Patti J. Roberts and David Roberts, Plaintiffs-Appellants-Petitioners, v. T.H.E. Insurance Company, Sundog Ballooning, LLC, Kerry M. Hanson and Jodi L. Hanson, Defendants-Respondents, Dean Health Plan, Inc., Defendant.
SUPREME COURT OF WISCONSIN
2016 WI 20; 2016 Wisc. LEXIS 121
December 15, 2015, Oral Argument
March 30, 2016, Filed
THIS OPINION IS SUBJECT TO FURTHER EDITING AND MODIFICATION. THE FINAL VERSION WILL APPEAR IN THE BOUND VOLUME OF THE OFFICIAL REPORTS.
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] REVIEW of a decision of the Court of Appeals. COURT: Circuit. COUNTY: Dodge. JUDGE: Joseph G. Sciascia. (L.C. No. 2013CV391).
Roberts v. T.H.E. Ins. Co., 2015 WI App 37, 363 Wis. 2d 656, 2015 Wisc. App. LEXIS 229 (2015)
DISPOSITION: Reversed and cause remanded.
COUNSEL: For the plaintiffs-appellants-petitioners, there were briefs by Timothy S. Knurr and Gruber Law Offices, LLC, Milwaukee and oral argument by Timothy S. Knurr.
For the defendants-respondents, there was a brief by Ward I. Richter, David G. Ress and Bell, Moore & Richter, S.C., Madison, WI and oral argument by David G. Ress.
JUDGES: ANN WALSH BRADLEY, J. ANNETTE KINGSLAND ZIEGLER, J. (concurring). DAVID T. PROSSER, J. (concurring in part; dissenting in part). REBECCA G. BRADLEY, J. (dissenting).
OPINION BY: ANN WALSH BRADLEY
[*P1] ANN WALSH BRADLEY, J. Petitioners, Patti and David Roberts, seek review of an unpublished court of appeals decision that affirmed the circuit court’s order for summary judgment, dismissing their claims.1 The court of appeals determined that Wisconsin’s recreational immunity statute barred the petitioners’ claims because Patti Roberts was engaged in the recreational activity of hot air ballooning at the time she was injured.2
1 Roberts v. T.H.E. Ins. Co., No. 2014AP1508, 2015 WI App 37, 363 Wis. 2d 656, unpublished slip op., (Wis. Ct. App. Mar. 26, 2015) (affirming order of summary [**2] judgment entered by the circuit court for Dodge County, Joseph G. Sciascia, J., presiding).
2 Although Patti’s husband, David Roberts, is also a petitioner, we will refer to Patti Roberts as the lone petitioner for ease of discussion.
[*P2] Roberts argues that the respondents, Sundog Ballooning, LLC, Kerry Hanson, Jodi Hanson, and T.H.E. Insurance Company (collectively “Sundog”) are not entitled to immunity pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 895.52 because Sundog was not an owner under the statute. She contends that Sundog was neither an “occupier” of the land nor was the hot air balloon “property.”3
3 All subsequent references to the Wisconsin Statutes are to the 2013-14 version unless otherwise indicated.
[*P3] In reply, Sundog asserts that even if it were not entitled to immunity under Wis. Stat. § 895.52, Roberts’ claims are barred because she signed a waiver of liability form.
[*P4] We conclude that Sundog is not entitled to recreational immunity pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 895.52 because it is not an owner under the statute. Sundog was not an “occupier” of the land and the hot air balloon was not “property” because it was not a “structure.”4 Finally, we determine that Sundog’s waiver of liability form violates public policy and is unenforceable as a matter of law. Accordingly, [**3] we reverse the court of appeals and remand to the circuit court for further proceedings.
4 Roberts also argues that Sundog is not entitled to immunity under Wis. Stat. § 895.52 because Sundog’s negligence was not associated with a condition of the land. We need not reach this argument because we conclude that Sundog was not an owner under the statute. The issue of whether a party’s negligence is associated with a condition of the land applies only if that party is an owner under the statute. See, e.g., Linville v. City of Janesville, 184 Wis. 2d 705, 719, 516 N.W.2d 427 (1994); see also Kosky v. Int’l Ass’n of Lions Clubs, 210 Wis. 2d 463, 475, 565 N.W.2d 260 (Ct. App. 1997).
[*P5] The relevant facts of this case are undisputed. Patti J. Roberts was injured at a charity event sponsored by Green Valley Enterprises (“Green Valley”). Beaver Dam Conservationists, LLC (“the Conservationists”) owned the shooting range where the charity event was held.
[*P6] Sundog Ballooning, LLC was the owner and operator of a hot air balloon providing tethered rides at the event. Kerry and Jodi Hanson, the owners of Sundog, donated hot air balloon rides to promote Green Valley’s charity event.
[*P7] On the day of the event, Sundog set up a display, a sign-up table and a waiting area for the ride. The hot air balloon was tethered to two trees and a pick-up truck. During rides, the balloon operator raised [**4] the balloon to the length of the ropes and then lowered it back to the ground.
[*P8] Patti Roberts and her family watched the balloon rides and then entered the line to take a ride. While in line, Sundog gave Roberts a waiver of liability form that she was required to sign prior to riding in the hot air balloon. Roberts signed the waiver form, but never returned it to Sundog. The signed waiver form was found on the event grounds after Roberts sustained her injuries.
[*P9] The liability waiver form states in part:
I expressly, willing, and voluntarily assume full responsibility for all risks of any and every kind involved with or arising from my participation in hot air balloon activities with Company whether during flight preparation, take-off, flight, landing, travel to or from the take-off or landing areas, or otherwise.
Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, I hereby irrevocably release Company, its employees, agents, representatives, contractors, subcontractors, successors, heirs, assigns, affiliates, and legal representatives (the “Released Parties”) from, and hold them harmless for, all claims, rights, demands or causes of action whether known or unknown, suspected or unsuspected, [**5] arising out of the ballooning activities . . . .
[*P10] After signing the form, Roberts waited in line for 20 to 30 minutes. During this time, strong winds caused one of the balloon’s tether lines to snap. As a result, the untethered balloon moved toward the spectators in line. Roberts was injured when she was struck by the balloon’s basket and knocked to the ground.
[*P11] The evidence submitted to the circuit court demonstrated that defendant Kerry Hanson, the balloon operator, had limited experience with tethered ballooning before giving rides at Green Valley’s event. Hanson testified in his deposition that he should have obtained information regarding weather fronts in the area. Had he known about the weather front on the day Roberts was injured, Hanson testified that he would have suspended the ride.
[*P12] Hot air ballooning is governed by FAA guidelines and rules. See, e.g., Fed. Aviation Admin., U.S. Dep’t. of Transp., Pub. No. FAA-H-8083-11A, Balloon Flying Handbook 7-13 (2008). The FAA’s safety recommendations instruct the balloon operator to plan for the failure of one or more of the tethered lines and have a backup plan for safety. See id. at 7-14. In addition, the operator should organize participants [**6] “far back” from the balloon and tether lines. Id. At his deposition, Hanson agreed that had he moved the sign-up table and waiting line further back from the balloon, Roberts would not have been injured.
[*P13] Roberts filed a lawsuit against Sundog, alleging that its negligence caused her injuries. Sundog moved the circuit court for summary judgment, arguing that it is entitled to immunity under Wis. Stat. § 895.52 and that Roberts’ claims were barred by the waiver of liability form that she signed.
[*P14] The circuit court granted Sundog’s summary judgment motion, dismissing Roberts’ claims and concluding that Sundog was entitled to immunity under Wis. Stat. § 895.52. It also determined that the waiver of liability form Roberts signed was valid as a matter of law, although an issue of fact remained as to whether she had accepted the terms.
[*P15] On appeal, Roberts argued that Sundog is not entitled to immunity because her injury was not related to a condition associated with the land. Roberts asserted that under Linville v. City of Janesville, 184 Wis. 2d 705, 516 N.W.2d 427 (1994) and Kosky v. Int’l Ass’n of Lions Clubs, 210 Wis. 2d 463, 565 N.W.2d 260 (Ct. App. 1997), no immunity attaches for negligent conduct unassociated with the land.
[*P16] The court of appeals rejected Roberts’ argument, determining that it was “based on a misreading of the case law . . . which has no application to the [**7] facts of this case.”5 See Roberts v. T.H.E. Ins. Co., No. 2014AP1508, 2015 WI App 37, 363 Wis. 2d 656, unpublished slip op., ¶17 (Wis. Ct. App. Mar. 26, 2015). It explained that this was “the only argument that Roberts makes directed to the application of Wis. Stat. § 895..” Id., ¶22. The court of appeals did not address the validity of the liability waiver form because its decision as to immunity disposed of the appeal. Id., ¶2 n.2.
5 This Court has previously expressed its concern that the recreational immunity statue is often difficult to apply and has recommended that the legislature reexamine this statute. See, e.g., Auman v. School Dist. Of Stanley-Boyd, 2001 WI 125, ¶11, 248 Wis. 2d 548, 635 N.W.2d 762 (“This court has wrestled with applying the recreational immunity statute . . . since its enactment. . . . We continue to be frustrated in our efforts to state a test that can be applied easily because of the seeming lack of basic underlying principles in the statute.”); see also Urban v. Grasser, 2001 WI 63, ¶12, 243 Wis. 2d 673, 627 N.W.2d 511 (“Circuit courts, the court of appeals, and this court have wrestled with recreational immunity since the legislature first provided for such immunity under the law. We have all been frustrated by the seeming lack of basic underlying principles in our efforts to state a test that can be easily applied.”).
[*P17] Before this court, Roberts renews her argument [**8] that Sundog’s negligence was not connected to a condition associated with the land. Because this court ordered briefing on an additional issue, she also asserts that Sundog is not entitled to immunity under Wis. Stat. § 895.52 because it is not an owner under the statute. Roberts argues that Sundog was not an “occupier” of the land and that the hot air balloon was not “property” because it was not a “structure.” Sundog replies that even if it is not entitled to immunity under Wis. Stat. § 895.52, Roberts’ claims are barred because she signed a waiver of liability form.
[*P18] In this case we are asked to review the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment. [HN1] We review grants of summary judgment applying the same methodology employed by the circuit court. Belding v. Demoulin, 2014 WI 8, ¶13, 352 Wis. 2d 359, 843 N.W.2d 373. Summary judgment is appropriate if “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and  the moving party is entitled to  judgment as a matter of law.” Wis. Stat. § 802.08(2).
[*P19] Here, there is no genuine issue of material fact. Accordingly, we focus on whether the application of Wis. Stat. § 895.52 bars Roberts’ claims. [HN2] Statutory interpretation presents a question of law that we review independently of the determinations rendered by the circuit court and the court of appeals. State v. Dinkins, 2012 WI 24, ¶28, 339 Wis. 2d 78, 810 N.W.2d 787.
[*P20] [HN3] In interpreting a statute we begin [**9] by examining its language, giving words and phrases their common, ordinary, and accepted meaning. State ex rel. Kalal v. Circuit Court for Dane Cty., 2004 WI 58, ¶¶45-46, 271 Wis. 2d 633, 681 N.W.2d 110. Statutory language must be interpreted reasonably to avoid absurd or unreasonable results. Id., ¶46.
[*P21] [HN4] When the legislature has expressly stated the purpose of a statute, the purpose is relevant to the plain meaning interpretation of the statute. See id., ¶48. “[A] plain-meaning interpretation cannot contravene a textually or contextually manifest statutory purpose.” Id., ¶49.
[*P22] [HN5] In examining an exculpatory contract, we likewise apply the same summary judgment methodology as employed by the circuit court. See Richards v. Richards, 181 Wis. 2d 1007, 1010-11, 513 N.W.2d 118 (1994) (citing Dobratz v. Thomson, 161 Wis. 2d 502, 513, 468 N.W.2d 654 (1991)). The validity of an exculpatory contract is reviewed as a matter of law. Id. at 1011.
[*P23] We begin our analysis with a brief explanation of what is not in dispute. Neither party disputes that Roberts was participating in a recreational activity at the time she was injured because ballooning is listed in the statutory definition of “recreational activity.” [HN6] Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(g) defines “recreational activity” as: [A]ny outdoor activity undertaken for the purpose of exercise, relaxation or pleasure, including practice or instruction in any such activity. “Recreational activity” includes hunting, fishing, trapping, [**10] camping,… ballooning, hang gliding, hiking . . . .” (emphasis added).
[*P24] Furthermore, “[t]he case law is clear that a spectator who attends a recreational activity is engaged in a recreational activity.” Meyer v. School Dist. Of Colby, 226 Wis. 2d 704, 710, 595 N.W.2d 339 (1999); see also Linville, 184 Wis. 2d at 717 (concluding that preparation for a recreational activity that takes place at a recreational facility that is open for public use is a “recreational activity” as defined by Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(g)). Given that Roberts was on recreational land open to the public, watching the balloon rides as a spectator, and preparing for the balloon ride by waiting in line, she was engaged in a “recreational activity” as defined by Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(g).
[*P25] Although Roberts does not dispute that she was engaged in a recreational activity, she does contest the issue of immunity. Roberts argues that Sundog is not entitled to immunity as an occupier of the property where she was engaged in a recreational activity.
[*P26] The recreational immunity statute Wis. Stat. § 895.52 provides:
(2) [HN7] NO DUTY; IMMUNITY FROM LIABILITY.
(a) Except as provided in subs. (3) to (6), no owner and no officer, employee or agent of an owner owes to any person who enters the owner’s property to engage in a recreational activity:
1. A duty to keep the property safe for recreational activities. [**11]
2. A duty to inspect the property, except as provided under s. 23.115(2).
3. A duty to give warning of an unsafe condition, use or activity on the property.
(b) Except as provided in subs. (3) to (6), no owner and no officer, employee, or agent of an owner is liable for the death of, any injury to, or any death or injury caused by, a person engaging in a recreational activity on the owner’s property . . . .
[*P27] [HN8] Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(d)1 defines an “owner” as “[a] person, including a governmental body or nonprofit organization, that owns leases or occupies property.” Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(f) further defines “property” as “real property and buildings, structures and improvements thereon . . . .”
[*P28] The legislative purpose of the recreational immunity statute is set forth in 1983 Wis. Act 418, § 1. Its stated purpose is to limit liability in order to encourage property owners to open their lands to the public:
The legislature intends by this act to limit the liability of property owners toward others who use their property for recreational activities under circumstances in which the owner does not derive more than a minimal pecuniary benefit. While it is not possible to specify in a statute every activity which might constitute a recreational activity, [**12] this act provides examples of the kinds of activities that are meant to be included, and the legislature intends that, where substantially similar circumstances or activities exist, this legislation should be liberally construed in favor of property owners to protect them from liability . . . . 1983 Wis. Act 418, § 1.
As our cases have explained, “the impetus for this law is the continual shrinkage of the public’s access to recreational land in the ever more populated modern world.” Hall v. Turtle Lake Lions Club, 146 Wis. 2d 486, 489, 431 N.W.2d 696 (Ct. App. 1988).
[*P29] In reply, Sundog argues that it is entitled to recreational immunity because Roberts was injured at an event similar to those in prior cases. Sundog asserts that it is entitled to immunity as an “occupier” of the land, for the same reasons that the producer of a fair or event qualifies for recreational immunity. Prior cases interpreting Wisconsin’s recreational immunity law have concluded that the producer of a fair or event “occupied” property. See, e.g., Id., at 490; Lee v. Elk Rod & Gun Club, Inc., 164 Wis. 2d 103, 106, 473 N.W.2d 581 (Ct. App. 1991); Weina v. Atlantic Mut. Ins. Co., 179 Wis. 2d 774, 777 n.2, 508 N.W.2d 67 (Ct. App. 1993).
[*P30] As Sundog’s counsel aptly argued, Wisconsin courts have concluded private organizations hosting an event on land they did not own are entitled to recreational immunity. In Hall, the plaintiff was injured when he stepped in a hole on the grounds of [**13] the Turtle Lake Village Park during a fair sponsored by the Turtle Lake Lions Club. 146 Wis. 2d at 487. The Lion’s Club was not the titled owner of the land on which it held the fair. Id. at 490. The court of appeals concluded that the Lions Club was entitled to recreational immunity as a “landowner” that allowed Hall entry for “recreational activity.” Id. at 487-89.
[*P31] Likewise, in Lee, the plaintiff was injured when he slipped and fell on icy ground beneath a tent erected by the Elk Rod & Gun Club for a fishing contest on Bugle Lake. 164 Wis. 2d at 105. Lee explained that “[t]he club, as an occupant of the city park land, is treated as a landowner for purposes of recreational immunity.” Id. at 107 (citing Hall, 146 Wis. 2d at 490-91).
[*P32] Again, in Weina, the plaintiff was injured playing softball at a church picnic held at a public park. 179 Wis. 2d at 776. The plaintiff sued both the church and the teammate who hit the injurious baseball. Id. Granting summary judgment in favor of the church, the circuit court denied the teammate’s motion for summary judgment. Id. at 777 n.1. The court of appeals affirmed the circuit court’s judgment that the church, as the event organizer, was entitled to immunity. Id. at 779.
[*P33] This case is different from prior cases, however, because Roberts did not bring claims against the event producer or owner of the property. Green Valley [**14] Enterprises, not Sundog, produced the charity event where Roberts was injured. The Conservationists, not Sundog, was the owner of the property where the event took place. None of the prior cases interpreting Wis. Stat. § 895.52 has granted immunity to a third party not responsible for opening up the land to the public.6
6 Wis. Stat. § 895.52(2) grants immunity to officers, employees, or agents of an owner. Because the parties in this case did not argue or brief the issue of whether Sundog was an officer, employee, or agent of either the Conservationists or Green Valley, we do not address it. [HN9] We need not address issues that have not been raised or argued by the parties. See, e.g., State v. Steffes, 2013 WI 53, ¶28, 347 Wis. 2d 683, 832 N.W.2d 101.
[*P34] The distinction between Sundog and the producer of a fair or event is supported by case law analyzing the definition of “occupy” in the context of the statute’s policy. In Doane v. Helenville Mut. Ins. Co., 216 Wis. 2d 345, 355, 575 N.W.2d 734 (Ct. App. 1998), the court of appeals held that the owner of an ice shanty was not an occupier under Wis. Stat. § 895.52. As Doane explained, [HN10] “occupy” is defined as “to take and hold possession.” Id. at 354 (citing Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary 794 (8th ed. 1974)). The term “occupy,” as it is used in Wis. Stat. § 895.52, has been defined as “requiring a degree of permanence, as opposed to mere use.” Id. (citations ommitted).
[*P35] Underlying [**15] the Doane decision was the same statutory policy at issue here. As Doane explained, to define the owner of the ice shanty as an occupier “would not further the policy which underlies the statute, i.e., of opening as much property as possible for recreational use, because the lake was already held in trust for public recreational purposes, such as fishing.” Id. at 355. Here, as in Doane, defining Sundog as an “occupier” would not further the policy underlying the statute because the Conservationists’ property was already open for public recreational purposes.
[*P36] The Linville court also explained that we must consider whether immunity will encourage landowners to open the land for public use:
The benefits of granting immunity, i.e., encouraging landowners to open their lands to the public, comes from immunizing people or municipalities in their capacities as landowners . . . . Extending immunity to landowners for negligently performing in a capacity unrelated to the land . . . will not contribute to a landowner’s decision to open the land for public use.
184 Wis. 2d 705, 516 N.W.2d 427.
[*P37] Here, it was Green Valley and the Conservationists—- not Sundog—-that were responsible for opening the land to the public. The Conservationists [**16] allowed Green Valley to host an event on the land. Green Valley was responsible for organizing the event and bringing people onto the land. Sundog provided hot air balloon rides on land that was owned by the Conservationists and occupied by Green Valley. Immunizing Sundog would have no effect on whether the public had access to private land, because Sundog is not responsible for opening the land to the public.
[*P38] We also find Linville instructive in determining the logical stopping point for immunity. In Linville, the court analyzed whether granting immunity to city paramedics could create limitless immunity for all medical services provided for injuries sustained while recreating. 184 Wis. 2d 705, 516 N.W.2d 427. “Such services could conceivably take place days or even weeks after the recreational activity, at facilities far removed from the site of recreation, and by persons in no way connected to the land on which the accident occurred.” Id. at 720. “Such a result is absurd, leaves immunity limitless, and therefore could not have been intended by the legislature.” Id.
[*P39] [HN11] Wis. Stat. § 895.52 “was not enacted to provide indiscriminate immunity for landowners without regard to possible consequences.” Id. at 719 (quoting Ervin v. City of Kenosha, 159 Wis. 2d 464, 477, 464 N.W.2d 654 (1991)). Extending immunity to Sundog could [**17] lead to limitless immunity. Sundog is not the owner of the land. It is not occupying the land as an event organizer and is therefore not responsible for opening up the land to the public. If Sundog—-who has no connection to the land—-is granted immunity, there will be no stopping point to recreational immunity.
[*P40] For example, what if Roberts brought a claim against the manufacturer of the hot air balloon that injured her? What if the tether that broke loose was due to a fault in the manufacture of the balloon, rather than the wind? Should the balloon manufacturer, which had no connection to opening the land to the public, be immunized because ballooning is a recreational activity?
[*P41] Granting immunity to third parties that are not responsible for opening up the land to the public is unsupported by our prior case law. In addition, it would create an absurd result with no logical stopping point that does nothing to further the legislative purpose of the statute. Accordingly, we conclude that Sundog is not entitled to recreational immunity under Wis. Stat. § 895.52 because it was not an “occupier” of the land.
[*P42] Next, Sundog argues that it is entitled to immunity not only as an “occupier” of real property, but [**18] also as an owner of “property” because the hot air balloon is a structure pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(f). [HN12] “Property” means real property and buildings, structures and improvements thereon. Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(f).
[*P43] The term “structure” is not defined in Wis. Stat. § 895.52, and is therefore given its common and ordinary meaning. Peterson v. Midwest Sec. Ins. Co., 2001 WI 131, ¶16, 248 Wis. 2d 567, 636 N.W.2d 727. A “structure” is “something constructed,” or “something made up of a number of parts that are held or put together in a particular way.” Id. (citing American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 1782 (3d ed. 1992)). “Structure” is also defined as “[a]ny construction, or any production or piece of work artificially built up or composed of parts joined together in some definite manner.” Id. (citing Black’s Law Dictionary, 1424 (6th ed. 1991)).
[*P44] Sundog relies on Peterson, in which this court held that the owner of a tree stand was entitled to immunity as the owner of a “structure” on real property. Id., ¶4. Peterson adopted the court of appeals’ decision in Doane. Peterson, 248 Wis. 2d 567, ¶20. The Doane court identified three categories of property that qualify owners for immunity: (1) real property; (2) buildings, structures and improvements thereon; and (3) waters of the state. Doane, 216 Wis. 2d at 352. Sundog argues that like the tree stand in Peterson, the hot air balloon [**19] is a structure because it was constructed or put together in a particular way and made up of parts joined together.
[*P45] Although it may have been made up of parts joined together, the hot air balloon ride was not constructed on real property. In Peterson, the tree stand was permanent and built or constructed on the real property. See Peterson, 248 Wis. 2d 567, ¶¶5-7. The hot air balloon in this case was transient and designed to be moved at the end of the day. It was also not designed to remain in one place. The balloon was tethered to two trees and a pick-up truck because of the manner in which Sundog was using it on the day of the event. Thus, we conclude that the hot air balloon is not a structure as that term is applied in Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(f).
[*P46] Accordingly, we conclude that Sundog is not entitled to recreational immunity under Wis. Stat. § 895.52 because it is not an owner under the statute. Sundog was not an “occupier” of the land and the hot air balloon was not “property” because it is not a “structure.”
[*P47] Having determined that Sundog is not entitled to immunity under Wis. Stat. § 895.52, we must address whether Roberts’ claims are barred by Sundog’s exculpatory release. Sundog argues that the waiver of liability form that Roberts signed is valid under Wisconsin law. [**20]
[*P48] [HN13] Wisconsin case law does not favor exculpatory agreements. See, e.g., Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4, ¶12, 277 Wis. 2d 303, 691 N.W.2d 334. “While this court has not held that an exculpatory clause is invalid per se, we have held that such a provision must be construed strictly against the party seeking to rely on it.” Id., ¶12 (citing Yauger v. Skiing Enters., Inc., 206 Wis. 2d 76, 81, 557 N.W.2d 60 (1996); Merten v. Nathan, 108 Wis. 2d 205, 210-11, 321 N.W.2d 173 (1982)).
[*P49] Our analysis of an exculpatory contract begins with examining the facts and circumstances of the agreement to determine if it covers the activity at issue. Atkins, 277 Wis. 2d 303, ¶13 (citing Arnold v. Shawano County Agric. Soc’y, 111 Wis. 2d 203, 211, 330 N.W.2d 773 (1983), overruled on other grounds). If the contract covers the activity, we proceed to a public policy analysis, “which remains the ‘germane analysis’ for exculpatory clauses.” Id., ¶13 (citing Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 86). “We generally define public policy as ‘that principle of law under which freedom of contract or private dealings is restricted by law for the good of the community.'” Id., ¶14 (quoting Merten, 108 Wis. 2d at 213).
[*P50] This court has found [HN14] an exculpatory agreement to be invalid if it contains misrepresentations, if it too broadly defines the location and actions covered, or if it is ambiguous and uncertain. See, e.g., Merten, 108 Wis. 2d at 214-15; see also Arnold, 111 Wis. 2d at 211-13; Dobratz, 161 Wis. 2d at 526. Our prior decisions have also set forth the factors to apply in analyzing whether a contract is void as a matter of law.
[*P51] In Richards, 181 Wis. 2d 1007, 513 N.W.2d 118, the plaintiff was injured while accompanying [**21] her husband on a trip. The waiver in Richards was both an application for permission to be a passenger and a release of all claims against the trucking company. Id. at 1012. Richards held that the contract was void as against public policy because: (1) the contract served two purposes which were not clearly identified or distinguished; (2) the release was extremely broad and all-inclusive; and (3) the release was in a standardized agreement printed on the Company’s form, offering little or no opportunity for negotiation or free and voluntary bargaining. Id. at 1011.
[*P52] In Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d 76, 557 N.W.2d 60, an 11-year old skier was killed when she struck a concrete ski lift tower pylon. Prior to the ski season, her father signed an “application” for a season family lift ticket. Id. at 79. The application stated: “I agree that  [t]here are certain inherent risks in skiing and that we agree to hold [the ski resort] harmless on account of any injury incurred . . . on the [ski resort] premises.” Id. at 79. “Inherent risks” and “premises” were not defined. Id. at 84-85.
[*P53] The Yauger court unanimously concluded that the agreement was void as against public policy because: (1) it failed to clearly, unambiguously, and unmistakably explain to the signatory that he was accepting the risk [**22] of Hidden Valley’s negligence; and (2) the form when considered in its entirety failed to alert the signer to the nature and significance of the document being signed. Id. at 78.
[*P54] More recently in Atkins, this court considered the enforceability of an exculpatory agreement after a swimmer drowned in a lap pool at a fitness center. Atkins, 2005 WI 4, 277 Wis. 2d 303, 691 N.W.2d 334. As a condition of being allowed to use the center, the swimmer had to complete a guest registration and waiver release statement form. Id., ¶3. The form was preprinted on a five and one-half inch square card, and the entire card was printed in capital letters of the same size, font, and color. Id., ¶4.
[*P55] Atkins held that the waiver was invalid, noting that “Wisconsin case law does not favor [exculpatory] agreements,” and “such a provision must be construed strictly against the party seeking to rely on it.” Id., ¶12. The Atkins court adopted a combination of the Yauger and Richards factors in its decision: (1) the waiver was overly broad and all-inclusive; (2) the form served two functions and did not provide the signer adequate notification of the waiver’s nature and significance; and (3) there was little or no opportunity to bargain or negotiate in regard to the exculpatory [**23] language in question. Id., ¶18; see also Alexander T. Pendleton, Enforceable Exculpatory Agreements: Do They Still Exist?, 78 Wis. Law. 16, 46 (Aug. 2005).
[*P56] Turning to the release at issue in this case, it is undisputed that Sundog required Roberts to sign a waiver prior to riding in the hot air balloon. Roberts signed the waiver while she was waiting in line for the ride, but never returned it. The signed waiver was found on the event grounds after she was injured by the hot air balloon.
[*P57] Sundog argues that Roberts read the release, understood its importance, and understood she was waiving her right to bring a negligence claim. It also asserts that Roberts had the opportunity to bargain and ask questions, but failed to do so. Roberts counters that she never accepted the liability waiver form because she never returned it to Sundog. She also argues that the waiver is void as a matter of law because it violates public policy.
[*P58] We agree with Roberts that the waiver of liability form is unenforceable as a matter of law because it fails to satisfy the factors set forth in our prior case law. Because the waiver is void as a matter of law, we need not address the question of whether Roberts [**24] accepted the agreement.7
7 Additionally, we do not address whether the question of Roberts’ “acceptance” presents a question of fact or law here.
[*P59] First, Sundog’s exculpatory waiver is overly broad and all-inclusive. As our prior cases have explained, [HN15] an agreement cannot be so broad “that it would absolve [the defendant] from any injury to the [plaintiff] for any reason.” Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1015 (citing College Mobile Home Park & Sales, Inc. v. Hoffmann, 72 Wis. 2d 514, 521-22, 241 N.W.2d 174 (1976)).
[*P60] The waiver in this case would absolve Sundog for any activity for any reason, known or unknown:
I expressly, willing, and voluntarily assume full responsibility for all risks of any and every kind involved with or arising from my participation in hot air balloon activities with Company whether during flight preparation, take-off, flight, landing, travel to or from the take-off or landing areas, or otherwise.
Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, I hereby irrevocably release Company, its employees, agents, representatives, contractors, subcontractors, successors, heirs, assigns, affiliates, and legal representatives (the “Released Parties”) from, and hold them harmless for, all claims, rights, demands or causes of action whether known or unknown, suspected or unsuspected, arising out of the ballooning [**25] activities…
Not only is the waiver overly broad, it is not clear whether waiting in line for the ride is something Roberts would have contemplated as being covered by the waiver, especially because she was not required to return the waiver before she got into the line.
[*P61] Second, the release was a standard agreement printed on the company’s form, offering Roberts no opportunity to bargain or negotiate in regard to the exculpatory language in question. See Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1011. [HN16] “Freedom of contract is premised on a bargain freely and voluntarily made through a bargaining process that has integrity.” Id. at 1016.
[*P62] Sundog concedes that the waiver of liability was a standard form. In order to ride the balloon, Roberts was told she would have to sign “this document.” Sundog did not discuss the content of the waiver or any of the risk associated with ballooning activities or watching others ride with Roberts. There was also no pre-flight meeting as referenced in the agreement. Roberts was not asked if she had any complaints or concerns with the waiver and she did not have an opportunity to negotiate the terms of the waiver.
[*P63] Thus, the liability waiver form is void as a matter of law. It is overly broad, printed on a standard [**26] form, and Sundog did not provide Roberts with an opportunity to bargain over the terms of the contract. As our prior case law demands, [HN17] we will not uphold a waiver of liability that violates public policy.
[*P64] In sum, we conclude that Sundog is not entitled to recreational immunity under Wis. Stat. § 895.52 because it is not an owner under the statute. Sundog was not an “occupier” of the land and the hot air balloon was not “property” because it was not a “structure.”
[*P65] Accordingly, we reverse the court of appeals and remand to the circuit court for further proceedings.
By the Court. — The decision of the court of appeals is reversed and the cause is remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings.
CONCUR BY: ANNETTE KINGSLAND ZIEGLER; DAVID T. PROSSER (In Part)
[*P66] ANNETTE KINGSLAND ZIEGLER, J. (concurring). I join the opinion of the court because I agree that Sundog is not entitled to recreational immunity under Wis. Stat. § 895.52 (2013-14) and that Sundog’s waiver of liability form is unenforceable. The court appropriately does not reach the questions of whether Roberts’ injuries arose from a condition or maintenance of the land and, if not, whether Linville v. City of Janesville, 184 Wis. 2d 705, 516 N.W.2d 427 (1994), and Kosky v. International Ass’n of Lions Clubs, 210 Wis. 2d 463, 565 N.W.2d 260 (Ct. App. 1997), preclude the attachment of immunity to Sundog under § 895.52, see majority op., ¶4 [**27] n.4, because resolution of that issue is not necessary to the disposition of this case.
[*P67] I feel compelled to comment briefly on the condition-or-maintenance issue so that the position set forth by the court of appeals below is not read as the only possible view of the matter. Simply stated, while the policy behind the statute is to encourage landowners to open their land to the public, the recreational immunity statute does not cloak a negligent actor with immunity no matter what they do.
[*P68] Unlike the court of appeals below, I conclude that there is a patent “division of functions” at play in this case. Roberts v. T.H.E. Ins. Co., No. 2014AP1508, 2015 WI App 37, 363 Wis. 2d 656, unpublished slip op., ¶20 (Wis. Ct. App. Mar. 26, 2015). Put differently, Sundog’s “immunity for its functions as [occupier] of recreational land cannot shelter its liability for negligently performing another function,” namely the operation of its hot air balloon business. Linville v. City of Janesville, 184 Wis. 2d 705, 711 516 N.W.2d 427 (1994). This conclusion is consistent with Linville, Kosky, and the recreational immunity statute.
[*P69] Wisconsin Stat. § 895.52(2)(b) states in part, “[N]o owner . . . is liable for the death of, any injury to, or any death or injury caused by, a person engaging in a recreational activity on the owner’s property . . . .” Despite [**28] the broad nature of this language, we concluded in Linville that an “owner” under the statute might sometimes function in a capacity unrelated to its ownership of land, and that the owner should not be immunized against claims that the owner engaged in negligent conduct when operating in that capacity. Linville, 184 Wis. 2d at 720-21. Hence, a municipal owner of a pond in which a four-year-old boy drowned despite the efforts of paramedics employed by the owner was immune under § 895.52 from claims that its pond was negligently maintained, but not immune from claims that it negligently performed in its capacity as provider of paramedic services. Id.
[*P70] This conclusion followed from our recognition that “[t]he policy behind the statute is to encourage property owners to open their lands for recreational activities by removing a property user’s potential cause of action against a property owner’s alleged negligence.” Id. at 715. We reasoned that Wis. Stat. § 895.52 “was not enacted to provide indiscriminate immunity for landowners without regard to possible consequences” and that “[e]xtending immunity to landowners for negligently performing in a capacity unrelated to the land . . . will not contribute to a landowner’s decision to open the land for public use.” Id. at 719 (citation [**29] omitted).
[*P71] The court of appeals applied Linville just a few years later when an individual who suffered injuries assisting in the detonation of fireworks for a display sued the owner of land on which the fireworks display occurred, alleging that the owner had negligently managed the display. Kosky v. Int’l Ass’n of Lions Clubs, 210 Wis. 2d 463, 468-70, 476-77, 565 N.W.2d 260 (Ct. App. 1997). The court of appeals concluded, relying on Linville, that the landowner—-which was an “occupie[r]” under the recreational immunity statute—-was not immune because the allegedly negligent activities of the owner and its employees related to the detonation of fireworks, not “the condition or maintenance of the land” which it owned. Id. at 468, 470 n.3, 476-77. “[R]ecreational immunity,” the court determined, “does not attach to the landowner when an act of the landowner’s officer, employee or agent that is unrelated to the condition or maintenance of the land causes injury to a recreational land user.” Id. at 475.
[*P72] In the instant case, Roberts cites Linville and Kosky and argues that Sundog’s alleged negligence—-the use of an “improper tethering system” and the decision “to proceed with a tethered balloon event in the face of a known storm/gust front”– –did not relate to a condition of the land. Therefore, Roberts argues, immunity does not attach. In dismissing [**30] this argument, the court of appeals declared: “Roberts identifies no . . . division of functions here. Rather, as stated above, Roberts sued Sundog as owner of property on which Patti Roberts was engaging in a recreational activity.” Roberts, 2015 WI App 37, 363 Wis. 2d 656, unpublished slip op., ¶20.
[*P73] This conclusion is perplexing, because there is a clear potential division of functions in this case: Sundog the property owner (occupier) and Sundog the hot air balloon company owner.1 The approach taken by the court of appeals below leads to the “indiscriminate immunity” against which we warned in Linville, upsetting the balance struck by the Legislature in both ensuring the protection of the public and incentivizing landowners to allow access to their land. Linville, 184 Wis. 2d at 719; see Ervin v. City of Kenosha, 159 Wis. 2d 464, 478, 464 N.W.2d 654 (1991).
1 The division of functions is only “potential” because, as explained, Sundog is not actually an owner under Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(d). See majority op. ¶4.
[*P74] Wisconsin Stat. § 895.52 protects property owners who open their land to the public, but it does not necessarily provide a shield to business owners who are negligent in the operation of their business. See § 895.52(1)(d)1. (defining “[o]wner” to mean, inter alia, “[a] person . . . that owns, leases or occupies property” (emphasis added)). Indeed, it is the partial purpose of § 895.52’s sister [**31] statute, § 895.525 (“Participation in recreational activities; restrictions on civil liability, assumption of risk”), “to help assure the continued availability in this state of enterprises that offer recreational activities to the public.” Wis. Stat. § 895.525(1) (emphasis added). These enterprises are nowhere mentioned in § 895.52, which does not pertain to them.
[*P75] The Linville and Kosky courts recognized that Wis. Stat. § 895.52 grants recreational immunity, not sovereign immunity, and that the protections offered by § 895.52 end when a landowner performs negligently in a capacity unrelated to the individual’s ownership of the land. These considerations govern here.
[*P76] A hypothetical helps illustrate. One of the many pleasant diversions included in Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(g)’s definition of “[r]ecreational activity” is “rock-climbing.” § 895.52(1)(g). If a landowner in northern Wisconsin owns a piece of property with a cliff on it and wishes, out of the goodness of her heart, to allow the local weekend rock-climbers’ club to use the cliff for practice, the legislature has determined via § 895.52 that she should not be penalized if, for example, an unfortunate climber plummets to his death from the cliff. This seems reasonable enough, as a grant of such immunity encourages the landowner to open the land to climbers [**32] without fear of negative repercussions. See Linville, 184 Wis. 2d at 715. On the other hand, imagine that the landowner decides to capitalize on her property’s attraction and opens an outdoor rock-climbing business, providing training, ropes, and safety equipment to climbers. Under the interpretation of the statute espoused by the court of appeals, if the landowner should decide to continue allowing the unsuspecting local club to climb for free, or opens up her land for a charity event, she can operate her business negligently with respect to the club or to the eventgoers—-snapping ropes, cracked helmets, improper training—-without fear.
[*P77] This hypothetical is not much different than the current case: in both instances there is a potential landowner/occupier who provides access to land but who also allegedly negligently provides recreational activity services on that land.
[*P78] The scope of immunity provided by this reading of Wis. Stat. § 895.52 is potentially enormous, but there is a more reasonable interpretation: the one applied in Linville and Kosky. Assuming that Sundog could be characterized as an “owner” under § 895.52(1)(d)—-and the opinion of the court correctly concludes that it can not, see majority op. ¶4—-then it is immune insofar as it [**33] is sued in its capacity as “owner” of the patch of land on which it was offering free balloon rides. It is not immune, however, insofar as it is sued in its capacity as owner of a hot air balloon company. This is the division of functions that the court of appeals found lacking. Just as holding the cliff-owner in the hypothetical liable for snapping ropes, cracked helmets, and improper training will not discourage the owner from allowing climbers to use the cliff without the involvement of her business, failing to grant Sundog immunity as a business operator will not discourage it from “opening” its land for recreational activities (that is, activities not conducted by Sundog).
[*P79] In fairness, application of the statute to facts such as these produces some cognitive dissonance, because, had Sundog been found to be an “occupie[r],” it would not really be a property owner in the sense that most people are used to thinking about that phrase. Sundog would only be a property owner under the recreational immunity statute because it “occupie[d]” the Conservationists’ land, and it was only occupying the Conservationists’ land because it wanted to offer free balloon rides. But it must be remembered that we are essentially [**34] thinking of two Sundogs for purposes of the Linville/Kosky analysis: business owner Sundog, which provides hot air balloon rides, and occupier Sundog, which stands on the sidelines and watches the eventgoers happily use “its” property free of charge.
[*P80] Importantly, and contrary to what Roberts seems to argue, this interpretation should not be misconstrued to mean that immunity under Wis. Stat. § 895.52 extends only to injuries associated with the physical land itself, e.g., injuries from holes in the ground. Wisconsin Stat. § 895.52(2)(b) provides immunity to owners for any “death of, any injury to, or any death or injury caused by, a person engaging in a recreational activity on the owner’s property.” § 895.52(2)(b) (emphases added). But the fact remains that immunity is extended to the “owner,” i.e. the property owner—-not to, for instance, a business operator also on that property. Thus, if someone is accidentally shot while hunting on a landowner’s property, the landowner is seemingly immune from suit against her as landowner (even though the bullet is not “associated” with a condition of the land). But if the landowner also operates a hunting supply shop on the land, opens the land for a charity event, and proceeds to provide negligently-maintained [**35] firearms to participants, it might be that recreational immunity would not attach to the entity in its capacity as a business owner.
[*P81] Ultimately, because Sundog is not an “owner” under Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(d), the question of whether it operated in two distinct capacities at the charity event is not relevant to the outcome of this case. However, the court of appeals should not be the only word on this important question, which is wisely left unanswered by the opinion of the court.2
2 Justice Prosser’s partial concurrence criticizes my post-Linville analysis through use of a pre-Linville case, Ervin v. City of Kenosha, 159 Wis. 2d 464, 464 N.W.2d 654 (1991) (and, even more daringly, through use of a pre-1983 Wis. Act 418 case, Wirth v. Ehly, 93 Wis. 2d 433, 287 N.W.2d 140 (1980)). Concurrence, ¶¶125, 127. The partial concurrence notes that the author of Linville was also the sole dissenter from Ervin. Concurrence, ¶128. If the question is whether Linville eroded any of the principles in Ervin, one would think this fact hinders rather than helps the partial concurrence’s case. Regardless, there is no need to attempt to divine the meaning of Linville’s authorship, because my analysis is not “squarely at odds” with Ervin. Concurrence, ¶125.
This is because the City of Kenosha’s (“the City”) actions in Ervin were arguably performed [**36] in its capacity as property owner rather than, for instance, in its capacity as a business owner. The facts underlying that case took place at a beach owned by the City of Kenosha and “staffed by four lifeguards employed and trained by the City.” Ervin, 159 Wis. 2d at 469-70. In the summer of 1987, two minors drowned in the water off the beach. Id. at 468-69. The City was sued, among other things, for the alleged negligence of its lifeguards and for its own allegedly negligent hiring and failure to train them. Id. at 471-72. This court held that the City was immune from such allegations under the recreational immunity statute. Id. at 469.
Returning to my earlier hypothetical, Ervin is analogous to a circumstance in which a cliff-owner (or somebody hired by the cliff-owner) stands by and watches while a climber using the cliff for free plummets to her death. Nothing in Ervin indicates that the City was stepping outside of its role as landowner (indeed, it had not formally interviewed its lifeguards or even provided its lifeguards with “skills testing [or] lifeguard, first-aid or rescue training”). Id. at 471. Put differently, although the Ervin court seemingly rejected an “active/passive negligence distinction” with respect to landowners’ negligence under [**37] the recreational immunity statute, the court said nothing about the operation of the statute when landowners act in a non-proprietary capacity. See, e.g., id., at 476-77 (“If liability were imposed on landowners for negligence in failing to provide adequate safety measures, it would encourage landowners to provide no safety measures.” (emphases added)). That came later, in Linville. As opposed to Ervin, wherein the City had “gratuitously” provided a few “lifeguards” without “skills testing [or] lifeguard, first-aid or rescue training” to stand post on the single parcel of property at issue, id., 471-77, the City of Janesville operated a team of paramedics which provided city-wide services and which had little to do with the ownership of the municipal pond in particular. See State v. Linville, 184 Wis. 2d 705, 720-21, 516 N.W.2d 427.
While I understand the partial concurrence’s reading of Linville and find it to be a reasonable one in isolation, it is at odds with a principal expositor of Linville, Kosky v. International Ass’n of Lions Clubs, 210 Wis. 2d 463, 565 N.W.2d 260 (Ct. App. 1997). Justice Prosser would need to overrule a substantial amount of law to arrive at his interpretation of the recreational immunity statute.
[*P82] For the foregoing reasons, I respectfully concur.
DISSENT BY: DAVID T. PROSSER (In Part); REBECCA G. BRADLEY
[*P83] DAVID T. PROSSER, J. (concurring in part; dissenting [**38] in part). This case involves an unfortunate accident that occurred at a charity event in Beaver Dam on July 30, 2011. I agree with the majority opinion that “Sundog’s waiver of liability form violates public policy and is unenforceable as a matter of law.” Majority op., ¶4. However, I also agree with the dissenting opinion of Justice Rebecca G. Bradley that “Sundog meets the statutory requirements to obtain recreational immunity because: (1) it falls within the definition of ‘owner,’ which includes ‘a person . . . that . . . occupies property;’ and (2) Patti Roberts engaged in a recreational activity on the property occupied by Sundog.” Dissent, ¶132. Consequently, I join the dissenting opinion of Justice Rebecca Bradley except for footnote 4.
[*P84] My purpose in writing is to reinforce the inexorable logic of Justice Bradley’s dissent and respond to the concurrence of Justice Ziegler.
[*P85] Wisconsin Stat. § 895.52 reads in part as follows:
(2) NO DUTY; IMMUNITY FROM LIABILITY. (a)
Except as provided in subs. (3) to (6), no owner and no officer, employee or agent of an owner owes to any person who enters the owner’s property to engage in a recreational activity:
. . . .
3. A duty to give warning of an unsafe condition, [**39] use or activity on the property.
(b) Except as provided in subs. (3) to (6), no owner and no officer, employee or agent of an owner is liable for . . . any injury to . . . a person engaging in a recreational activity on the owner’s property . . . .
[*P86] Critical to the interpretation of this statute is the definition of “owner.”
“Owner” means either of the following:
1. A person, including a governmental body or nonprofit organization, that owns, leases or occupies property.
2. A governmental body or nonprofit organization that has a recreational agreement with another owner.
Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(d).
[*P87] In this case, we should analyze three different entities: (1) Beaver Dam Conservationists, LLC; (2) Green Valley Enterprises; and (3) Sundog Ballooning, LLC (and its owners, Kerry M. Hanson and Jodi L. Hanson) (Sundog).
[*P88] “Beaver Dam Conservationists, LLC . . . owned the shooting range where the charity event was held.” Majority op., ¶5. The shooting club was thus an owner.
[*P89] The shooting club donated use of its property to Green Valley Enterprises, a charitable organization, which opened the property free to the public as part of a charitable fundraiser. Of course, Green Valley could not have opened up the property to the [**40] public if Beaver Dam Conservationists had not “opened up” the property for Green Valley’s charitable event.
[*P90] Green Valley was an “owner” under Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(d)1. because it occupied the property with the permission of an owner. In addition, it was an owner under (d)2. if it signed “a recreational agreement” with Beaver Dam Conservationists.1 Whether Green Valley actually signed a “recreational agreement” is not known.
1 “Recreational agreement” is defined in Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(h) to mean “a written authorization granted by an owner to a governmental body or nonprofit organization permitting public access to all or a specific part of the owner’s property for any recreational activity.”
[*P91] The principal issue in this court is whether Sundog also is an “owner” by virtue of occupying the property.
[*P92] This was not the principal issue in the circuit court. In fact, this was not an issue at all in the circuit court. In its motion for summary judgment, Sundog explained at length that it was an “owner” under the statute because it occupied the property.
[*P93] The plaintiffs did not dispute this contention. The plaintiffs instead took a different position:
The liability of the Defendant in this case has absolutely nothing to do with the condition [**41] of the land, any structures upon it, or use of the land itself by the Plaintiffs or the Defendant.
. . . .
Negligent acts or decisions not directed at the condition of the land are not entitled to immunity.
[*P94] The Dodge County Circuit Court, Joseph G. Sciascia, Judge, wrote the following: “The [plaintiffs] do not dispute that the plaintiff was on the property for a recreational purpose. The plaintiff raises the issue of whether or not the statute applies in this case because the injury was caused by an act unrelated to the condition or maintenance of the land . . . .”
[*P95] Whether Sundog occupied the property was not an issue in the court of appeals either. The court’s opinion stated:
Roberts does not contest that Sundog was occupying, and therefore was an “owner” of, “property” on which Patti Roberts was engaging in “recreational activity.” See Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(d), (f), (g). Roberts also does not dispute that “the activity giving rise to [Patti Roberts’] injury was a ‘recreational activity’ as defined by the statute,” that is, ballooning.
Roberts v. T.H.E. Ins. Co., No. 2014AP1508, 2015 WI App 37, 363 Wis. 2d 656, unpublished slip op., ¶16 (Wis. Ct. App. Mar. 26, 2015) (alteration in original).
[*P96] The reason why “occupies” is the principal issue in this court is because [**42] this court made it the principal issue by asking the parties to brief it. The court’s order granting review stated in part:
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the parties’ briefs shall address the following additional issue:
Whether the defendants/respondents Sundog Ballooning, LLC, Kerry M. Hanson, and Jodi L. Hanson, were “occupiers” of the property in question for purposes of the recreational immunity statute at the time of the accident in question. See Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(d); see also Doane v. Helenville Mut. Ins. Co., 216 Wis. 2d 345, 575 N.W.2d 734 (Ct. App. 1998).
[*P97] This court has broad authority to ask that additional issues be briefed, but the court should be careful not to fault a party for failing to supply complete evidence on an issue that was not contested, or chide a party for not arguing or briefing an issue that was not necessary because of the party’s success in circuit court on a more encompassing issue. See Majority op., ¶33 n.6.
[*P98] As I see it, Sundog took possession of a large, wide-open space at the recreational property of Beaver Dam Conservationists at the express invitation of Green Valley Enterprises. Its balloon was tethered to two trees and a pickup truck that was brought into and parked on the property. The two trees and truck formed a triangle with the large balloon in [**43] the middle. The Hansons flagged off the whole area. They set up a display and a sign-up table for the balloon ride, and they designated a waiting area for people to line up for a ride. In short, the Hansons completely controlled one section of the property for their ballooning operation. They “filled up” the space. They not only “used” the space but also governed the space during the time they were authorized to be there. In sum, they occupied the property.
[*P99] In Doane, the court of appeals said, “An occupant is one who has actual possession of the property, but is more transient than either a lessee or an owner with legal title.” Doane, 216 Wis. 2d at 351 (citing Hall v. Turtle Lake Lions Club, 146 Wis. 2d 486, 491, 431 N.W.2d 696 (Ct. App. 1988)). This, in essence, is the rule applied in multiple cases. There can really be no dispute that Sundog satisfied the test of “occupies” under this rule.
[*P100] The Doane court added, however, that “‘occupancy,’ in the statutory sense, signifies a degree of permanence, as opposed to the mere use of the property in question.” Id. (citing Smith v. Sno Eagles Snowmobile Club, Inc., 823 F.2d 1193, 1197 (7th Cir. 1987)). The Doane court later stated:
“Occupy” is defined as “to take and hold possession.” Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary 794 (8th ed. 1974). That definition could imply possession for some unstated period of time or it could [**44] be understood in a way in which time is not relevant. Therefore, reasonable persons could differ in their assessments of whether Ehle “occupied” a portion of the lake with his shanty within the meaning of the statute. However, occupy, as used in § 895.52 Stats., has been defined by this court as requiring a degree of permanence, as opposed to mere use. See Hall, 146 Wis. 2d at 491, 431 N.W.2d at 698 (citing Smith, 823 F.2d at 1197).
Id. at 354 (emphasis added).
[*P101] The court of appeals reached the correct decision in Doane, but it did so, at least in part, for the wrong reason. The Hall case never discussed “a degree of permanence” because Hall never quoted that portion of the Seventh Circuit’s opinion. Hall clearly sidestepped the “permanence” part of the Seventh Circuit’s opinion and instead quoted language that the Seventh Circuit had quoted from the underlying District Court decision. The language quoted from the District Court’s decision made absolutely no reference to “permanence.” Until Doane, no Wisconsin case had ever used the phrase “degree of permanence.”
[*P102] The Hall case involved a Lions Club in Turtle Lake that sponsored a fair on the grounds of the Turtle Lake Village Park. The Village granted the Lions permission to use the park. The Hall court said: “[W]hen a third [**45] party such as the Lions Club produces a fair on the land of another, it ‘occupies’ the land within the intended definition.” Hall, 146 Wis. 2d at 490. Then the court quoted language that the Seventh Circuit had quoted from the underlying District Court decision in Smith:
[O]ccupant include[s] persons who, while not owners or tenants, have the actual use of land.. . . . While “occupant” includes [an] owner and lessee, it also means one who has the actual use of property without legal title, dominion or tenancy. In order to give meaning to [occupies], the term should be interpreted to encompass a resident of land who is more transient than either a lessee or an owner.
Id. at 491 (alterations in original)(quoting Smith, 823 F.2d at 1197, which had quoted Smith v. Sno Eagles Snowmobile Club, Inc., 625 F. Supp. 1579, 1582 (E.D. Wis. 1986)).
[*P103] If the Doane case is controlling, it substantially changed the law in Wisconsin, disregarding prior court of appeals precedent, when it quoted from the Seventh Circuit’s independent analysis in Smith, rather than language quoted from the District Court’s underlying decision.
[*P104] In the Seventh Circuit case, the losing party, Smith, relied on Labree v. Millville Manufacturing, Inc., 195 N.J. Super. 575, 481 A.2d 286 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1984), a New Jersey case in which a contractor was sued after excavating land as part of the construction of a highway. Smith, 823 F.2d at 1196-97. “The excavation and transfer of sand and gravel resulted in [**46] the man-made creation of a twenty acre lake in which people swam on an informal basis.” Id. at 1197. David Labree later dove into the lake and hit his head, rendering him a quadriplegic. Id. The contractor, who was sued after he had left the land, claimed recreational immunity under a New Jersey statute. The New Jersey court said:
We believe use of the word “occupant” in the statute signifies an intent to provide immunity for an entity with a degree of permanence in the occupancy, not merely one who is using the property, as was the case with Gaskill. [Gaskill] “occupied” the property not really as one in occupancy but rather as one removing dirt and gravel from it.
Id. (alterations omitted)(quoting Labree, 481 A.2d at 291).
[*P105] The Seventh Circuit opinion in Smith borrowed the “degree of permanence” language from the New Jersey court and used it against the losing party. But it is very doubtful that the Seventh Circuit intended to create a “degree of permanence” test for “occupants.” Indeed, the Seventh Circuit favorably referred to the language from the underlying District Court opinion, quoted in Hall, when explaining that if the court “were to circumscribe and interpret ‘occupant’ as one in actual possession or exclusive [**47] control the term would be indistinguishable from owner.” Smith, 823 F.2d at 1198. Our court of appeals should not have embraced the phrase “degree of permanence” as established Wisconsin law to bootstrap its decision in Doane.
[*P106] This court cannot adopt the “permanence” test from the Seventh Circuit decision without overruling Hall and numerous other cases, and also effectively ruling that Green Valley Enterprises did not “occupy” the property. If a “permanence” test disqualifies Sundog, it would disqualify Green Valley Enterprises as well because Green Valley did not own or lease the property—-it occupied the property. Green Valley’s few extra hours of occupancy at the shooting range cannot realistically be viewed as being more “permanent” than Sundog’s occupancy.
[*P107] The majority’s decision to disqualify Sundog from any status as an “owner” and send this case back for trial does not end the immunity issue. If Green Valley is still considered an occupant, we must anticipate that Sundog will assert that it was Green Valley’s “agent” under Wis. Stat. § 895.52(2)(a) and (b). There is no definition of “agent” in the recreational immunity statute, meaning that the circuit court may resort to a dictionary. “Agent” is defined as (1) one that acts [**48] or has the power or authority to act, or (2) one empowered to act for or represent another. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 33 (3d ed. 1992).
[*P108] Kerry Hanson explained in his deposition that he and his wife lived in Rhinelander but had family ties to Beaver Dam. In fact, his sister, Kristin Hanson, was manager for agency development for Green Valley Enterprises. Kerry Hanson testified as follows:
Q. How was it that it came about that you were going to be involved in this event in the first place?
. . . .
A. –the head of the Green Valley Enterprises, a business that services special needs people, was actually in the neighborhood, saw my balloon tethered. He employs my sister, who is a marketing director for Green Valley Enterprises. He saw it and said, wow, what a cool thing; maybe we could use that at our fundraiser to increase awareness, and I believe that began the process.
Q. And eventually it was agreed that you would do that.
Q. And it’s my understanding that you were donating your services that day?
[*P109] In other depositions, witnesses testified that Sundog’s balloon rides were advertised as an attraction for Green Valley Enterprises’ fundraising [**49] event.
[*P110] Under the circumstances, it would be rather difficult to conclude that Sundog was not an “agent” of Green Valley Enterprises if Green Valley was an “owner.”
[*P111] The “agent” of an “owner” is immune under the statute. However, the majority’s conceptual dilemma is that any “agent” in this situation is likely to be “a third party not responsible for opening up the land to the public,” Majority op., ¶33, which the majority now deems essential to qualifying for immunity: “Here . . . defining Sundog as an ‘occupier’ would not further the policy underlying the statute because the Conservationists’ property was already open for public recreational purposes.” Id., ¶35.
[*P112] The majority opinion adds, “Immunizing Sundog would have no effect on whether the public had access to private land, because Sundog is not responsible for opening the land to the public.” Id., ¶37.
[*P113] This analysis would appear to deny immunity to any “officer, employee or agent” who did not “open up the land” to the public.
[*P114] This analysis also is deficient because it ignores the fact that people often come to a property because they have been attracted by the promise of recreational activities there. Example: the Roberts family [**50] came to the shooting range, in part, because they heard there would be balloon rides. If organizations and people providing bona fide recreational activities are stripped of recreational immunity because they did not “open up the land to the public,” they will have to rethink whether they are willing to participate in such activities.
[*P115] In sum, the majority opinion seriously misinterprets the meaning of “owner” in the statute.
[*P116] As noted above, the Robertses contended at trial that recreational immunity must be linked to a “condition of the land, any structures upon it, or use of the land itself.” See supra, ¶93. Justice Ziegler’s concurrence champions this proposition by relying on Linville v. City of Janesville, 184 Wis. 2d 705, 516 N.W.2d 427 (1994), and Kosky v. International Ass’n of Lions Clubs, 210 Wis. 2d 463, 565 N.W.2d 260 (Ct. App. 1997).
[*P117] Linville is the tragic case in which a man took a mother and her four-year-old son to a city-owned pond in Janesville. The man intended to take the boy fishing, and he was checking out fishing spots for the next day. Through a series of bizarre events, the man drove his van too close to the water, got stuck in mud, then inadvertently drove the van into the water where he and the boy drowned. Plaintiffs sued the city claiming that the city’s paramedics were negligent in their rescue of the boy and negligent [**51] in providing medical services to the boy. The city defended with a claim of recreational immunity under Wis. Stat. § 895.52.
[*P118] This court first struggled with the question of whether the three people at the pond were engaging in a “recreational activity” at the time two of them died. The court said they were. But that did not settle the question of whether the city could claim recreational immunity for the alleged negligence of its paramedics in the rescue effort.
[*P119] The court determined that the city could not assert recreational immunity for the alleged negligence of its paramedics because it was virtually coincidental that the alleged negligence of the paramedics occurred at a city-owned recreational site and came after a mishap in recreational activity for which the city bore no responsibility.
[*P120] The court said: “The City’s immunity for its functions as owner of recreational land cannot shelter its liability for negligently performing another function.” Linville, 184 Wis. 2d at 711.
[*P121] In discussing this conclusion, the court observed: “We must determine whether this statute immunizes the paramedics and the City simply because the paramedics are employees of the City which owns the Pond.” Id. at 718.
[G]ranting immunity to the landowner when the landowner [**52] and the employer of the negligent employee are functioning in two different capacities and are therefore not the same entity in the eyes of the law would produce absurd consequences. . . . To interpret the language of sec. 895.52(2)(b), Stats., to include injury resulting from negligent rescue and treatment by the paramedics in this case, would produce absurd consequences.
Id. at 719. The court continued: “The paramedics provide emergency medical treatment in every part of the City, no matter the situs. Thus the City’s rescue attempts and medical treatment are separate and apart from the City’s ownership of or activities as owner of recreational land.” Id. at 721.
[*P122] The Linville court bolstered its analysis by repeated reference to the purported purpose of the recreational immunity statute, e.g., property owners should be encouraged to open up land to the public. In my view, this discussion of policy was not necessary to a limitation of immunity and is not relevant when dealing with public land that is intended for use by the public.2
2 Kosky v. International Ass’n of Lions Clubs, 210 Wis. 2d 463, 565 N.W.2d 260 (Ct. App. 1997), also is cited in Justice Ziegler’s concurrence. This case requires close examination.
Kosky involved a man whose hands were badly injured as he was participating in a three-person team detonating [**53] “explosive fireworks” at the annual Fourth of July fireworks celebration in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin. Kosky sued the Land O’Lakes Lions Club and other sponsors of the show, as well as several co-workers. The defendants claimed recreational immunity under Wis. Stat. § 895.52.
In his brief to the court of appeals, the plaintiff asserted that the “extra-hazardous activity of detonating explosive fireworks” was not a “recreational activity” protected under Wis. Stat. § 895.52. (capitalization and title case omitted.) He also asserted that although he had ties to the area, he came from Niles, Illinois, at the specific request of the Land O’Lakes Lions Club “to perform work tasks with a team of people detonating explosive fireworks.” He declared that he personally was not engaging in recreational activity because he was working, not watching the fireworks.
The court of appeals rejected Kosky’s argument that the detonation of fireworks could not be a recreational activity because it is an inherently dangerous, extra-hazardous activity. Kosky, 210 Wis. 2d at 474. On the other hand, the court was not willing to say that the detonation of fireworks was a recreational activity in the circumstances presented. Instead, the court concluded that “recreational immunity [**54] does not attach to the landowner when an act of the landowner’s officer, employee or agent that is unrelated to the condition or maintenance of the land causes injury to a recreational land user.” Id. at 475.
The Kosky court quoted from Linville: “Extending immunity to landowners for negligently performing in a capacity unrelated to the land or to their employees whose employment activities have nothing to do with the land will not contribute to a landowner’s decision to open the land for public use.” Id. at 476 (quoting Linville, 184 Wis. 2d at 719).
To support this conclusion, Linville cited Ervin v. City of Kenosha, 159 Wis. 2d 464, 472-76, 464 N.W.2d 654 (1991), for the following proposition: “The legislature, in sec. 895.52, Stats., granted immunity to landowners with respect to the condition of the land and to the landowners’ (or its employees’) actions with respect to the land.” Linville, 184 Wis. 2d at 718.
As will be seen, this statement is not an accurate description of Ervin. Moreover, it does not take into account that lessees and occupiers and persons with a recreational agreement cannot “open the land” until the actual landowner puts them in a position to open the land. It also fails to acknowledge that public land is normally open to the public already.
[*P123] Justice Ziegler’s concurrence builds on Linville and would state the law [**55] as follows:
(1) While the policy of the recreational immunity statute encourages landowners to open their land to the public, the recreational immunity statute does not cloak negligent actors with immunity no matter what they do. Justice Ziegler’s concurrence, ¶67.
(2) A “person” who owns, leases, occupies, or has a “recreational agreement” to use recreational property is not sheltered from liability for “negligently performing” another function such as operating or otherwise participating in a “recreational activity,” as defined in Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(g). See id., ¶69. An “owner” under the statute “might sometimes function in a capacity unrelated to its ownership of the land, and that . . . owner should not be immunized against claims that the owner engaged in negligent conduct when operating in that capacity.” Id.
[*P124] Justice Ziegler writes that the “municipal owner of a pond in which a four-year-old boy drowned despite the efforts of paramedics employed by the owner was immune under § 895.52 from claims that its pond was negligently maintained, but not immune from claims that it negligently performed in its capacity as provider of paramedic services.” Id. (emphasis added).
[*P125] Justice Ziegler’s summary of the law is squarely [**56] at odds with the court’s discussion in Ervin v. City of Kenosha, 159 Wis. 2d 464, 464 N.W.2d 654 (1991). In that case, two youths drowned at a public beach owned and operated by the City of Kenosha. The youths’ parents sued the City for negligently hiring and failing to properly train and instruct lifeguards, and for the lifeguards’ alleged negligent performance at the time of the drownings. This court was confronted with arguments about separating the City’s ownership of the land from its operation and oversight of the beach by its lifeguards. The court concluded that “the City is immune from liability . . . for its negligence in hiring or failing to properly train the lifeguards, [and] for the lifeguards’ negligent performance.” Ervin, 159 Wis. 2d at 469.
[*P126] The Ervin court’s opinion reads in part:
The parents argue that sec. 895.52(2), Stats., does not immunize the City from liability for the lifeguards’ negligence or for its own negligent hiring and failure to train them. The parents contend that the City’s conduct represented “active” negligence, and that the statute was intended to immunize only “passive” or “condition of the premises” negligence. We disagree because: (a) the plain language of the statute does not support this contention, (b) Wisconsin case law permits immunity under [**57] the recreational use statute for both active and passive negligence, and (c) legislative intent clearly supports granting immunity for both active and passive negligence.
Id. at 472.
[*P127] The Ervin court also quoted approvingly from this court’s decision in Wirth v. Ehly, 93 Wis. 2d 433, 287 N.W.2d 140 (1980):
The statute does not contemplate that the land subject to public recreational use shall remain static. Since the purpose of the statute was to open land for recreational use, it would be inconsistent for the statute to provide protection only if the owner or occupant does not perform any potentially negligent activities on the land.
Ervin, 159 Wis. 2d at 475 (alteration omitted) (quoting Wirth, 93 Wis. 2d at 446).
[*P128] It should be noted that the only justice who dissented in Ervin was Justice William Bablitch, the author of the Linville opinion. In his dissent, Justice Bablitch wrote:
By placing unqualified lifeguards on a public beach, the City of Kenosha . . . created a trap for the unwary. The presence of the lifeguards created the perception of a safe condition that was not justified. I do not agree with the majority that the recreational use statute exempts owners of recreational property from liability when the actions of the owner create a perception of safety that does not in reality exist. [**58] The legislature could not have intended such an absurd result.
Id. at 485 (Bablitch, J., dissenting). In Justice Bablitch’s Linville opinion, the court did not overrule Ervin.
[*P129] In her concurrence, Justice Ziegler formulates a rational policy of limited recreational immunity, but that policy would require this court to overrule a number of cases including Ervin and Wirth, disregard controlling language in the statute, and clean up internal inconsistencies in her own concurring opinion. If we were to assume the correctness of a strict separation of functions analysis, that separation would apply irrespective of whether the separation affects an owner, a lessee, an occupier, a recreational agreement holder, or an officer, employee, or agent of an owner. Neither the concurrence nor the majority opinion has confronted the consequences of such a change in the law.
[*P130] I would not hesitate for a moment supporting the unfortunate victim of this balloon accident if the statute provided a reasonable means to do so. I do not hesitate now to recommend that the legislature promptly review the recreational immunity statute. I respectfully dissent, however, from any notion that the court itself should rewrite the [**59] statute to reach a desirable objective.
[*P131] I am authorized to state that Chief Justice PATIENCE DRAKE ROGGENSACK joins this opinion.
[*P132] REBECCA G. BRADLEY, J. (dissenting). I would affirm the court of appeals1 and hold that Sundog2 is immune from liability under Wisconsin’s recreational immunity statute, Wis. Stat. § 895.52(2).3 Sundog meets the statutory requirements to obtain recreational immunity because: (1) it falls within the definition of “owner,” which includes “a person . . . that . . . occupies property,” and (2) Patti Roberts engaged in a recreational activity on the property occupied by Sundog. See Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(d)1., (2)(b). By actually using the land during a charity event, Sundog meets the ordinary and accepted meaning of “occupies.” This conclusion comports with the legislative purpose of recreational immunity and would not, as the majority fears, result in the limitless application of the recreational immunity statute. As a result, I respectfully dissent from the majority opinion because a plain reading of the statute demonstrates Sundog is entitled to recreational immunity.4
1 Roberts v. T.H.E. Ins. Co., No. 2014AP1508, 2015 WI App 37, 363 Wis. 2d 656, unpublished slip op. (Wis. Ct. App. March 26, 2015).
2 Sundog refers to the Respondents: Sundog Ballooning, [**60] LLC, Kerry Hanson, Jodi Hanson, and T.H.E. Insurance Company. See majority op., ¶2.
3 Whether Sundog met the statutory definition of an “owner” in Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(d)1. was not an issue before the court of appeals. In our order granting the petition for review, this court ordered the parties to brief and address that issue.
4 Because Sundog is entitled to recreational immunity, I would not reach the issue of whether the waiver of liability violates public policy.
Similarly, because I conclude that recreational immunity applies to Sundog, it is unnecessary to decide whether Sundog qualifies for recreational immunity based on its argument that the hot air balloon constitutes “property” under Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(f). I disagree, however, with the majority’s conclusion that because the hot air balloon was not “constructed on real property” it fails to meet the definition of property in the statute. See majority op., ¶45. Although the majority’s structure analysis could be read to require that the structure be built or put together on site, the majority suggests that for purposes of recreational immunity, a structure must be permanently affixed to real property. This requirement is not found in the text of the recreational immunity statute, [**61] but the majority imposes the requirement based on Peterson v. Midwest Sec. Ins. Co., 2001 WI 131, ¶17, 248 Wis. 2d 567, 636 N.W.2d 727. Peterson held that a tree stand used for hunting constituted a structure within the meaning of Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(f). Id., ¶4. The majority asserts that unlike Sundog’s hot air balloon, “the tree stand was permanent and built or constructed on the real property.” Majority op., ¶45. This differentiation between a hot air balloon and a tree stand, however, should not determine whether Sundog’s hot air balloon meets the common and ordinary meaning of the word “structure.”
Based on the statutory language alone, Sundog’s alternative argument for recreational immunity fails because Patti Roberts did not ever enter or get on the hot air balloon, which is required by the recreational immunity statute. See Wis. Stat. § 895.52(2)(a)(making recreational immunity available to owners when a person “enters the owner’s property”); see also Wis. Stat. § 895.52(2)(b)(making recreational immunity available to owners when “a person engag[es] in a recreational activity on the owner’s property”) (emphases added).
[*P133] Subject to exceptions not applicable in this case, property “owners,” as defined by Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(d)1.-2., are immune from liability for injuries sustained as a result of recreational activities that occur on their property. See Wis. Stat. § 895.52(2). The parties [**62] dispute whether Sundog meets the statutory definition of an “owner” to qualify it for recreational immunity. Applicable here is § 895.52(1)(d)1., which defines an owner as: “A person, including a governmental body or nonprofit organization, that owns, leases or occupies property” (emphasis added).5 There is no assertion that Sundog owns legal title to the property or that it leased the property in question. The only way that Sundog meets the statutory definition of “owner” is if Sundog “occupies [the] property.” See § 895.52(1)(d)1.
5 It is not disputed that Sundog Ballooning, LLC qualifies as “a person” in the definition of “owner” found in Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(d)1.
[*P134] Unlike “owner,” the word “occupies” is not defined in the recreational immunity statute. However, the plain, ordinary, and accepted meaning of “occupies” can be readily determined by reference to the dictionary definition of an “occupant.” An occupant is “[o]ne that resides in or uses a physical space.” Occupant, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 1218 (5th ed. 2015). This definition indicates that a person who occupies property is one who has actual use of the property.
[*P135] Here, Sundog donated tethered, hot air balloon rides at a charity event sponsored by Green [**63] Valley Enterprises. To provide this recreational ballooning activity, Sundog set up the tethered hot air balloon on property legally owned by Beaver Dam Conservationists, LLC. It used both ropes and flags to designate an area surrounding the hot air balloon. These facts show that Sundog actually used the property to provide a recreational activity, ballooning, (specifically mentioned by Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(g)) when Patti Roberts sustained injuries. This actual use of the property meets the plain, common, and ordinary meaning of “[a] person . . . that . . . occupies property.” See Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(d)1. Therefore, Sundog meets the definition of a statutory owner as one who occupied the property and therefore is entitled to recreational immunity.
[*P136] This conclusion is consistent with the legislative purpose of the recreational immunity statute: to “limit the liability of property owners toward others who use their property for recreational activities under circumstances in which the owner does not derive more than a minimal pecuniary benefit.” 1983 Wis. Act 418, § 1. This statement of legislative purpose is often summarized as “encourag[ing] landowners to open up their land for recreational activity.” Ervin v. City of Kenosha, 159 Wis. 2d 464, 477, 464 N.W.2d 654 (1991) (emphasis added); see majority op., ¶28. The [**64] purpose of the recreational immunity statute, however, is much broader as evidenced by the legislature’s decision to include in its definition of “owner” both lessees and occupiers of property. In interpreting the meaning of “property” defined by Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(f), we reached a similar conclusion: “[I]t is abundantly clear from the language of the statute and the statement of legislative intent that the purpose of the statute is broader, and recreational immunity is not in fact limited only to landowners.” Peterson v. Midwest Sec. Ins. Co., 2001 WI 131, ¶22, 248 Wis. 2d 567, 636 N.W.2d 727.
[*P137] This broad legislative purpose, evidenced by the legislative policy statement read in conjunction with the statutory text refutes the majority’s claim that “[i]mmunizing Sundog would have no effect on whether the public had access to private land, because Sundog is not responsible for opening the land to the public.” See majority op., ¶37.
[*P138] Here, Sundog provided the recreational ballooning activity free of cost to members of the public who attended the charity event. Depriving Sundog of immunity because Green Valley and the Conservationists, rather than Sundog, “opened” the land to the public, creates a distinction between Sundog on the one hand, and Green Valley and the Conservationists on the other, that is not [**65] only unsupported by the broad legislative purpose of the recreational immunity statute but wholly absent from the statutory definition of the term “owner.” Furthermore, the creation of this unsupported distinction ignores the fact that the Conservationists allowed Green Valley to hold an event that included a recreational ballooning activity provided by Sundog. Sundog’s participation in the charity event undoubtedly encouraged the public to attend the event and, in some instances, take part in the recreational ballooning activity. Declining to recognize Sundog’s statutory immunity will discourage organizations such as Sundog from donating recreational activities at charity events for fear of incurring liability, which, in turn, will reduce sponsorship of such events by organizations because they will have less recreational options—-if any at all—-to draw attendance. Ultimately, public access to private land will be reduced. This runs counter to the legislative purpose of the recreational immunity statute.
[*P139] As further support for its decision to treat Sundog differently than Green Valley and the Conservationists, the majority indicates that prior case law has not granted immunity to [**66] a “third-party” organization such as Sundog. See majority op., ¶33. Simply because the appellate courts apparently have not previously been presented with a similar fact pattern does not eliminate immunity created by the statute. Sundog satisfies the requirements of the statute and therefore is entitled to the immunity it provides.
[*P140] Further, the majority does not explain how its conclusion—-that an organization such as Sundog that did not open land to the public cannot “occupy” the property—-accounts for the plain, ordinary, and accepted meaning of the term “occupies.” See majority op., ¶41. Although the majority opinion references the “requiring a degree of permanence, as opposed to mere use” definition of “occupies” utilized by the court of appeals in Doane v. Helenville Mut. Ins. Co., 216 Wis. 2d 345, 354, 575 N.W.2d 734 (Ct. App. 1998), majority op., ¶34, it fails to apply the Doane definition to the facts of this case and fails to address the fact that the court of appeals has used differing definitions of “occupies,” as explained below, when determining whether an individual or group meets the definition of “owner” in Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(d)1.
[*P141] On several occasions, the court of appeals has addressed the meaning of “occupies” in the definition of “owner” under Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(d)1. and concluded that “occupies” [**67] requires actual use of the property. In Hall v. Turtle Lake Lions Club, 146 Wis. 2d 486, 490-91, 431 N.W.2d 696 (Ct. App. 1988), the court of appeals adopted a definition of “occupies” from a case decided by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals:
[O]ccupant include[s] persons who, while not owners or tenants, have the actual use of land . . . . While “occupant” includes [an] owner and lessee, it also means one who has the actual use of property without legal title, dominion or tenancy. In order to give meaning to [occupies], the term should be interpreted to encompass a resident of land who is more transient than either a lessee or an owner.
Id. at 491 (citing Smith v. Sno Eagles Snowmobile Club, Inc., 823 F.2d 1193, 1197 (7th Cir. 1987))(quoting Smith v. Sno Eagles Snowmobile Club, Inc., 625 F. Supp. 1579, 1582 (E.D. Wis. 1986)).6 Subsequent cases have cited Hall and relied on its definition of “occupies property.” See Leu v. Prince Cty. Snowmobile Trails Ass’n, Inc., 2005 WI App 81, ¶¶11-13, 280 Wis. 2d 765, 695 N.W.2d 889; Mooney v. Royal Ins. Co. of Am., 164 Wis. 2d 516, 521-22, 476 N.W.2d 287 (Ct. App. 1991); Lee v. Elk Rod & Gun Club, Inc., 164 Wis. 2d 103, 107, 473 N.W.2d 581 (Ct. App. 1991).
6 Although Smith v. Sno Eagles Snowmobile Club, Inc., 823 F.2d 1193 (7th Cir. 1987), applied Wis. Stat. § 29.68, the precursor to Wis. Stat. § 895.52, both statutes grant recreational immunity to owners, lessees, and occupants. Compare Wis. Stat. § 29.68(1)(1981-82) with Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(d)1. and (2) (2013-14).
[*P142] However, in Doane, the court of appeals determined that “occupies property” within the definition of “owner” under Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(d)1. requires some degree of permanence in addition to actual use of the property. Doane, 216 Wis. 2d at 351. The court of appeals recently applied the some degree of permanence definition of “occupies” from Doane in WEA Property & Cas. Ins. Co., 2013 WI App 139, ¶21, 352 Wis. 2d 73, 841 N.W.2d 290.
[*P143] The majority, however, fails to apply the some degree of permanence definition of Doane [**68] to the facts of this case. Instead, it compares this case to Doane by focusing on the purpose underlying the recreational immunity statute—-to open up land for recreation. Majority op., ¶35. Doane involved the owner of an ice shanty on a lake already open for public recreational purposes, who was not present at the invitation of the titled owner or lessee but who was simply using public waters as any member of the public could. See Doane, 216 Wis. 2d at 348, 353-54. An entirely different situation is presented here, where Sundog, the owner of a hot air balloon, was invited to occupy land for purposes of attracting members of the public to a charity event by offering the recreational activity of ballooning. The majority likens Sundog to the owner of the ice shanty because the Conservationists’ property, like the lake in Doane, was already open for public recreational purposes; therefore, the majority reasons, recognizing immunity “‘would not further the policy which underlies the statute, i.e., of opening as much property as possible for recreational use . . . .'” Majority op., ¶35 (citing Doane, 216 Wis. 2d at 355). The majority’s analogy fails because in Hall, 146 Wis. 2d at 487, the Turtle Lake Lions Club was immunized from liability for an injury occurring on [**69] the grounds of a public park and in Lee, 164 Wis. 2d at 107, the Elk Rod & Gun Club was considered a “landowner” under the recreational immunity statute as an occupant of a city park. The recreational immunity statute simply does not restrict immunity to occupiers of land that is not already open to the public.
[*P144] The definition of “occupies” adopted in Hall comports with the plain, ordinary, and accepted meaning of the word as well as the legislative purpose of the recreational immunity statute. There is no temporal requirement embedded in the definition of occupy. The broad definition of “owner,” which expressly encompasses a person that “occupies” property, is not limited to those who “host” or “organize” an event on the land. The recreational immunity statute immunizes a person that “owns, leases or occupies property”; the statute does not restrict immunity to only those occupiers who are event “hosts” or “organizers,” a limitation the majority invents in this case. In an apparent attempt to further narrow the scope of recreational immunity beyond the words of the statute, the majority reads into the statute language that simply is not present. Whether recreational immunity should be further limited is [**70] a policy judgment for the legislature and not this court to make.
[*P145] Furthermore, I am not persuaded by the majority’s conclusion that granting recreational immunity to Sundog would result in the limitless application of Wis. Stat. § 895.52(2). See majority op., ¶¶38-40. A plain meaning interpretation of “occupies property,” requires actual use of the land. For example, in Mooney, 164 Wis. 2d at 522-23, the court of appeals held that a snowmobile club that had left the property following the conclusion of an event did not meet the definition of an occupier and could not receive recreational immunity. The same would be true of a hot air balloon manufacturer because the manufacturer is not located on the property at the event using the land, and therefore is not an “occupier.” It should go without saying that the recreational immunity statute does not extend to the manufacturer of Sundog’s balloon yet the majority uses this example to create an unnecessary limiting principle by stirring unfounded fears that otherwise “there will be no stopping point to recreational immunity” despite statutory language that plainly restricts immunity to those who own, lease or occupy property. See majority op., ¶39. Of course, the manufacturer of Sundog’s [**71] balloon fits none of these categories. The legislature created a stopping point. It is not this court’s role to second-guess the legislature’s policy judgments by moving the mark.
[*P146] Finally, the majority relies on Linville v. City of Janesville, 184 Wis. 2d 705, 516 N.W.2d 427 (1994), to declare a new limiting principle for recreational immunity. Majority op., ¶¶38-39. In Linville, the court declined to extend immunity to city paramedics providing services for injuries sustained during a recreational activity, noting that such services could take place days or weeks after the event and away from the site of the recreational activity. Linville, 184 Wis. 2d at 711, 720. Specifically, relying on Linville, the majority asserts that Sundog has “no connection to the land” and therefore should not qualify for recreational immunity. Majority op., ¶39. The use of Linville and this particular limiting principle is perplexing in two respects. First, the majority’s reliance on Linville implicitly addresses the Roberts’s alternative argument—-that an injury must arise from a condition associated with the land—- despite the majority opinion’s pronouncement that it does not decide this issue. See majority op., ¶4 n.4. Second, not only was Sundog present on the land during the charity event, but its [**72] hot air balloon was literally connected to the land by ropes that tethered the hot air balloon to two trees (and a truck) on the property. Unlike the paramedics in Linville, Sundog was the entity actually providing the recreational activity, notably one that is specifically mentioned as a “recreational activity” in the recreational immunity statute. See 895.52(1)(g).
[*P147] I would affirm the court of appeals and hold that Sundog is entitled to recreational immunity under Wis. Stat. § 895.52.
[*P148] For the foregoing reasons, I respectfully dissent.
[*P149] I am authorized to state that Justice DAVID T. PROSSER joins this dissent except for footnote 4.
Jiminy Peak Mountain Report, LLC, Plaintiff, v. Wiegand Sports, LLC, and, Navigators Specialty Insurance, CO., Defendants.
Civil Action No. 14-40115-MGM
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS
2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34209
March 16, 2016, Decided
March 16, 2016, Filed
CORE TERMS: insured, insurer, duty to defend, liability insurance, owe, cross-motions, liability claims, bodily injury’, declaratory, premium, state law, insurance policy, amount in controversy, threshold amount, principal place of business, wholly-owned subsidiary, disclosures, publicly, disputed, traded, judgment ordering, seriously injured, own expense, fully performed, negligence claim, indemnification, cross-claims, contractual, separately, asserting
COUNSEL: [*1] For Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, LLC, Plaintiff: Jennifer C. Sheehan, Matthew D. Sweet, Richard J. Shea, Hamel, Marcin, Dunn, Reardon & Shea, P.C., Boston, MA.
For Navigators Specialty Insurance Company, Defendant: David A. Grossbaum, LEAD ATTORNEY, Matthew R. Watson, Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, Boston, MA.
JUDGES: MARK G. MASTROIANNI, United States District Judge.
OPINION BY: MARK G. MASTROIANNI
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS
(Dkt. Nos. 40 & 42)
Plaintiff, Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, LLC (“Jiminy”) operates a ski area in Hancock, Massachusetts. In 2005 it entered into a contract with Defendant, Wiegand Sports, LLC (“Wiegand”), to purchase a Wiegand, Alpine Coaster (the “Coaster”). The Coaster opened to the public in 2006. In August of 2012, two minors were seriously injured while riding the Coaster. The parents of the minors subsequently filed two lawsuits (together, the “Underlying Action”), each asserting claims against Jiminy and Wiegand. Jiminy subsequently filed this suit against Wiegand and Defendant, Navigators Specialty Insurance, Co. (“Navigators”), Wiegand’s insurer at the time the minors were injured, seeking a declaratory judgment [*2] ordering Wiegand and Navigators to pay the defense costs incurred by Jiminy in the Underlying Action. Before the court are cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings from Jiminy and Navigators. Jiminy and Wiegand have stipulated to the dismissal of their cross-claims, agreeing to litigate those claims in the Underlying Action, rather than in this lawsuit.
In this action, Jiminy seeks an order requiring Navigators to pay Jiminy’s past and future defense costs in the Underlying Action based on the terms of the contract between Jiminy and Wiegand and the insurance policy Navigators issued to Wiegand. The relief is requested pursuant to state law. Federal courts have jurisdiction over suits brought pursuant to state law where there is complete diversity of citizenship between the adversaries and the amount in controversy exceeds a threshold amount of $75,000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332; Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 513, 126 S. Ct. 1235, 163 L. Ed. 2d 1097 (2006). Based on the content of the complaint and the corporate disclosures filed by the parties (Dkt. Nos. 20, 21, 55), the court finds that (1) Jiminy is a Massachusetts limited liability company, owned by two other Massachusetts limited liability companies, which in turn are owned by members who reside in Massachusetts [*3] and (2) Navigators is incorporated in Delaware, has its principal place of business in Connecticut, and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the publicly traded Navigators Group, Inc., less than ten percent (10%) of which is owned by any other single publicly traded corporation.1 Plaintiff asserts the amount in controversy exceeds the statutory threshold amount. In the absence of any challenge from Defendant, the court finds it has jurisdiction in this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
1 Though Jiminy is no longer pursuing its claim against Wiegand, the court notes that Wiegand, as a wholly-owned subsidiary of a German entity with its principal place of business in Salt Lake City, Utah, is also diverse with respect to Jiminy. (Compl. ¶ 7, Dkt. No. 1, Corp. Disclosure, ¶ 1, Dkt. No. 19.)
III. Standard of Review
“‘A motion for judgment on the pleadings [under Rule 12(c)] is treated much like a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss,’ with the court viewing ‘the facts contained in the pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and draw[ing] all reasonable inferences therefrom.'” In re Loestrin 24 Fe Antitrust Litig., No. 14-2071, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 3049, 2016 WL 698077, at *8 (1st Cir. Feb. 22, 2016) (quoting Pérez-Acevedo v. Rivero-Cubano, 520 F.3d 26, 29 (1st Cir. 2008)). Where, as here, the court is presented with cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings, the court’s role is [*4] “to determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law on facts that are not disputed.” Curran v. Cousins, 509 F.3d 36, 44 (1st Cir. 2007) (internal citations omitted)). As in the case of a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court is permitted to consider documents central to the plaintiff’s claims where the authenticity of the documents is not disputed and the complaint adequately references the documents. Id. (citing Watterson v. Page, 987 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1993)).
In December of 2005, Jiminy and Wiegand entered into a “Consulting, Purchase, Delivery, Assembly and Inspection Contract” (the “Contract”). (Compl. ¶ 9, Dkt. No. 1.) Pursuant to this contract, Jiminy agreed to purchase the Coaster and Wiegand agreed to deliver, assemble, and inspect it. (Id.) Section 8 of the Contract, titled “Rights and Obligations of [Jiminy]” included in its final subsection, 8(j), language stating that Wiegand would purchase product liability insurance for the Coaster, but that Jiminy was required to pay a portion of the premium, the amount of which would be determined based on the purchase price of the Coaster, and Jiminy would then be listed as an additional insured. (Compl. Ex. A, Contract, § 8(j), Dkt. No. 1-1.) (Id.) The Contract did not set forth the term during which Wiegand’s product [*5] liability insurance policy would apply, but did provide that Jiminy would have the option to continue as an additional insured during subsequent periods, provided it continued to pay the “same premium ratio.” Id. The same section also provided that Jiminy would separately maintain a personal injury insurance policy “at its own expense at all times so long as [it] operates [the Coaster].” (Id.) The Complaint does not assert that Jiminy continued to pay premiums to remain an additional insured under Wiegand’s product liability insurance policy.
Separately at Section 12, titled “Indemnification,” the Contract provided that:
in the event of a product liability suit against [Wiegand], [Wiegand] “shall, at its own expense, defend any suit or proceeding brought against [Jiminy] and shall fully protect and indemnify [Jiminy] against any and all losses, liability, cost, recovery, or other expense in or resulting from such . . . suit (provided, however, [Jiminy] has fully performed all ongoing maintenance obligations).
(Id. at § 12(A)(1).)
The following paragraph then provided that Jiminy would
protect, indemnify, defend and hold [Wiegand] harmless from and against any and all losses of [Wiegand] arising out of or sustained, [*6] in each case, directly or indirectly, from . . . any default by [Jiminy] . . . including without limitation, from defective/bad maintenance and/or operation of the Alpine Coaster caused by [Jiminy’s] gross negligence or willful misconduct.
(Id. at § 12(A)(2).)
Under Section 18, the Contract is to be interpreted in accordance with Massachusetts law.
(Id. at § 18.)
The Coaster was installed and became operational in 2006. In August of 2012, two minors were seriously injured while riding the Coaster. At the time of the accident, Wiegand had a general commercial liability insurance policy with Navigators (“Policy”). (Policy, Ex. C, Dkt. No. 1-3.) The Policy Period ran from March 1, 2012 through March 1, 2013. Id. Pursuant to Section I(1)(a), the Policy provided that Navigators would “pay those sums that [Wiegand] becomes legally obligated to pay as damages because of ‘bodily injury’ . . . to which [the Policy] applies.” (Id. at Section I(1)(a).) The obligation established under Section I(1)(a) is further defined in Section I(2)(b) as excluding certain types of damages, including those assumed in a contract, unless assumed in an “insured contract.” (Id. at Section I(2)(b).) In the case of an “insured contract,” “reasonable [*7] attorney fees and necessary litigation expenses incurred by or for a party other than an insured [was] deemed to be damages because of ‘bodily injury’ . . . , provided . . . that the party’s defense [had] also been assumed in the same ‘insured contract'” and the damages arise in a suit to which the Policy applied. (Id.) An “insured contract” is defined in the Policy as including “[t]hat part of any other contract or agreement pertaining to [Wiegand’s] business . . . under which [Wiegand] assume[d] the tort liability of another party to pay for ‘bodily injury’ . . . to a third person or organization.” (Id. at Section V(9)(f)). “Tort liabililty” is, in turn, defined as “a liability that would be imposed by law in the absence of any contract or agreement.” (Id.)
The parents of the minors injured on the Coaster in August of 2012 subsequently filed the Underlying Action against Jiminy and Wiegand.2 (Compl., Ex. B, Compls. in Underlying Action, Dkt. No. 1-2.) The six-count complaints3 both include a negligence claim against Jiminy (Count I), a negligence claim against Wiegand (Count II), products liability claims against Wiegand (Counts III and IV), breach of implied warranty of merchantability claim against [*8] Wiegand (Count V), and a loss of consortium claim against Wiegand and Jiminy (Count VI). (Id.) After the Underlying Action was filed, Jiminy filed this action against Wiegand and Navigators, seeking a declaratory judgment ordering Wiegand and Navigators to pay the defense costs incurred by Jiminy in connection with the Underlying Action. (Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) As mentioned above, Jiminy and Wiegand agreed to the dismissal of Jiminy’s claim seeking declaratory judgment from Wiegand in this action and instead are litigating the issues in the Underlying Action.
2 These suits were initially filed in the Eastern District of New York, but have since been transferred to this court where they are proceeding as a consolidated case – 13-cv-30108-MGM. The claims brought on behalf of the minors have already been settled. The only remaining claims in those cases are the cross-claims between Jiminy and Wiegand.
3 In both complaints, the claims are actually labeled 1-5 and 7.
Both Jiminy and Navigators have moved for judgment on the pleadings. Navigators argues that as an insurer it owes a duty to defend its insured, Wiegand, but it does not owe a direct duty to defend Jiminy because Jiminy [*9] is not an additional insured under the Policy.4 Further, the duty Navigators has under the Policy to pay defense costs to a non-insured party pursuant to a contractual liability of its insured only requires it to make payments to the insured, and only when the insured has actually requested payment. In this case, Navigators asserts that even if Wiegand is found to owe Jiminy its defense costs, it will be up to Wiegand to determine whether it wishes to pay the amount or to make a claim to Navigators. Since Navigators owes no duty directly to Jiminy and it would be up to Wiegand to determine whether to make a claim in the event judgment is entered against it with respect to Jiminy’s defense costs, Navigators argues judgment on the pleadings should enter in its favor.
4 In its filings and at oral argument, Jiminy was clear that it was not claiming to be an additional insured under the Policy.
For its part, Jiminy begins its argument with the Contract, asserting first that the language in the Contract at § 12(A)(1) clearly establishes that Wiegand has a duty to pay Jiminy’s defense costs regardless of any potential factual disputes between Jiminy and Wiegand, provided (1) the defense costs are incurred [*10] in litigation in which there is a product liability claim against Wiegand and (2) Jiminy is also a defendant named in the action.5 As the Underlying Action includes product liability claims against Wiegand, as well as other claims against Jiminy, Jiminy asserts the two requirements are met. Jiminy then turns to the Policy, arguing that the Contract is an “insured contract” for purposes of the Policy. Finally, Jiminy argues that since the Policy provides coverage for liability assumed by Wiegand in an “insured contract,” Navigator, as an insurer, is required under Massachusetts law, to pay for Jiminy’s defense, without regard to the resolution of the dispute between Wiegand and Jiminy.
5 Initially, in its memorandum in support of its motion for judgment on the pleadings, Jiminy argued that it would also be necessary to establish that there were no disputes as to whether Jiminy had “fully performed all ongoing maintenance obligations.” (Compl., Ex. B, Contract §12(A)(1).) Subsequently, in its opposition to Navigators’ motion for judgment on the pleadings, Jiminy instead argued that the requirement regarding maintenance obligations applied only to indemnification claims.
Navigators has not contested, [*11] at least relative to the purpose of the motions currently before the court, that the Contract between Jiminy and Wiegand is an “insured contract” for purposes of the Policy. Also, Navigators does not dispute or that the Underlying Action is the type of litigation covered under the Policy. The court begins its analysis by considering whether Massachusetts law allows Jiminy to compel payment from Navigators based on Navigators’ obligations to its insured, Wiegand. Massachusetts law imposes on insurers a “broad duty to defend its insured against any claims that create a potential for indemnity.” Doe v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 423 Mass. 366, 667 N.E.2d 1149, 1151 (Mass. 1996). This duty is broad and attaches whenever the claims in the complaint match up with the language in the policy. See Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. SCA Services, Inc., 412 Mass. 330, 588 N.E.2d 1346, 1347 (Mass. 1992). However, the cases cited by the parties all involve cases in which the court discussed the duty in the context of the insured.
Jiminy has not cited any cases in which a court imposed on an insurer a duty to defend a third-party beneficiary of a policy. Instead, Jiminy argues the language of the Policy providing coverage for defense costs of a third-party pursuant to an “insured contract” shows the parties’ intention that Navigators would pay such costs and, therefore, such language [*12] should be construed to impose upon Navigators a duty to make payment directly to Jiminy. The court disagrees. As demonstrated by the provisions in the Policy that allow for the designation of an additional insured, Navigators and Wiegand knew how to extend Navigators’ duties as an insurer to other parties. Damages, including defense costs, associated with “insured contracts” were handled differently, indicating that Navigators and Wiegand did not, in fact, intend that in a case like this one Navigators would have any direct obligations to Jiminy based on the Contract. The Contract also included provisions regarding both additional insureds and “insured contracts,” suggesting that Jiminy, like Navigators and Wiegand, understood that Wiegand’s promise to pay Jiminy’s defense costs would not grant Jiminy the status of an “additional insured” with respect to Navigators.
In the absence of a contractual relationship between Navigators and Jiminy, the court finds no legal basis for ordering Navigators to pay Jiminy’s defense costs directly. Any obligation upon Navigators to pay such costs will arise only after an insured, in this case Wiegand, makes a claim for payment and then its only obligation [*13] will be to Wiegand. Judgment on the pleadings in favor of Navigators is, therefore, appropriate.
For the Foregoing reasons, Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is hereby DENIED and Defendant’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is hereby ALLOWED.
It is So Ordered.
/s/ Mark G. Mastroianni
MARK G. MASTROIANNI
United States District Judge
Turnbough v. Ladner, 754 So. 2d 467; 1999 Miss. LEXIS 375
Michael Turnbough v. Janet Ladner
SUPREME COURT OF MISSISSIPPI
754 So. 2d 467; 1999 Miss. LEXIS 375
December 9, 1999, Decided
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HARRISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/04/1997. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. KOSTA N. VLAHOS.
Original Opinion of December 18, 1998, Reported at: 1998 Miss. App. LEXIS 1011.
DISPOSITION: REVERSED AND REMANDED.
COUNSEL: ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: JOE SAM OWEN, ROBERT P. MYERS, JR.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: ROBERT M. FREY, MICHAEL E. McWILLIAMS.
JUDGES: McRAE, JUSTICE. SULLIVAN AND PITTMAN, P.JJ., BANKS AND WALLER, JJ., CONCUR. MILLS, J., DISSENTS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY PRATHER, C.J., SMITH AND COBB, JJ.
OPINION BY: MCRAE
[*468] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL – PERSONAL INJURY
McRAE, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
P1. Michael Turnbough suffered decompression sickness after participating in a certification scuba dive led by Janet Ladner. Turnbough subsequently filed suit against Ladner alleging she was negligent in planning and supervising the dive. Ladner filed a motion for summary judgment, which the Circuit Court of Harrison County granted based on an anticipatory release that Turnbough had signed in favor of Ladner. Turnbough appealed, the Court of Appeals affirmed, and we granted certiorari. We [**2] reverse the Court of Appeals, as well as the trial court, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We hold that the release executed by Turnbough did not exclude from liability the type of negligence which forms the basis for Turnbough’s complaint; and therefore, the trial court’s grant of summary judgment was error.
P2. Michael Turnbough decided in 1994 that he wanted to obtain his open-water certification as a scuba diver. He had previously been certified as a scuba diver, but his certification had expired back in the 1980’s. Turnbough enrolled in a scuba diving class offered by Gulfport Yacht Club and taught by Janet Ladner. Upon learning from Ladner that all of the participants would be required to execute a release in favor of her and the Gulfport Yacht Club in order to participate in the class, Turnbough questioned a fellow student who also happened to be an attorney. After Turnbough’s classmate informed him that such releases were unenforceable, Turnbough then executed the document entitled “Liability Release and Express Assumption of Risk.” The release, in pertinent part, stated
Further, I understand that diving with compressed [**3] air involves certain inherent risks: decompression sickness [and others]. . . .
P3. At the conclusion of the six- week course, the class convened in Panama City, Florida to perform the first of their “check-out dives” in order to receive certification. On Saturday, July 23, 1994, the class performed two dives from the beach. However, Turnbough’s participation in the first dive was cut short by a leaking tank. He completed the second dive with no apparent problems. The next morning, Sunday, July 24, 1994, the class performed two dives from a dive boat. Two dives of sixty feet each were scheduled, but because the dive boat had engine problems, the first dive site was only forty-six to forty-eight feet deep. The second dive descended to sixty feet, and Ladner calculated the maximum time allowable for the second dive as thirty-eight minutes.
P4. Turnbough began to feel the first effects of decompression sickness, commonly known as “the bends,” on his way back to Gulfport that evening. The next day Turnbough began experiencing a pain that he described as “arthritic” in his joints. On Tuesday, Turnbough began attempting to contact Ladner to inform her of his symptoms. He continued [**4] to make attempts to contact her throughout the week, finally reaching her on Friday. Ladner advised Turnbough to call a diver’s hotline, which in turn instructed him to seek medical attention at a dive hospital. Turnbough received treatment for decompression sickness at the Jo Ellen Smith Hospital in New Orleans. Turnbough states that he was told by the doctors at the hospital who ran the dive profile that the dive was too long, and there should have been a decompression stop before the [*469] divers surfaced. He further states that he was told that he could never dive again. Tom Ebro, an expert in water safety and scuba diving, opined that Ladner was negligent in planning the depths of the dives as well as in failing to make safety stops and that these errors significantly increased the risk that her students might suffer decompression illness.
P5. On February 10, 1995, Turnbough filed suit against Ladner. In his complaint, Turnbough alleged that Ladner was negligent in her supervision of the dive and in exposing him to decompression injury. Ladner filed a motion for summary judgment on October 27, 1995, based on the release Turnbough had signed. The circuit court granted the motion, [**5] and dismissed the case.
P6. Turnbough appealed, asserting that the release should be declared void as against public policy, and the case was assigned to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals found that the release was a contract of a purely personal nature and did not violate Mississippi public policy because scuba diving does not implicate a public concern. We subsequently granted certiorari.
P7. [HN1] The law does not look with favor on contracts intended to exculpate a party from the liability of his or her own negligence although, with some exceptions, they are enforceable. However, such agreements are subject to close judicial scrutiny and are not upheld unless the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unmistakable language. 57A Am. Jur. 2d Negligence § 65, at 124 (1989); see also Willard Van Dyke Prods., Inc. v. Eastman Kodak Co., 12 N.Y.2d 301, 189 N.E.2d 693, 695, 239 N.Y.S.2d 337 (N.Y. 1963) (“clear and unequivocal terms”). “Clauses [HN2] limiting liability are given rigid scrutiny by the courts, and will not be enforced unless the limitation is fairly and honestly negotiated and understandingly entered into. [**6] ” Farragut v. Massey, 612 So. 2d 325, 330 (Miss. 1992) (quoting 17 Am. Jur. 2d Contracts § 297, at 298 n.74 (1991).
P8. [HN3] The wording of an exculpatory agreement should express as clearly and precisely as possible the extent to which a party intends to be absolved from liability. Bradley Realty Corp. v. New York, 54 A.D.2d 1104, 389 N.Y.S.2d 198, 199-200 (N.Y. App. Div. 1976); Hertzog v. Harrison Island Shores, Inc., 21 A.D.2d 859, 251 N.Y.S.2d 164, 165 (N.Y. App. Div. 1964). Failing that, we do not sanction broad, general “waiver of negligence” provisions, and strictly construe them against the party asserting them as a defense. See Leach v. Tingle, 586 So. 2d 799, 801 (Miss. 1991); State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Scitzs, 394 So. 2d 1371, 1372 (Miss. 1981).
P9. [HN4] In further determining the extent of exemption from liability in releases, this Court has looked to the intention of the parties in light of the circumstances existing at the time of the instrument’s execution. Farragut, 612 So. 2d at 330. The affidavit of [**7] Tom Ebro, an expert in water safety and scuba diving, shows that the alleged negligent acts on which Turnbough’s claim is based could not have been contemplated by the parties. Ebro stated that Ladner’s instruction fell “woefully short” of minimally acceptable standards of scuba instruction. Specifically, he averred that Ladner negligently planned the depths of the dives and failed to make safety stops which significantly increased the risk of decompression illness, especially with a student class. Assuming Turnbough was aware of the inherent risks in scuba diving, it does not reasonably follow that he, a student, intended to waive his right to recover from Ladner for failing to follow even the most basic industry safety standards. This is especially true since Ladner, who held herself out as an expert scuba instructor and is presumed to have superior knowledge, is the very one on whom Turnbough depended for safety. In this case it appears that Ladner may have miscalculated the amount of time for the dive or may have failed to take into account [*470] previous dives. This is important because nitrogen builds up in the body while underwater and, with too much nitrogen, the “bends” and permanent [**8] damage including loss of life may occur. Surely it cannot be said from the language of the agreement that Turnbough intended to accept any heightened exposure to injury caused by the malfeasance of an expert instructor. Turnbough, by executing the release, did not knowingly waive his right to seek recovery for injuries caused by Ladner’s failure to follow basic safety guidelines that should be common knowledge to any instructor of novice students.
P10. We have held in Quinn that [HN5] contracts attempting to limit the liabilities of one of the parties would not “be enforced unless the limitation is fairly and honestly negotiated and understood by both parties.” Quinn v. Mississippi State Univ., 720 So. 2d 843, 851 (Miss. 1998) (citation omitted). In this case, Turnbough signed a pre-printed contract, the terms of which were not negotiated. Since the contract was not negotiated and contained a broad waiver of negligence provision, the terms of the contract should be strictly construed against the party seeking to enforce such a provision. See Leach v. Tingle, 586 So. 2d at 801; State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Scitzs, 394 So. 2d at 1372. [**9]
P11. Although waivers are commonly used and necessary for some activities and the attendant risks and hazards associated with them, those who wish to relieve themselves from responsibility associated with a lack of due care or negligence should do so in specific and unmistakable terms. The agreement in this case fails to do that.
P12. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and the trial court’s summary judgment and we remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
P13. REVERSED AND REMANDED FOR PROCEEDINGS CONSISTENT WITH THIS OPINION.
SULLIVAN AND PITTMAN, P.JJ., BANKS AND WALLER, JJ., CONCUR. MILLS, J., DISSENTS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY PRATHER, C.J., SMITH AND COBB, JJ.
DISSENT BY: MILLS
MILLS, JUSTICE, DISSENTING:
P14. The majority finds that summary judgment was not appropriate in this case, and therefore reverses and remands for a trial. Because the trial court was correct in granting summary judgment, I respectfully dissent.
P15. We must determine the validity of an unambiguous release dealing with admittedly hazardous activities signed [**10] with full awareness of all the risks and dangers by Turnbough in favor of Ladner. The record shows that Turnbough consulted a fellow classmate who also happened to be an attorney. Turnbough’s classmate gratuitously informed him that such releases were unenforceable. Turnbough then proceeded to sign the release but he now seeks to have the release invalidated on the basis that such releases are unenforceable. Turnbough’s conduct in this matter shows that he entered into a binding contract with no intention of honoring it and every intention of breaking it at a later time should it become convenient.
P16. Directly addressing the facts of this case, the release in question states in pertinent part:
I, Michael Turnbough, hereby affirm that I have been advised and thoroughly informed of the inherent dangers of skin diving and scuba diving.
Further, I understand that diving with compressed air involves certain inherent risks: decompression sickness [and others]. . . .
I understand and agree that neither my instructor(s) Janet Ladner [nor the Yacht Cub or other participants] may [*471] be held liable or responsible in any way for any injury, death, or other damages to me or my family, [**11] heirs, or assigns that may occur as a result of my participation in this diving class or as a result of the negligence of any party, including the Released Parties, whether passive or active.
P17. In my opinion such unambiguous releases comport with the public policy of the State of Mississippi and should be enforced. The failure to enforce such releases when dealing with obviously risky activities, such as scuba diving, will have a chilling effect on the numerous sporting activities and other events of obvious danger. We should allow reasonable adults to assume such risks when they choose to engage in activities of greater than usual danger.
P18. Releases are not only meant to save the party in whose favor it is executed from being held ultimately liable, but are also intended to allow such a party to avoid the costs and anxiety of having to fully litigate the matter. Summary judgment is the appropriate mechanism to do just that. Summary judgment may be granted “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled [**12] to a judgment as a matter of law.” M.R.C.P. 56(c). “A ‘material’ fact tends to resolve any of the issues, properly raised by the parties.” Mississippi Road Supply Company, Inc. v. Zurich-American Insurance Company, 501 So. 2d 412, 414 (Miss. 1987) (quoting Pearl River County Board of Supervisors v. South East Collections Agency, Inc., 459 So. 2d 783, 785 (Miss.1984)).
P19. Finally, the record in this case indicates that Turnbough, after signing a release he did not intend to honor, admittedly consumed several alcoholic beverages at a local cabaret just hours before his dive in violation of clear warnings given to him by Ladner. Today’s majority opinion favors those who recklessly ignore sober warnings, intentionally sign agreements that they have no intention of fulfilling and then throw themselves upon the mercy of the Courts to reward their dishonest and reckless behavior. This Court should not reward such conduct. I would therefore affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Ladner.
P20. I respectfully dissent.
PRATHER, C.J., SMITH AND COBB, JJ., JOIN THIS OPINION.
Deliah Colyer, as Natural Mother and Next Friend of Marshuan Braxton, Deceased, and on Behalf of all Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of Marshuan Braxton, Deceased, Appellant v. First United Methodist Church of New Albany and John Does 1-15, APPELLEES
COURT OF APPEALS OF MISSISSIPPI
2016 Miss. App. LEXIS 160
March 29, 2016, Decided
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1] COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: UNION COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/22/2014. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. ROBERT WILLIAM ELLIOTT. TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: SUMMARY JUDGMENT GRANTED TO APPELLEES.
DISPOSITION: REVERSED AND REMANDED.
COUNSEL: FOR APPELLANT: JOSHUA A. TURNER.
FOR APPELLEES: WILTON V. BYARS III, JOSEPH LUKE BENEDICT.
JUDGES: BEFORE IRVING, P.J., CARLTON AND JAMES, JJ. LEE, C.J., BARNES AND FAIR, JJ., JOIN THIS OPINION. WILSON, J., JOINS THIS OPINION IN PART. CARLTON, J., SPECIALLY CONCURRING.
OPINION BY: JAMES
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL – WRONGFUL DEATH
BEFORE IRVING, P.J., CARLTON AND JAMES, JJ.
JAMES, J., FOR THE COURT:
P1. This case arises out of a wrongful-death action filed by Deliah Colyer on behalf of her deceased son, Marshuan Braxton. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of First United Methodist Church of New Albany. On appeal, Colyer argues that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment. Finding error, we reverse and remand this case for a trial.
P2. On June 20, 2009, Braxton, along with other minors and adult chaperones, flew from Memphis, Tennessee, to Costa Rica on a mission trip. Braxton, a seventeen-year-old, was expecting to begin his senior year at New Albany High School when classes [*2] resumed for the 2009-2010 school year. The purpose of the mission trip was to construct a sanctuary in Villa Briceno, Costa Rica, and conduct other mission activities. The trip was led by Amanda Gordon, associate pastor of First United Methodist Church of New Albany, Mississippi (FUNA). Amanda coordinated the trip with missionary Wil Bailey through the regional United Methodist missions group. There were fifteen members on the mission trip from FUNA, with nine adults and six minors. Five other individuals, four adults and one minor, from First United Methodist Church of Brandon, Mississippi, also joined.
P3. Before leaving for the mission trip, Elnora Howell, Braxton’s legal guardian and grandmother, signed two documents before a notary public as a condition of Braxton participating. These documents included a New Albany First United Methodist Church Youth Medical / Parent Consent form and a Parental Consent form. Braxton also signed a document entitled “Int. Missionary Profile and Release of Claim” that contained warnings about the dangers associated with participating in the mission trip.
P4. The group arrived in San Isidro, Costa Rica, on June 20. On June 21, 2009, the group left [*3] San Isidro to travel to the worksite in Villa Briceno. Since they expected to ride on the bus for several hours, Bailey suggested they stop for lunch at a scenic site on their way to Villa Briceno. The group stopped and ate at a roadside café. After leaving the café, they stopped at the Dominicalito, a beach, located near the Pacific Ocean. The weather was clear, and there were a few picnic tables in the area. A few locals were also there. The group intended to go on a brief excursion and take photographs. The bus driver suggested two or three areas on the beach for the group to visit.
P5. The group separated into two or three smaller groups and headed to the suggested areas. Braxton, Mattie Carter, and Josh Creekmore, along with adult chaperones, Sam Creekmore and Mike Carter, went to a rock formation and climbed onto it to observe crabs. The adults eventually climbed down and walked behind the rock formation. Braxton, Mattie, and Josh stayed up top and continued to observe the crabs. While Braxton, Mattie, and Josh were still up top, a large wave crashed into the rock formation and knocked them into the ocean.
P6. Mike and Sam immediately climbed back on the rock formation and saw [*4] Braxton, Mattie, and Josh swimming with their heads above water. The wave current, however, began to wash the minors away from the rock formation. Sam instructed them to swim around the rocks into an inlet area to reach safety on the beach. Mike climbed down closer to the water level. A second wave rose and knocked Mike into the ocean, and the current took him in the opposite direction of Braxton, Mattie, and Josh. Mike was eventually rescued by a local Costa Rican resident that had a life jacket and rope. Braxton, unfortunately, disappeared into the water before Mike was rescued. Mattie and Josh, however, were able to swim out onto the beach after being in the water for about five minutes.
P7. Adam Gordon and his wife, Amanda, went to a different area of the beach, but because of the distance and obstructions blocking their view they were unable to see the minors. Adam testified that he was knocked down by a wave at the same time that the wave reached the area where Braxton, Josh, and Mattie were located. Amanda was standing nearby and saw the wave approaching Adam. Amanda yelled to her husband and then saw the wave knock him down. According to the Gordons, only one or two minutes [*5] passed before they had turned the corner of the taller rock formation and could see the rock where Braxton had been located. And it was at that time that they saw Mattie and Josh getting out of the water and Mike being rescued. However, according to Josh, fifteen to twenty minutes passed between Adam being knocked down by the large wave and the minors being swept into the water by another large wave.
P8. The mission-trip members immediately began to seek help after seeing people on the beach reacting and in the water. The locals contacted emergency services by telephone, and residents in the area helped. The ambulance and local authorities arrived. Thereafter, everyone at the beach began to look for Braxton. The mission-trip group stayed on the beach for over three hours after the incident until darkness ended their search. Regrettably, Braxton’s body was found the next day and identified by Amanda, Adam, and Sam.
P9. The complaint was filed on November 10, 2011, in the Circuit Court of Union County, Mississippi. FUNA filed its answer and defenses on March 16, 2012, and, after conducting discovery, filed it motion for summary judgment on March 5, 2014. A hearing was [*6] held on April 28, 2014, and resulted in the circuit court granting Colyer’s request for additional time to conduct discovery. Colyer conducted additional discovery and depositions followed by the parties providing supplemental briefing. Another hearing was held on September 16, 2014. After considering all of the sworn evidence and the arguments of counsel, the circuit court found that no genuine issue of material fact existed to support Colyer’s claims of negligence. The circuit court entered an order granting FUNA’s motion for summary judgment on September 23, 2014.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
P10. [HN1] We review the trial court’s grant or denial of summary judgment under a de novo standard. Moss Point Sch. Dist. v. Stennis, 132 So. 3d 1047, 1049-50 (P10) (Miss. 2014).
[HN2] Summary judgment is appropriate and shall be rendered if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Importantly, the party opposing summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings, but his response, by affidavit or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific [*7] facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. If he does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, will be entered against him.
Karpinsky v. Am. Nat’l Ins., 109 So. 3d 84, 88 (P10) (Miss. 2013) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). “[T]he evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party against whom the motion has been made.” One S. Inc. v. Hollowell, 963 So. 2d 1156, 1160 (P6) (Miss. 2007).
I. The trial court erred by granting summary judgment, as genuine issues of material fact existed.
P11. Colyer alleges that FUNA was negligent and FUNA owed a duty to supervise Braxton while the group was on the mission trip. FUNA’s position is that no negligence existed and that summary judgment was proper. [HN3] The elements of a prima facie case of negligence are duty, breach, causation, and damages. Grisham v. John Q. Long V.F.W. Post, No. 4057 Inc., 519 So. 2d 413, 416 (Miss. 1988); Burnham v. Tabb, 508 So. 2d 1072, 1074 (Miss. 1987). Colyer contends that FUNA owed a duty to Braxton to provide ordinary care while supervising him during this trip. Colyer alleges that the duty was breached, and that the negligent acts or omissions of FUNA caused the death of Braxton.
P12. FUNA agrees that a duty was owed to supervise Braxton, but FUNA contends that Braxton’s age at the time of his death diminishes that duty. Nevertheless, our supreme court has held that [HN4] adequacy of supervision is a question for the jury. Summers v. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Sch., 759 So. 2d 1203, 1215 (PP48-50) (Miss. 2000); see also James v. Gloversville Enlarged Sch. Dist., 155 A.D.2d 811, 548 N.Y.S.2d 87, 88-89 (N.Y. App. Div. 1989). Therefore, [*8] regardless of Braxton’s age, a jury must decide what constitutes proper and adequate supervision. See Todd v. First Baptist Church of W. Point, 993 So. 2d 827, 829 (P12) (Miss. 2008).
P13. There are also disputed facts regarding whether it was reasonable to expect Amanda to give Braxton warning after she witnessed her husband being knocked down by a wave. And we have determined that [HN5] “[c]ontradictory statements by a witness go to the weight and credibility of that witness[‘s] testimony, not its sufficiency, and a summary judgment motion does not place the trial court in the role of weighing testimony and determining the credibility of witnesses.” Jamison v. Barnes, 8 So. 3d 238, 245 (P17) (Miss. Ct. App. 2008) (citation omitted).
P14. Additionally, Colyer alleges other acts of negligence: (1) failure to research the dangers of the Pacific coast and (2) allowing the children, including Braxton, to go onto a dangerous rock structure on the coast of the Pacific Ocean without any knowledge of oceanic activities in Costa Rica.
P15. We conclude that there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether FUNA provided ordinary care while supervising Braxton during this trip, and so we reverse the grant of summary judgment.
II. The trial court erred in granting summary judgment by considering the waivers of Howell and Braxton.
P16. Even though Colyer [*9] raised this issue, it does not appear that the judge considered the waiver. In his opinion, the judge stated:
[The plaintiff] claims that the defendant is liable for the wrongful death of Marshuan Braxton, who die[d] from drowning during a mission trip to Costa Rica on June 21, 2009. Viewing the facts in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, the court finds no genuine issues of material fact exist[ ] to support [the] plaintiff’s claim of negligence against the defendant. Therefore, this Court finds as a matter of law [the] defendant’s motion to dismiss shall be granted.
P17. FUNA admits that it does not appear that the court relied on the release. However, FUNA states that the waivers are valid and bar recovery. It is undisputed that the parties in this appeal are not the same parties that executed the waivers. It appears that one of the waivers was signed by Howell, who was Braxton’s grandmother. She signed a “parental consent form,” but she is not a party to this action. Braxton, a seventeen-year-old minor at the time, appeared to have signed the release waiver.
P18. [HN6] Pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated section 93-19-13 (Rev. 2013), Braxton could not legally sign a contract of this nature to waive liability.1 Braxton’s contract [*10] was not legally binding because of his age and the nature of the contract. FUNA also alleges that the wrongful-death beneficiaries are bound by the contract of Braxton since they are third-party beneficiaries of Braxton’s contract. [HN7] “[O]rdinary contract principals require a meeting of the minds between the parties in order for agreements to be valid.” Am. Heritage Life Ins. v. Lang, 321 F.3d 533, 538 (5th Cir. 2003) (internal quotations and citations omitted). A contract cannot bind a nonparty. E.E.O.C. v. Waffle House Inc., 534 U.S. 279, 308, 122 S. Ct. 754, 151 L. Ed. 2d 755 (2002).
1 [HN8] “All persons eighteen (18) years of age or older, if not otherwise disqualified, or prohibited by law, shall have the capacity to enter into binding contractual relationships affecting personal property. Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect any contracts entered into prior to July 1, 1976. In any legal action founded on a contract entered into by a person eighteen (18) years of age or older, the said person may sue in his own name as an adult and be sued in his own name as an adult and be served with process as an adult.” See also Garrett v. Gay, 394 So. 2d 321, 322 (Miss. 1981).
P19. The two waivers executed in this case are not binding on Colyer and the trial court was correct in not giving any effect to these two waivers in its opinion.
P20. There is sufficient evidence before this Court [*11] to show that genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether FUNA’s supervision was negligent. Therefore, the trial court’s grant of summary judgment is reversed, and this case is remanded for a trial.
P21. THE JUDGMENT OF THE UNION COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT IS REVERSED, AND THIS CASE IS REMANDED FOR A TRIAL. ALL COSTS OF THIS APPEAL ARE ASSESSED TO THE APPELLEES.
LEE, C.J., IRVING, P.J., BARNES AND FAIR, JJ., CONCUR. WILSON, J., CONCURS IN RESULT ONLY WITHOUT SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION. CARLTON, J., SPECIALLY CONCURS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION, JOINED BY LEE, C.J., BARNES AND FAIR, JJ.; WILSON, J., JOINS IN PART. GRIFFIS, P.J., DISSENTS WITHOUT SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION. ISHEE AND GREENLEE, JJ., NOT PARTICIPATING.
CONCUR BY: CARLTON
CARLTON, J., SPECIALLY CONCURRING:
P22. I specially concur with the majority’s opinion in this case, and I write specially to address the material questions of fact raised herein. With respect to the negligence claims raised, the question as to whether a duty to warn arose from the relationship between the parties constitutes a question of law. See Pritchard v. Von Houten, 960 So. 2d 568, 579 (P27) (Miss. Ct. App. 2007). Questions of law are reviewed de novo. Id. at 576 (P20). However, the questions as to causation and foreseeability include material [*12] questions of fact. P23. In this case, a duty clearly arose from the relationship between Braxton, a seventeen-year-old minor, and Amanda, the associate pastor and leader of FUNA’s youth mission trip. At the very least, FUNA, by and through its employee, Amanda, bore a duty to use ordinary care to plan and supervise this international mission trip composed of church members to Costa Rica and its shores on the Pacific Ocean. As the facts of this case reflect, a duty also arose and existed to supervise Braxton on the rock formations of the Costa Rica Pacific coastline. Accordingly, I find that genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether FUNA, through its employee, Amanda, negligently failed to warn of dangerous conditions that she knew or should have known existed on the beaches of Costa Rica’s Pacific Ocean edge, and whether Amanda, as the mission-trip leader, negligently planned and supervised this international mission trip. See Garrett v. Nw. Miss. Junior Coll., 674 So. 2d 1, 3 (Miss. 1996).2
2 In Garrett, 674 So. 2d at 3, the Mississippi Supreme Court relied upon Roberts v. Robertson County Board of Education, 692 S.W.2d 863, 870 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1985), where the Tennessee Court of Appeals imposed a duty of care upon a high-school vocational teacher “to take those precautions that any ordinarily reasonable and prudent person would take to protect his [*13] shop students from the unreasonable risk of injury.”
P24. In Pritchard, 960 So. 2d at 579 (P27),3 we recognized that “[a]n important component of the existence of a duty is that the injury is reasonably foreseeable.” The Pritchard court further explained:
A defendant charged with a duty to exercise ordinary care must only take reasonable measures to remove or protect against foreseeable hazards that he knows about or should know about in the exercise of due care. Such a defendant must safeguard against reasonable probabilities, and is not charged with foreseeing all occurrences, even though such occurrences are within the range of possibility. A defendant whose conduct is reasonable in light of the foreseeable risks will not be found liable for negligence.
Id. at (P29) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted); see also Donald v. Amoco Prod. Co., 735 So. 2d 161, 175 (P48) (Miss. 1999). While duty constitutes an issue of law, causation is generally a question of fact for the jury. Brown v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., No. 06-CV-199, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40816, 2007 WL 1657417, at *4 (S.D. Miss. June 4, 2007).
3 The court in Pritchard, 960 So. 2d at 579 (P27), found that a vocational teacher “has the duty to take those precautions that any ordinary reasonable and prudent person would take to protect his shop students from the unreasonable risk of injury.”
P25. In Foster ex rel. Foster v. Bass, 575 So. 2d 967, 972 (Miss. 1990), the supreme court stated that “in order to recover for an injury to a [*14] person or property, by reason of negligence or want of due care, there must be shown to exist some obligation or duty toward the plaintiff which the defendant has left undischarged or unfulfilled.” Issues of fact as to foreseeability and breach of duty preclude summary judgment. See Summers ex rel. Dawson v. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Sch. Inc., 759 So. 2d 1203, 1214 (PP48-51) (Miss. 2000) (reversing summary judgment on negligent-supervision claim because issues of fact as to foreseeability existed).
P26. In this case, the record reflects that Amanda served as both the associate minister and youth minister at FUNA. Amanda testified that she was responsible for planning the trip to Costa Rica and that she recruited others to participate in this international mission trip. She provided that she had led youth mission trips before and had traveled with youth groups internationally before. Amanda testified that she had consulted with team leaders from another church who had traveled to Costa Rica on youth mission trips, but she admitted to failing to check with the United States State Department online travel advisory warnings, or any other travel advisories, as to any unsafe beach, tide, or surf conditions in Costa Rica. She also admitted to not instructing or warning Braxton or any other youth [*15] about beach safety or about the dangerous surf or riptides of Coast Rica’s Pacific Coast.4
4 Compare Rygg v. Cnty. of Maui, 98 F. Supp. 2d 1129, 1132-33 (D. Haw. 1999).
P27. Geographically, Costa Rica sits between the Carribean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The record reflects that the youth group was on the Pacific Ocean side of Costa Rica, and that Braxton and other members of the mission team began climbing on volcanic-rock formations that were separated from the shore by shallow water. Braxton and Josh climbed on and over the rock formation to the Pacific Ocean side, and then they climbed down by the Pacific Ocean’s edge, where they saw some crabs. While watching the crabs, waves from the Pacific Ocean knocked Braxton and Josh off of the rock formation, into the ocean, and into the current of the dangerous riptides. Josh explained that the waves knocked them into different currents.
P28. Regarding the traumatic events, Josh testified that he was standing on the rock formation with Braxton when a wave knocked them off of the rock and into the water. Josh testified that two more waves hit them as they tried to climb back onto the rock. Josh recalled getting pushed back under water after the second wave hit. When he came back [*16] to the surface, Braxton was grabbing his back, and the water had pushed the two of them close enough to the rock that they had fallen off of that they could try to climb back up. When the water from the wave subsided, they slid back down into the water, and Josh and Braxton then became separated by different currents. Josh testified that he was pushed into a current separate from Braxton, taking them in different directions. Josh recalled looking back and watching Braxton climb onto a smaller rock. When a third wave hit them, he and Braxton went under water again, and when he came back up, he could no longer see Braxton. Josh testified that prior to the trip, no one warned him of unsafe tide, surf, waves, or other conditions existing on the Pacific Ocean coast of Costa Rica. He also testified that he brought a swim suit with him on the trip.
P29. The record contains pictures of the location where Braxton was knocked off of the volcanic-rock formation and into the Pacific Ocean. Josh described the top of the rock that he and Braxton climbed on as twenty feet high above the water, and stated that he and Braxton were on the ocean side of the formation, ten feet from the top, when the wave [*17] swept them off. Josh provided that water completely surrounded the rock on all sides, separating the rock from dry sand by approximately thirty to forty feet of ankle-deep water on one side. Josh explained that the water was deeper on the ocean side of the rock where he and Braxton were knocked in the water.
P30. Josh testified that he recalled Adam, a grown man who weighed approximately 340 pounds, slipping into the water before the wave hit him and Braxton. Adam testified that he was knocked down by a seven-to-eight-foot wave. Josh recalled that Adam was swept into the water about fifteen to twenty minutes before a different wave swept him and Braxton into the ocean.
P31. The record reflects existing material questions of fact as to whether the church, through its mission-trip leader and employee, Amanda, negligently breached its duty to Braxton, a minor, to plan and supervise this international mission trip and to warn Braxton of the dangerous beach and surf conditions on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Therefore, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment since triable issues of material fact exist in this case. In planning and supervising this trip, a duty existed to warn of [*18] the hidden dangers and perils not in plain view that FUNA and its mission trip leader, Amanda, knew, or should have known, existed. Additionally, once the tide rose and the large waves knocked the adults down, Amanda bore a duty to supervise and warn Braxton of the dangerous conditions.
P32. The trial court’s decision failed to address the Youth Medical/Parental Consent form waivers or their applicability in this case. However, the enforceability of the waivers was argued on appeal, and I write briefly to address this issue. Jurisprudence reflects that the preinjury waivers herein are unenforceable with respect to the negligence claims for wrongful death raised in this case against the church for its negligence in planning, supervising, and failing to warn of the dangerous beach and ocean conditions on this mission trip to Costa Rica. See Ghane v. Mid-S. Inst. of Self Def. Shooting Inc., 137 So. 3d 212, 221-22 (P23) (Miss. 2014). The language in the waivers in this case applied to church-mission-related activities and related risks. The waivers contained no language regarding the liability or risks of recreational activities such as hiking, swimming, or rock climbing on Costa Rica’s beaches on the Pacific Ocean or the risks of the dangerous riptides and dangerous ocean surf. [*19] Public policy prohibits the use of preinjury waivers of liability for personal injury due to future acts of a defendant’s own negligence. See Turnbough v. Ladner, 754 So. 2d 467, 469 (P8) (Miss. 1999) (waiver unenforceable where it did not express intent of student to accept any heightened exposure to injury caused by malfeasance of instructor’s failure to follow safety guidelines); Rice v. Am. Skiing Co., No. CIV.A.CV-99-06, 2000 Me. Super. LEXIS 90, 2000 WL 33677027, at *2 (Me. Super. Ct. May 8, 2000). For a waiver to be valid and enforceable, it must not be ambiguous and it must be specific in wording as to the liability. See Turnbough, 754 So. 2d at 469 (P8). Waivers will be strictly construed against the defendant. Id. When a waiver contains ambiguous language, it cannot be construed as a waiver of liability for injuries that result from the negligence of the defendant. Id. at 470 (P9).
P33. As stated, the evidence in the record reflects material questions of fact exist as to foreseeability and breach of duty for negligent failure to plan and supervise the mission trip and failure to warn of the dangerous beach and surf conditions of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.5 Therefore, summary judgment must be reversed and the case remanded.
5 Compare Diamond Crystal Salt Co. v. Thielman, 395 F.2d 62, 65 (5th Cir. 1968) (plaintiff was injured on a guided tour of a mine where “the danger was not obvious, and if the dangerous condition [*20] had in fact been observed it would not have been appreciated by persons of ordinary understanding”); see also Martinez v. United States, 780 F.2d 525, 527 (5th Cir. 1986) (duty to warn at shallow swimming area of federal park); Wyatt v. Rosewood Hotels & Resorts LLC, 47 V.I. 551, 2005 WL 1706134, at *4-5 (D.V.I. 2005).
LEE, C.J., BARNES AND FAIR, JJ., JOIN THIS OPINION. WILSON, J., JOINS THIS OPINION IN PART.
Adelson Luiz De Castro, Administrator of the Estate of Jose Luiz De Castro v. Odetah Camping Resort, Inc.
SUPERIOR COURT OF CONNECTICUT, JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF FAIRFIELD AT BRIDGEPORT
2015 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2297
September 2, 2015, Decided
September 2, 2015, Filed
NOTICE: THIS DECISION IS UNREPORTED AND MAY BE SUBJECT TO FURTHER APPELLATE REVIEW. COUNSEL IS CAUTIONED TO MAKE AN INDEPENDENT DETERMINATION OF THE STATUS OF THIS CASE.
JUDGES: [*1] Michael P. Kamp, J.
OPINION BY: Michael P. Kamp
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO SET ASIDE THE VERDICT AND MOTION FOR JUDGMENT NOTWITHSTANDING THE VERDICT
The defendant, Odetah Camping Resort, Inc., has filed a renewal of its motion for directed verdict and a motion to set aside the jury’s verdict.1 The trial commenced on April 28, 2015, and evidence concluded on May 6, 2015, when the defense rested its case. The jury received the charge on the law on May 6, 2015. On May 6, 2015, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff, Adelson Luiz DeCastro, Administrator of the Estate of Jose Luiz DeCastro, and awarded total damages of $229,155.96. Regarding the question of comparative negligence, the jury found the plaintiff’s decedent, Jose DeCastro, was 49% responsible for his own injuries.
1 The defendant originally moved for a directed verdict at the close of the plaintiff’s case in chief. At that time, the court reserved decision, and the defendant commenced its defense. On close of the defendant’s case, the matter was submitted to the jury.
The defendant filed its motion to set aside the verdict on May 15, 2015. The plaintiff filed its objection to the defendant’s motion [*2] on May 19, 2015. On June 22, 2015, the court heard the matter at short calendar and took the papers.
The defendant argues in its motion that the plaintiff failed to prove beyond the realm of surmise and speculation that the defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of the death of the decedent. This argument is based upon a lack of evidence as to what actually caused the decedent to drown.
After a trial, the jury could have found as follows. On July 7, 2011, the decedent and a group of friends went to the defendant resort located in Bozrah, Connecticut. In order to gain entrance, the decedent paid an entrance fee. The defendant is an approximately 100-acre campground that offers multiple recreational activities. In addition to facilities to accommodate overnight camping, the defendant offers sporting facilities, which include a pool as well as volleyball, tennis, and basketball courts. The defendant abuts a large, thirty-two-acre freshwater lake, which includes a small beach, and offers swimming and boating activities. A portion of the lake that is adjacent to the beach has a designated swim area. The boundaries of the swim area are designated by a rope line and buoys. Just [*3] beyond the roped off swimming area are two inflatable platforms. One was described as a platform or trampoline, and the other was described as an “iceberg.” Both inflatable devices were attractions to be used by the resort guests. The defendant did not provide lifeguards at the pool or lake swim area. A single sign was posted at one end of the beach area, indicating: “No Lifeguard on Duty. Swim at Your Own Risk.” No employees of the defendant directly supervised the lake swimming area.
On July 9, 2011, the decedent and his friend, Saulo Sousa, entered the designated swimming area for the purpose of swimming out to the trampoline just beyond the buoy line. When Sousa reached the rope line, he observed the decedent immediately behind him in the water. The depth of the water at this location was approximately six feet. As Sousa lifted the rope line to duck under it, he observed the decedent diving forward and under the rope. When Sousa reached the trampoline, he climbed on it but did not observe the decedent. After spending a few minutes on the trampoline, Sousa reentered the water and swam to the shore. After unsuccessfully attempting to locate the decedent, employees of the defendant [*4] were notified that he was missing. After a brief search, 911 emergency services were dispatched, and Bozrah firefighters and rescue personnel responded to the scene. When notified that the decedent was last seen in the designated swim area near the buoy line, firefighter Colin Laffey entered the water and located the decedent floating unresponsive just below the surface of the water just inside the buoy line. Laffey testified that he located the decedent in an area where the depth of the water was less than six feet. The decedent was brought to shore, and CPR was administered. The decedent was then transported by ambulance to Backus Hospital, but never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead. A postmortem autopsy determined the cause of death to be asphyxia due to submersion. The postmortem examination was negative for any signs of illness, traumatic injury, or any preexisting medical condition or disease. A toxicology examination was negative for the presence of any drugs, alcohol, or medication.
The decedent’s drowning was unwitnessed despite the fact that there were numerous people in the water and on the beach. Although other members of the decedent’s group, including his [*5] girlfriend, were on the beach adjacent to the swimming area, no one saw him in distress or struggling in the water. He was identified by his friends as a good or strong swimmer.
Practice Book §16-37 provides, in relevant part: “Whenever a motion for a directed verdict made at any time after the close of the plaintiff’s case in chief is denied or for any reason is not granted, the judicial authority is deemed to have submitted the action to the jury subject to a later determination of the legal questions raised by the motion.” “Directed verdicts are not favored . . . A trial court should direct a verdict only when a jury could not reasonably and legally have reached any other conclusion . . . In reviewing the trial court’s decision to direct a verdict in favor of a defendant we must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff . . . Although it is the jury’s right to draw logical deductions and make reasonable inferences from the facts proven . . . it may not resort to mere conjecture and speculation . . . A directed verdict is justified if . . . the evidence is so weak that it would be proper for the court to set aside a verdict rendered for the other party.” (Internal [*6] quotation marks omitted.) Riccio v. Harbour Village Condominium Assn., Inc., 281 Conn. 160, 163, 914 A.2d 529 (2007). “A verdict may be directed . . . where the claim is that there is insufficient evidence to sustain a favorable verdict.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Beale v. Yale-New Haven Hospital, 89 Conn.App. 556, 565-66, 874 A.2d 259 (2005).
Likewise, “[a] trial court may set aside a verdict on a finding that the verdict is manifestly unjust because, given the evidence presented, the jury mistakenly applied a legal principle or because there is no evidence to which the legal principles of the case could be applied . . . A verdict should not be set aside, however, where it is apparent that there was some evidence on which the jury might reasonably have reached its conclusion . . . This limitation on a trial court’s discretion results from the constitutional right of litigants to have issues of fact determined by a jury.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Deas v. Diaz, 121 Conn.App. 826, 841, 998 A.2d 200, cert. denied, 298 Conn. 905, 3 A.3d 69 (2010), rev’d on other grounds, Saleh v. Ribeiro Trucking, LLC, 303 Conn. 276, 32 A.3d 318 (2011).
“[T]o establish a prima facie case, the proponent must submit evidence which, if credited, is sufficient to establish the fact or facts which it is adduced to prove . . . [T]he evidence offered by the plaintiff is to be taken as true and interpreted in the light most favorable to [the plaintiff], and every reasonable inference is to be drawn in [the plaintiff’s] [*7] favor.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Cadle Co. v. Errato, 71 Conn.App. 447, 455-56, 802 A.2d 887, cert. denied, 262 Conn. 918, 812 A.2d 861 (2002). “The credibility and weight to be attributed to any evidence offered [at trial] is solely within the province of the jury.” Murteza v. State, 7 Conn.App. 196, 208-09, 508 A.2d 449, cert. denied, 200 Conn. 803, 510 A.2d 191 (1986). “[I]t is not the function of [the trial] court to sit as the seventh juror when [it] review[s] the sufficiency of the evidence . . . rather, [it] must determine, in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict, whether the totality of the evidence, including reasonable inferences therefrom, supports the [trier’s] verdict . . . In making this determination, [t]he evidence must be given the most favorable construction in support of the verdict of which it is reasonably capable . . . In other words, [i]f the [trier] could reasonably have reached its conclusion, the verdict must stand, even if [the trial] court disagrees with it.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) O’Connor v. Larocque, 302 Conn. 562, 612, 31 A.3d 1 (2011).
“In order to make out a prima facie case of negligence, the plaintiff must submit evidence that, if credited, is sufficient to establish duty, breach of duty, causation, and actual injury . . . A defendant’s duty and breach of duty is measured by a reasonable care standard, which is the care [that] a reasonably prudent person would use under [*8] the circumstances . . . After the plaintiff establishes that the defendant did not exercise reasonable care, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries. To do so, the plaintiff must first establish causation in fact, that is, that the injury would not have occurred but for the actor’s conduct . . . The plaintiff then must show proximate cause . . . Proximate cause requires that the defendant’s conduct [was] a substantial factor in bringing about the plaintiff’s injuries and that there was an unbroken sequence of events that tied [the plaintiff’s] injuries to the [defendant’s conduct] . . . Proximate cause does not require the plaintiff to remove from the realm of possibility all other potential causes of the accident . . . Instead, the plaintiff must establish that it is more likely than not that the cause on which the plaintiff relies was in fact a proximate cause of the accident. The more likely than not standard ensures that the causal connection . . . [is] based [on] more than conjecture or surmise.” (Citations omitted; emphasis omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Rawls v. Progressive Northern Insurance Company, 310 Conn. 768, 776-77, 83 A.3d 576 (2014).
The defendant’s primary argument is that no one [*9] witnessed the decedent’s drowning, and there was no evidence offered as to what caused him to drown. The defendant relies on Wu v. Fairfield, 204 Conn. 435, 528 A.2d 364 (1987). In Wu, the plaintiff’s decedent who was fifteen years old, went to Lake Mohegan, a freshwater lake, with her mother and two brothers for an afternoon of swimming. Id., 437. There was a designated swim area marked by a buoy line. At the time of the occurrence, there were four lifeguards on duty. Id. Those lifeguards had observed that the plaintiff’s decedent was a poor swimmer and had warned her twice to return to the shallow portion of the designated swim area. Id. When an approaching storm prompted the lifeguards to clear the water, the plaintiff’s decedent did not return to shore. Id. After a search, one of the lifeguards found the decedent’s body at the bottom of the lake in the designated swim area but beyond the shallow portion. Id., 437-38. The plaintiff alleged that the town and several of its employees, the lifeguards, were negligent in the performance of their duties. Id., 436. A jury returned a verdict for the defendants. Id. The plaintiff then filed a motion to set aside the verdict, which motion was denied. Id. In affirming the trial court’s denial of the plaintiff’s [*10] motion to set aside the verdict, the court held that “[w]hile it is undisputed that the decedent drowned, there was no evidence tying any negligence on the defendant lifeguards’ part to her death . . . Here, the plaintiff presented no evidence other than that the victim perished in an unwitnessed drowning. The plaintiff failed to establish an unbroken sequence of events causally flowing from the defendant lifeguards’ arguably negligent supervision to the decedent’s drowning.” Id., 440.
In this case, the plaintiff’s May 4, 2015 amended complaint contained two specifications of negligence as to the conduct of the defendant. The first allegation was that the defendant was negligent in failing to provide lifeguards. The second allegation was that the defendant was negligent when it knew or should have known of the danger associated with encouraging its guests to swim to its recreational flotation devices, yet failed to take reasonable steps to secure their safety in doing so. In response to jury interrogatories submitted by the court the jury found that the defendant was negligent with regard to the second specification but not the first. With regard to the claim of negligence concerning encouraging [*11] swimmers to use the flotation devices, the plaintiff relied on testimony that the owner’s manual for the two devices contained warnings that recommended users wear life vests. Although life vests were available in a shed adjacent to the lake swim area, the defendant did not require guests entering the lake or using any of the flotation devices to wear them. In addition, the plaintiff argued that the defendant failed to properly supervise and monitor the swimming area and had an inadequate emergency rescue plan.
The plaintiff offered the testimony of Gerald Dworkin, an aquatic safety expert. Dworkin offered opinion testimony regarding the defendant’s lack of safety measures including its failure to have lifeguards monitoring the swim area. Dworkin was also critical of the defendant’s lack of an emergency safety plan. Dworkin did not, however, offer any opinion testimony as to what actually caused the decedent to drown. He affirmed that it was an unwitnessed drowning. In addition, although the owner’s manuals for the flotation devices recommended the use of life vests, the decedent was not using either device when he drowned; the little evidence there is indicates he never left the designated [*12] swim area. The flotation devices were located outside that designated area.
Here, as in Wu, the plaintiff presented no evidence other than that the decedent died in an unwitnessed drowning. There was no evidence as to what caused the decedent to drown. In the absence of any such evidence, any number of factual possibilities could explain this accident. Without any evidence as to what caused this unfortunate incident, only speculation and conjecture could link the plaintiff’s drowning to the negligent conduct of the defendant. The plaintiff failed to present any evidence to establish an unbroken sequence of events causally flowing from the defendant’s conduct that the jury found negligent to the decedent’s drowning. “The establishment of proximate cause is an essential element of a negligence claim and the parties recognize that if proximate cause is lacking, the plaintiff cannot prevail.” Wu v. Town Of Fairfield, supra, 204 Conn. 441.
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, based on the evidence presented by the plaintiff, no reasonable juror could find that the negligence of the defendant caused or was a substantial factor in causing the decedent’s death by drowning. The lack of any evidence as to what [*13] caused this drowning is fatal to the plaintiff’s case.
Because the plaintiff failed to establish that the negligent conduct of the defendant was the proximate cause of the decedent’s drowning, the defendant’s motion to set aside the verdict is granted. Judgment may enter for the defendant.
Teresa Brigance, Plaintiff, v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., Defendant.
Civil Action No. 15-cv-1394-WJM-NYW
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO
2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31662
March 11, 2016, Decided
March 11, 2016, Filed
COUNSEL: [*1] For Teresa Brigance, Plaintiff: Trenton Jeffrey Ongert, Bloch & Chapleau, LLC, Denver, CO.
For Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., Defendant: Edward Timothy Walker, Samuel Nathan Shapiro, Vail Resorts Management Company, Legal Department, Broomfield, CO.
JUDGES: William J. Martínez, United States District Judge.
OPINION BY: William J. Martínez
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT’S PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS AMENDED COMPLAINT
Plaintiff Teresa Brigance (“Plaintiff”) brings this action against Defendant Vail Summit Resorts, Inc. (“Defendant”). This matter is before the Court on Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint (“Motion”) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 17.) Defendant filed the Motion on August 28, 2015. (Id.) On September 25, 2015, Plaintiff filed her Response to the Motion. (ECF No. 27.) Defendant filed its Reply on October 13, 2015. (ECF No. 31.) For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under Rule 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a claim in a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” The 12(b)(6) standard requires the Court to “assume the truth of the plaintiff’s well-pleaded factual allegations and view them [*2] in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Ridge at Red Hawk, LLC v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007). In ruling on such a motion, the dispositive inquiry is “whether the complaint contains ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007)). “Thus, ‘a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
The following allegations are taken from Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (“Complaint”). (ECF No. 6.) The Court assumes these allegations to be true for purposes of this motion.
On March 23, 2015, Plaintiff visited the Keystone ski area, which is owned and operated by Defendant. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff participated in a ski lesson which was taught by Megan McKinney, an employee of Defendant. (Id. ¶ 6.) Ms. McKinney instructed Plaintiff on the procedures for getting on and off the chair lift. (Id. ¶ 7.) The chair lift was operated by an unknown chair lift operator who was also an employee of Defendant and whom the Court will refer to as John Doe. (Id. ¶ 26.) While unloading from the chair lift, Plaintiff’s ski boot became wedged between the chair and the ground at the [*3] unloading area, causing injury to Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 8.)
Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on June 30, 2015. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff then filed an Amended Complaint on July 27, 2015. (ECF No. 6.) Plaintiff asserted numerous claims arising out of events related to the chair lift incident. (See id.) Plaintiff asserts claims for (1) negligence, (2) negligence per se, (3) negligent supervision/training, (4) negligence (respondeat superior), (5) negligent hiring, and (6) premises liability pursuant to Colorado Revised Statutes § 13-21-115. (See id.)
Defendant, through its Motion, moves to dismiss all of Plaintiff’s claims except for the premises liability claim. (ECF No. 17.) Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s claim for negligence per se (Claim Two) should be dismissed for failure to state a claim. (Id. at 4.) Defendant further contends that Plaintiff’s claims for negligence (Claim One) and negligence per se should be dismissed as they are preempted by the Premises Liability Act. (Id. at 2.) Lastly, Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s claims for negligent supervision/training, negligence (respondeat superior), and negligent hiring should be dismissed as duplicative. (Id. at 6.) The Court will discuss these arguments in turn.
A. Negligence Per Se
[*4] Defendant argues that Plaintiff fails to state a claim for negligence per se. (ECF No. 17 at 4.) “In contrast to negligence, negligence per se occurs when a defendant violates a statute adopted for the public’s safety and the violation proximately causes the plaintiff’s injury.” Scott v. Matlack, Inc., 39 P.3d 1160, 1166 (Colo. 2002). Plaintiff must also show that the statute was intended to protect against the type of injury the plaintiff suffered and that the plaintiff is a member of the group of persons the statute was intended to protect. Id. If those requirements are met, “then the statute conclusively establishes the defendant’s standard of care and violation of the statute is a breach of [defendant’s] duty.” Id.
In its Motion, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint fails to identify any statutory standard of care that has been violated. (ECF No. 17 at 4.) Plaintiff identifies two statutes as the basis of her negligence per se claim: the Skier Safety Act and the Passenger Tramway Safety Act. (ECF No. 6 ¶¶ 18-19.)
As to the Skier Safety Act, certain violations of that Act do constitute negligence per se. See Stamp v. Vail Corp., 172 P.3d 437, 443 (Colo. 2007). Under the Skier Safety Act, “a violation by a ski area operator of any requirement of this article or any rule or regulation promulgated by the passenger tramway safety board pursuant to section 25-5-704(1)(a), C.R.S., shall, to the extent such violation causes injury to any person or damage to property, constitute negligence on the part of such operator.” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-104(2). However, Plaintiff fails to identify any requirement of that article–the Skier Safety Act–which has been violated. Instead, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant violated § 25-5-706(3)(d)–(e) of the Passenger Tramway Safety Act.1 Colo. Rev. Stat. § 25-5-706(3)(d)–(e). (See also ECF No. 6 ¶¶ 18, 20-21.) Section 25-5-706(3)(d)–(e) identifies certain situations in which the passenger tramway safety board may take disciplinary action. However, § 25-5-706(3)(d)–(e) is not a [*5] rule or regulation promulgated by the passenger tramway safety board and therefore Plaintiff does not properly state a claim for negligence per se under the Skier Safety Act.
1 Plaintiff identifies this language as coming from § 25-5-706(2)(d)–(e). However, it is clear that Plaintiff is actually referring to § 25-5-706(3)(d)–(e), since the language Plaintiff quotes is from that subsection of the statute.
In its response to the Motion, Plaintiff argues that the Passenger Tramway Safety Act provides a statutory standard of care independent of the Skier Safety Act. Specifically, Plaintiff stresses that § 25-5-706(3)(d)–(e) allows for disciplinary action to be taken if there is either “[w]illful or wanton misconduct in the operation or maintenance of a passenger tramway” or “[o]peration of a passenger tramway while a condition exists in the design, construction, operation, or maintenance of the passenger tramway which endangers the public health, safety, or welfare, which condition was known, or reasonably should have been known, by the area operator.”
Nevertheless, this language does not provide a statutory standard of care which is adequate to support Plaintiff’s claim for negligence per se. This Court has previously held that a claim for negligence per se requires a [*6] statute, “the violation of which can be clearly established.” Hendrickson v. Doyle, F. Supp. 3d , , 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 166362, 2015 WL 8533769, at *5 (D. Colo. Dec. 11, 2015). “In other words, the relevant statute needs to prescribe or proscribe some relatively discrete action.” Id. The language of § 25-5-706(3)(d) proscribes willful or wanton misconduct and § 25-5-706(3)(e) proscribes something akin to negligent conduct. This is not statutory language prescribing or proscribing some discrete action (e.g., all chairs must be two feet removed from the ground at the unloading area). Therefore, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for negligence per se. The Court grants the Motion as to Claim Two and dismisses Claim Two without prejudice.
B. Premises Liability Act Preemption
The Colorado Premises Liability Act contains the following provision:
In any civil action brought against a landowner by a person who alleges injury occurring while on the real property of another and by reason of the condition of such property, or activities conducted or circumstances existing on such property, the landowner shall be liable only as provided in subsection (3) of this section.
Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-115(2). Defendant does not dispute that it meets the statutory definition of a “landowner”. (ECF No. 17 at n.1.) Based on its status as a landowner and the language of [*7] § 13-21-115(2), Defendant asserts that it can only be found liable, if at all, under the Premises Liability Act. (Id. at 4.) Therefore, Defendant argues that Claims One and Two are preempted and must be dismissed. (Id. at 3-4.)
To support its argument, Defendant cites the Colorado Supreme Court in Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322 (Colo. 2004). In that case, the court held that the language of § 13-21-115(2) was “specific in its terms and without ambiguity,” and demonstrated that the General Assembly intended “to completely occupy the field and supercede existing law in the area” of premises liability. Vigil, 103 P.3d at 328. Furthermore, “[t]his language, coupled with the precisely drawn landowner duties in subsection (3), leaves no room for application of common law tort duties.” Id. Ultimately, the Court held that the Premises Liability Act “abrogate[s] the common law with respect to landowner duties.” Id. at 330.
This Court has interpreted the Colorado Supreme Court’s opinion in Vigil and has held that “all common law claims involving landowner duties, including negligence . . . are abrogated by the Premises Liability Act which provides the exclusive remedy.” Raup v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., F. Supp. 3d , , 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11499, 2016 WL 374463, at *3 (D. Colo. Feb. 1, 2016); see also Giebink v. Fischer, 709 F. Supp. 1012, 1017 (D. Colo. 1989) (holding that when a common law negligence claim is founded on negligent maintenance of a ski area, such a claim is within the scope of the Premises Liability Act [*8] and must be dismissed).
Claim One is a common law negligence claim. (See ECF No. 6.) Plaintiff also alleges that her injury occurred while on the property of Defendant, the admitted landowner. (Id.) Therefore, the claim would be preempted by the Premises Liability Act if the alleged injury occurred “by reason of the condition of such property, or activities conducted or circumstances existing on such property.” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-115(2).
Plaintiff alleges in Claim One that her injury occurred due to Defendant’s failure “to maintain a proper distance between the chair and the ground at the unloading point, and/or [failure] to property operate and/or maintain the chair lift.” (ECF No. 6 ¶ 15.) The alleged failures to maintain the conditions of the property clearly fall under the Premises Liability Act. Furthermore, failing to properly operate the chair lift is an “activity conducted” on the property that also falls under the Premises Liability Act. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-115(2); see also Raup, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11499, 2016 WL 374463, at *4 (holding that the affirmative actions of a chair lift operator, in directing passengers to exit the lift, qualified as activity conducted on the property for the purposes of the Premises Liability Act).
The Court thus has little difficulty in concluding [*9] that Plaintiff’s common law negligence claim is preempted by the Premises Liability Act. Accordingly, the Court grants the Motion as to Claim One and dismisses Claim One with prejudice. Since the Court dismissed Plaintiff’s claim for negligence per se in the previous section, the Court need not discuss, let alone decide, whether that claim should also be dismissed based on Defendant’s preemption argument.2
2 Defendant does not argue that Claims Three, Four, and Five are preempted by the Premises Liability Act. Therefore, the Court will also not address that issue.
C. Imputed Liability Claims
Defendant admits that both Megan McKinney and chair lift operator John Doe were employees of Defendant. (ECF No. 17 at 7.) Defendant further admits that both were acting within the scope of their employment at the time of Plaintiff’s incident. (Id.) As such, Defendant admits that it is liable under the theory of respondeat superior for whatever negligent acts or omissions of those two employees, if any, caused Plaintiff’s injuries. (See id.)
Defendant argues that, because it is vicariously liable for the employees’ negligent acts, claims based on other theories of imputed liability–Claims Three and Five–are [*10] duplicative and should be dismissed.3 (Id. at 7-8.) Defendant cites two trial court decisions from Colorado state court in which those courts dismissed claims based on theories of imputed liability that they found to be duplicative. (See id.) However, Defendant provides no state appellate precedential support for its position. (See id.)
3 In the heading for its third argument in the Motion, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff’s fourth claim for negligence (respondeat superior) should also be dismissed. (ECF No. 17 at 6, 8.) However, Defendant, in its discussion, does not argue that Claim Four should be dismissed. (Id. at 6-8.) Defendant’s argument in that section is limited to arguing that Claims Three and Five should be dismissed because they are duplicative of Claim Four. (See id.)
Moreover, Defendant fails to acknowledge that “[p]laintiffs may seek duplicative relief under federal and state statutes and common [law].” Big Cats of Serenity Springs, Inc. v. Vilsack, 84 F. Supp. 3d 1179, 1198 (D. Colo. 2015). The pursuit of alternative claims for similar relief is expressly permitted by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d)(2) (“A party may set out 2 or more statements of a claim or defense alternatively or hypothetically, either in a single count or defense or in separate ones.”). Plaintiff may not recover [*11] for the same injury under multiple theories of imputed liability, and at some point Plaintiff may have to choose between her theories. However, that is not a reason to dismiss any of Plaintiff’s claims at this stage. Accordingly, the Court denies Defendant’s Motion as to Claims Three, Four, and Five.4
4 In its reply, Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s claim for negligent hiring should also be dismissed on the grounds that Plaintiff failed to plead “what knowledge [Defendant] had or should have had at the time its employees were hired.” (ECF No. 31 at 6.) This argument was not made in the Motion itself and therefore the Court need not and will not consider it.
For the reasons set forth above, the Court ORDERS as follows:
1. Defendant’s Partial Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint (ECF No. 17) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART;
2. Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED as to Claim One (Negligence) and Claim Two (Negligence Per Se) and DENIED as to all other claims;
3. Claim One of Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (ECF No. 6) is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE; and
4. Claim Two of Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (ECF No. 6) is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.
Dated this 11th day of March, 2016. [*12]
BY THE COURT:
/s/ William J. Martínez
William J. Martínez
United States District Judge
Carolyn S. Raup, Plaintiff, v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., Defendant.
Civil Action No. 15-cv-00641-WYD-NYW
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO
2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11499
February 1, 2016, Decided
February 1, 2016, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: Raup v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 164999 (D. Colo., Dec. 9, 2015)
CORE TERMS: Liability Act, landowner, passenger, law claims, disembark, negligence per se, common law, chairlift, lift, chair lift, premises liability, quotation, tramway, Tramway Act, common law, reasonable care, obvious danger, malfeasance, preempted, amusement, partial, survive, ride, top, fracture, affirmative acts, ski lift, sole grounds, party asserting, en banc
COUNSEL: [*1] For Carolyn S. Raup, Plaintiff: Joseph J. Mellon, Mellon Law Firm, Denver, CO; Francis Vincent Cristiano, Cristiano Law, LLC, Denver, CO.
For Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., Defendant: Catherine Rittenhous Ruhland, Craig Ruvel May, Michael Norris Mulvania, Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell, LLP, Denver, CO; Samuel Nathan Shapiro, Vail Resorts Management Company, Legal Department, Broomfield, CO.
JUDGES: Wiley Y. Daniel, Senior United States District Judge.
OPINION BY: Wiley Y. Daniel
I. INTRODUCTION AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
This matter is before the Court on Defendant Vail Summit Resort Inc.’s [“Vail”] Partial Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint filed on June 1, 2015. A response in opposition to the motion was filed on June 12, 2015, and a reply was filed on June 26, 2015. Thus, the motion is fully briefed.
This case arises out of injuries Plaintiff sustained when she attempted to disembark from the top of the Colorado SuperChair chair lift at Breckenridge Ski Resort during the summer of 2013. (Compl. ¶¶ 11, 21-22.) Plaintiff alleges that this occurred at a Summer Fun Park at Breckenridge, which included scenic chair lift rides on the Colorado SuperChair. (Id., ¶ 11.) Vail is alleged to be the landowner of the Summer Fun [*2] Park, including the chair lift. (Id., ¶ 9.)
Plaintiff asserts that as she and two other passengers (Plaintiff’s daughter and a friend) were near the top and intending to go back down on the chair lift without unloading, suddenly a lift operator employed by Vail, on his own initiative, affirmatively and negligently rushed out of the building at the top waiving his hands and directed them to immediately “lift the bar” and get off the chairlift. (Id., ¶ 19.) Plaintiff alleges that pursuant to the Tramway Act, the passengers, including Plaintiff, were obligated to “follow verbal instructions that are given to [them] regarding the use of the passenger tramway.” (Id.) (citing Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-105(1)). It is alleged that not only was there no apparent need for them to disembark at that point, since the ski lift was also used to transport individuals back down the mountain, the lift operator had or should have been in a position to have had other safe options for them to disembark, such as stopping the chairlift. (Id.)
According to the Complaint, the chairlift operator in fact knew or should have known as well that his affirmative command, if obeyed by Plaintiff, would put her in a precarious and dangerous situation, [*3] where Plaintiff, a middle aged woman, would have to suddenly raise the bar and disembark from the chairlift while the lift was moving toward a declining slope designed for skiers and not summer passengers. (Compl., ¶ 18.) The lift operator, as well, negligently made no effort to physically assist Plaintiff at the disembarking area. (Id, ¶ 19.) Also, it is alleged that the disembarking area was not properly designed for passenger traffic during the summer, particularly given the sudden command of the operator, but was instead only designed for skiers because of the steep slope that followed the area where passengers were to disembark. (Id., ¶ 20.) Thus, among many other things, Plaintiff alleges that Vail was operating a passenger tramway “while a condition exist[ed] in the design, construction, operation, or maintenance of the passenger tramway which endangers the public health, safety, or welfare, which condition was known, or reasonably should have been known, by [Vail],” in violation of the provisions of the Tramway Act, at § 25-5-706(3)(c), C.R.S., and the violation of such provision is designated to constitute negligence on the part of the operator. (Id.) (citing C.R.S. § 33-44-104(2)).
Each of the three passengers allegedly obeyed [*4] the operator’s command to disembark. (Compl., ¶ 21.) Plaintiff’s daughter and her friend were able to jump off the chair lift, although the quickness of the maneuver and the steepness of the incline caused them to have to run forward for several steps before they could stop. (Id.) Plaintiff was allegedly not as fortunate. As she attempted to exit the lift, the chair struck her in the back and she fell to the left off the edge of the ramp onto the concrete and stone surface below, suffering serious injury, including, among other things, a left femur fracture, left tibial plateau fracture, and left ankle fracture dislocation. (Id., ¶ 22.) )
Plaintiff brings claims against Vail pursuant to the Premises Liability Act, Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-115 (Count I) and for negligence, including negligence per se (Count II). Vail argues that Plaintiff’s negligence/negligence per se claims in Count II should be dismissed because the Premises Liability Act provides the sole grounds for relief.
A. Standard of Review
In reviewing a motion to dismiss, the court must “accept all well-pleaded facts as true and view them in the light most favorable” to the party asserting the claim. Jordan-Arapahoe, LLP v. Bd. of Cnty. Comm’rs, 633 F.3d 1022, 1025 (10th Cir. 2011). To survive a motion to dismiss under [*5] Rule 12(b)(6), the party asserting the claim “must allege that ‘enough factual matter, taken as true, [makes] his claim for relief … plausible on its face.'” Id. (quotation and internal quotation marks omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the [pleaded] factual content [ ] allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Id. (quotation omitted).
Thus, a party asserting a claim “must include enough facts to ‘nudge h[er] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'” Dennis v. Watco Cos., Inc., 631 F.3d 1303, 1305 (10th Cir. 2011) (quotation omitted). Conclusory allegations are not sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. Gallagher v. Shelton, 587 F.3d 1063, 1068 (10th Cir. 2009).
B. The Merits of Vail’s Arguments
The issue that must be resolved in connection with Vail’s partial motion to dismiss is whether the Premises Liability Act provides the sole grounds for relief in this matter, preempting Plaintiff’s negligence and negligence per se claims. Vail relies on the Colorado Supreme Court’s opinion in Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322 (Colo. 2004) (en banc), which held that common law landowner duties did not survive the enactment of the Premises Liability Act. The Colorado Supreme Court based this holding on the fact that the “the express, unambiguous language of the statute evidences [*6] the General Assembly’s intent to establish a comprehensive and exclusive specification of the duties landowners owe to those injured on their property.” Id. at 323.
Thus, Vigil noted the “broad scope of the statute”, which states in relevant part:
(2) In any civil action brought against a landowner by a person who alleges injury occurring while on the real property of another and by reason of the condition of such property, or activities conducted or circumstances existing on such property, the landowner shall be liable only as provided in subsection (3) of this section.
103 P.3d at 326 (quoting Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-115(2)) (emphasis added). It held that this “is specific in its terms and is without ambiguity or qualification”, and showed that “the General Assembly indicated its intent to comply occupy the field and supersede the existing law in the area.” Id. at 328. The Assembly was found to have reiterated its intent to be comprehensive and exhaustive by using the language “only as provided in subjection (3).” Id. The Vigil court stated that “[t]his language, coupled with the precisely drawn landowner duties in subsection (3), leaves no room for application of common law tort duties. Id. Indeed, it found that “the premises liability classification of the duty owed licensees and [*7] invitees” was “complete and exclusive.” Id.
The Vigil court also found that the “operational mechanism of the statute . . . demonstrates the General Assembly’s intent to preempt common law tort duty analyses.” 103 P.3d at 328. Thus, it stated:
At common law the existence of a duty was a question of law to be determined by the court. . . .Under the premises liability statute, the only issue of law to be determined by the court is the classification of the injured plaintiff; liability and damages are questions of fact to be determined by the trier of fact. § 13-21-115(4). In keeping with our responsibility to give effect to every word and term contained within the statute, if possible, . . . a judge’s common law obligation to determine the existence of landowner duties is inconsistent with the limited role the statute assigns the judge, and would impermissibly enlarge the role of the court beyond that indicated in the statute’s plain language.
Since the statute was found to be clear and unambiguous on its face, the Colorado Supreme Court stated it “need not look beyond its plain terms” and “must apply the statute as written.” Vigil, 103 P.3d at 328. Even so, it found this “construction of the statute as preemptive and exhaustive is consistent [*8] with case law from the court of appeals and the observations of authoritative Colorado tort commentators.” Id. at 329. In so finding, the court cited several cases which held that the Premises Liability Act abrogates common law claims for negligence. Id. Finally, the court found that the passage of the Premises Liability Act also abrogated the common law regarding defenses to the existence of such duties, including the common law open and obvious danger doctrine that was at issue in that case. Id. at 330.
A few years later, the Colorado Supreme Court found that claims of negligence per se against a landowner to recover damages for injuries sustained on the premises are also preempted by the language of the Premises Liability Act. Lombard v. Colo. Outdoor Education Center, Inc., 187 P.3d 565, 574 (Colo. 2008) (en banc). Lombard court noted that “[t]he underlying principle of the common law doctrine of negligence per se is that legislative enactments such as statutes and ordinances can prescribe the standard of conduct of a reasonable person such that a violation of the legislative enactment constitutes negligence.” Id. at 573. “Thus, the doctrine serves to conclusively establish the defendant’s breach of a legally cognizable duty owed to the plaintiff.” Id. The court found that “it would be entirely [*9] inconsistent with the plain language of the statute and the holdings of this court to bypass the statute and allow for the imposition of liability on the basis of a negligence per se claim.” Id. at 575.
I agree with Vail that the Vigil and Lombard cases make clear that all common law claims involving landowner duties, including negligence and negligence per se claims, are abrogated by the Premises Liability Act which provides the exclusive remedy. While Plaintiff argues that Vigil’s holding addressed on the merits only as to the defense of the common law open and obvious danger and that its statements regarding common law claims involving landowner duties are dicta, I disagree. The Colorado Supreme Court’s interpretation of the scope of the Premises Liability Act was necessary to its ultimate holding in the case regarding whether the affirmative defense of open and obvious danger survived the codification of premises liability law despite the preemptive scope of the law. See Vigil, 103 P.3d at 328-332. Further, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its interpretation in Lombard.
Plaintiff also argues, however, that there is still a common law claim she can assert based on the Tramway Act, relying on Bayer v. Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Inc., 960 P.2d 70, 80 (Colo. 1998). In Bayer, the Colorado Supreme [*10] Court held that the Ski Safety Act and the Passenger Tramway Safety Act did not preempt a common law claim for injury on a ski lift or the highest degree of care standard that the common law had previously applied. Bayer, 960 P.2d at 72. I agree with Vail, however, that Bayer is not controlling here because the question of the applicability of the Premises Liability Act was not presented. Six years after Bayer, the Colorado Supreme Court in Vigil made clear that the Premises Liability Act preempted all common law claims and provided the sole method of recovering against a landowner. Vigil, 103 P.3d at 328. The fact that Vigil did not reference Bayer does not change this result.
I note that the Colorado Court of Appeals applied Vigil in Anderson v. Hyland Hills Park & Recreation Dist., 119 P.3d 533 (Colo. App. 2004), in a claim for negligence in connection with an amusement park. It addressed whether the trial court erred in applying the higher standard of care applicable to amusement ride cases rather than that in the premises liability statute. The Anderson court held that the Premises Liability Act preempted any common law claim and trumped the highest degree of care standard in the amusement ride context. 119 P.3d at 536. In reaching its conclusion, the Anderson court distinguished prior case law that applied the same “highest [*11] duty of care” common law claim as in Bayer. See id. The issue here is the same as presented in Anderson.
Plaintiff also argues, however, that Vail’s employee created for himself and his employer a duty of reasonable care at the point where he affirmatively acted and chose to order Plaintiff and her fellow passengers to immediately disembark from the chairlift — allegedly creating the peril which caused Plaintiff’s injuries. She asserts that this issue was not addressed in Vigil or Anderson, and that landowners cannot seek refuge with the Premises Liability Act for duties that they independently create for themselves by their own affirmative acts, particularly when such actions have nothing to do with the condition of the property or its maintenance.
In that situation, Plaintiff argues that the landowner’s potential liability is not confined to nor controlled by the Premises Liability Act since they don’t involve “failures to act” or acts of “nonfeasance” as addressed therein, but instead involve affirmative acts of malfeasance which the statute does not address. Plaintiff asserts that liability for acts of such malfeasance are instead controlled by the general analysis for tort liability [*12] as set forth in a non-exhaustive manner in the case of Univ. of Denver v. Whitlock, 744 P.2d 54, 56 (Colo. 1987). Plaintiff further relies on Westin Operator, LLC v. Groh, 347 P.3d 606, 2015 CO 25 (Colo. 2015) where the court found an independent duty to exercise reasonable care based upon the affirmative action and malfeasance of the landowner in evicting an intoxicated guest without exercising reasonable care in doing such.
I agree with Vail that Groh and Whitlock are not applicable here, as they did not address or involve the Premises Liability Act. Indeed, Groh dismissed a claim under that Act because “by its terms, it applies only when a plaintiff is injured on the defendant’s property, and Groh was injured off-premises. 347 P.3d at 610 n.3. The “assumed duty” found in Groh applies only in situations where no duty already exists. Here, Vail’s duty of care to invitees such as Plaintiff is defined under the Premises Liability Act, which makes clear that it applies in actions by a person who alleges injury while on the property of another and by reasons of either the condition of the property or activities conducted on the property. This encompasses the allegations at issue in this case, including the injuries allegedly sustained by Plaintiff by activities of Vail’s employee in ordering Plaintiff and her fellow passengers [*13] to immediately disembark from the chairlift. As such, the Premises Liability Act provides the only standard for recovery. Vail’s motion is granted, and Count II is dismissed.
Based on the foregoing, it is
ORDERED that Defendant Vail Summit Resort Inc.’s [“Vail”] Partial Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint (ECF No. 11) is GRANTED. Count II of the Complaint, asserting negligence and negligence per se, is DISMISSED.
Dated: February 1, 2016
BY THE COURT:
/s/ Wiley Y. Daniel
Wiley Y. Daniel
Senior United States District Judge