents would maybe like to step into the shoes of Brad, under our law that is not what we can do. The grandparents cannot step into the shoes of a deceased parent, per say [sic], as far as whole gamut of visitation rights are concerned.” Id. at 215. Rather, as the judge put it, “I understand your desire to do that as loving grandparents. Unfortunately that would impact too dramatically on the children and their ability to be integrated into the nuclear unit with the mother.” Id. at 222-223.
However one understands the trial court’s decision—and my point is merely to demonstrate that it is surely open to interpretation—its validity under the state statute as written is a judgment for the state appellate courts to make in the first instance.
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While I thus agree with JUSTICE [***67] SOUTER in this respect, I do not agree with his conclusion that the State Supreme Court made a definitive construction of the visitation statute that necessitates the constitutional conclusion he would draw. n4 As I read the State Supreme Court’s opinion, In re Smith, 137 Wn.2d 1, 19-20, 969 P.2d 21, 30-31 (1998), its interpretation of the Federal Constitution made it unnecessary to adopt a definitive construction of the statutory text, or, critically, to decide whether the statute had been correctly applied in this case. In particular, the state court gave no content to the phrase, “best interest of the child,” Wash. Rev. Code § 26.10.160(3) (Supp. 1996) — content that might well be gleaned from that State’s own statutes or decisional law employing the same phrase in different contexts, [*84] and from the myriad other state statutes and court decisions at least nominally applying the same standard. n5 Thus, [**2070] I believe that JUSTICE SOUTER’s conclusion that the statute unconstitutionally imbues state trial [***68] court judges with “’too much discretion in every case,’” ante, at 4, n. 3 (opinion concurring in judgment) (quoting Chicago v. Morales, 527 U.S. 41, 71, 144 L. Ed. 2d 67, 119 S. Ct. 1849 (1999) (BREYER, J., concurring)), is premature.

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n4 JUSTICE SOUTER would conclude from the state court’s statement that the statute “does not require the petitioner to establish that he or she has a substantial relationship with the child,” In re Smith, 137 Wn.2d 1, 21, 969 P.2d 21, 31 (1998), that the state court has “authoritatively read [the ‘best interests’] provision as placing hardly any limit on a court’s discretion to award visitation rights,” ante, at 3 (SOUTER, J., concurring in judgment). Apart from the question whether one can deem this description of the statute an “authoritative” construction, it seems to me exceedingly unlikely that the state court held the statute unconstitutional because it believed that the “best interests” standard imposes “hardly any limit” on courts’ discretion. See n. 5, infra.
n5 The phrase “best interests of the child” appears in no less than 10 current Washington state statutory provisions governing determinations from guardianship to termination to custody to adoption. See, e.g., Wash. Rev. Code § 26.09.240 (6) (Supp. 1996) (amended version of visitation statute enumerating eight factors courts may consider in evaluating a child’s best interests); § 26.09.002 (in cases of parental separation or divorce “best interests of the child are served by a parenting arrangement that best maintains a child’s emotional growth, health and stability, and physical care”; “best interest of the child is ordinarily served when the existing pattern of interaction between a parent and child is altered only to the extent necessitated by the changed relationship of the parents or as required to protect the child from physical, mental, or emotional harm”); § 26.10.100 (“The court shall determine custody in accordance with the best interests of the child”). Indeed, the Washington state courts have invoked the standard on numerous occasions in applying these statutory provisions—just as if the phrase had quite specific and apparent meaning. See, e.g., In re McDole, 122 Wn.2d 604, 859 P.2d 1239 (1993) (upholding trial court “best interest” assessment in custody dispute); McDaniels v. Carlson , 108 Wn.2d 299, 310, 738 P.2d 254, 261 (1987) (elucidating “best interests” standard in paternity suit context). More broadly, a search of current state custody and visitation laws reveals fully 698 separate references to the “best interest of the child” standard, a number that, at a minimum, should give the Court some pause before it upholds a decision implying that those words, on their face, may be too boundless to pass muster under the Federal Constitution.

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We are thus presented with the unconstrued terms of a state statute and a State Supreme Court opinion that, in my view, significantly misstates the effect of the Federal Constitution upon any construction of that statute. Given that posture, I believe the Court should identify and correct the two flaws in the reasoning of the state court’s majority opinion, [*85] and remand for further review of the trial court’s disposition of this specific case.

II

In my view, the State Supreme Court erred in its federal constitutional analysis because neither the provision granting “any person” the right to petition the court for visitation, 137 Wn.2d at 20, 969 P.2d at 30, nor the absence of a provision requiring a “threshold . . . finding of harm to the child,” ibid., provides a sufficient basis for holding that the statute is invalid in all its applications. I believe that a facial challenge should fail whenever a statute has “a ‘plainly legitimate sweep,’” Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 739-740, 138 L. Ed. 2d 772, 117 S. Ct. 2258 and n. 7 (1997) (STEVENS, J., concurring in judgment). n6 Under the Washington statute, there are plainly any number of cases—indeed, one suspects, the most common to arise—in which the “person” among “any” seeking visitation is a once-custodial caregiver, an intimate relation, or even a genetic parent. Even the Court would seem to agree that in many circumstances, it would be constitutionally permissible for a court to award some visitation of a child to a parent or previous caregiver in cases of parental separation or divorce, cases of disputed custody, cases involving temporary foster care or guardianship, and so forth. As the statute plainly sweeps in a great deal of the permissible, the State Supreme Court majority incorrectly concluded that a statute authorizing “any person” to file a petition seeking visitation privileges would invariably run afoul of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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n6 It necessarily follows that under the far more stringent demands suggested by the majority in United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 745, 95 L. Ed. 2d 697, 107 S. Ct. 2095 (1987) (plaintiff seeking facial invalidation “must establish that no set of circumstances exists under which the Act would be valid”), respondent’s facial challenge must fail.

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The second key aspect of the Washington Supreme Court’s holding—that the Federal Constitution requires a showing of actual or potential “harm” to the child before a court may [*86] order visitation continued over a parent’s objections—finds no support in this Court’s case law. [***69] While, as [**2071] the Court recognizes, the Federal Constitution certainly protects the parent-child relationship from arbitrary impairment by the State, see infra, at 7-8 we have never held that the parent’s liberty interest in this relationship is so inflexible as to establish a rigid constitutional shield, protecting every arbitrary parental decision from any challenge absent a threshold finding of harm. n7 The presumption that parental decisions generally serve the best interests of their children is sound, and clearly in the normal case the parent’s interest is paramount. But even a fit parent is capable of treating a child like a mere possession.

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n7 The suggestion by JUSTICE THOMAS that this case may be resolved solely with reference to our decision in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 535, 69 L. Ed. 1070, 45 S. Ct. 571 (1925), is unpersuasive. Pierce involved a parent’s choice whether to send a child to public or private school. While that case is a source of broad language about the scope of parents’ due process rights with respect to their children, the constitutional principles and interests involved in the schooling context do not necessarily have parallel implications in this family law visitation context, in which multiple overlapping and competing prerogatives of various plausibly interested parties are at stake.

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Cases like this do not present a bipolar struggle between the parents and the State over who has final authority to determine what is in a child’s best interests. There is at a minimum a third individual, whose interests are implicated in every case to which the statute applies—the child.
It has become standard practice in our substantive due process jurisprudence to begin our analysis with an identification of the “fundamental” liberty interests implicated by the challenged state action. See, e.g., ante, at 6-8 (opinion of O’CONNOR, J.); Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 138 L. Ed. 2d 772, 117 S. Ct. 2258 (1997); Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 120 L. Ed. 2d 674, 112 S. Ct. 2791 (1992). My colleagues are of course correct to recognize that the right of a parent to maintain a relationship with his or her child is among the interests included [*87] most often in the constellation of liberties protected through the Fourteenth Amendment. Ante, at 6-8 (opinion of O’CONNOR, J.). Our cases leave no doubt that parents have a fundamental liberty interest in caring for and guiding their children, and a corresponding privacy interest—absent exceptional circumstances—in doing so without the undue interference of strangers to them and to their child. Moreover, and critical in this case, our cases applying this principle have explained that with this constitutional liberty comes a presumption (albeit a rebuttable one) that “natural bonds of affection lead parents to act in the best interests of their children.” Parham v. J. R., 442 U.S. 584, 602, 61 L. Ed. 2d 101, 99 S. Ct. 2493 (1979); see also Casey, 505 U.S. at 895; Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 759, 71 L. Ed. 2d 599, 102 S. Ct. 1388 (1982) (State may not presume, at factfinding stage of parental rights termination proceeding, that interests of parent and child diverge); see also ante, at 9-10 (opinion of O’CONNOR, J.).
Despite this Court’s repeated recognition of these significant parental liberty interests, these interests have never been seen to be without limits. In Lehr v. Robertson, 463 U.S. 248, 77 L. Ed. 2d 614, 103 S. Ct. 2985 (1983), [***70] for example, this Court held that a putative biological father who had never established an actual relationship with his child did not have a constitutional right to notice of his child’s adoption by the man who had married the child’s mother. As this Court had recognized in an earlier case, a parent’s liberty interests “’do not spring full-blown from the biological connection between parent and child. They require relationships more enduring.’” 463 U.S. at 260 (quoting Caban v. Mohammed, 441 U.S. 380, 397, 60 L. Ed. 2d 297, 99 S. Ct. 1760 (1979)). [**2072]
Conversely, in Michael H. v. Gerald D., 491 U.S. 110, 105 L. Ed. 2d 91, 109 S. Ct. 2333 (1989), this Court concluded that despite both biological parenthood and an established relationship with a young child, a father’s due process liberty interest in maintaining some connection with that child was not sufficiently powerful to overcome a state statutory presumption that the husband of the child’s mother was the child’s parent. As a result of the [*88] presumption, the biological father could be denied even visitation with the child because, as a matter of state law, he was not a “parent.” A plurality of this Court there recognized that the parental liberty interest was a function, not simply of “isolated factors” such as biology and intimate connection, but of the broader and apparently independent interest in family. See, e.g., 491 U.S. at 123; see also Lehr, 463 U.S. at 261; Smith v. Organization of Foster Families For Equality & Reform, 431 U.S. 816, 842-847, 53 L. Ed. 2d 14, 97 S. Ct. 2094 (1977); Moore v. East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494, 498-504, 52 L. Ed. 2d 531, 97 S. Ct. 1932 (1977).
A parent’s rights with respect to her child have thus never been regarded as absolute, but rather are limited by the existence of an actual, developed relationship with a child, and are tied to the presence or absence of some embodiment of family. These limitations have arisen, not simply out of the definition of parenthood itself, but because of this Court’s assumption that a parent’s interests in a child must be balanced against the State’s long-recognized interests as parens patriae, see, e.g., Reno v. Flores, 507 U.S. 292, 303-304, 123 L. Ed. 2d 1, 113 S. Ct. 1439 (1993); Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. at 766; Parham, 442 U.S. at 605; Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166, 88 L. Ed. 645, 64 S. Ct. 438 (1944), and, critically, the child’s own complementary interest in preserving relationships that serve her welfare and protection, Santosky, 455 U.S. at 760.
While this Court has not yet had occasion to elucidate the nature of a
child’s liberty interests in preserving established familial or family-like
bonds, 491 U.S. at 130 (reserving the question), it seems to me extremely
likely that, to the extent parents and families have fundamental liberty
interests in preserving such intimate relationships, so, too, do children have
these interests, and so, too, must their interests be balanced in the equation.
n8 At a minimum, our [***71] prior cases recognizing [*89] that children
are, generally speaking, constitutionally protected actors require that this
Court reject any suggestion that when it comes to parental rights, children are
so much chattel. See ante, at 5-6 (opinion of O’CONNOR, J.) (describing States’
recognition of “an independent third-party interest in a child”). The
constitutional protection against arbitrary state interference with parental
rights should not be extended to prevent the States from protecting children
against the arbitrary exercise of parental authority that is not in fact
motivated by an interest in the welfare of the child. n9
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n8 This Court has on numerous occasions acknowledged that children are in many circumstances possessed of constitutionally protected rights and liberties. See Parham v. J. R., 442 U.S. 584, 600, 61 L. Ed. 2d 101, 99 S. Ct. 2493 (1979) (liberty interest in avoiding involuntary confinement); Planned Parenthood of Central Mo. v. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52, 74, 49 L. Ed. 2d 788, 96 S. Ct. 2831 (1976) (“Constitutional rights do not mature and come into being magically only when one attains the state-defined age of majority. Minors, as well as adults, are protected by the Constitution and possess constitutional rights”); Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 506-507, 21 L. Ed. 2d 731, 89 S. Ct. 733 (1969) (First Amendment right to political speech); In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 13, 18 L. Ed. 2d 527, 87 S. Ct. 1428 (1967) (due process rights in criminal proceedings).
n9 Cf., e.g., Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 241-246, 32 L. Ed. 2d 15, 92 S. Ct. 1526 (1972) (Douglas, J., dissenting) (“While the parents, absent dissent, normally speak for the entire family, the education of the child is a matter on which the child will often have decided views. He may want to be a pianist or an astronaut or an oceanographer. To do so he will have to break from the Amish tradition. It is the future of the student, not the future of the parents, that is imperiled by today’s decision. If a parent keeps his child out of school beyond the grade school, then the child will be forever barred from entry into the new and amazing world of diversity that we have today . . . . It is the student’s judgment, not his parents’, that is essential if we are to give full meaning to what we have said about the Bill of Rights and of the right of students to be masters of their own destiny.”). The majority’s disagreement with Justice Douglas in that case turned not on any contrary view of children’s interest in their own education, but on the impact of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment on its analysis of school-related decisions by the Amish community.
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This is not, of course, to suggest that a child’s liberty interest in maintaining contact with a particular individual is to be treated invariably as on a par with that child’s parents’ contrary interests. Because our substantive due process case law includes a strong presumption that a parent will act [*90] in the best interest of her child, it would be necessary, were the state appellate courts actually to confront a challenge to the statute as applied, to consider whether the trial court’s assessment of the “best interest of the child” incorporated that presumption. Neither would I decide whether the trial court applied Washington’s statute in a constitutional way in this case, although, as I have explained, n. 3, supra, I think the outcome of this determination is far from clear. For the purpose of a facial challenge like this, I think it safe to assume that trial judges usually give great deference to parents’ wishes, and I am not persuaded otherwise here.
But presumptions notwithstanding, we should recognize that there may be circumstances in which a child has a stronger interest at stake than mere protection from serious harm caused by the termination of visitation by a “person” other than a parent. The almost infinite variety of family relationships that pervade our ever-changing society strongly counsel against the creation by this Court of a constitutional rule that treats a biological parent’s liberty interest in the care and supervision of her child as an isolated right that may be exercised arbitrarily. It is indisputably the business of the States, rather than a federal court employing a national standard, to assess in [***72] the first instance the relative importance of the conflicting interests that give rise to disputes such as this. n10 Far from guaranteeing that [*91] parents’ interests will be trammeled in the sweep of cases arising under the statute, the Washington law merely gives an individual — with whom a child may have an established relationship—the procedural right to ask the State to act as arbiter, through the entirely well-known best-interests standard, between the parent’s protected interests and the child’s. [**2074] It seems clear to me that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment leaves room for States to consider the impact on a child of possibly arbitrary parental decisions that neither serve nor are motivated by the best interests of the child.

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n10 See Palmore v. Sidoti, 466 U.S. 429, 431, 80 L. Ed. 2d 421, 104 S. Ct.
1879 (1984) (“The judgment of a state court determining or reviewing a child custody decision is not ordinarily a likely candidate for review by this Court”); cf. Collins v. City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115, 128, 117 L. Ed. 2d 261, 112 S. Ct. 1061 (1992) (matters involving competing and multifaceted social and policy decisions best left to local decisionmaking); Regents of the University of Michigan v. Ewing, 474 U.S. 214, 226, 88 L. Ed. 2d 523, 106 S. Ct. 507 (1985) (emphasizing “our reluctance to trench on the prerogatives of state and local educational institutions” as federal courts are ill-suited to “evaluate the substance of the multitude of academic decisions that are made daily by” experts in the field evaluating cumulative information”). That caution is never more essential than in the realm of family and intimate relations. In part, this principle is based on long-established, if somewhat arbitrary, tradition in allocating responsibility for resolving disputes of various kinds in our federal system. Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 119 L. Ed. 2d 468, 112 S. Ct. 2206 (1992). But the instinct against over-regularizing decisions about personal relations is sustained on firmer ground than mere tradition. It flows in equal part from the premise that people and their intimate associations are complex and particular, and imposing a rigid template upon them all risks severing bonds our society would do well to preserve.

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Accordingly, I respectfully dissent.
JUSTICE SCALIA, dissenting.
In my view, a right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children is among the “unalienable Rights” with which the Declaration of Independence proclaims “all Men . . . are endowed by their Creator.” And in my view that right is also among the “other [rights] retained by the people” which the Ninth Amendment says the Constitution’s enumeration of rights “shall not be construed to deny or disparage.” The Declaration of Independence, however, is not a legal prescription conferring powers upon the courts; and the Constitution’s refusal to “deny or disparage” other rights is far removed from affirming any one of them, and even farther removed from authorizing judges to identify what they might be, and to enforce the judges’ list against laws duly enacted by the people. Consequently, while I would think it entirely compatible with the commitment to representative [*92] democracy set forth in the founding documents to argue, in legislative chambers or in electoral campaigns, that the state has no power to interfere with parents’ authority over the rearing of their children, I do not believe that the power which the Constitution confers upon me as a judge entitles me to deny legal effect to laws that (in my view) infringe upon what is (in my view) that unenumerated right.
Only three holdings of this Court rest in whole or in part upon a substantive constitutional right of parents to direct the upbringing of their [***73] children n1 — two of them from an era rich in substantive due process holdings that have since been repudiated. See Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399, 401, 67 L. Ed. 1042, 43 S. Ct. 625 (1923); Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-535, 69 L. Ed. 1070, 45 S. Ct. 571 (1925); Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 232-233, 32 L. Ed. 2d 15, 92 S. Ct. 1526 (1972). Cf. West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379, 81 L. Ed. 703, 57 S. Ct. 578 (1937) (overruling Adkins v. Children’s Hospital of D. C., 261 U.S. 525, 67 L. Ed. 785, 43 S. Ct. 394 (1923)). The sheer diversity of today’s opinions persuades me that the theory of unenumerated parental rights underlying these three cases has small claim to stare decisis protection. A legal principle that can be thought to produce such diverse outcomes in the relatively simple case before us here is not a legal principle that has induced substantial reliance. While I would not now overrule those earlier cases (that has not been urged), neither would I extend the theory upon which they rested to this new context.

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n1 Whether parental rights constitute a “liberty” interest for purposes of procedural due process is a somewhat different question not implicated here. Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 31 L. Ed. 2d 551, 92 S. Ct. 1208 (1972), purports to rest in part upon that proposition, see 405 U.S. at 651-652; but see Michael H. v. Gerald D., 491 U.S. 110, 120-121, 105 L. Ed. 2d 91, 109 S. Ct. 2333 (1989) (plurality opinion), though the holding is independently supported on equal protection grounds, see Stanley, supra, at 658.

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Judicial vindication of “parental rights” under a Constitution that does not
even mention them requires (as JUSTICE KENNEDY’s opinion rightly points out) not
only a judicially crafted definition of parents, but also—unless, as no one
believes, [*93] the parental rights are to be absolute—judicially approved
assessments of “harm to the child” and judicially defined gradations of other
persons (grandparents, extended family, adoptive family in an adoption later
found to be invalid, long-term guardians, etc.) who may have some claim against
the wishes of the parents. If we [**2075] embrace this unenumerated right, I
think it obvious—whether we affirm or reverse the judgment here, or remand as
JUSTICE STEVENS or JUSTICE KENNEDY would do—that we will be ushering in a new
regime of judicially prescribed, and federally prescribed, family law. I have no
reason to believe that federal judges will be better at this than state
legislatures; and state legislatures have the great advantages of doing harm in
a more circumscribed area, of being able to correct their mistakes in a flash,
and of being removable by the people. n2
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
n2 I note that respondent is asserting only, on her own behalf, a substantive due process right to direct the upbringing of her own children, and is not asserting, on behalf of her children, their First Amendment rights of association or free exercise. I therefore do not have occasion to consider whether, and under what circumstances, the parent could assert the latter enumerated rights.

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For these reasons, I would reverse the judgment below.
JUSTICE KENNEDY, dissenting.
The Supreme Court of Washington has determined that petitioners Jenifer and Gary Troxel have standing under state law to seek court-ordered visitation with their grandchildren, notwithstanding the objections of the children’s parent, respondent Tommie Granville. The statute relied upon provides:
“Any person may petition the court for visitation rights at any time including, but not limited to, custody [***74] proceedings. The court may order visitation rights for any person when visitation may serve the best interest of the child whether or not there has been any change of circumstances.” Wash. Rev. Code § 26.10.160(3) (1994). [*94]
After acknowledging this statutory right to sue for visitation, the State Supreme Court invalidated the statute as violative of the United States Constitution, because it interfered with a parent’s right to raise his or her child free from unwarranted interference. In re Smith, 137 Wn.2d 1, 969 P.2d 21 (1998). Although parts of the court’s decision may be open to differing interpretations, it seems to be agreed that the court invalidated the statute on its face, ruling it a nullity.
The first flaw the State Supreme Court found in the statute is that it allows an award of visitation to a non-parent without a finding that harm to the child would result if visitation were withheld; and the second is that the statute allows any person to seek visitation at any time. In my view the first theory is too broad to be correct, as it appears to contemplate that the best interests of the child standard may not be applied in any visitation case. I acknowledge the distinct possibility that visitation cases may arise where, considering the absence of other protection for the parent under state laws and procedures, the best interests of the child standard would give insufficient protection to the parent’s constitutional right to raise the child without undue intervention by the state; but it is quite a different matter to say, as I understand the Supreme Court of Washington to have said, that a harm to the child standard is required in every instance.
Given the error I see in the State Supreme Court’s central conclusion that the best interests of the child standard is never appropriate in third-party visitation cases, that court should have the first opportunity to reconsider this case. I would remand the case to the state court for further proceedings. If it then found the statute has been applied in an unconstitutional manner because the best interests of the child standard gives insufficient protection to a parent under the circumstances of this case, or if it again declared the statute a nullity because the statute seems to allow any person [*95] at all to seek visitation at any time, the decision would present other issues which may or may not warrant further review in this Court. These include not only the protection the [**2076] Constitution gives parents against state-ordered visitation but also the extent to which federal rules for facial challenges to statutes control in state courts. These matters, however, should await some further case. The judgment now under review should be vacated and remanded on the sole ground that the harm ruling that was so central to the Supreme Court of Washington’s decision was error, given its broad formulation.
Turning to the question whether harm to the child must be the controlling standard in every visitation proceeding, there is a beginning point that commands general, perhaps unanimous, agreement in our separate opinions: As our case law has developed, the custodial parent has a constitutional right to determine, without undue interference by the state, how best to raise, nurture, and educate the child. The parental right stems from the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See, e.g., Meyer [***75] v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399, 401, 67 L. Ed. 1042, 43 S. Ct. 625 (1923);
Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-535, 69 L. Ed. 1070, 45 S. Ct.
571 (1925); Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166, 88 L. Ed. 645, 64 S. Ct.
438 (1944); Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 651-652, 31 L. Ed. 2d 551, 92 S. Ct. 1208 (1972); Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 232-233, 32 L. Ed. 2d 15, 92 S. Ct. 1526 (1972); Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 753-754, 71 L. Ed. 2d 599, 102 S. Ct. 1388 (1982). Pierce and Meyer, had they been decided in recent times, may well have been grounded upon First Amendment principles protecting freedom of speech, belief, and religion. Their formulation and subsequent interpretation have been quite different, of course; and they long have been interpreted to have found in Fourteenth Amendment concepts of liberty an independent right of the parent in the “custody, care and nurture of the child,” free from state intervention. Prince, supra, at 166. The principle exists, then, in broad formulation; yet courts must use considerable restraint, including careful adherence to the incremental instruction [*96] given by the precise facts of particular cases, as they seek to give further and more precise definition to the right.
The State Supreme Court sought to give content to the parent’s right by announcing a categorical rule that third parties who seek visitation must always prove the denial of visitation would harm the child. After reviewing some of the relevant precedents, the Supreme Court of Washington concluded “’the requirement of harm is the sole protection that parents have against pervasive state interference in the parenting process.’” In re Smith, 137 Wn.2d at 19-20, 969 P.2d at 30 (quoting Hawk v. Hawk, 855 S.W.2d 573, 580 (Tenn. 1993)). For that reason, “short of preventing harm to the child,” the court considered the best interests of the child to be “insufficient to serve as a compelling state interest overruling a parent’s fundamental rights.” In re Smith, supra, at 20, 969 P.2d at 30.
While it might be argued as an abstract matter that in some sense the child is always harmed if his or her best interests are not considered, the law of domestic relations, as it has evolved to this point, treats as distinct the two standards, one harm to the child and the other the best interests of the child. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Washington rests on that assumption, and I, too, shall assume that there are real and consequential differences between the two standards.
On the question whether one standard must always take precedence over the other in order to protect the right of the parent or parents, “our Nation’s history, legal traditions, and practices” do not give us clear or definitive answers. Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 721, 138 L. Ed. 2d 772, 117 S. Ct. 2258 (1997). The consensus among courts and commentators is that at least through the 19th century there was no legal right of visitation; court-ordered visitation appears to be a 20th-century phenomenon. [**2077] See, e.g., 1 D. Kramer, Legal Rights of Children 124, 136 (2d ed. 1994); 2 J. Atkinson, Modern [*97] Child Custody Practice § 8.10 (1986). A case often cited as one of the earliest visitation decisions, Succession of Reiss, 46 La. Ann. 347, 353, 15 So. 151, 152 (1894), explained that “the obligation ordinarily to visit grandparents is moral and not legal” [***76] — a conclusion which appears consistent with that of American common law jurisdictions of the time. Early 20th-century exceptions did occur, often in cases where a relative had acted in a parental capacity, or where one of a child’s parents had died. See Douglass v. Merriman, 163 S.C. 210, 161 S.E. 452 (1931) (maternal grandparent awarded visitation with child when custody was awarded to father; mother had died); Solomon v. Solomon, 319 Ill. App. 618, 49 N.E.2d 807 (1943) (paternal grandparents could be given visitation with child in custody of his mother when their son was stationed abroad; case remanded for fitness hearing); Consaul v. Consaul, 63 N.Y.S.2d 688 (Sup. Ct. Jefferson Cty. 1946) (paternal grandparents awarded visitation with child in custody of his mother; father had become incompetent). As a general matter, however, contemporary state-court decisions acknowledge that “historically, grandparents had no legal right of visitation,” Campbell v. Campbell, 896 P.2d 635, 642, n. 15 (Utah App. 1995), and it is safe to assume other third parties would have fared no better in court.
To say that third parties have had no historical right to petition for visitation does not necessarily imply, as the Supreme Court of Washington concluded, that a parent has a constitutional right to prevent visitation in all cases not involving harm. True, this Court has acknowledged that States have the authority to intervene to prevent harm to children, see, e.g., Prince, 321 U.S. at 168-169; Yoder, 406 U.S. at 233-234, but that is not the same as saying that a heightened harm to the child standard must be satisfied in every case in which a third party seeks a visitation order. It is also true that the law’s traditional presumption has been “that natural bonds of affection lead parents to act in the [*98] best interests of their children,” Parham v. J. R., 442 U.S. 584, 602, 61 L. Ed. 2d 101, 99 S. Ct. 2493 (1979); and “simply because the decision of a parent is not agreeable to a child or because it involves risks does not automatically transfer the power to make that decision from the parents to some agency or officer of the state,” 442 U.S. at 603. The State Supreme Court’s conclusion that the Constitution forbids the application of the best interests of the child standard in any visitation proceeding, however, appears to rest upon assumptions the Constitution does not require.
My principal concern is that the holding seems to proceed from the assumption that the parent or parents who resist visitation have always been the child’s primary caregivers and that the third parties who seek visitation have no legitimate and established relationship with the child. That idea, in turn, appears influenced by the concept that the conventional nuclear family ought to establish the visitation standard for every domestic relations case. As we all know, this is simply not the structure or prevailing condition in many households. See, e.g., Moore v. East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494, 52 L. Ed. 2d 531, 97 S. Ct. 1932 (1977). For many boys and girls a traditional family with two or even one permanent and caring parent is simply not the reality of their childhood. This may be so whether their childhood has been marked by tragedy or filled with considerable happiness and fulfillment.
Cases are sure to arise—perhaps a [***77] substantial number of cases— in which a third party, by acting in a caregiving role over a significant period of time, has developed a relationship with a child which is not necessarily subject to absolute parental veto. See Michael H. v. Gerald D., 491 U.S. 110, 105 L. Ed. 2d 91, 109 S. Ct. 2333 (1989) (putative natural father not entitled to rebut state law presumption that child born in a [**2078] marriage is a child of the marriage); Quilloin v. Walcott, 434 U.S. 246, 54 L. Ed. 2d 511, 98 S. Ct. 549 (1978) (best interests standard sufficient in adoption proceeding to protect interests of natural father who had not legitimated the child); see also Lehr v. Robertson, 463 U.S. 248, 261, 77 L. Ed. 2d 614, 103 S. Ct. 2985 (1983) (“’The importance of the familial relationship, to the individuals involved [*99] and to the society, stems from the emotional attachments that derive from the intimacy of daily association, and from the role it plays in ‘promoting a way of life’ through the instruction of children . . . as well as from the fact of blood relationship.’” (quoting Smith v. Organization of Foster Families For Equality & Reform, 431 U.S. 816, 844, 53 L. Ed. 2d 14, 97 S. Ct. 2094 (1977) (in turn quoting Yoder, 406 U.S. at 231-233))). Some pre-existing relationships, then, serve to identify persons who have a strong attachment to the child with the concomitant motivation to act in a responsible way to ensure the child’s welfare. As the State Supreme Court was correct to acknowledge, those relationships can be so enduring that “in certain circumstances where a child has enjoyed a substantial relationship with a third person, arbitrarily depriving the child of the relationship could cause severe psychological harm to the child,” In re Smith, 137 Wn.2d at 20, 969 P.2d at 30; and harm to the adult may also ensue. In the design and elaboration of their visitation laws, States may be entitled to consider that certain relationships are such that to avoid the risk of harm, a best interests standard can be employed by their domestic relations courts in some circumstances.
Indeed, contemporary practice should give us some pause before rejecting the best interests of the child standard in all third-party visitation cases, as the Washington court has done. The standard has been recognized for many years as a basic tool of domestic relations law in visitation proceedings. Since 1965 all 50 States have enacted a third-party visitation statute of some sort. See ante, at 15, n. (plurality opinion). Each of these statutes, save one, permits a court order to issue in certain cases if visitation is found to be in the best interests of the child. While it is unnecessary for us to consider the constitutionality of any particular provision in the case now before us, it can be noted that the statutes also include a variety of methods for limiting parents’ exposure to third-party visitation petitions and for ensuring parental decisions are given respect. Many States [*100] limit the identity of permissible petitioners by restricting visitation petitions to grandparents, or by requiring petitioners to show a substantial relationship with a child, or both. See, e.g., Kan. Stat. Ann. § 38-129 (1993 and Supp. 1998) (grandparent visitation authorized under certain circumstances if a substantial relationship exists); N. C. Gen. Stat. §§ 50-13.2, 50-13. 2 A. 50-13.5 (1999) (same); Iowa Code § 598.35 (Supp. 1999) (same; visitation also authorized for great-grandparents); Wis. Stat. § 767.245 [***78] (Supp. 1999) (visitation authorized under certain circumstances for “a grandparent, greatgrandparent, stepparent or person who has maintained a relationship similar to a parent-child relationship with the child”). The statutes vary in other respects—for instance, some permit visitation petitions when there has been a change in circumstances such as divorce or death of a parent, see, e.g., N. H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 458:17-d (1992), and some apply a presumption that parental decisions should control, see, e.g., Cal. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 3104(e)-(f) (West 1994); R. I. Gen. Laws § 15-5-24.3(a)(2)(v) (Supp. 1999). Georgia’s is the sole State Legislature to have adopted a general harm to the child standard, see Ga. Code Ann. § 19-7-3(c) (1999), and it did so only after the Georgia Supreme Court held the State’s prior visitation statute invalid under the Federal and Georgia Constitutions, see Brooks v. Parkerson, 265 Ga. 189, 454 S.E.2d 769, cert. denied, 516 U.S. 942, 133 L. Ed. 2d 301, 116 S. Ct. 377 (1995). [**2079] [***LEdHR2B] [2B] In light of the inconclusive historical record and case law, as well as the almost universal adoption of the best interests standard for visitation disputes, I would be hard pressed to conclude the right to be free of such review in all cases is itself “’implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.’” Glucksberg, 521 U.S. at 721 (quoting Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319, 325, 82 L. Ed. 288, 58 S. Ct. 149 (1937)). In my view, it would be more appropriate to conclude that the constitutionality of the application of the best interests standard depends on more specific factors. In short, a fit parent’s right vis-a-vis a complete [*101] stranger is one thing; her right vis-a-vis another parent or a de facto parent may be another. The protection the Constitution requires, then, must be elaborated with care, using the discipline and instruction of the case law system. We must keep in mind that family courts in the 50 States confront these factual variations each day, and are best situated to consider the unpredictable, yet inevitable, issues that arise. Cf. Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 703-704, 119 L. Ed. 2d 468, 112 S. Ct.
2206 (1992).
It must be recognized, of course, that a domestic relations proceeding in and of itself can constitute state intervention that is so disruptive of the parent-child relationship that the constitutional right of a custodial parent to make certain basic determinations for the child’s welfare becomes implicated. The best interests of the child standard has at times been criticized as indeterminate, leading to unpredictable results. See, e.g., American Law Institute, Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution 2, and n. 2 (Tentative Draft No. 3, Mar. 20, 1998). If a single parent who is struggling to raise a child is faced with visitation demands from a third party, the attorney’s fees alone might destroy her hopes and plans for the child’s future. Our system must confront more often the reality that litigation can itself be so disruptive that constitutional protection may be required; and I do not discount the possibility that in some instances the best interests of the child standard may provide insufficient protection to the parent-child relationship. We owe it to the Nation’s domestic relations legal structure, however, to proceed with caution.
It should suffice in this case to reverse the holding of the State Supreme Court that the application of [***79] the best interests of the child standard is always unconstitutional in third-party visitation cases. Whether, under the circumstances of this case, the order requiring visitation over the objection of this fit parent violated the Constitution ought to be reserved for further proceedings. Because of its sweeping ruling requiring [*102] the harm to the child standard, the Supreme Court of Washington did not have the occasion to address the specific visitation order the Troxels obtained. More specific guidance should await a case in which a State’s highest court has considered all of the facts in the course of elaborating the protection afforded to parents by the laws of the State and by the Constitution itself. Furthermore, in my view, we need not address whether, under the correct constitutional standards, the Washington statute can be invalidated on its face. This question, too, ought to be addressed by the state court in the first instance.
In my view the judgment under review should be vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings.
REFERENCES: Return To Full Text Opinion
Go to Supreme Court Brief(s)
Go to Oral Argument Transcript
16A Am Jur 2d, Constitutional Law 575
USCS, Constitution, Amendment 14
L Ed Digest, Constitutional Law 528.5
L Ed Index, Children and Minors; Visits and Visitation
Annotation References:
Supreme Court’s views as to concept of “liberty” under due process clauses of Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. 47 L Ed 2d 975.