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Federal Judge holds that North Carolina law supports a release signed by the mother of a minor plaintiff to stop a lawsuit

Still not a decision by the NC Supreme Court which is controlling on this issue, however a very interesting case and a very staunch support of the idea that a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue.

Kelly, v. United States of America, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135289

State: North Carolina, United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Southern Division

Plaintiff: Morgan Kelly, Pamela Kelly, and Terry Kelly

Defendant: United States of America

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2014

A prior decision in this case was written about in North Carolina may allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue for injuries when the minor is engaged in non-profit activities sponsored by schools, volunteers, or community organizations which reviewed Kelly v. United States of America, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89741.

This is a decision by a federal court. Federal courts do not make decisions changing state law. Federal Courts can only apply state law to the facts in front of them. If the law is not settled it may surmise what the law it, however the courts of the state where the federal court sits, in this case North Carolina, are not bound by the law. Other websites have reported that federal courts can change the effect of the law in a state which is not true. That is why the precautionary warning on this decision. The North Carolina Supreme Court can rule on this issue at some future date and say the opposite of what this decision says. So until the issue of whether a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue is reviewed by a state appellate or Supreme Court in North Carolina, not is set in stone.

A quick review of the facts: the minor plaintiff, age fifteen, was injured during a confidence course (obstacle course?) while attending a ROTC weekend at United States Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. The mother of the minor signed a release so the minor could attend the weekend.

There are several new facts which were argued in this phase of the case, and not in the prior decision, which are interesting. Allegedly the release was it was signed, was signed with the parent believing the twin sister was attending the camp. However at the time the release was signed there were no names on the release. The sister did not attend, the plaintiff did and the plaintiff filled in her name on the release. An information packet was sent to all attendee’s high schools which described the confidence course. However neither of the minor’s parents saw the packet.

All aspects of the trip were free for the cadets except they had to pay for their meals at the Camp Lejeune dining facility at a reduced rate and pay for anything the plaintiff purchased at the Post Exchange.

Prior to undertaking the confidence course the minor and other cadets completed two obstacle courses. The actual element the minor was injured on was the “slide for life.” While climbing the slide for life the minor fell suffering injuries.

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

The first issue was whether a parent could sign a release and release the minor’s right to sue. The court found in this decision and in the prior decision a parent could sign away a minor’s right to sue.

It does not appear that North Carolina courts have ruled on whether a liability waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a minor child is enforceable, yet numerous courts in other jurisdictions have upheld pre-injury liability waivers signed by parents on behalf of minors in the context of litigation filed against schools, municipalities, and clubs providing activities for children.

The court then reviewed other state law where the court’s had allowed a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. The court in reviewing those decisions found them analogous to these facts and applicable to this case.

… the court continues to find that these cases are analogous to the circumstances here, where the facilities and instruction of the NJROTC program were provided at no expense and students were charged only for personal purchases from the Post Exchange and for meals at discount rate.

The court found numerous reasons within those cases why the courts upheld the releases.

… the public is best served when risks or costs of litigation regarding such programs are minimized.

… public interest by respecting the realm of parental authority to weigh the risks and costs of physical injury to their children against the benefits of the child’s participation in an activity.

North Carolina, the law to be applied in this case by the court:

…recognized a public interest in respecting parents’ authority over certain life decisions for their children. North Carolina has recognized a public interest in respecting parents’ authority over certain life decisions for their children.

The court remains persuaded by the analysis of those courts upholding liability waivers signed by parents in the context of litigation against schools, municipalities and clubs, which either implicitly or explicitly found the risk presented by such waivers to be outweighed by interests in providing non-commercial activities and respecting parental authority.

The court also found that this case was not controlled by a public interest argument. The court also found that there was no recognized North Carolina public interest in voiding the release to protect minors over the wishes of the parents. “First, neither the defendant’s status as a government body, nor the volunteer status of a program’s personnel, are controlling factors in the analysis.”

The concluded this analysis and denied a public interest argument in the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

In turn, JROTC programs promote the community welfare by instilling the values and benefits noted above in the community’s children. Finally, the mere fact that the United States has waived its sovereign immunity through the FTCA does not mean that it should be denied the use of a waiver that other non-governmental volunteer or non-profit organizations could employ. On the contrary, the FTCA only makes the United States liable “in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances.”

The FTCA is the statute that describes how and for what reasons the federal government, including the military can be sued.

The court then looked at the actual release to see if it met the law of North Carolina to be valid. The plaintiff argued there was no meeting of the minds, a basic requirement for a contract, which a release is. This is also referred to as a “mutual mistake.” “However, a unilateral mistake, unaccompanied by fraud, imposition, undue influence or like circumstances is insufficient to avoid a contract.”

Because the mistake, if any, was only a unilateral mistake, it was not enough to void the release. Unilateral mistake meaning only one part to the contract knew about the problem or was affected by the problem.

The plaintiff then argued that because the release was signed by the mother for one daughter who did not go but used by the second daughter who did go, the plaintiff, the release was void. The court found that even if the release was void for this reason, because the plaintiff’s took advantage of the opportunity, which could not be accepted without a release, they had ratified and affirmed the release.

North Carolina courts have held that, when a release is originally invalid or voidable, it may be ratified and affirmed by subsequent acts accepting the benefits.

Similarly, under the North Carolina theory of quasi-estoppel, also known as “estoppel by benefit,” a party who “accepts a transaction or instrument and then accepts benefits under it may be estopped to take a later position inconsistent with the prior acceptance of that same transaction or instrument.”

The doctrine is grounded “upon a party’s acquiescence or acceptance of payment or benefits, by virtue of which that party is thereafter prevented from maintaining a position inconsistent with those acts.”

Since the opportunities of the weekend could not be accepted or taken without a signed release, the plaintiff could not after accepting the benefits argue the release was void.

Here, the benefits of the Liability Waiver for plaintiff Pamela Kelly consisted of her daughter’s participation in the NJROTC orientation program, with the attendant benefits of introducing her to the culture, skills, and values that the NJROTC seeks to impart.

By accepting the benefit of her child’s attendance at the orientation session, knowing that a liability waiver was required for attendance, plaintiff Pamela Kelly cannot now disavow the effect of the instrument she signed that allowed her child to attend.

The next issue the plaintiff argued was the release did not identify the risks in the release. “As an alternative ground for denying summary judgment, plaintiffs argue that the Liability Waiver cannot be enforced because the government did not identify the risks that the form covered.”

The plaintiff’s argued they did not know their daughter would be engaging in the risky behavior and activities that caused her injury.

Consequently, they state they anticipated that plaintiff Morgan Kelly would only be visiting Camp Lejeune to observe equipment and other military activities, and that she would only be performing the same activities that she had performed in the past, such as marching in formations, drills, and “ground-based physical fitness training.

The court found this was not required under the law. Here the contract language was clear and the intention of the release for one party to waive the negligence and any accompanying risks of the other party was evident.

The heart of a contract is the intention of the parties,” which “must be determined from the language of the contract, the purposes of the contract, the subject matter and the situation of the parties at the time the contract is executed.” Liability waivers are disfavored under North Carolina law, and strictly construed against the parties seeking to enforce them. However, when the language is clear and unambiguous, construction of the agreement is a matter of law for the court, and the court cannot look beyond the terms of the contract to determine the parties’ intent.

The language was clear and unambiguous in its intent.

As such, the waiver provides ample notice to plaintiffs of the potential for a wide range of activities at the event, not limited in any way to marching, drills, or “ground-based physical fitness training.” Plaintiffs do not allege that they were affirmatively misled as to the nature of the activities that would comprise the event, or that they were prevented from inquiring into the activities or the associated risks.

The next argument was the plaintiff had disaffirmed the release by filing the complaint. “Plaintiffs also argue that summary judgment should be denied because plaintiff Morgan Kelly has disaffirmed it (by filing complaint) and because the Liability.” They buttressed this argument stating the language in the release referred to the plaintiff not a parent. However the court found the plaintiff’s had not provided any legal authority to support their argument.

Yet plaintiffs have not cited any case holding that a form such as that used here, which expressly waives both the claims of the child and her guardians, and which is signed by one of those guardians, cannot be enforced against the guardian who signed it. The court again holds that the Liability Waiver is enforceable to bar the claims of both Morgan and Pamela Kelly.

The next issue was whether the release, signed by the mother and effective against the claims of the mother and daughter also prohibited claims of the father.

The question remains whether the Liability Waiver is effective against the claims of plaintiff Terry Kelly, who did not sign the document, and denies ever seeing it prior to plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s orientation visit.

The court reasoned the release could not be used against the father if he did not know of the release. If you do not know of the contract you cannot be held to the contract even under a quasi-estoppel theory argued earlier in the case.

However the plaintiff’s themselves destroyed this argument. The release had both names of the parents written in by hand. The father in his deposition did not definitively state that the handwriting was not his. The plaintiff’s also argued the thought the release was not an original (which is not a valid evidentiary argument). The court then ordered the plaintiff’s had additional time to visually inspect the document and determine if it was the one they signed.

No additional arguments or support for the argument was made that the release was not the original or not signed by the parents. The court, then found that claim was no longer valid because it did not create a genuine issue concerning the release which is necessary to deny a motion for summary judgment.

Plaintiffs had opportunity to review the original Release Form, and to have it assessed by an expert if deemed necessary. An opponent of summary judgment “must produce more than frivolous assertions, unsupported statements, illusory issues and mere suspicions.”

The court then went back to the quasi-estoppel claim to further foreclose that argument by the plaintiff: “… because the record shows that plaintiff Terry Kelly accepted the benefits of the Release Form as it applied to the orientation visit.” The court further stated:”[A] party will not be allowed to accept benefits which arise from certain terms of a contract and at the same time deny the effect of other terms of the same agreement

The court summed up that argument by stating:

The same principle operates here, where plaintiff Terry Kelly signed a Release Form surrendering claims related to his daughter’s participation in NJROTC training, then allowed his daughter to attend a NJROTC training orientation visit. On the evidence, there is no genuine issue that plaintiff Terry Kelly accepted that plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s “membership in the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps training,” included the orientation visit. In consideration of this training, including the orientation visit, he released “claims, demands, actions, or causes of action, due to . . . injury.” De-fendant reasonably relied on plaintiff Terry Kelly’s writing, in addition to his acquiescence to his [*35]  daughter’s attendance at the orientation visit. Plaintiff Terry Kelly cannot be allowed to accept the benefits of the Release Form through his daughter’s attendance, while at the same time denying the release that was required as a condition of that attendance.

That eliminated the last claim and argument by the plaintiff and summary judgement was granted.

So Now What?

Although this decision may not be controlling in North Carolina until the North Carolina state courts rule on it, the court effectively argued each point why the release should be valid. On top of that, I do not know if this case is being appealed, which again, may change the outcome.

One point that was argued that I continually argue to do, to save the time and cost of defending a release is to put in the release the risks the plaintiff will be assuming. If the release is thrown out of court, you can get the release in front of the jury to prove the plaintiff assumed the risk of the injury.

This is great legal reasoning on release law. This is a good case to keep handy when you are arguing why a release is valid. Whether your state allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue or not, the legal analysis used here can be used in many different release cases.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Kelly, v. United States of America, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135289

Kelly, v. United States of America, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135289

Morgan Kelly, Pamela Kelly, and Terry Kelly, Plaintiffs, v. United States of America, Defendant.

NO. 7:10-CV-172-FL

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA, SOUTHERN DIVISION

2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135289

September 25, 2014, Decided

September 25, 2014, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: Kelly v. United States, 809 F. Supp. 2d 429, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89741 (E.D.N.C., 2011)

CORE TERMS: orientation, training, summary judgment, public interest, guardian, non-commercial, attend, cadet, attendance, signature, daughter’s, public policy, enforceable, genuine, waive, obstacle, quasi-estoppel, participating, recreational, undersigned, pre-injury, parental, affirmative defense, genuine issue, transportation, municipalities, educational, unambiguous, discovery, workshop

COUNSEL: [*1] For Morgan Kelly, Pamela Kelly, Terry Kelly, Plaintiffs: Steven Michael Stancliff, LEAD ATTORNEY, James L. Chapman , IV, Crenshaw, Ware and Martin, P.L.C., Norfolk, VA.

For United States of America, Defendant: Matthew Lee Fesak, R. A. Renfer , Jr., LEAD ATTORNEYS, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Raleigh, NC.

JUDGES: LOUISE W. FLANAGAN, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: LOUISE W. FLANAGAN

OPINION

ORDER

This matter comes before the court on defendant’s motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (DE 93). This matter has been fully briefed, and the issues raised are ripe for review. For the following reasons, the court grants defendant’s motion.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

The court refers to and incorporates the case history provided in previous orders, including its recent order on defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims for gross negligence. Kelly v. United States, No. 7:10-CV-172, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114376, 2014 WL 4098943 (E.D.N.C. Aug. 18, 2014) (“August 2014 Order”). Pertinent to the instant motion, plaintiffs commenced this action on September 2, 2010, pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671, et seq., seeking damages in excess of ten million dollars ($10,000,000.00) for injuries allegedly suffered by plaintiff Morgan Kelly, daughter of plaintiffs Terry and Pamela Kelly. The [*2] court previously issued an order August 11, 2011, granting in part and denying in part plaintiffs’ motion to strike, in particular allowing defendant to raise the affirmative defense that plaintiff Pamela Kelly had waived plaintiffs’ claims. Kelly v. United States, 809 F. Supp. 2d 429, 437-38 (E.D.N.C. 2011) (“August 2011 Order”).

On November 25, 2013, defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment, which also included the motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ gross negligence claim. Plaintiffs responded in opposition on February 27, 2014, and defendant replied on March 13, 2014.

Plaintiffs’ memorandum in opposition included a motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) for additional discovery regarding the use, allocation and disposition of monies received from Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (“NJROTC”) cadets in exchange for the cadets’ attendance in the July 2007 orientation visit at issue in this case. The court granted plaintiff’s motion on March 31, 2014, and subsequently issued an order on scheduling directing the parties to complete the additional discovery by May 30, 2014. Plaintiffs were given until June 13, 2014, to file a supplemental brief in opposition to the government’s motion. However, the deadline passed without such brief being filed.

On August [*3] 18, 2014, the court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss. The order noted that it did not address the motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ remaining claims. August 2014 Order, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114376, 2014 WL 4098943, at *1, n. 1. This motion comes now before the court.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

The facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, may be summarized as follows:

In July 2007, plaintiff Morgan Kelly, then fifteen (15) years of age, was a cadet in the NJROTC program at her high school. Plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s twin sister, Magan Kelly, also was a NJROTC cadet. The NJROTC program included an orientation visit to United States Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune (“Camp Lejeune”).

Prior to the orientation visit, plaintiffs received a “Waiver of Liability and Assumption of Risk Agreement.” (“Liability Waiver”) (DE 94-3). The Liability Waiver included the following language:

In consideration of the privilege of participating in an organized event in a training area at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and further recognizing the voluntary nature of my participation in this event, I, the undersigned person, intending to be legally bound, hereby promise to waive for myself, my guardians, heirs, executor, [*4] administrators, legal representatives and any other persons on my behalf, any and all rights and claims for damages, demands, and any other actions whatsoever, including those attributable to simple negligence, which I may have against any of the following persons or entities: the United States of America . . . which said injuries arise out of my participation in the activities comprising the aforesaid event; as well as any use by me of any Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, or government equipment or facilities in conjunction with and furtherance of such participation by me. I FURTHER VERIFY THAT I HAVE FULL KNOWLEDGE OF THE RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH ATTENDING THIS EVENT. I EXPRESSLY, KNOWINGLY, AND VOLUNTARILY ASSUME THE RISKS INVOLVED IN THE PLANNED ACTIVITIES INCLUDING TRANSPORTATION TO AND FROM THE EVENT, AND AGREE TO HOLD THE UNITED STATES HARMLESS FOR ANY RESULTING INJURY. I understand that this assumption of risk agreement shall remain in effect until notice of cancellation is received by the Commanding General, Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I understand that, should I decline to execute this agreement, I will not be permitted to attend the organized [*5] event.

(DE 94-3 at 1). (See attached as Addendum A hereto.)

Below this language, the form provided lines for the signature and printed name of the minor participant, along with lines for the signature of a parent or guardian, “on behalf of” the minor. Morgan and Magan’s mother, plaintiff Pamela Kelly, signed the form, believing that she was signing it for Magan. She left the blanks which required Magan’s name for Magan to complete. However, plaintiff Pamela Kelly did not sign a form for her other daughter because plaintiff Morgan Kelly originally planned to attend a sailing trip in Florida at the time of the orientation.

Subsequently, plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s sailing trip was cancelled, and she joined the orientation visit. She signed and printed her name onto the Liability Waiver in the spaces that her mother had left for Magan Kelly. The Liability Waiver, in its unredacted format, includes Magan Kelly’s social security number, but it is unclear how this number appeared on the form or who wrote it. The Liability Waiver does not otherwise mention Magan Kelly. It is unclear whether a separate form was submitted for Magan Kelly or whether she attended the orientation.

While planning the [*6] orientation visit, Operations Specialist Frank Acevedo (“Acevedo”) sent a packet of information to plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s high school, including a list of training activities and a brief description of an obstacle course challenge known as the “Confidence Course.” However, neither plaintiff Pamela Kelly nor plaintiff Terry Kelly received a copy of this information packet prior to the orientation visit, and neither parent otherwise communicated with Acevedo or any other government representative from Camp Lejeune before the orientation visit.

The orientation visit began on July 23, 2007. During the visit, the cadets were allowed to use government facilities at Camp Lejeune at no expense, and were not charged for the instruction they received. Cadets were responsible only for paying for meals eaten at a Camp Lejeune dining facility at a Discount Meal Rate, and for personal purchases made at a Post Exchange.1

1 Although plaintiffs’ memorandum in opposition questioned defendant’s characterization of how the money received from students was used, plaintiffs failed to renew any challenge or provide any support for such a challenge after the court granted their request for additional discovery [*7] on the matter. As such, the court finds that plaintiffs do not object to the government’s description of the collection and use of money from the NJROTC cadets.

On July 27, 2007, plaintiff Morgan Kelly, along with the other cadets, completed two obstacle courses prior to undertaking the series of obstacles known as the “Confidence Course.” Before the cadets completed the Confidence Course, two Marine instructors from the School of Infantry provided preliminary instructions, the content of which is disputed.2 The final obstacle of the Confidence Course, called the “Slide for Life,” was a climbing apparatus. Defendant knew that the Slide for Life posed a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury if it were not successfully negotiated. However, defendant did not assess plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s physical capabilities before she climbed the Slide for Life. Nor did defendant provide any safety harnesses, restraints, or other protection systems that would prevent her from falling. While attempting to climb the Slide for Life, plaintiff Morgan Kelly fell and suffered injuries.

2 Defendant asserts that the instructors “provided a safety brief and a demonstration of how to navigate each obstacle,” [*8] (Def.’s Mem. in Supp. at 1-2) (DE 94), while plaintiffs assert that Marine instructors provided only a “walk-through” of the course, without safety warnings. (Pls.’s Mem. in Opp. at 4) (DE 101).

COURT’S DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review 3

3 Plaintiffs’ arguments in opposition to the motion for summary judgment raise several issues addressed by the court in its August 2011 Order on motion to strike. The court considers anew plaintiffs’ arguments under the standard applicable to the instant motion for summary judgment.

Summary judgment is appropriate where an examination of the pleadings, affidavits, and other discovery materials properly before the court demonstrates “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986) (holding that a factual dispute is “material” only if it might affect the outcome of the suit and “genuine” only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party).

The party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate [*9] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must then “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986). There is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. In making this determination, the court must view the inferences drawn from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S. Ct. 993, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176 (1962).

B. Analysis

Defendant’s motion for summary judgment rests on its argument that the Liability Waiver bars plaintiffs’ claims. As detailed in the court’s August 2011 Order on plaintiffs’ motion to strike, liability waivers are generally enforceable under North Carolina law.4 See Kelly v. United States, 809 F. Supp. 2d 429, 433 (E.D.N.C. 2011) (citing Hall v. Sinclair Refining Co., 242 N.C. 707, 709, 89 S.E.2d 396 (1955)). Moreover, because plaintiff Morgan Kelly is a minor and has disaffirmed her waiver by filing complaint, her own waiver is unenforceable under North Carolina law. See id. at 434 (citing Baker v. Adidas Am., Inc., 335 F. App’x 356, 359 (4th Cir. 2009); Creech v. Melnik, 147 N.C. App. 471, 475, 556 S.E.2d 587 (2001); Freeman v. Bridger, 49 N.C. 1 (1856)).

4 In actions under the FTCA, “federal courts apply the substantive law of the state in which the act or omission giving rise to the action occurred.” Myrick v. United States, 723 F.2d 1158, 1159 (4th Cir. 1983). Because the alleged act or omission giving rise to the action occurred in North Carolina, [*10] North Carolina law governs the nature and extent of the government’s liability for plaintiffs’ injuries.

It does not appear that North Carolina courts have ruled on whether a liability waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a minor child is enforceable, yet numerous courts in other jurisdictions have upheld pre-injury liability waivers signed by parents on behalf of minors in the context of litigation filed against schools, municipalities, and clubs providing activities for children. See, e.g., Gonzalez v. City of Coral Gables, 871 So. 2d 1067, 1067-68 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2004); Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99, 106-12, 769 N.E.2d 738 (2002); Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 82 Ohio St. 3d 367, 374, 1998 Ohio 389, 696 N.E.2d 201 (1998); Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal. App. 3d 1559, 1564-65, 274 Cal. Rptr. 647 (1990). In its August 2011 Order the court held that North Carolina would similarly uphold a pre-injury waiver executed by a parent on behalf of a minor child in the context of the facts alleged here. Kelly, 809 F. Supp. 2d at 437. Now on plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, the court continues to find that these cases are analogous to the circumstances here, where the facilities and instruction of the NJROTC program were provided at no expense and students were charged only for personal purchases from the Post Exchange and for meals at discount rate.

Plaintiffs nevertheless argue that the Liability Waiver is contrary to public policy. For support, they point to the Fourth Circuit’s recent decision in McMurray v. United States, 551 F. App’x 651 (4th Cir. 2014). Although contracts [*11] seeking to release a party from liability for negligence generally are enforceable in North Carolina, the public policy exception prohibits a person from contracting to protect himself from “liability for negligence in the performance of a duty of public service, or where a public duty is owed, or public interest is involved, or where public interest requires the performance of a private duty.” McMurray, 551 F. App’x at 653-54 (quoting Hall, 242 N.C. at 710).5

5 Exculpatory clauses or contracts are also not enforceable when the provisions violate a statute, or are gained through inequality of bargaining power. McMurray, 551 F. App’x at 653; Hall, 242 N.C. at 709-10. The August 2011 Order rejected plaintiffs’ arguments that these two factors applied to the Liability Waiver. Kelly, 809 F. Supp. 2d at 434, n. 6. Plaintiffs have not raised those arguments again here.

In McMurray, the plaintiff, a high school guidance counselor, completed a release of liability form in order to attend a workshop for educational professionals hosted by the Marine Corps at its facility on Parris Island, South Carolina. Id. at 652. The document released the government from any injuries arising out of participation in the workshop, including “riding in government-provided transportation (to include transportation to and from the Educator’s Workshop.)” Id. The [*12] plaintiff subsequently was injured when the Marine recruiter who drove her to the workshop ran a red light and collided with another car. Id. Noting the numerous statutes, regulations and cases governing public roads in North Carolina, the court determined that the state had a “strong public-safety interest in careful driving and the observance of all traffic-related rules and regulations.” Id. at 654. The court concluded that allowing the government to be released from the duty to use reasonable care when driving would violate that policy, and accordingly held the release unenforceable under North Carolina law. Id. at 656.

Plaintiffs argue that the Liability Waiver is contrary to an “equally compelling interest,” in this case being, “the obligation of the government to exercise reasonable care for the safety of minor school children participating in a congressionally-sanctioned (and funded) JROTC program.” (Pls.’s Mem. in Opp. at 20). Protecting the safety of minor school children in programs like JROTC (and NJROTC) is undoubtedly a matter of public interest. However, this case also involves a countervailing public interest in facilitating JROTC’s provision of non-commercial services to children on a [*13] voluntary basis without the risks and overwhelming costs of litigation.

The public’s interest in the benefits provided by JROTC programs is embodied in federal statutes and regulations governing these programs’ purpose and administration, which set forth such objectives as instilling in students “the values of citizenship, service to the United States, and personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment,” 10 U.S.C. § 2031(a)(2), along with imparting other benefits such as good communication skills, an appreciation of physical fitness, and a knowledge of basic military skills. 32 C.F.R. § 542.4. Moreover, North Carolina has demonstrated a public interest in the non-commercial provision of educational or recreational activities, by enacting statutes such as the recreational use statute, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 38A-4, which encourages landowners to allow public use of their land without charge for educational or recreational purposes by limiting their duty of care to that of refraining from willful or wanton infliction of injury.

The cases from other jurisdictions which have upheld liability waivers such as the one at issue here have concluded that the public is best served when risks or costs of litigation regarding such programs are minimized. [*14] See Zivich, 82 Ohio St. 3d at 372 (“[W]e conclude that although [plaintiff], like many children before him, gave up his right to sue for the negligent acts of others, the public as a whole received the benefit of these exculpatory agreements. Because of this agreement, the Club was able to offer affordable recreation and to continue to do so without the risks and overwhelming costs of litigation.”); Hohe, 224 Cal. App. 3d at 1564 (“The public as a whole receives the benefit of such waivers so that groups such as Boy and Girl Scouts, Little League, and parent-teacher associations are able to continue without the risks and sometimes overwhelming costs of litigation. Thousands of children benefit from the availability of recreational and sports activities.”).

Courts have also found that such releases serve the public interest by respecting the realm of parental authority to weigh the risks and costs of physical injury to their children against the benefits of the child’s participation in an activity. Sharon, 437 Mass. at 109; Zivich, 82 Ohio St. 3d at 374. Likewise, North Carolina has recognized a public interest in respecting parents’ authority over certain life decisions for their children. See Doe v. Holt, 332 N.C. 90, 97, 418 S.E.2d 511 (1992) (“[R]easonable parental decisions concerning children should [not] be reviewed in the courts of this state. Such decisions [*15] make up the essence of parental discretion, discretion which allows parents to shape the views, beliefs and values their children carry with them into adulthood. These decisions are for the parents to make, and will be protected as such.”).

The court remains persuaded by the analysis of those courts upholding liability waivers signed by parents in the context of litigation against schools, municipalities and clubs, which either implicitly or explicitly found the risk presented by such waivers to be outweighed by interests in providing non-commercial activities and respecting parental authority. See Sharon, 437 Mass. at 105 (“In weighing and analyzing [plaintiff’s] public policy arguments, we must also consider other important public policies of the Commonwealth implicated in the resolution of this issue . . . .); Zivich, 82 Ohio St. 3d at 370-71 (“[T]he proper focus is not whether the release violates public policy but rather that public policy itself justifies the enforcement of this agreement.”).

Plaintiffs’ reliance on McMurray is misplaced. The public interest considered in that case, careful driving and observance of traffic rules and regulations, is not at issue here. Nor did that case address whether any contrary public interest was at [*16] stake which might justify the waiver.

Plaintiffs argue that other cases upholding liability waivers signed by parents on behalf of their children are not applicable in this case, because the claims here are directed against the United States and because the JROTC is not a community-based or volunteer-run activity. They note that the officials conducting the orientation visit acted as paid servants of the United States. They argue that the economic considerations at issue in cases from other jurisdictions are not applicable here, where the United States government is self-insured and has waived its immunity. However, none of these arguments are persuasive.

First, neither the defendant’s status as a government body, nor the volunteer status of a program’s personnel, are controlling factors in the analysis. In Sharon, the court upheld a liability waiver in the context of a suit against the city government for a cheerleading program coached by a public school employee, not a volunteer. Sharon, 437 Mass. at 100. Furthermore, the JROTC program is community-based, in that schools must apply for a unit, 10 U.S.C. § 2031(a)(1), and may decide to eliminate the program from their curriculum. See Esquivel v. San Francisco Unified Sch. Dist., 630 F. Supp. 2d 1055 (N.D. Cal. 2008). In this way, JROTC programs are run in cooperation [*17] with the community, and rely on the community for support. In turn, JROTC programs promote the community welfare by instilling the values and benefits noted above in the community’s children. Finally, the mere fact that the United States has waived its sovereign immunity through the FTCA does not mean that it should be denied the use of a waiver that other non-governmental volunteer or non-profit organizations could employ. On the contrary, the FTCA only makes the United States liable “in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances.” 28 U.S.C. § 2674.

It is clear that the July 2007 NJROTC orientation program was offered with a noncommercial purpose, and that students attended voluntarily. Because a liability waiver signed by a parent would be enforceable by a private person offering a non-commercial, voluntary activity of this nature, the United States should also be able to use a parent-signed liability waiver for the noncommercial, voluntary NJROTC orientation visit. See Sharon, 437 Mass. at 111-12 (holding that Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (“MTCA”) would not prevent municipalities from using liability waivers as a precondition for participation in voluntary activities that they [*18] sponsored, because the MTCA gave such municipalities the same defenses as private parties in tort claims).

Aside from their public policy argument, plaintiffs contend that advance court approval is necessary for a parent to extinguish a minor’s personal injury claim. However, their argument is little more than an abbreviated version of their previous argument supporting their motion to strike. The cases they cite do not address the specific circumstances here, of a pre-injury liability waiver in the context of a non-commercial activity provided to children on a voluntary basis. For instance, plaintiffs quote from Justice White’s concurring opinion in International Union v. Johnson Controls, Inc., 499 U.S. 187, 111 S. Ct. 1196, 113 L. Ed. 2d 158 (1991), which recognized that “the general rule is that parents cannot waive causes of action on behalf of their children . . . .” (Pls’. Mem. in Opp. at 21) (quoting Int’l Union, 499 U.S. at 213-14.). The context of this quote was the concurring opinion’s speculation as to a potential justification for an employer’s fetal-protection policy, as a means of avoiding claims brought by children for injuries caused by torts committed prior to conception. Int’l Union, 499 U.S. at 212-14. This is far different than a pre-injury waiver for a non-commercial activity provided to children on a voluntary basis, where [*19] the activity does not generate its own profits and the benefits of the waiver extend to the entire community. Moreover, as the quote itself shows, the rule against parental waivers is only “general.” Id. at 213.

Plaintiffs also cite to the North Carolina cases of Sell v. Hotchkiss, 264 N.C. 185, 191, 141 S.E.2d 259 (N.C. 1965) and Creech, 147 N.C. App. at 475, neither of which involved non-commercial, voluntary activities like the NJROTC program. Moreover, both of these cases involved post-injury liability waivers. Concerns underlying courts’ reluctance to allow parents to dispose of childrens’ existing claims, such as the concern that the hardships posed by caring for an injured child will lead the parents to act for their own financial interest, or that the parents will be more vulnerable to fraud or coercion in such circumstances, are mitigated in the pre-injury release context. See Zivich, 82 Ohio St. 3d at 373. The cases from other jurisdictions noted above, where liability waivers signed by parents were upheld, did not require prior court approval for those waivers. E.g. Gonzalez, 871 So. 2d at 1067-68; Sharon, 437 Mass. at 106-12; Zivich, 82 Ohio St. 3d at 374; Hohe, 224 Cal. App. 3d at 1564-65. Further, as a practical matter, requiring prior court approval would seriously encumber the process for participation in non-commercial, educational activities such as the NJROTC program. Such prior approval is not required.

Having [*20] affirmed that a liability waiver is not unenforceable in the abstract, analysis turns to the particular agreement itself. First, plaintiffs argue that this Liability Waiver should not be enforced because the parties did not reach a “meeting of the minds,” alleging that plaintiff Pamela Kelly believed she was signing the form for plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s twin sister, Magan. A release from liability is subject to avoidance by showing that its execution resulted from mutual mistake. George v. McClure, 266 F. Supp. 2d 413, 418 (M.D.N.C. 2001); see also Marriott Fin. Servs., Inc. v. Capitol Funds, Inc., 288 N.C. 122, 136, 217 S.E.2d 551 (1975). However, a unilateral mistake, unaccompanied by fraud, imposition, undue influence or like circumstances is insufficient to avoid a contract. Marriott Fin. Servs., 288 N.C. at 136. Plaintiffs do not argue that defendant mistakenly believed that the Liability Waiver, to which plaintiff Morgan Kelly admittedly signed her own name, was intended to cover Magan Kelly. Nor do they argue that the government acted in a fraudulent manner or that other like circumstances were present. They have shown no more than a unilateral mistake.

In addition, plaintiff Pamela Kelly cannot avoid the contract because she subsequently allowed plaintiff Morgan Kelly to attend the orientation session, knowing that a liability waiver was required. See (DE 94-3 [*21] at 1) (noting that those who failed to sign the waiver would “not be permitted to attend the organized event”). North Carolina courts have held that, when a release is originally invalid or voidable, it may be ratified and affirmed by subsequent acts accepting the benefits. Presnell v. Liner, 218 N.C. 152, 154, 10 S.E.2d 639 (1940); see also VF Jeanswear Ltd. P’ship v. Molina, 320 F. Supp. 2d 412, 422 (M.D.N.C. 2004). Similarly, under the North Carolina theory of quasi-estoppel, also known as “estoppel by benefit,” a party who “accepts a transaction or instrument and then accepts benefits under it may be estopped to take a later position inconsistent with the prior acceptance of that same transaction or instrument.” Whitacre P’ship v. Biosignia, Inc., 358 N.C. 1, 18, 591 S.E.2d 870 (2004). The doctrine is grounded “upon a party’s acquiescence or acceptance of payment or benefits, by virtue of which that party is thereafter prevented from maintaining a position inconsistent with those acts.” Godley v. Pitt Cnty., 306 N.C. 357, 361-62, 293 S.E.2d 167 (1982).6

6 The court notes that defendant did not raise the defense of estoppel in its answer. Generally, estoppel is an affirmative defense that should be raised in the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(c). Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c); Simmons v. Justice, 196 F.R.D. 296, 298 (W.D.N.C. 2000). However, “[I]f an affirmative defense is raised in a manner that does not result in unfair surprise to the opposing party, failure to comply with Rule 8(c) will not result in waiver of the defense.” Simmons, 196 F.R.D. at 298 (quoting United States v. Cook, No. 94-1938, 1995 U.S. App. LEXIS 24342, 1995 WL 508888 (4th Cir. Aug. 29, 1995)). The requirement of pleading [*22] an affirmative defense may be waived if evidence of the defense is admitted into the record without objection. Caterpillar Overseas, S.A. v. Marine Transp. Inc., 900 F.2d 714, 725, n. 7 (4th Cir. 1990). “Courts have been more lenient in the context of motions for summary judgment.” Grunley Walsh U.S., LLC v. Raap, No. 1:08-CV-446, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38609, 2009 WL 1298244, at *5 (E.D. Va. May 6, 2009). The defense of quasi-estoppel was raised in defendant’s memorandum supporting summary judgment, and plaintiffs did not object to the defense in their memorandum in opposition. In this instance, no unfair surprise exists and defendant may assert this defense.

Zivich provides a helpful illustration of what constitutes “acceptance” of the benefits of a liability waiver in the context of non-commercial, voluntary recreational activities. Zivich, 82 Ohio St.3d at 375. There, the court held that a mother’s execution of a release would bar the claims of her husband for their son’s soccer practice injury. Id. The court noted that the father “was the parent who was at the practice field” on the evening of that the injury occurred. It held that his “conduct convey[ed] an intention to enjoy the benefits of his wife’s agreement and be bound by it.” Id.

Here, the benefits of the Liability Waiver for plaintiff Pamela Kelly consisted of her daughter’s participation in the NJROTC orientation program, [*23] with the attendant benefits of introducing her to the culture, skills, and values that the NJROTC seeks to impart. By accepting the benefit of her child’s attendance at the orientation session, knowing that a liability waiver was required for attendance, plaintiff Pamela Kelly cannot now disavow the effect of the instrument she signed that allowed her child to attend.

As an alternative ground for denying summary judgment, plaintiffs argue that the Liability Waiver cannot be enforced because the government did not identify the risks that the form covered. Plaintiffs Pamela and Terry Kelly both allege that they never received any information concerning the risks of injury associated with plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s use of the obstacle course. (P. Kelly Decl. ¶¶ 6-11; T. Kelly Decl. ¶¶ 6-11). Consequently, they state they anticipated that plaintiff Morgan Kelly would only be visiting Camp Lejeune to observe equipment and other military activities, and that she would only be performing the same activities that she had performed in the past, such as marching in formations, drills, and “ground-based physical fitness training.” (P. Kelly Decl., ¶ 10; T. Kelly Decl., ¶ 10.)

As a contract, the Liability [*24] Waiver is subject to the recognized rules of contract construction. Adder v. Holman & Moody, 288 N.C. 484, 492, 219 S.E.2d 190 (1975). “The heart of a contract is the intention of the parties,” which “must be determined from the language of the contract, the purposes of the contract, the subject matter and the situation of the parties at the time the contract is executed.” Id. Liability waivers are disfavored under North Carolina law, and strictly construed against the parties seeking to enforce them. Hall, 242 N.C. at 709. However, when the language is clear and unambiguous, construction of the agreement is a matter of law for the court, and the court cannot look beyond the terms of the contract to determine the parties’ intent. Root v. Allstate Ins. Co., 272 N.C. 580, 583, 158 S.E.2d 829 (1968).

In an analogous case, Waggoner v. Nags Head Water Sports, Inc., No. 97-1394, 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 6792, 1998 WL 163811 (4th Cir. April 6, 1998), the plaintiff rented a jet ski from the defendant, signing a rental agreement in which she “assume[d] all risk of accident or damages to my person . . . which may be incurred from or be connected in any manner with my use, operation or rental of the craft checked above.” 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 6792, [WL] at *1. Plaintiff alleged that she did not understand that the form allowed defendant to escape liability for negligence. Id. Nevertheless, the court held that the clear and unambiguous language of the clause would bar her claim. 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 6792, [WL] at *3-4.

Here, the Liability Waiver states [*25] in clear and unambiguous language that it is made “[i]n consideration of the privilege of participating in an organized event in a training area at Camp Lejeune,” and that it serves to waive “any and all rights and claims . . . including those attributable to simple negligence . . . which said injuries arise out of my participation in the activities comprising the aforesaid event; as well as any use by me of any Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, or government equipment or facilities in conjunction with and furtherance of such participation by me.” (DE 94-3).

As such, the waiver provides ample notice to plaintiffs of the potential for a wide range of activities at the event, not limited in any way to marching, drills, or “ground-based physical fitness training.” Plaintiffs do not allege that they were affirmatively misled as to the nature of the activities that would comprise the event, or that they were prevented from inquiring into the activities or the associated risks. They have not provided any reason for the court to look beyond the language clearly and unambiguously covering the circumstances of plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s injury. See Root, 272 N.C. at 583; Waggoner, 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 6792, 1998 WL 163811 at *3-4; see also Kondrad v. Bismarck Park Dist., 2003 ND 4, 655 N.W. 2d 411, 413-14 (N.D. 2003) (Waiver language relinquishing [*26] all claims for injuries that would occur “on account of my participation of [sic] my child/ward in this program” exonerated park district from liability, even though child’s accident occurred during activity that was not “associated with the program;” language of waiver and release was “clear and unambiguous,” and “not limited only to injuries incurred while participating in activities associated with the program, but to all injuries incurred by the child on account of his participation in the program.”).

Plaintiffs also argue that summary judgment should be denied because plaintiff Morgan Kelly has disaffirmed it (by filing complaint) and because the Liability Waiver does not include express language waiving plaintiff Pamela Kelly’s claims on behalf of herself and her child. As noted above, the Liability Waiver refers to “my participation” in the “organized event” and states “I understand that, should I decline to execute this agreement, I will not be permitted to attend the organized event.” (DE 94-3, at 1). This issue, too, was addressed in the court’s order on plaintiffs’ motion to strike. Kelly, 809 F. Supp. 2d at 434-37. There, the court held that, despite plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s disaffirmation of the Liability [*27] Waiver, the document was nevertheless enforceable as signed by her parent. Id. Although the language of the Liability Waiver was written from plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s perspective, its plain language nevertheless stated that “I, the undersigned person, intending to be legally bound, hereby promise to waive for myself, my guardians, heirs, executor, administrators, legal representatives and any other persons on my behalf . . . .” Id. at 438, n. 8.

Plaintiffs cite cases from other jurisdictions enforcing liability waivers signed by parents in which the waiver was tailored from the perspective of the signing parent. Hamill v. Cheley Colo. Camps, Inc., 262 P. 3d 945, 948 (Colo. App. 2011) (“I, on behalf of myself and my child, hereby release . . .”); Sharon, 437 Mass. at 100-01 (“[I] the undersigned [father of] . . . a minor, do hereby consent to [her] participation in voluntary athletic programs and do forever RELEASE . . . all claims or right of action for damages which said minor has or hereafter may acquire.”). Yet plaintiffs have not cited any case holding that a form such as that used here, which expressly waives both the claims of the child and her guardians, and which is signed by one of those guardians, cannot be enforced against the guardian who signed it. The court again holds that the Liability [*28] Waiver is enforceable to bar the claims of both Morgan and Pamela Kelly.

The question remains whether the Liability Waiver is effective against the claims of plaintiff Terry Kelly, who did not sign the document, and denies ever seeing it prior to plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s orientation visit. (T. Kelly Decl. ¶ 14). Defendant nevertheless argues that plaintiff Terry Kelly’s claims should also be barred, asserting the doctrine of quasi-estoppel described above. As noted above, quasi-estoppel is applied when a party “accepts a transaction or instrument and then accepts benefits under it may be estopped to take a later position inconsistent with the prior acceptance of that same transaction or instrument.” Whitacre P’ship, 358 N.C. at 18. The doctrine faces problems in application to the Liability Waiver, however, where defendant has not directed the court to evidence that plaintiff Terry Kelly knew of the Liability Waiver or its terms.

However, it is not necessary to decide whether plaintiff Pamela Kelly’s signature could bind her husband under these circumstances, because defendant produced a document referred to as the “Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) Standard Release Form.” (DE 94-4) (“Release Form”) [*29] (See Attached as Addendum B hereto). Page 2 of the Release Form, dated July 13, 2007, provides the following:

I, Terry A Kelly, being the legal parent/guardian of Morgan Kelly, a member of the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, in consideration of the continuance of his/her membership in the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps training, do hereby release from any and all claims, demands, actions, or causes of action, due to death, injury, or illness, the government of the United States and all its officers, representatives, and agents acting officially and also the local, regional, and national Navy Officials of the United States.

(DE 94-4 at 2).

In the paragraph quoted above, the names of plaintiffs Terry and Morgan Kelly are written by hand. Plaintiff Terry Kelly’s declaration provides that page 2 “appears to contains [sic] my handwriting, but I would have to see the original to be certain.” (T. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 16).

Plaintiffs Terry and Pamela Kelly have attempted to challenge the Release Form, stating that they “do not believe that Document No. 94-4 is a genuine document.” In particular, they note that the front page, referenced as page 2 (the certification is appended [*30] as the first page of this filing), is identified as standard form “CNET 5800-4 (Rev. 1-00)” while the final page of the document, which includes a privacy act notification under which plaintiff Pamela Kelly’s name is signed, is identified as “CNET – General 5800/4 (REV. 1-95).” (DE 94-4 at 3; T. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 16; P. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 16). Like her husband, plaintiff Pamela Kelly declares that the writing on page 3 “looks like my signature, but I would need to see the original to be certain.” (P. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 16). She states that she does “not know when Page 3 of 3 was signed or for what purpose.” (Id.).

On April 27, 2011, the court amended its case management order to permit plaintiffs

to have until May 1, 2011, at their option, to visually inspect any original release and/or waiver document or documents relied upon by defendant at defendant’s counsel’s office. This deadline is without prejudice to plaintiffs’ right to have such document or documents examined by experts at a later date, if they deem necessary.

(April 27, 2011, order, p.1, DE 19).

It appears plaintiffs reviewed the Liability Waiver at defendant’s counsel’s office, but not the Release Form. (T. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 15; [*31] P. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 15). No separate request to review was made.

Plaintiffs’ arguments are insufficient to create a genuine issue concerning the Release Form, which is accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity executed by the Compliance Officer of plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s school district, and notarized by a notary public. (DE 94-4 at 1). “Unsupported speculation . . . is not sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ash v. UPS, 800 F.2d 409, 411-12 (4th Cir. 1986)). Plaintiffs had opportunity to review the original Release Form, and to have it assessed by an expert if deemed necessary. An opponent of summary judgment “must produce more than frivolous assertions, unsupported statements, illusory issues and mere suspicions.” Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Rodenberg, 571 F. Supp. 455, 457 (D. Md. 1983); see also 10A Wright, Miller & Kane, Fed. Practice and Procedure: Civil 3d § 2727 at 510-12 (1998) (“Neither frivolous assertions nor mere suspicions will suffice to justify a denial of summary judgment.”). It is little more than speculation to argue that the Release Form is not genuine, based merely on minor distinctions in form designations between pages. Similarly, plaintiffs’ allegations that they would “have to see the original” to be sure of their signatures amount to nothing more than mere suspicions, [*32] and they had this opportunity. Furthermore, neither Terry nor Pamela Kelly expressly denies seeing or writing on the pages where their names appear. This cannot create a genuine issue for summary judgment.7

7 To the extent plaintiffs’ challenge is an attack on the document’s authentication under Federal Rules of Evidence 901 and 902, it still fails to create a genuine issue of material fact. A party may show the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact by objecting “that the material cited to support or dispute a fact cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). However, the Certificate of Authenticity signed by the school district’s Compliance Officer satisfies the court that this document could be made admissible in evidence at trial.

The document therefore shows plaintiff Terry Kelly’s acceptance of a transaction whereby his claims were released “in consideration of” plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s continued participation in NJROTC training activities. The Release Form refers to “any and all claims.” In Waggoner, the court held that “the term ‘all claims’ must doubtless include a claim for negligence.” Waggoner, 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 6792, 1998 WL 163811, at *4. See also Young v. Prancing Horse, Inc., No. COA04-727, 2005 N.C. App. LEXIS 1108, 2005 WL 1331065, at *2 (N.C. App. June 7, 2005) (“[W]e cannot agree with plaintiff [*33] that the absence of the word ‘negligence’ makes the release inoperable to bar this claim . . . . With all due regard to the severity of the injuries suffered by plaintiff, they are of the type contemplated and intended by this release.”).

Even if the Release Form failed to refer to the orientation visit in sufficiently specific terms, quasi-estoppel must operate to bar plaintiff Terry Kelly’s claims, because the record shows that plaintiff Terry Kelly accepted the benefits of the Release Form as it applied to the orientation visit. By detailing the kind of activities that he “understood” and “anticipated” his child would be involved in when she arrived at the orientation visit, plaintiff Terry Kelly’s declaration discloses that he knew plaintiff Morgan Kelly would be visiting Camp Lejeune. (T. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 10). He also alleges that “[a] monetary payment was required as a condition of Morgan’s attendance at the orientation visit,” indicating that he consented to payment for the visit. Id. at ¶ 5. He does not allege any objection to his daughters’ attendance or participation. He does not allege that he was estranged from his family, or that he was kept unaware of the upcoming activity. [*34]

“[A] party will not be allowed to accept benefits which arise from certain terms of a contract and at the same time deny the effect of other terms of the same agreement.” Brooks v. Hackney, 329 N.C. 166, 173, 404 S.E.2d 854 (1991). In Brooks, the court determined that even though an agreement to convey real property was invalid because its terms were not sufficiently definite, the plaintiff was estopped from denying its validity because he had made regular payments on the agreement, and therefore that the defendants reasonably relied on the writing. Id. at 171-73.

The same principle operates here, where plaintiff Terry Kelly signed a Release Form surrendering claims related to his daughter’s participation in NJROTC training, then allowed his daughter to attend a NJROTC training orientation visit. On the evidence, there is no genuine issue that plaintiff Terry Kelly accepted that plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s “membership in the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps training,” included the orientation visit. In consideration of this training, including the orientation visit, he released “claims, demands, actions, or causes of action, due to . . . injury.” Defendant reasonably relied on plaintiff Terry Kelly’s writing, in addition to his acquiescence to his [*35] daughter’s attendance at the orientation visit. Plaintiff Terry Kelly cannot be allowed to accept the benefits of the Release Form through his daughter’s attendance, while at the same time denying the release that was required as a condition of that attendance.

With all of plaintiffs’ claims disposed by waiver and release, summary judgment must be granted.

CONCLUSION

For the reasons set forth above, the court GRANTS defendant’s motion for summary judgment. (DE 93). The clerk is DIRECTED to close this case.

SO ORDERED, this the 25th day of September, 2014.

/s/ Louise W. Flanagan

LOUISE W. FLANAGAN

United States District Judge

ADDENDUM A

Waiver of liability and Assumption of Risk Agreement United States Marine Corps

Dated: July 20, 2007

EXHIBIT B

WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND ASSUMPTION OF RISK AGREEMENT UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

In consideration of the privilege of participating in an organized event in a training area at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and further recognizing the voluntary nature of my participation in this event, I, the undersigned person, intending to be legally bound, hereby promise to waive for myself, my guardians, heirs, executor, administrators, legal representatives and any other [*36] persons on my behalf, any and all rights and claims for damages, demands, and any other actions whatsoever, including those attributable to simple negligence, which I may have against any of the following persons or entities: the United States of America; the Depart of Defense; the Department of the Navy; the United States Marine Corps; Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; any and all individuals assigned to or employed by the United States, including but not limited to the Secretary of Defense; the Secretary of the Navy; the Commandant of the Marine Corps; Commanding General, Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; in both their official and personal capacities; any medical support personnel assigned thereto; and these, persons’ or entities’ representatives, successors, and assigns; which said injuries arise out of my participation in the activities comprising the aforesaid event; as well as any use by me of any Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, or government equipment, or facilities in conjunction with and furtherance of such participation by me. I FURTHER VERIFY THAT I HAVE FULL KNOWLEDGE OF THE RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH ATTENDING THIS EVENT. I EXPRESSLY, [*37] KNOWINGLY, AND VOLUNTARILY ASSUME THE RISKS INVOLVED IN THE PLANNED ACTIVITIES INCLUDING TRANSPORTATION TO AND FROM THE EVENT, AND AGREE TO HOLD THE UNITED STATES HARMLESS FOR ANY RESULTING INJURY. I understand that this assumption of risk agreement shall remain in effect until notice of cancellation is received by the Commanding General, Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I understand that, should I decline to execute this agreement, I will not be permitted to attend the organized event.

(Signature of Witness)

[TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT]

/s/ Morgan E. Kelly 7/19/07

(Signature) (Date)

Morgan E. Kelly

(Printed Name)

/s/ Pamela D. Kelly

(Signature of Parent/Guardian)

on behalf of Morgan

(Name of Minor)

Date: 7-20-07

Participants Information/POC Page

FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY

(Please Print Legibly)

Participant Last Name, First Name, Initial: Kelly Pamela D

Parent/Guardian Name: Pam Kelly

Home Phone: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT]

Work Phone: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT]

Cellular Phone: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT]

Alternative Adult to be Contacted in Case of Emergency and Relation to Participant: Terry Kelly

Home Phone: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT]

Work Phone: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE [*38] COURT]

Cellular Phone: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT]

Does the Participant have Any Allergies or Special Medical Conditions? None

ADDENDUM B

Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC)

Standard Release Form With Certificate of Authenticity

Dated: July 13, 2007

EXHIBIT 2

CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY

The undersigned certifies that I am the person responsible for keeping of school and\or student records in behalf of the Henry County Board of Education and that the within and attached is a true and accurate copy of certain school system records of

Morgan Kelly (DOB: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT])

thereof kept in the normal course of business of the Henry County School System. This Certificate of Authenticity may be used in lieu of the personal appearance of the person certifying hereto.

/s/ Archie Preston Malcom

Archie Preston Malcom, Bd.D

Compliance Officer (Contracted)

11-14-2013

Sworn to and subscribed before me on this 14th day of November 2013

/s/ Slyvia S/ Burch

Notary Public

My Commission Expires: 07/21/16

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Strawbridge, Jr. v. Sugar Mountain Resort, Incorporated, et al., 152 Fed. Appx. 286; 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 23459

Strawbridge, Jr. v. Sugar Mountain Resort, Incorporated, et al., 152 Fed. Appx. 286; 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 23459

Vincent F. Strawbridge, Jr.; Rebecca S. Strawbridge, Plaintiffs – Appellants, versus Sugar Mountain Resort, Incorporated; B. Dale Stancil, individually; The Sugar Mountain Irrevocable Trust; The B. Dale Stancil Irrevocable Trust, Defendants – Appellees.

No. 04-2250, No. 04-2331

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

152 Fed. Appx. 286; 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 23459

September 19, 2005, Argued

October 28, 2005, Decided

COUNSEL: ARGUED: R. Hayes Hofler, III, HAYES HOFLER & ASSOCIATES, P.A., Durham, North Carolina, for Appellants/Cross-Appellees.

Wyatt Shorter Stevens, ROBERTS & STEVENS, P.A., Asheville, North Carolina; James Robert Fox, BELL, DAVIS & PITT, P.A., Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for Appellees/Cross-Appellants.

ON BRIEF: Daniel B. Hill, HAYES HOFLER & ASSOCIATES, P.A., Durham, North Carolina, for Appellants/Cross-Appellees.

Jennifer I. Oakes, BELL, DAVIS & PITT, P.A., Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for Appellees/Cross-Appellants B. Dale Stancil, The Sugar Mountain Irrevocable Trust, The B. Dale Stancil Irrevocable Trust.

JUDGES: Before WILLIAMS and MICHAEL, Circuit Judges, and James C. DEVER, III, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina, sitting by designation.

OPINION

[*287] PER CURIAM:

This is an appeal from a defense verdict [**2] in a case brought by Vincent and Rebecca [*288] Strawbridge against Sugar Mountain Resort, Inc. (SMR), its alleged alter-ego, B. Dale Stancil, and two trusts created by Stancil. (We will refer to the defendants as SMR and Stancil.) Mr. Strawbridge was injured in a skiing accident at the SMR resort. The Strawbridges contend that the district court erred in refusing to allow them additional voir dire or grant a new trial after the defense’s voir dire allegedly revealed that two jurors had failed to respond to an important question posed by the Strawbridges during their voir dire. The Strawbridges also claim that the district court erred in excluding evidence about rocks at the site of Mr. Strawbridge’s accident. Alternatively, the Strawbridges argue that the district court abused its discretion in refusing to enforce a settlement agreement allegedly reached before trial. Finding no error, we affirm.

I.

The Strawbridges allege that on January 22, 1998, Mr. Strawbridge skied over a ledge at SMR’s resort, where he hit a bare spot of dirt, lost control, and fell. Mr. Strawbridge sustained serious physical injuries. In their complaint, filed April 22, 2002, the Strawbridges asserted claims [**3] of negligence and loss of consortium and sought both compensatory and punitive damages. Stancil was named as a defendant on the theory that SMR was his alter ego. Stancil’s presence as a defendant was of moment because SMR carried only $1 million in liability insurance.

SMR and Stancil filed motions for summary judgment on December 1, 2003, and the motions were referred to the magistrate judge. The magistrate judge held a hearing on these motions on February 4, 2004, and two days later, on February 6, filed a memorandum recommending the award of summary judgment to the defendants on all claims. After considering the magistrate judge’s recommendation de novo, the district judge granted summary judgment to SMR on the Strawbridges’ request for punitive damages, but otherwise denied the summary judgment motions. Strawbridge v. Sugar Mountain Resort, 320 F. Supp. 2d 425 (W.D.N.C. 2004).

In the meantime the parties had been involved in settlement negotiations. Prior to the February 4, 2004, summary judgment hearing, the Strawbridges demanded $8 million to settle their claims. Wyatt Stevens, the lawyer for SMR’s insurer, made a $450,000 counteroffer, which the Strawbridges [**4] rejected. Shortly after the February 4 hearing, a lawyer retained directly by SMR, Robert Riddle, asked the Strawbridges to reconsider settlement.

The parties dispute the facts concerning subsequent settlement negotiations. According to the Strawbridges’ lawyer, Hayes Hofler, at approximately 11: 00 a. m. on February 6, 2004, Riddle made an offer to settle for the policy limits of $1 million, and Hofler accepted on behalf of the Strawbridges. The Strawbridges allege that, after accepting, Hofler asked Riddle if the payment could be structured as loss of future income in an effort to avoid a $400,000 lien arising from Mr. Strawbridge’s medical bills. The Strawbridges claim that Riddle responded that he thought that approach would not be a problem and that he would discuss it with Stevens. SMR disputes this account. It claims that Hofler indicated that his clients (the Strawbridges) would accept the policy limits of $1 million on the condition that payment be structured as loss of future income. SMR insists that because it never accepted this condition, the parties never reached a settlement agreement.

In any event, later in the day of February 6, before Stevens responded to Riddle [**5] about payment structuring, Stevens learned that the magistrate judge recommended [*289] dismissal of the case. Shortly thereafter, Stevens contacted Riddle and told him that a $1 million settlement, with the structuring condition, was unacceptable. Around 5:00 p.m. Hofler (on behalf of the Strawbridges) left a telephone message for Stevens in an effort to confirm settlement. Stevens returned Hofler’s call around 5:30 and told him that Riddle did not have authority to settle the case in light of the Strawbridges’ request to structure payment.

In March 2004 the Strawbridges, claiming that a settlement agreement had been reached, filed a motion to enforce it, and the district court held a hearing. After considering the lawyers’ oral representations, their affidavits, and transcripts of some of the telephone calls at issue, the court found that no settlement had been reached because the parties never agreed to all material terms of settlement.

The case proceeded to trial on July 12, 2004. During voir dire the judge asked the jury panel some preliminary questions related to possible bias, including: “Do[any] of you have any prejudices or biases that you know of that would affect your ability [**6] to sit in a case of this kind involving a ski incident, just simply by the reason of the nature of the sport or exercise, whatever you wish to call it?” J.A. 1131. There was no affirmative response. Later, the Strawbridges’ lawyer asked the panel:

Do any of you have anybody, family, close family, relatives, children, who is in any way involved in the ski industry, not necessarily on the slopes themselves, but maybe providing supplies to a resort or making deliveries to a resort or going there to make repairs, that kind of thing, in any way that might be remotely connected with the ski industry?

J.A. 1144. There was no response. The Strawbridges passed on the panel, and the defense side began its questioning. Defense counsel asked whether any of the jurors knew anyone closely connected with the ski industry. Juror Nicholson responded that the president of the company for which he worked was a volunteer ski patroller who might have worked for SMR. Juror McDonald reported that the son of one of her best friends owns a local ski shop. When defense counsel passed on the panel, the Strawbridges requested that voir dire be reopened to allow them to inquire of jurors Nicholson [**7] and McDonald. This request was denied. At the close of evidence the Strawbridges moved to strike jurors Nicholson and McDonald, and this motion was denied. The jury returned a verdict for the defendants on the seventh day of trial, and the district court later denied the Strawbridges’ motion for a new trial that was based on the claim of inadequate voir dire and juror bias.

The Strawbridges appeal the adverse rulings discussed above. SMR cross-appeals the district court’s refusal to give a jury instruction on assumption of risk, and Stancil cross-appeals the court’s denial of his motion for summary judgment on the alterego issue.

II.

A.

The Strawbridges contend that the district court erred in refusing to reopen voir dire. They insist that the failure of the two jurors (Nicholson and McDonald) to provide pertinent information in response to their question about ties to the ski industry prevented them from intelligently exercising their peremptory challenges. We conclude that the district court did not err in refusing to reopen voir dire. [HN1] A trial judge has broad discretion in overseeing the conduct of voir dire, subject to “essential demands of fairness.” Aldridge v. United States, 283 U.S. 308, 310, [*290] 51 S. Ct. 470, 75 L. Ed. 1054 (1931); [**8] United States v. Rucker, 557 F.2d 1046, 1049 (4th Cir. 1977). Trial judges “must reach conclusions as to [a prospective juror’s] impartiality and credibility by relying on their own evaluations of demeanor evidence and of responses to questions.” Rosales-Lopez v. United States, 451 U.S. 182, 188, 101 S. Ct. 1629, 68 L. Ed. 2d 22 (1981). An “appellate court [cannot] easily second-guess the conclusions of [a trial judge] who heard and observed” a juror’s responses and demeanor during voir dire. Id.

In the present case, the trial judge asked his own preliminary questions on voir dire that were aimed at uncovering any bias or prejudice relating to the sport of skiing. There was no response that raised a red flag. In addition, the judge observed the responses and demeanor of the two jurors in question. The judge declined to reopen voir dire, reasoning that both sides had been given adequate opportunity to question jurors, and all jurors seated assured the judge that they could be fair and impartial. The judge was satisfied that “had there been some bias or prejudice that would affect [the jurors’] verdict . . . it would have been uncovered” during voir dire. [**9] J.A. 1194. The trial judge thus determined that the voir dire was adequate on matters of potential bias. We have ample grounds for deferring to this determination, and we conclude that the judge did not err in refusing to reopen voir dire.

B.

The Strawbridges also contend that they are entitled to a new trial because the two jurors (Nicholson and McDonald) failed to provide honest responses at voir dire. [HN2] A new trial is warranted when (1) a juror failed to answer a material question honestly on voir dire, even if the failure was innocent, and (2) a correct response would have provided a basis for a challenge for cause. McDonough Power Equip., Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 556, 104 S. Ct. 845, 78 L. Ed. 2d 663 (1984). The question the Strawbridges posed to the panel was:

Do any of you have anybody, family, close family, relatives, children, who is in any way involved in the ski industry, not necessarily on the slopes themselves, but maybe providing supplies to a resort or making deliveries to a resort or going there to make repairs, that kind of thing, in any way that might be remotely connected with the ski industry?

J.A. 1144. The Strawbridges maintain that [**10] because the question contained the word “anybody,” the two jurors were dishonest when they did not respond with information about non-familial ties to the ski industry.

A new trial is not warranted because, as the district judge found, the jurors did not respond dishonestly to the Strawbridges’ question. According to the trial judge, the most logical interpretation of the question is that it was limited to potential jurors’ family ties to the ski industry. This interpretation led the judge to conclude that the jurors’ responses were neither inconsistent nor dishonest. We agree with the judge’s analysis. The Strawbridges’ inability to obtain the information they sought during voir dire is attributable to their failure to state their question clearly, not the jurors’ failure to answer the question honestly.

C.

The Strawbridges further argue that they are entitled to a new trial based on the actual bias of jurors Nicholson and McDonald or the trial court’s error in denying a hearing (including further questioning) on the issue of actual bias. [HN3] A showing that a juror was actually biased, regardless of whether the juror was truthful [*291] or deceitful, can entitle a party to a new trial. [**11] Jones v. Cooper, 311 F.3d 306, 310 (4th Cir. 2002). A trial court has broad discretion to determine whether to order a hearing on a claim of juror bias. See McDonough, 464 U.S. at 556 (Blackmun, J., concurring); Fitzgerald v. Greene, 150 F.3d 357, 363 (4th Cir. 1998).

The Strawbridges have simply made no showing that either Nicholson or McDonald was a biased juror. Moreover, we have reviewed the record and conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in declining to hold a hearing or permit further questioning on the issue of actual bias.

III.

The Strawbridges argue that the trial court erroneously excluded evidence showing that rocks existed on the area of the slope where Mr. Strawbridge fell. Because Mr. Strawbridge testified that he encountered a bare spot of dirt (he did not mention rocks), the court did not err in excluding evidence of rocks on the basis that it was not relevant under Federal Rules of Evidence 401 and 402.

IV.

The Strawbridges argue that the district court abused its discretion in refusing to enforce a settlement [**12] agreement they allegedly reached with SMR. [HN4] A court should enforce a settlement agreement when the partes have agreed on all material terms. Piver v. Pender County Bd. of Educ., 835 F.2d 1076, 1083 (4th Cir. 1987); Boyce v. McMahan, 285 N.C. 730, 208 S.E.2d 692, 695 (N.C. 1974). After holding a hearing on the settlement question and carefully reviewing the facts, the district court found that there was no meeting of the minds. Riddle, SMR’s lawyer, considered the deal to be conditioned upon the Strawbridges’ requirement that payment be structured as loss of future income. The Strawbridges argue that the court should enforce the agreement because payment structure was not a material condition. However, as the district court found, payment structure was material because the defense side feared exposure to liability on Mr. Strawbridge’s medical liens. The district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to enforce the alleged settlement agreement.

V.

Because our rulings on the voir dire, jury bias, evidentiary, and settlement issues mean that the jury’s finding of no liability on the part of the defendants will stand, we have no reason to [**13] reach the Strawbridges’ argument that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to SMR on the issue of punitive damages. Likewise, because the judgment for the defendants will be affirmed, we will not consider the issues raised in the defendants’ cross-appeals. The judgment is affirmed.

AFFIRMED


When is a case settled? When all parties (and maybe their attorneys) agree it is settled

Skier sued ski resort for injuries received skiing into bald spot. Skier argued they had agreed on a settlement before trial, which only became an issue after the plaintiff lost at trial.

Strawbridge, Jr. v. Sugar Mountain Resort, Incorporated, et al., 152 Fed. Appx. 286; 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 23459

State: North Carolina, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Plaintiff: Vincent F. Strawbridge, Jr.; Rebecca S. Strawbridge

Defendant: Sugar Mountain Resort, Incorporated; B. Dale Stancil, individually; The Sugar Mountain Irrevocable Trust; The B. Dale Stancil Irrevocable Trust,

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, loss of consortium and requested compensatory and punitive damages

Defendant Defenses: not stated

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2005

This case is difficult to understand the facts of what happened and what the claims or defenses are. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals was succinct in its opinion and reasoning for its opinion.

The plaintiff was skiing at the defendant Sugar Mountain Resort when he skied over a ledge into a bar spot where he fell. The plaintiff’s (husband and wife) sued for $8 million. They sued the ski area, and they sued the owner of the ski area because the ski area only had $1 million in liability insurance.

At one point before trial and before and after the magistrates ruling the parties were close to a settlement agreement. The settlement the defendant had offered was $450,000 and the plaintiff had counter offered $1 million. The plaintiff was trying to avoid the subrogation claims of his insurance companies, which amounted to $400,000. So one of the issues negotiated was how the money was to be paid, as damages or as lost future income. Damages would be subject to subrogation claims.

However, no agreement was reached; no settlement was signed, and no money exchanged hands between the parties. The magistrate held a hearing on the issue and held that no settlement had occurred because there had not been an agreement to the material terms of the agreement. Both parties to a contract must understand and agree to the major terms of a contract for a contract to be valid, and a settlement agreement is a contract.

The magistrate ruled that the defendant should win its motion for summary judgement. The federal district court ruled that only the plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages should be dismissed, and the rest should go to trial.

A trial occurred which the defendant won. The plaintiff appealed whether or not a settlement had occurred and issues pertaining to jury selection. The defendant appealed the issue of why assumption of the risks was not allowed as a defense.

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

The majority of the agreement looks at the issues on how the jury was selected and is not important here. The court also said that evidence of rocks in the bare spot was not admitted. However, the court found that since the plaintiff did not mention rocks in his testimony, only a bare spot, then the denial of the admittance of the evidence of rocks was correct.

The next issue was whether there was a settlement between the parties. The district court had also held a hearing on the issue of whether the parties had settlement and held that there was no meeting of the minds.

The final issue the court reviewed was the settlement agreement, which the appellate court agreed with the lower court and ruled there was no meeting of the minds. The way the money was to be paid was a material factor in the agreement which was not agreed upon by the parties so the parties did not have a contract.

So Now What?

To sue the owner of the ski area you would have to breach the corporate veil. That means you would have to find a reason to prove the corporation was a sham. Normally, that is something like using the corporation personally, not maintaining corporate records or not running the corporation properly. The most-used way to pierce the corporate veil is to prove a corporation was used for fraudulent purposes. One way to pierce the corporate veil that is rarely, if ever used, is because the corporation is underfunded.

Here it is not explained what theory the plaintiff was relying upon to sue the owner individually. However, the fact that a large corporation only had $1 million in liability insurance could fall both as running a corporation without enough money or running it improperly. More than anything, it is just stupid.  

Until any agreement is finalized, proving a settlement with some way to prove the terms, and the agreement to the terms, is difficult. Once you agree, do not relax until all parties and the parties’ attorneys have signed the settlement agreement, and the judge has dismissed the case.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

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

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Sugar Mountain Resort, Settlement, Settlement Agreement, Punitive Damages,

 


OK, this one just sent me over the edge. The USFS ticketed a rescuer for not getting out of the way. The rescuer had rappelled down and stabilized an injured climber on a ledge.

News Report and Video of the Rescue

Watch the video or read the transcript then go make a comment! I would also suggest you contact your congressman and let them know the actions of the USFS are way out of line.

Read the transcript at the website Climber involved in rescue issued citation

On top of that, the Good Samaritan rescuer could have been liable to the injured climber if he had followed the instructions and abandoned the injured climber. As many of you know, once you start a rescue or first aid you must continue until relieved by a higher medical authority.

Besides, how is this going to be portrayed with the next rescuer? Will people be willing to help if they may face a ticket?

The biggest wake up should be to the US Forest Service. Most rescue plans for federal lands, USFS, BLM or NPS are dependent upon Good Samaritans. In many plans, the plans would not be possible without the involvement of persons standing by.

The National Forests in North Carolina contact info can be located here and is:         Supervisor’s Office

160 Zillicoa St. Suite A

Asheville, NC 28801

828-257-4200828-257-4200

You can email them here. Tell them you only know what you say on the newscast but their actions can have chilling effect on future rescues. Also, their actions might have put the victim at risk and subject the rescuer to liability.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Strawbridge, Jr., v. Sugar Mountain Resort, Inc., 328 F. Supp. 2d 610; 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18644

Strawbridge, Jr., v. Sugar Mountain Resort, Inc., 328 F. Supp. 2d 610; 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18644

Vincent F. Strawbridge, Jr., and Rebecca S. Strawbridge, Plaintiffs, vs. Sugar Mountain Resort, Inc.; B. Dale Stancil, Individually; The Sugar Mountain Irrevocable Trust; and The B. Dale Stancil Irrevocable Trust, Defendants.

CIVIL NO. 1:02CV92

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA, ASHEVILLE DIVISION

328 F. Supp. 2d 610; 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18644

May 28, 2004, Decided

June 28, 2004, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: Strawbridge v. Sugar Mt. Resort, Inc., 320 F. Supp. 2d 425, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14561 (W.D.N.C., 2004)

COUNSEL: For VINCENT F. STRAWBRIDGE, JR., REBECCA S. STRAWBRIDGE, plaintiffs: R. Hayes Hofler, Daniel B. Hill, Hayes, Hofler & Associates, P.A., Durham, NC.

For SUGAR MOUNTAIN RESORT, INC., defendant: Wyatt S. Stevens, Roberts & Stevens, P.A., Robert E. Riddle, Asheville, NC USA.

For B. DALE STANCIL, THE SUGAR MOUNTAIN IRREVOCABLE TRUST, THE B. DALE STANCIL IRREVOCABLE TRUST, defendants: James R. Fox, Jennifer I. Oakes, Bell, Davis & Pitt, P.A., Winston-Salem, NC USA.

JUDGES: LACY H. THORNBURG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

OPINION BY: LACY H. THORNBURG

OPINION

[*611] ORDER

THIS MATTER is before the Court on motions of Defendant Sugar Mountain, Inc. (“Sugar Mountain”), and Defendants B. Dale Stancil, individually, the Sugar Mountain Irrevocable Trust, and the B. Dale Stancil Irrevocable Trust (“non-resort Defendants”) for reconsideration, the non-resort Defendants’ [**2] request for oral argument, and Plaintiff’s response to these motions.

A. Sugar Mountain’s motion.

Sugar Mountain argues that “there is a difference between contracting against liability for negligence and agreeing to assume certain inherent risks of a particular activity.” Defendant Sugar Mountain Resort, Inc.’s Motion for Reconsideration [Sugar Mountain’s Motion], filed June 9, 2004, at 2. Sugar Mountain further argues that, even if the exculpatory clause Plaintiff signed to rent his ski equipment is unenforceable, he still assumed the risk of suffering an injury caused by a bare spot on the slope. See id., at 4. To support its claim that Plaintiff assumed the risk of falling on a bare spot, Sugar Mountain relies primarily on the statement printed on the back of Plaintiff’s lift ticket warning him of bare spots and other dangers. Sugar Mountain also points to Plaintiff’s extensive skiing experience in support of its claim that he assumed the risk of the injury that he ultimately suffered. See id., at 7.

Sugar Mountain cites some persuasive and some binding authority that appears to support the distinction between agreements to assume inherent [**3] risks and contracts against liability for negligence. Cf., Alston v. Monk, 92 N.C. App 59, 373 S.E.2d 463 (1988) (analyzing the defendants’ assumption of risk claims separately from their waiver claims); Poston v. Skewes, 49 Fed.Appx. 404 (4th Cir. 2002) (explaining that the trial court had properly interpreted Virginia law when it allowed into evidence an “assumption of risk” statement that the plaintiff had signed but redacted language that purported to “release” [*612] the defendants from liability for negligence). The Court will, therefore, assume without deciding that Sugar Mountain’s assumption of risk defense is distinct from the “release” defense the Court has already considered and rejected.

Sugar Mountain concedes that [HN1] the assumption of risk defense “extends only to those risks which are normally incident to the [activity] in which the plaintiff engages.” Sugar Mountain’s Motion, at 5 (citing McWilliams v. Parham, 269 N.C. 162, 166, 152 S.E.2d 117,120 (1967)) (alteration added). Sugar Mountain further concedes that [HN2] “‘extraordinary risks, including additional hazards caused by the negligence of the [contracting [**4] party], or others on the [contracting party’s] premises,’ are not considered assumed risks.” Sugar Mountain’s Motion, at 5 (citing McWilliams, supra, at 166-67, 152 S.E.2d at 120) (alterations in original). [HN3] “Knowledge is the watchword of the defense of assumption of risk; knowledge of the dangers and hazards to be encountered.” Cobia v. Atlantic C.L.R. Co., 188 N.C. 487, 128 S.E. 18, 20 (1924). [HN4] “This doctrine of assumption of risk is based upon knowledge or a fair and reasonable opportunity to know, and usually this knowledge and opportunity must come in time to be of use. Id. (quotations and citations omitted).

Plaintiffs allege that negligence on the part of Sugar Mountain caused their injuries. This Court has held that [HN5] a jury may find negligence from “evidence of a bare spot on a slope, evidence that defendants knew of conditions that may cause bare spots, and evidence that the bare spot was in some way concealed.” Memorandum and Order, filed May 10,2004, at 14. A corollary of that holding is that a jury may find that a concealed bare spot on a ski slope is not a risk that is normally incident to the activity [**5] of skiing when the ski slope operator knows or should have known of the offending spot and is aware of weather conditions that may cause unusual bare spots. Since this Court held that Plaintiffs have forcast evidence of each element listed above, the Court cannot decide, as a matter of law, that the assumption of risk doctrine defeats Plaintiffs’ claims. 1 Quite to the contrary, since Plaintiffs can only prevail if they prove negligence on the part of Sugar Mountain, and since a finding of negligence would mean that Plaintiffs were injured by “additional hazards caused by the negligence of [Sugar Mountain],” the assumption of risk defense cannot aid the Defendants. McWilliams, at 166-67, 152 S.E.2d at 120.

1 The Poston case illustrates this point. There, the Fourth Circuit, in finding that the plaintiff had assumed the risk of an accident, pointed out that the district court found no negligence on the part of the defendants. Poston, supra.

B. The non-resort [**6] Defendants’ motion.

1. B. Dale Stancil.

The non-resort Defendants’ memorandum advances no novel argument for summary judgment as to Stancil. Therefore, for the reasons set forth in the Court’s Memorandum and Order, the Court declines to dismiss Defendant Stancil.

2. The trust entities.

In its Memorandum and Order, the Court found that the evidence would support a finding of derivative liability, but the Court did not specifically examine whether that potential liability extended to the two irrevocable trusts. Now, the Court finds it does not.

As explained in the Memorandum and Order, Stancil and his business partner created the Sugar Mountain Irrevocable Trust in 1979 when they conveyed the land on which the ski resort sits into the trust [*613] for estate planning purposes. The Sugar Mountain Irrevocable Trust has continued to lease the land to Sugar Mountain, Inc., since 1979. The beneficiaries of the Sugar Mountain Irrevocable Trust are the Defendant B. Dale Stancil Irrevocable Trust (“Stancil Trust”), which was established for Stancil’s children, and an irrevocable trust for the children of Stancil’s business partner. Both Defendant trusts are managed by independent trustees. [**7] Memorandum and Order, at 17-18.

Although neither trustee is obligated to give Stancil access to the corpus of the trusts, the Stancil Trust does provide that the Trustee may loan funds to “the Grantor, the Grantor’s affiliated corporations or partnerships, other trusts created by the Grantor, trusts of which this trust is a beneficiary, beneficiaries of this trust or their affiliated corporations or partnerships.” Exhibit 8, B. Dale Stancil Irrevocable Trust (“Stancil Trust”), attached to Brief Opposing Summary Judgment as to Certain Defendants, at 2. The trust further provides that any such loan must be “on an arm’s length basis with good and adequate security and a fair interest rate.” Id. The trustee has, in fact, allowed Stancil to borrow money from the Stancil Trust to finance a real estate investment in Virginia and possibly to invest money in Sugar Mountain, Inc. Stancil makes interest payments to the trust in the sum of roughly $ 100,000 per year but does not make payments on the principal. Exhibit 17, Deposition of B. Dale Stancil, attached to Plaintiff’s Objections to Memorandum and Recommendation, at 44-45, 93-94, 103-04.

Plaintiffs [**8] give two theories on why liability should extend to the trust entities. The first is that, at least with respect to the Sugar Mountain Irrevocable Trust, liability is proper because the trust actually owns the premises on which Plaintiff was injured. However, it is well settled [HN6] in North Carolina that “a landlord who has neither possession nor control of the leased premises is not liable for injuries to third persons.” Vera v. Five Crow Promotions, Inc., 130 N.C. App. 645, 650, 503 S.E.2d 692, 697 (1998) (internal quotations omitted). Plaintiffs state in their objections to the Memorandum and Recommendation that the Sugar Mountain Irrevocable Trust “operated the resort,” but there is no forecast of evidence to support that statement. The original lease, however, states that Sugar Mountain Resort, Inc., agrees “to operate” the resort. Lease Agreement, contained in Appendix to Moving Defendants’ Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment, at 4. For that reason, the fact that Sugar Mountain Irrevocable Trust was a landlord to Sugar Mountain, Inc., does not extend the liability of Sugar Mountain, Inc., to either trust entity.

Plaintiffs’ second [**9] argument for holding the trusts liable is that Stancil and the trusts are in an agency relationship. At times, Plaintiffs assert that “Stancil is the agent or servant of the trusts,” and, at other times, Plaintiffs assert that the trusts and the trustees are paid servants of Stancil. Plaintiffs’ Brief Opposing Summary Judgment as to Certain Defendants, at 20-21; Plaintiffs’ Objections to Memorandum and Recommendation, at 57-59. However, neither trust instrument mandates any ongoing obligations between Stancil and the trusts or the trustees. Exhibit 7, Sugar Mountain Irrevocable Trust, attached to Plaintiffs’ Brief Opposing Summary Judgment as to Certain Defendants; Exhibit 8, B. Dale Stancil Irrevocable Trust, supra. Although there is evidence of at least one loan from the Stancil Trust to Stancil, there is no evidence or legal authority to support the finding of an agency relationship, and there is no evidence to support a [*614] finding that the transaction was not performed at arm’s length.

For the reasons discussed above, the Court sees no basis for extending liability to irrevocable trust entities Stancil created over 20 years ago. As such, the two trust Defendants [**10] will be dismissed from this action.

3. Request for oral argument

Because of the extensive briefs filed by the parties, the Court determines there is no need for oral argument.

ORDER

IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that Defendant Sugar Mountain Inc.’s, motion to reconsider is hereby DENIED.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that there will be no jury determination of whether Plaintiff Vincent Strawbridge assumed the risk of injury.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the non-resort Defendants’ motion to reconsider is hereby GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Plaintiffs’ claims against the B. Dale Stancil Irrevocable Trust and the Sugar Mountain Irrevocable Trust are hereby DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the non-resort Defendants’ request for oral argument is hereby DENIED.

THIS the 28th day of May, 2004.

LACY H. THORNBURG

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

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North Carolina Skier Safety Act

North Carolina Skier Safety Act

General Statutes of North Carolina

CHAPTER 99C. ACTIONS RELATING TO WINTER SPORTS SAFETY AND ACCIDENTS

Go to the North Carolina Code Archive Directory

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 99C-1 (2013)

§ 99C-1. Definitions

When used in this Chapter, unless the context otherwise requires:

(1) Competitor. — A skier actually engaged in competition or in practice therefor with the permission of the ski area operator on any slope or trail or portion thereof designated by the ski area operator for the purpose of competition.

(1a) Freestyle terrain. — Constructed and natural features in ski areas intended for winter sports including, but not limited to, terrain parks and terrain park features such as jumps, rails, fun boxes, half-pipes, quarter-pipes, and freestyle-bump terrain.

(2) Passenger. — Any person who is being transported or is awaiting transportation, or being conveyed on a passenger tramway or is moving from the disembarkation point of a passenger tramway or is in the act of embarking upon or disembarking from a passenger tramway.

(3) Passenger tramway. — Any device used to transport passengers uphill on skis or other winter sports devices, or in cars on tracks, or suspended in the air, by the use of steel cables, chains, belts or ropes. Such definition shall include such devices as a chair lift, J Bar, or platter pull, rope tow, and wire tow.

(4) Ski area. — All winter sports slopes, alpine and Nordic ski trails, freestyle terrain and passenger tramways, that are administered or operated as a ski area enterprise within this State.

(5) Ski area operator. — A person, corporation, or organization that is responsible for the safe operation and maintenance of the ski area.

(6) Skier. — Any person who is wearing skis or other winter sports devices or any person who for the purpose of skiing or other winter sports is on a designated and clearly marked winter sports slope, alpine or Nordic ski trail or freestyle terrain that is located at a ski area, or any person who is a passenger or spectator at a ski area.

(7) Winter sports. — Any use of skis, snowboards, snowshoes, or any other device for skiing, sliding, jumping, or traveling on snow or ice.

§ 99C-2. Duties of ski area operators and skiers

(a) A ski area operator shall be responsible for the maintenance and safe operation of any passenger tramway in his ski area and insure that such is in conformity with the rules and regulations prescribed and adopted by the North Carolina Department of Labor pursuant to G.S. 95-120(1) as such appear in the North Carolina Administrative Procedures Act. The North Carolina Department of Labor shall conduct certifications and inspections of passenger tramways.

A ski area operator’s responsibility regarding passenger tramways shall include, but is not limited to, insuring operating personnel are adequately trained and are adequate in number; meeting all standards set forth for terminals, stations, line structures, and line equipment; meeting all rules and regulations regarding the safe operation and maintenance of all passenger lifts and tramways, including all necessary inspections and record keeping.

(b) A skier shall have the following responsibilities:

(1) To know the range of the skier’s abilities to negotiate any ski slope or trail and to ski within the limits of such ability;

(2) To maintain control of the skier’s speed and course at all times when skiing and to maintain a proper lookout so as to be able to avoid other skiers and obvious hazards and inherent risks, including variations in terrain, snow, or ice conditions, bare spots and rocks, trees and other forms of forest growth or forest debris;

(3) To stay clear of snow grooming equipment, all vehicles, pole lines, lift towers, signs, snowmaking equipment, and any other equipment on the ski slopes and trails;

(4) To heed all posted information and other warnings and to refrain from acting in a manner which may cause or contribute to the injury of the skier or others;

(5) To wear retention straps, ski brakes, or other devices to prevent runaway skis or snowboards;

(6) Before beginning to ski from a stationary position or before entering a ski slope or trail from the side, to avoid moving skiers already on the ski slope or trail;

(7) To not move uphill on any passenger tramway or use any ski slope or trail while such person’s ability to do so is impaired by the consumption of alcohol or by the use of any narcotic or other drug or while such person is under the influence of alcohol or any narcotic or any drug;

(8) If involved in a collision with another skier or person, to not leave the vicinity of the collision before giving his name and current address to an employee of the ski area operator, a member of the ski patrol, or the other skier or person with whom the skier collided, except in those cases when medical treatment is required; in which case, said information shall be provided as soon as practical after the medical treatment has been obtained. If the other person involved in the collision is unknown, the skier shall leave the personal identification required by this subsection with the ski area operator;

(9) Not to embark upon or disembark from a passenger tramway except at an area that is designated for such purpose;

(10) Not to throw or expel any object from a passenger tramway;

(11) Not to perform any action that interferes with the operation or running of a passenger tramway;

(12) Not to use such tramway unless the skier has the ability to use it with reasonable safety;

(13) Not to engage willfully or negligently in any type conduct that contributes to or causes injury to another person or his properties;

(14) Not to embark upon a passenger tramway without the authority of the ski area operator;

(15) If using freestyle terrain, to know the range of the skier’s abilities to negotiate the terrain and to avoid conditions and obstacles beyond the limits of such ability that a visible inspection should have revealed.

(c) A ski area operator shall have the following responsibilities:

(1) To mark all trails and maintenance vehicles and to furnish such vehicles with flashing or rotating lights that shall be in operation whenever the vehicles are working or moving in the ski area;

(2) To mark with a visible sign or other warning implement the location of any hydrant or similar equipment that is used in snowmaking operations and located anywhere in the ski area;

(3) To indicate the relative degree of difficulty of a slope or trail by appropriate signs. Such signs are to be prominently displayed at the base of a slope where skiers embark on a passenger tramway serving the slope or trail, or at the top of a slope or trail. The signs must be of the type that have been approved by the National Ski Areas Association and are in current use by the industry;

(4) To post at or near the top of or entrance to, any designated slope or trail, signs giving reasonable notice of unusual conditions on the slope or trail;

(5) To provide adequate ski patrols;

(6) To mark clearly any hidden rock, hidden stump, or any other hidden hazard known by the ski area operator to exist;

(6a) To inspect the winter sports slopes, alpine and Nordic ski trails, and freestyle terrains that are open to the public at least twice daily and maintain a log recording: (i) the time of the inspection and the name of the inspector(s); and (ii) the general surface conditions, based on industry standards, for the entire ski area at the time of the inspections;

(6b) To post, in a conspicuous manner, the general surface conditions for the entire ski area twice daily; and

(7) Not to engage willfully or negligently in any type conduct that contributes to or causes injury to another person or his properties.

§ 99C-3. Violation constitutes negligence

A violation of any responsibility placed on the skier, passenger or ski area operator as set forth in G.S. 99C-2, to the extent such violation proximately causes injury to any person or damage to any property, shall constitute negligence on the part of the person violating the provisions of that section.

§ 99C-4. Competition

The ski area operator shall, prior to the beginning of a competition, allow each competitor a reasonable visual inspection of the course or area where the competition is to be held. The competitor shall be held to assume risk of all course conditions including, but not limited to, weather and snow conditions, course construction or layout, and obstacles which a visual inspection should have revealed. No liability shall attach to a ski area operator for injury or death of any competitor proximately caused by such assumed risk.