Texas Campground not liable for wind, rain and rising rivers.

Campground on river sued when river rose, flooding the campground and washing plaintiff’s downstream.

Walker v. UME, Inc. d/b/a Camp Huaco Springs, 2016 Tex. App. LEXIS 5934

State: Texas, Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

Plaintiff: Cynthia Walker, Individually and on Behalf of the Estate of Norman Walker; Stephen Walker; Stephanie Walker Hatton; Jordan Walker; and Caren Ann Johnson

Defendant: UME, Inc. d/b/a Camp Huaco Springs; WWGAF, Inc. d/b/a Rockin ‘R’ River Rides; William George Rivers; and Richard Duane Rivers

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, premises liability, and gross negligence

Defendant Defenses: No Duty and Texas Recreational Use Statute

Holding: For the defendants

Year: 2016

Facts

Two couples took their RV’s to the defendant’s campground for the weekend. The first day the plaintiff’s took a canoe trip past the campground and took some cave tours. It was not raining when they went to bed. Around 6:00 AM, the surviving plaintiff woke up to a rainstorm and their RV’s floating.

The RV’s floated down the river. One plaintiff did not survive. The surviving plaintiffs sued the campground, campgrounds alleged owner and several employees. The plaintiff’s claims were based on alleging negligence, premise’s liability, and gross negligence. Overall, their claims were based on numerous claims that the campground had a duty to warn them of the flood.

Appellants asserted that appellees knew that the campground was prone to flooding and failed: to warn appellants of that fact; to warn of the approaching storm; to prepare a plan for flood awareness, communication, and evacuation; to have and use speakers or sirens to warn of flooding; to employ someone to monitor the weather and warn and evacuate guests; to have an employee on site during severe weather; and to make reasonable modifications, have emergency communications, or educate guests about severe-weather risks.

The defendants filed numerous motions for summary judgment arguing they were protected by the Texas Recreational Use Statute, and they owed no duty to the plaintiffs. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims without comment. The appeal followed.

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

The appellate court started its analysis by stating the trial court was right and there was no duty owed to the plaintiffs.

Even if we assume that the recreational use statute does not apply, we hold, as a matter of law, that appellees did not owe the Walkers and Johnsons a duty to warn of or ensure against rising river waters.

Texas Premises Liability Act requires landowners with liability for actual or constructive notice of a condition that poses an unreasonable risk of harm and did nothing to reduce or eliminate the risk.

When an injured invitee asserts a premises-liability claim, she must show that the owner or occupier had actual or constructive knowledge about a condition that posed an unreasonable risk of harm and did not exercise reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk and that such failure proximately caused her injury.

Rain swollen rivers were described by the court as a condition that came to the land, rather than a condition on the land. Even so, in Texas, rain, mud and ice are natural conditions that do not create an unreasonable risk of harm.

Regardless of that fact, Texas courts have consistently held as a matter of law that naturally occurring or accumulating conditions such as rain, mud, and ice do not create conditions posing an unreasonable risk of harm.

The basis for those rulings is that rain, dirt, and mud are naturally occurring conditions beyond a landowner’s control. (“rain is beyond the control of landowners” and “accidents involving naturally accumulating mud and dirt are bound to happen, regardless of the precautions taken by landowners”). Requiring a landowner to protect an invitee from precipitation or other acts of nature would place an enormous burden on the landowner.

Additionally, the court held the plaintiffs were aware of the issues because they could see the river from their campground and had canoed past the campground earlier in the day.

Further, an invitee is or should be “at least as aware” as the landowner of visible conditions that have “accumulated naturally outdoors” and thus “will often be in a better position to take immediate pre-cautions against injury.

Landowners in Texas cannot be insurers of people on the land for those acts which the landowner has no control, those things we used to call “acts of God.”

Texas courts have repeatedly observed that a landowner “‘is not an insurer'” of an invitee’s safety and generally “has no duty to warn of hazards that are open and obvious or known to the invitee.” Texas courts have held in various contexts that flooding due to heavy rains is an open and obvious hazard. “[T]he owner may assume that the recreational user needs no warning to appreciate the dangers of natural conditions, such as a sheer cliff, a rushing river, or even a concealed rattlesnake.

A landowner can be guilty of gross negligence by creating a condition that a recreational user would not reasonably expect to encounter. However, there was no gross negligence nor negligence because the harm was not created by the landowner.

We see no useful distinction to be drawn between ice and mud, which are natural conditions caused by rain and freezing temperatures, and rising river waters, caused by a natural weather event over which appellees could exercise no control. The June 2010 flood was not a condition inherent in or on the land in question. Instead, the flooding was a condition that came to the campground as the adjacent river, the same river that made the land an attractive place to camp, rose due to heavy rains.

The court then summed up its ruling.

We hold that as a matter of law appellees had no duty to warn the Walkers and Johnsons of the possibility that the river, they were camping beside might rise in the event of heavy rain, posing a risk to the campground.

Because appellees did not owe a duty to warn of or attempt to make the campground safe against flooding of the adjacent river due to torrential rain, the trial court properly granted summary judgment in their favor. We affirm the trial court’s orders.

So Now What?

This is a good ruling. Acts of God have always been outside the control, by their definition and act, of man. Consequently, you should not be able to hold someone liable for such an act.

This may not be true for all situations, or in all states, but for Texas campground owners and landowners don’t need to worry about the rain.

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

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

To Purchase Go Here:

Copyright 2017 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

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

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,

 

Advertisements

Walker v. UME, Inc. d/b/a Camp Huaco Springs, 2016 Tex. App. LEXIS 5934

Walker v. UME, Inc. d/b/a Camp Huaco Springs, 2016 Tex. App. LEXIS 5934

Cynthia Walker, Individually and on Behalf of the Estate of Norman Walker; Stephen Walker; Stephanie Walker Hatton; Jordan Walker; and Caren Ann Johnson, Appellants v. UME, Inc. d/b/a Camp Huaco Springs; WWGAF, Inc. d/b/a Rockin ‘R’ River Rides; William George Rivers; and Richard Duane Rivers, Appellees

  1. 03-15-00271-CV

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

2016 Tex. App. LEXIS 5934

June 3, 2016, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY:  [*1] FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF COMAL COUNTY, 433RD JUDICIAL DISTRICT. NO. C2012-0796D, HONORABLE DIB WALDRIP, JUDGE PRESIDING.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

JUDGES: Before Justices Puryear, Goodwin, and Field.

OPINION BY: David Puryear

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Appellants Cynthia Walker, Individually and on Behalf of the Estate of Norman Walker; Stephen Walker; Stephanie Walker Hatton; Jordan Walker; and Caren Ann Johnson1 filed suit against appellees UME, Inc. d/b/a Camp Huaco Springs; WWGAF, Inc. d/b/a Rockin ‘R’ River Rides; William George Rivers; and Richard Duane Rivers for injuries sustained when the Guadalupe River overran its banks during a flash flood in June 2010.2 The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of appellees. We affirm the trial court’s orders granting summary judgment.

1 Cynthia Walker was married to Norman Walker, and Stephen Walker, Stephanie Walker Hatton, and Jordan Walker are their children. Caren Johnson is married to Terry Johnson, Cynthia’s brother. Cynthia, Norman, Caren, and Terry were camping together at Camp Huaco Springs when they were caught in the flood. Norman died, while Cynthia, Terry, and Caren were injured. Caren and Cynthia sued for their own injuries. Cynthia also sued as a representative of [*2]  Norman’s estate and, along with her children, as a wrongful death beneficiary.
2 UME, Inc. operates Camp Huaco Springs, WWGAF operates Rockin ‘R’ River Rides, a river-tubing and recreation outfitter, and William and Richard Rivers own the two businesses.

Factual Summary

In June 2010, Cynthia and Norman Walker and Terry and Caren Johnson went to Camp Huaco Springs in their RV campers for a weekend of camping and river rafting. When they arrived at the campground, they were assigned two parking spaces. The Walkers and the Johnsons parked their campers as directed. On Saturday, the Walkers and the Johnsons took a canoe trip on the river and went to tour nearby caverns. When they returned to the campsite and went to bed, it was not raining. They had not heard any weather reports and did not know heavy rain was forecast for that night. Cynthia woke at about 6:00 a.m. to thunder and lightning. She looked out the window and saw Terry was screaming that they had to leave. Cynthia looked down and noticed that the river had risen to surround the two campers, causing them to begin floating. The Walkers and Johnsons were all swept downstream in the flood. Norman died in the flood. Cynthia, Terry, and [*3]  Caren were rescued miles downstream from the campsite and all required medical attention.

Appellants filed suit alleging negligence, premises liability, and gross negligence. They asserted that WWGAF was liable because it was a joint enterprise with UME and that the Rivers brothers were liable under a theory of alter ego. Appellants asserted that appellees knew that the campground was prone to flooding and failed: to warn appellants of that fact; to warn of the approaching storm; to prepare a plan for flood awareness, communication, and evacuation; to have and use speakers or sirens to warn of flooding; to employ someone to monitor the weather and warn and evacuate guests; to have an employee on site during severe weather; and to make reasonable modifications, have emergency communications, or educate guests about severe-weather risks.

UME and the Rivers brothers filed a traditional and no-evidence motion for summary judgment, asserting that the Texas Recreational Use Statute3 limited appellants to asserting a gross-negligence claim and that appellants could not show various elements of gross negligence; that there was no evidence that they had a duty to warn that the campground was in [*4]  a flood zone, to warn that severe weather was approaching, or to plan and prepare for flooding; that there was no evidence they had a duty to have and use speakers or sirens to warn guests; and that there was no evidence that appellants’ injuries were caused by any negligence on the part of UME or the Rivers brothers. UME and the Rivers brothers filed a separate motion for traditional and no-evidence summary judgment addressing appellants’ theories of alter ego and joint enterprise. WWGAF filed its own motion for summary judgment, asserting that it did not own or operate Camp Huaco, that it did not owe a duty to the Walkers and the Johnsons, and that it was a separate entity from Camp Huaco and could not be held liable under theories of joint enterprise or vicarious liability. The trial court signed several orders granting appellees’ motions for summary judgment without specifying the grounds.

3 See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 75.002 (owner, lessee, or occupant of agricultural land who invites another onto premises for recreation owes invitee same duty that would be owed to trespasser and only owes duty not to injure invitee wilfully, wantonly, or through gross negligence); see generally id. §§ 75.001-.007 (chapter 75, titled [*5]  “Limitation of Landowners’ Liability”).

Discussion

The first question to be addressed, the answer to which is dispositive of this appeal, is whether appellees owed any duty to the Walkers and the Johnsons. Even if we assume that the recreational use statute does not apply, we hold, as a matter of law, that appellees did not owe the Walkers and Johnsons a duty to warn of or ensure against rising river waters. Without such a duty, appellants’ premises-liability claims must fail.4

4 Although appellants alleged both negligence and premises-defect claims, “negligent activity encompasses a malfeasance theory based on affirmative, contemporaneous conduct bythe owner that caused the injury, while premises liability encompasses a nonfeasance theory based on the owner’s failure to take measures to make the property safe.” Del Lago Partners, Inc. v. Smith, 307 S.W.3d 762, 776 (Tex. 2010); see Scurlock v. Pennell, 177 S.W.3d 222, 224-25 (Tex. App.–Houston [1st Dist.] 2005, no pet.) (citing Timberwalk Apartments, Partners, Inc. v. Cain, 972 S.W.2d 749, 753 (Tex. 1998)) (“Recovery for a negligent activity requires that a person have been injured by the activity itself, rather than by a condition created by the activity; in contrast, recovery for premises liability depends upon a failure to use ordinary care to reduce or to eliminate an unreasonable risk of harm created by a premises condition about which the owner or occupier [of [*6]  land] knows or, in the exercise of ordinary care, should know.”). The claims raised by appellants clearly alleged that appellees had failed to take various measures that would have made the campsite safe; they did not allege “contemporaneous conduct . . . that caused the injur[ies].” See Smith, 307 S.W.3d at 776. We therefore consider appellants’ claims under a theory of premises liability. Regardless of the theory under which they are analyzed, appellants’ claims would fail because, as we explain below, appellees did not owe the duty that appellants claim was breached. See General Elec. Co. v. Moritz, 257 S.W.3d 211, 217 (Tex. 2008) (“Like any other negligence action, a defendant in a premises case is liable only to the extent it owes the plaintiff a legal duty.”).

When an injured invitee asserts a premises-liability claim, she must show that the owner or occupier had actual or constructive knowledge of a condition that posed an unreasonable risk of harm and did not exercise reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk and that such failure proximately caused her injury. CMH Homes, Inc. v. Daenen, 15 S.W.3d 97, 99 (Tex. 2000). We initially note that appellants do not assert that a condition on the premises caused the tragedy and thus was the basis for liability. Instead, the injuries suffered by appellants were caused by a rain-swollen [*7]  river that inundated the campground, a condition that came to the premises.

Regardless of that fact, Texas courts have consistently held as a matter of law that naturally occurring or accumulating conditions such as rain, mud, and ice do not create conditions posing an unreasonable risk of harm. M.O. Dental Lab v. Rape, 139 S.W.3d 671, 675-76 (Tex. 2004); see Scott & White Mem. Hosp. v. Fair, 310 S.W.3d 411, 412-14 (Tex. 2010) (“Because we find no reason to distinguish between the mud in M.O. Dental and the ice in this case, we hold that naturally occurring ice that accumulates without the assistance or involvement of unnatural contact is not an unreasonably dangerous condition sufficient to support a premises liability claim.”); Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Surratt, 102 S.W.3d 437, 445 (Tex. App.–Eastland 2003, pet. denied) (landowner “does not have a duty to protect its invitees from conditions caused by a natural accumulation of frozen precipitation on its parking lot because such an accumulation does not constitute an unreasonably dangerous condition”).5 The basis for those rulings is that rain, dirt, and mud are naturally occurring conditions beyond a landowner’s control. See, e.g., M.O. Dental Lab, 139 S.W.3d at 676 (“rain is beyond the control of landowners” and “accidents involving naturally accumulating mud and dirt are bound to happen, regardless of the precautions taken by landowners”). Requiring a landowner to protect an invitee [*8]  from precipitation or other acts of nature would place an enormous burden on the landowner. See id.; see also Fair, 310 S.W.3d at 414 (requiring landowners “to guard against wintery conditions would inflict a heavy burden because of the limited resources landowners likely have on hand to combat occasional ice accumulations”).

5 See also State Dep’t of Highways & Pub. Transp. v. Kitchen, 867 S.W.2d 784, 786 (Tex. 1993) (per curiam) (in premises defect case under Texas Tort Claims Act, supreme court held that “[w]hen there is precipitation accompanied by near-freezing temperatures, . . . an icy bridge is neither unexpected nor unusual, but rather, entirely predictable [and] is something motorists can and should anticipate when the weather is conducive to such a condition”); Brownsville Navigation Dist. v. Izaguirre, 829 S.W.2d 159, 160 (Tex. 1992) (“Plain dirt which ordinarily becomes soft and muddy when wet is not a dangerous condition of property for which a landlord may be liable.”); Lee v. K&N Mgmt., Inc., No. 03-15-00243-CV, 2015 WL 8594163, at *3-4 (Tex. App.–Austin Dec. 11, 2015, no pet.) (mem. op.) (plant that extended over edge of flowerbed was not unreasonably dangerous condition; “The Texas Supreme Court has held that certain naturally occurring substances generally do not pose an unreasonable risk of harm. . . . Under the facts of this case, the plant, like mud and dirt, may have formed a condition that posed a risk of harm, [*9]  but on this record, we cannot conclude that it was an unreasonable risk of harm.”); City of Houston v. Cogburn, No. 01-11-00318-CV, 2014 WL 1778279, at *4 (Tex. App.–Houston [1st Dist.] May 1, 2014, no pet.) (mem. op.) (“as a matter of law, naturally occurring conditions that are open and obvious do not create an unreasonable risk of harm for purposes of premises liability”; tree roots over which plaintiff tripped were “open and obvious and were a naturally occurring condition”).

Further, an invitee is or should be “at least as aware” as the landowner of visible conditions that have “accumulated naturally outdoors” and thus “will often be in a better position to take immediate precautions against injury.” M.O. Dental Lab, 139 S.W.3d at 676. In other words, as the supreme court has explained:

When the condition is open and obvious or known to the invitee, however, the landowner is not in a better position to discover it. When invitees are aware of dangerous premises conditions–whether because the danger is obvious or because the landowner provided an adequate warning–the condition will, in most cases, no longer pose an unreasonable risk because the law presumes that invitees will take reasonable measures to protect themselves against known risks, which may include a decision not to accept the invitation to enter onto the landowner’s premises. [*10]  This is why the Court has typically characterized the landowner’s duty as a duty to make safe or warn of unreasonably dangerous conditions that are not open and obvious or otherwise known to the invitee

Austin v. Kroger Tex., L.P., 465 S.W.3d 193, 203 (Tex. 2015) (citations omitted). Texas courts have repeatedly observed that a landowner “‘is not an insurer'” of an invitee’s safety and generally “has no duty to warn of hazards that are open and obvious or known to the invitee.” Id. at 203-04 (quoting Del Lago Partners, Inc. v. Smith, 307 S.W.3d 762, 769 (Tex. 2010)). Texas courts have held in various contexts that flooding due to heavy rains is an open and obvious hazard. See, e.g., State v. Shumake, 199 S.W.3d 279, 288 (Tex. 2006) (“[T]he owner may assume that the recreational user needs no warning to appreciate the dangers of natural conditions, such as a sheer cliff, a rushing river, or even a concealed rattlesnake. But a landowner can be liable for gross negligence in creating a condition that a recreational user would not reasonably expect to encounter on the property in the course of the permitted use.”); City of Austin v. Leggett, 257 S.W.3d 456, 475 (Tex. App.–Austin 2008, pet. denied) (flooded intersection was readily apparent and presented obstacle that would be open and obvious to ordinary motorists).

We see no useful distinction to be drawn between ice and mud, which are natural conditions caused by rain and freezing temperatures, and rising [*11]  river waters, caused by a natural weather event over which appellees could exercise no control. See Fair, 310 S.W.3d at 414. The June 2010 flood was not a condition inherent in or on the land in question. Instead, the flooding was a condition that came to the campground as the adjacent river, the same river that made the land an attractive place to camp, rose due to heavy rains. The Walkers and the Johnsons had gone canoeing on the river the day before the flooding occurred, and thus they were obviously aware of the river’s proximity to their campsite. This situation is indeed a tragic one, but it is not one for which appellees can be held to bear legal responsibility. We hold that as a matter of law appellees had no duty to warn the Walkers and Johnsons of the possibility that the river they were camping beside might rise in the event of heavy rain, posing a risk to the campground.6

6 We further note that, even if the campground had posted warnings or issued flood cautions when the Walkers and Johnsons checked into the campsite, there is nothing in this record to indicate that events would have turned out any differently. The Walkers and Johnsons went to bed not having heard that heavy rains would approach [*12]  and slept heavily enough that none of them woke up during the storm or to warnings by the local sheriff’s officers, who drove through the campsite at about 4:00 a.m., blowing an airhorn and flashing their car’s lights as they announced over their PA system that the river was rising.

Conclusion

Because appellees did not owe a duty to warn of or attempt to make the campground safe against flooding of the adjacent river due to torrential rain, the trial court properly granted summary judgment in their favor. We affirm the trial court’s orders.

David Puryear, Justice

Before Justices Puryear, Goodwin, and Field

Affirmed

Filed: June 3, 2016

 


Federal Court in Texas upholds clause in release requiring plaintiff to pay defendants costs of defending against plaintiff’s claims.

Fitness contract included a release which included a clause stating the signor would pay the fitness companies defense costs. Court awarded those costs for defending against claims, which were dismissed by the court; Even though the plaintiff was successful in retaining two claims against the defendant.

McClure, et al., v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 167483

State: Texas

Plaintiff: Chase McClure, Misha McClure

Defendant: Life Time Fitness, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, gross negligence, common law and statutory premises liability, and negligent misrepresentation claims

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the Plaintiff and the Defendant

Year: 2014

This is an interesting case, obviously because it is outside the normal outdoor recreation arena and involves a fitness center with a day care. The plaintiff signed up for the defendant fitness center. She arrived one time with her two-year-old son and informed the defendant fitness center employee that it was his first there. She informed the plaintiff that she would place her son in with the younger children.

Later, the plaintiff was told that her son had been injured and that 911 had been called. The facts surrounding the injury are vague, other than the plaintiff arrived to see a defendant day care worker holding ice on the child’s ear. The child later received five stitches in his ear.

There were several issues concerning the service of process on the defendant and eventually a removal to the Federal Court who resolved the issues finding ineffective service against the defendant in the state court claims.

The defendant then moved for summary judgment based on release and its counterclaims against the plaintiff for breach of the Member Usage Agreement.

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

The court first tackled the release and how whether it was effective against the claims of the plaintiff. Under Texas law, a release must satisfy the Fair Notice requirement.

Fair notice requires (1) that a party seeking to enforce a release provision comply with the express negligence doctrine and (2) that the provision be conspicuous. The express negligence doctrine requires a party releasing potential claims against another party for its negligence to express that intent in conspicuous and unambiguous terms in the four corners of the agreement. Conspicuousness requires the releasing language to be written and formatted so that a reasonable person in the position of the person against whom the release is to operate would notice it.

The plaintiff admitted the release met the fair notice requirements but under Texas law, the release could not stop her gross negligence claims. The court agreed.

Texas cases holding that waivers of negligence claims do not give fair notice of an intent to waive gross negligence claims, and the cases holding that preinjury releases of gross negligence claims are contrary to public policy, this court holds that the Member Usage Agreement Ms. McClure signed did not release Life Time Fitness from liability for her gross negligence claims, including the premise’s liability claim based on the Recreational Use Statute, which requires proof of gross negligence.

The court also found that the release failed to release the defendant from the plaintiff’s premises liability claims based on the Texas Recreational Use statute. Premise’s liability claims are based on ownership of the land; although the release in question seemed to cover the issue? No reasoning was given by the court for this decision.

The release did bar the plaintiff’s claims for “for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and common law premise’s liability.”

The court next went over the issues surrounding whether a release under Texas law would stop claims of minors. The court found Texas law does not allow a release signed by a parent to stop those claims. “A preinjury release executed by a minor child’s parent is not enforceable to release claims against a commercial enterprise for the minor child’s injuries.”

The next issue was whether there was enough evidence to support any claims of the plaintiff. Here was a case where the plaintiff was never able to determine how the child was injured. Consequently, the plaintiff could not prove or provide any evidence of any negligence claims.

The McClures have not identified any evidence of a misrepresentation Life Time Fitness made to the child on which he did or could have reasonably relied. Summary judgment is granted on the child’s negligent misrepresentation claim.

The defendant then asked for the remaining claims of the child to be dismissed because there was no evidence to support any allegations made by the child to support his claims.

Life Time Fitness also seeks summary judgment on the child’s remaining claims, contending that it breached no duty owed to him and that no condition at the childcare facility posed an un-reasonable risk of harm.

The only evidence to support this claim was the plaintiff stated that any employee of the defendant had told the plaintiff here son had been injured in the play area designated for older children. This was sufficient to support this claim at this time. “Although the record is scant, it is sufficient to withstand summary judgment as to the child’s claims other than for negligent misrepresentation.”

The court then ruled on the counterclaim of the defendant. It seems like the motion was not answered by the plaintiff. The defendant then argued was a failure to deny, and they should be granted a default judgment. However, the court did not come to that same conclusion. The court then looked at the clause in the contract.

The clause in the release was entitled “Life Time’s Fees and Costs.”

This clause stated that if Ms. McClure asserted a negligence claim against Life Time Fitness, she would pay “all reasonable fees (including attorney’s fees), costs, and expenses incurred by Life Time (“Life Time’s Fees and Costs”) to defend (1) the Negligence Claim(s) and (2) all other Claims based on the same facts as the Negligence Claim(s).” Ms. McClure argues that she did not breach the Member Usage Agreement because she asserted claims for gross negligence.

Although the plaintiff was successful in two of her five claims, the court felt that she had breached the release and sued, therefore, the claims that were dismissed were enough to trigger fees and costs clause.

Life Time Fitness is entitled to the damages provided for in the Member Usage Agreement: the fees it reasonably incurred in defending solely against Ms. McClure’s claims for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and common-law premises liability.

The court was specific in its ruling that the fees and costs to be paid by the plaintiff and awarded to the defendant were only the costs the defendant incurred in defending the three claims that were dismissed by the court.

Summary judgment is granted to Life Time Fitness on Ms. McClure’s claims for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and common law premises liability to invitees. Summary judgment is denied on Ms. McClure’s claims for gross negligence and for premises liability under the Recreational Use Statute. Summary judgment is granted on the minor child’s negligent misrepresentation claim and otherwise denied. Life Time Fitness’s motion for summary judgment on its counterclaim is granted only for reasonable fees incurred in defending against Ms. McClure’s negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and common law premises liability claims, and is otherwise denied.

So the plaintiff was left with a gross negligence claim and a premises liability claim. Her son’s claim for negligent misrepresentation also survived, but barely.

So Now What?

Do Not Rely on this decision to believe that you can recover attorney fees when defending yourself in court when a release has been signed by the plaintiff. This is only the third time I have seen a case like this and there are 25 times more decisions denying these claims.

Most of these claims are struck down because the language is poor, and the case is similar to this forcing a parent to decide whether they should risk suing on behalf of their injured child. Other than this case, courts have uniformly denied those claims.

The two other cases I have found dealt with a skydiving where the plaintiff’s allegations were at a minimum quite wild and the other the plaintiff was an attorney. In both cases, it seemed the court found enough to hit the plaintiff with fees because the court did not like them.

You do not see any of the rancor or scorn in this case. It is a factual review of the facts, the release and a simple decision. You signed the agreement promising to pay if this happened, therefore, you must pay.

clip_image002What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

 

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

To Purchase Go Here:

 

 

Copyright 2015 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

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

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, Life Time Fitness, Fitness Center, Day Care, Texas, Release, Fees, Attorney Fees, Costs, Negligent Misrepresentation, Premises Liability, Gross Negligence,

 


Mcclure, et al., v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 167483

Mcclure, et al., v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 167483

C. Mcclure, et al., Plaintiffs, vs. Life Time Fitness, Inc., Defendant.

CIVIL ACTION NO. H-13-1794

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS, HOUSTON DIVISION

2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 167483

December 3, 2014, Decided

December 3, 2014, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: McClure v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25810 (S.D. Tex., Feb. 28, 2014)

COUNSEL: [*1] For Chase McClure, Misha McClure, Individually and as Guardian of Chase McClure, Plaintiffs: Brennen Dunn, LEAD ATTORNEY, Citizen Legal, PLLC, Houston, TX.

For Life Time Fitness, Inc., Defendant: John G Browning, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, Dallas, TX.

JUDGES: Lee H. Rosenthal, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Lee H. Rosenthal

OPINION

MEMORANDUM AND OPINION

This is a personal injury suit filed by Misha McClure for herself and on behalf of her minor son, who was injured in July 2012 in the childcare area at a Life Time Fitness center in Humble, Texas. Ms. McClure asserted negligence, gross negligence, common law and statutory premises liability, and negligent misrepresentation claims. Life Time Fitness moved for summary judgment, arguing that the claims are barred by a release Ms. McClure signed when she joined the center. (Docket Entry No. 28).

Based on the pleadings, the motion and response, the parties’ submissions, and the applicable law, this court grants the motion in part and denies it in part. Specifically, the court grants Life Time Fitness’s motion for summary judgment dismissing Ms. McClure’s claims for negligence, common-law premises liability, and negligent misrepresentation, and denies [*2] the motion as to her gross negligence and statutory premises liability claims. The court grants Life Time Fitness’s summary judgment motion as to the minor child’s negligent misrepresentation claim and otherwise denies the motion. Finally, the court grants Life Time Fitness’s motion for summary judgment on its counterclaim for fees incurred in defending against Ms. McClure’s claims other than for gross negligence and for statutory premises liability, and otherwise denies the motion. The reasons for these rulings are explained below.

I. Background

Ms. McClure went to the Life Time Fitness center in Humble on July 28, 2012 for a personal-training session. She left her two-year-old son at the childcare area in the center, telling a childcare employee her son’s age and explaining that it was his first time there. The employee told Ms. McClure that her son would be in an area for younger children. Thirty minutes later, a Life Time Fitness manager interrupted Ms. McClure’s training session to tell her that her son had been in an accident in the older children’s play area and that 911 had been called. Ms. McClure found her son with a Life Time Fitness childcare manager who was holding an ice [*3] pack on the child’s ear. When the ice pack was removed, Ms. McClure saw that the child was missing a piece of his ear. He received five stitches.

When Ms. McClure joined Life Time Fitness, she signed a Member Usage Agreement. The Member Usage Agreement contained sections headed “ASSUMPTION OF RISK” and “WAIVER OF LIABILITY.” The relevant parts read as follows:

ASSUMPTION OF RISK. I understand that there are inherent dangers, hazards, and risks of injury or damage in the use of Life Time’s premises, facilities, equipment, services, activities or products, whether available through membership dues or a separate fee.

I understand that the Risk and Injuries in the Use of Life Time Premises and Services (collectively, “Risks of Injury”) may be caused, in whole or in part, by the NEGLIGENCE OF LIFE TIME, me, Minor Member(s), Other Member(s), Guest(s) and/or other persons. [I] FULLY UNDERSTAND, AND VOLUNTARILY AND WILLINGLY ASSUME, THE RISKS OF INJURY.

WAIVER OF LIABILITY. On behalf of myself and my spouse/partner, children/Minor Members, Other Members, Guests, parents, guardians, heirs, next of kin, personal representatives, heirs and assigns, I hereby voluntarily and forever release and discharge [*4] Life Time from, covenant and agree not to sue Life Time for, and waive, any claims, demands, actions, causes of action, debts, damages, losses, costs, fees, expenses or any other alleged liabilities or obligations of any kind or nature, whether known or unknown (collectively, “Claims”) for any Injuries to me, Minor Member(s), Other Member(s), or Guest(s) in the Use of Life Time Premises and Services which arise out of, result from, or are caused by any NEGLIGENCE OF LIFE TIME, me, any Minor Member(s), any Other Member(s), any Guest(s), and/or any other person . . . (collectively, “Negligence Claims”).

A. Negligence Claims. I understand that Negligence Claims include but are not limited to Life Time’s (1) negligent design, construction (including renovation and alteration), repair maintenance, operation, supervision, monitoring, or provision of Life Time Premises and Services; (2) negligent failure to warn of or remove a hazardous, unsafe, dangerous or defective condition; (3) negligent failure to provide or keep premises in a reasonably safe condition; (4) negligent provision or failure to provide emergency care; (5) negligent provision of services; and (6) negligent hiring, selection, [*5] training, instruction, certification, supervision or retention of employees, independent contractors or volunteers; or (7) other negligent act(s) or omission(s).

B. Life Time’s Fees and Costs. I specifically agree that, if I (on my own behalf or on behalf of another, including an estate) assert a Negligence Claim against Life Time and/or breach my agreement not to sue Life Time, I will pay all reasonable fees (including attorneys’ fees), costs and expenses incurred by Life Time (“Life Time’s Fees and Costs”) to defend (1) the Negligence Claim(s) and (2) all other Claims based on the same facts as the Negligence Claim(s).

The agreement also contained a section headed “PARENT OR GUARDIAN AGREEMENT.” This section stated:

If I am the parent or legal guardian of a Minor Member, I acknowledge and represent to Life Time that I have the right and authority to make decisions concerning the care, custody and control of each Minor Member, including but not limited to the right and authority to execute this MUA on the Minor Member’s behalf. By signing this MUA, I am binding each of my Minor Member(s) to its terms, including but not limited to the ASSUMPTION OF RISK [and] WAIVER OF LIABILITY . . . [*6] provisions.

The following text appeared directly above the signature line:

I HAVE READ, UNDERSTOOD, RECEIVED A COPY OF, AND AGREE TO ALL TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF THIS MUA, INCLUDING SPECIFICALLY THE ASSUMPTION OF RISK, WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND DEFENSE AND INDEMNIFICATION PROVISIONS UNDER WHICH I AM RELINQUISHING LEGAL RIGHTS.

Ms. McClure’s state-court petition alleged that Life Time Fitness negligently allowed her son to play in an area designated for older children. The petition alleged that in addition to the ear injury, which was treated with five stitches, the incident left him unable or unwilling to participate in certain activities and afraid to be in a new childcare facility. (Docket Entry No. 1, Ex. 2 at 2). Life Time Fitness did not file an answer within the period set by the Texas rules.

In April 2013, the state-court judge granted the McClures’ motion for a no-answer default judgment against Life Time Fitness. Life Time Fitness removed the lawsuit to federal court in June 2013 and challenged the service of process and the no-answer default judgment. This court vacated the state-court default judgment in February 2014, finding that the service was defective and that entry of the [*7] no-answer default judgment was therefore void. Life Time Fitness then filed an answer and counterclaimed against Ms. McClure for breach of the Member Usage Agreement. (Docket Entry No. 21).

Life Time Fitness has moved for summary judgment, contending that the McClures’ claims are barred by the release contained in the Member Usage Agreement and are unsupported by the evidence. Life Time Fitness also moved for summary judgment on its breach-of-contract counterclaim against Ms. McClure. Ms. McClure contends that the release does not bar her claims, that the summary-judgment evidence supports recovery for both her and her son, and that she did not breach the Member Usage Agreement. Each argument and response is analyzed below.

II. The Applicable Legal Standards

A. Summary Judgment

[HN1] Summary judgment is appropriate if no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). [HN2] “The movant bears the burden of identifying those portions of the record it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Triple Tee Golf, Inc. v. Nike, Inc., 485 F.3d 253, 261 (5th Cir. 2007) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-25, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986)).

[HN3] If the burden of proof at trial lies with the nonmoving party, the movant may satisfy its initial burden by “‘showing’ [*8] — that is, pointing out to the district court — that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.” See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. While the party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, it does not need to negate the elements of the nonmovant’s case. Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). “A fact is ‘material’ if its resolution in favor of one party might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under governing law.” Sossamon v. Lone Star State of Tex., 560 F.3d 316, 326 (5th Cir. 2009) (quotation omitted). “If the moving party fails to meet [its] initial burden, the motion [for summary judgment] must be denied, regardless of the nonmovant’s response.” United States v. $92,203.00 in U.S. Currency, 537 F.3d 504, 507 (5th Cir. 2008) (quoting Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc)).

[HN4] When the moving party has met its Rule 56(c) burden, the nonmoving party cannot survive a summary judgment motion by resting on the mere allegations of its pleadings. The nonmovant must identify specific evidence in the record and articulate how that evidence supports that party’s claim. Baranowski v. Hart, 486 F.3d 112, 119 (5th Cir. 2007). “This burden will not be satisfied by ‘some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence.'” Boudreaux, 402 F.3d at 540 (quoting Little, 37 F.3d at 1075). In deciding a summary judgment motion, the court draws all reasonable inferences [*9] in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Connors v. Graves, 538 F.3d 373, 376 (5th Cir. 2008).

III. Analysis

A. The Timeliness of the McClures’ Response to Life Time Fitness’s Summary Judgment Motion

Life Time Fitness argues that the court should disregard the McClures’ response to the summary judgment motion because it was filed after the deadline to respond and without leave of court. (Docket Entry No. 30 at 2). The summary judgment motion was filed on September 12, 2014. (Docket Entry No. 28). The response was filed on October 13, 2014, ten days after it was due. (Docket Entry No. 29). Because the delay was not extensive, there is no prejudice to Life Time Fitness. Because [HN5] a decision on the basis of default is disfavored, the court considers the McClures’ response on the merits.

B. The Waiver and Release

The waiver and release contained in the Member Usage Agreement stated that the signer waived any claims for injuries to herself or to her minor children resulting from Life Time Fitness’s negligence. (Docket Entry No. 28). [HN6] Texas imposes a fair notice requirement on preinjury releases. See Dresser Indus., Inc. v. Page Petroleum, Inc., 853 S.W.2d 505, 508-09 (Tex. 1993). A release that fails to satisfy the fair notice requirement is unenforceable as a matter of law. Storage & Processors, Inc. v. Reyes, 134 S.W.3d 190, 192 (Tex. 2004). Fair notice requires (1) that a party [*10] seeking to enforce a release provision comply with the express negligence doctrine and (2) that the provision be conspicuous. Id. The express negligence doctrine requires a party releasing potential claims against another party for its negligence to express that intent in conspicuous and unambiguous terms in the four corners of the agreement. Id. Conspicuousness requires the releasing language to be written and formatted so that a reasonable person in the position of the person against whom the release is to operate would notice it. Id.; Dresser, 853 S.W.2d at 508.

Ms. McClure agrees that the waiver and release provisions of the Member Usage Agreement meet the Texas fair notice requirements, but argues that the provisions do not cover her gross negligence claims. (Docket Entry No. 29 at 2). [HN7] Several Texas appellate courts have held that preinjury releases of gross negligence claims violate public policy. See Van Voris v. Team Chop Shop, LLC, 402 S.W.3d 915, 924-25 (Tex. App. — Dallas 2013, no pet.); Sydlik v. REEIII, Inc., 195 S.W.3d 329, 336 (Tex. App. — Houston [14th Dist.] 2006, no writ); Smith v. Golden Triangle Raceway, 708 S.W.2d 574, 576 (Tex. App. — Beaumont 1986, no writ); accord Memorial Med. Ctr. of East Texas v. Keszler, M.D., 943 S.W.2d 433 (Tex. 1997) (citing Golden Triangle Raceway, 708 S.W.2d at 576). Other Texas appellate courts have held that when a preinjury waiver releases claims for “negligence,” claims for gross negligence are not waived. See Del Carmen Canas v. Centerpoint Energy Res. Corp., 418 S.W.3d 312, 326-27 (Tex. App. — Houston [14th Dist.] 2013, no pet.); [*11] Akin v. Bally Total Fitness Corp., No. 10-05-00280-CV, 2007 Tex. App. LEXIS 1218, 2007 WL 475406, at *3 (Tex. App. — Waco Feb. 14, 2007, pet. denied); Rosen v. Nat’l Hot Rod Ass’n, No. 14-94-00775-CV, 1995 Tex. App. LEXIS 3225, 1995 WL 755712, at *7 n. 1 (Tex. App. — Houston [14th Dist.] Dec. 21, 1995, writ denied). In Newman v. Tropical Visions, Inc., the Texas Court of Appeals for San Antonio held to the contrary, finding that the plaintiff’s preinjury waiver of negligence claims also barred its gross negligence claims. Newman v. Tropical Visions, Inc., 891 S.W.2d 713, 722 (Tex. App. — San Antonio 1994, writ denied); see also Tesoro Petroleum Corp. v. Nabors Drilling USA, Inc., 106 S.W.3d 118, 127 (Tex. App. — Houston [1st Dist.] 2002, pet. denied) (finding Newman persuasive). The court noted that the plaintiff had not raised the express negligence rule in its pleadings, and the court emphasized that its opinion did not address or take a position on whether a preinjury waiver of gross negligence claims violated public policy. Id.

The Texas Supreme Court has not ruled on this issue. The guidance the Texas appellate court case law provides, however, gives a reliable basis for making an Erie prediction about how the Supreme Court would rule if faced with the question. [HN8] “When making an Erie-guess in the absence of explicit guidance from the state courts, [this court] must attempt to predict state law, not to create or modify it.” Assoc. Inter. Ins. Co. v. Blythe, 286 F.3d 780, 783 (5th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). Based on the [HN9] Texas cases holding that waivers [*12] of negligence claims do not give fair notice of an intent to waive gross negligence claims, and the cases holding that preinjury releases of gross negligence claims are contrary to public policy, this court holds that the Member Usage Agreement Ms. McClure signed did not release Life Time Fitness from liability for her gross negligence claims, including [HN10] the premises liability claim based on the Recreational Use Statute, which requires proof of gross negligence. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 75.002(c)-(d), 101.058; State v. Shumake, 199 S.W.3d 279, 289 (Tex. 2006).

By contrast, Ms. McClure’s claims for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and common law premises liability to invitees fall within the scope of the waiver and release. Summary judgment is granted on these claims but denied as to Ms. McClure’s gross negligence and statutory premises liability claims.

Life Time Fitness also argued that the child’s claims were barred by the waiver and release Ms. McClure signed. [HN11] A preinjury release executed by a minor child’s parent is not enforceable to release claims against a commercial enterprise for the minor child’s injuries. See Paz v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., 757 F. Supp. 2d 658 (S.D. Tex. 2010) (making an Erie prediction); Munoz v. II Jaz Inc., 863 S.W.2d 207 (Tex. App. — Houston [14th Dist.] 1993, no writ). The child’s claims are not barred on this [*13] basis.

B. The Sufficiency of the Evidence

Life Time Fitness also moves for summary judgment on the basis that there is no evidence to support either Ms. McClure’s or her child’s claims.

Life Time Fitness contends that the child, who was two years old at the time, was too young to rely on any statement made by Life Time Fitness and therefore cannot prevail on a negligent misrepresentation claim. (Docket Entry No. 23). In response, Ms. McClure argues that her own reliance should be imputed to her son. (Docket Entry No. 29 at 4-5). [HN12] Although one party’s knowledge of a misrepresentation may be imputed to another under certain circumstances, none of which are present here, Texas courts do not recognize a theory of imputed or vicarious reliance. Grant Thornton LLP v. Prospect High Income Fund, 314 S.W.3d 913, 924 (Tex. 2010) (in the context of an agency relationship). The McClures have not identified any evidence of a misrepresentation Life Time Fitness made to the child on which he did or could have reasonably relied. Summary judgment is granted on the child’s negligent misrepresentation claim.

Life Time Fitness also seeks summary judgment on the child’s remaining claims, contending that it breached no duty owed to him and that no condition at the childcare facility posed [*14] an unreasonable risk of harm. The McClures did not specifically respond to the motion for summary judgment on these claims. (Docket Entry No. 29). In their pleadings, the McClures alleged that Life Time Fitness failed to provide a safe childcare area. (Docket Entry No. 23). The summary judgment evidence in the record is Ms. McClure’s affidavit and the Member Usage Agreement she signed. In her affidavit, Ms. McClure states that there was an injury involving her son and she was told by an unnamed employee that he was injured in a play area designated for children above his age. (Docket Entry No. 29, Ex. 2). Although the record is scant, it is sufficient to withstand summary judgment as to the child’s claims other than for negligent misrepresentation.

C. Life Time Fitness’s Counterclaims

Life Time Fitness moves for summary judgment on its breach-of-contract counterclaim against Ms. McClure. Life Time Fitness first argues that because Ms. McClure answered with only a general denial, the counterclaim allegations should be deemed admitted. (Docket Entry No. 28 at 8). [HN13] “General denials are uncommon in federal court because ‘situations in which the complaint can be completely controverted are [*15] quite rare.'” Mary Kay, Inc. v. Dunlap, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 86499, 2012 WL 2358082, at *7 (N.D. Tex. June 21, 2012) (quoting 5 Wright & Miller § 1265, at 549). Life Time Fitness argues that by filing a general denial, Ms. McClure was “admitting the operative facts” of the counterclaim. Life Time Fitness seeks summary judgment on this basis.

[HN14] “As directed by Rule 8 [of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure], the answer should contain only two things: (1) a response (admitting, denying, or claiming insufficient knowledge) to the averments in the complaint; and (2) a statement of all affirmative defenses.” Software Publishers Ass’n v. Scott & Scott, LLP, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59814, 2007 WL 2325585, at *2 n. 4 (N.D. Tex. Aug.15, 2007) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(b)-(c)). “A party that intends in good faith to deny all the allegations of a pleadings — including the jurisdictional grounds — may do so by a general denial.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(b)(3). “A party that does not intend to deny all the allegations must either specifically deny designated allegations or generally deny all except those specifically admitted.” Id.

[HN15] “Granting summary judgment when a party fails to respond to the opposing party’s summary judgment motion is comparable to granting a default judgment.” Tolliver v. Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co., No. 2:06-0904, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18839, 2008 WL 545018, at *1 (S.D. Ohio Feb. 25, 2008). “‘A party is not entitled to a default judgment as a matter of right, even where the defendant is technically [*16] in default.'” McCarty v. Zapata County, 243 F. App’x 792, 794 (5th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (quoting Lewis v. Lynn, 236 F.3d 766, 767 (5th Cir. 2001)). Default judgment is a drastic remedy that should be granted only in extreme situations. Warren v. Johnson, 244 F. App’x 570, 571 (5th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (citing Lewis, 236 F.3d at 767). Life Time Fitness has not shown such an extreme situation. Life Time Fitness’s motion for summary judgment on its counterclaim will be considered on the merits.

The Member Usage Agreement Ms. McClure signed when she joined Life Time Fitness contained a clause headed “Life Time’s Fees and Costs.” This clause stated that if Ms. McClure asserted a negligence claim against Life Time Fitness, she would pay “all reasonable fees (including attorney’s fees), costs, and expenses incurred by Life Time (“Life Time’s Fees and Costs”) to defend (1) the Negligence Claim(s) and (2) all other Claims based on the same facts as the Negligence Claim(s).” Ms. McClure argues that she did not breach the Member Usage Agreement because she asserted claims for gross negligence.

As discussed above, although Ms. McClure’s claims for gross negligence and premises liability under the Recreational Use Statute are not barred by the waiver and release, her remaining claims are barred. Ms. McClure asserted claims against Life Time Fitness for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, [*17] and common law premises liability to invitees, despite agreeing that she would not do so. Life Time Fitness is entitled to the damages provided for in the Member Usage Agreement: the fees it reasonably incurred in defending solely against Ms. McClure’s claims for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and common-law premises liability. Life Time Fitness is not entitled to any fees incurred in defending against the child’s claims, which were not waived by the Member Use Agreement. Nor is Life Time Fitness entitled to any fees incurred to defend against Ms. McClure’s claims for gross negligence and for statutory premises liability. The only fees at issue are those that Life Time Fitness would have incurred had Ms. McClure asserted only the claims waived by the release.

IV. Conclusion

Summary judgment is granted to Life Time Fitness on Ms. McClure’s claims for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and common law premises liability to invitees. Summary judgment is denied on Ms. McClure’s claims for gross negligence and for premises liability under the Recreational Use Statute. Summary judgment is granted on the minor child’s negligent misrepresentation claim and otherwise denied. Life [*18] Time Fitness’s motion for summary judgment on its counterclaim is granted only for reasonable fees incurred in defending against Ms. McClure’s negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and common law premises liability claims, and is otherwise denied.

SIGNED on December 3, 2014, at Houston, Texas.

/s/ Lee H. Rosenthal

Lee H. Rosenthal

United States District Judge


University climbing wall release along with Texas Recreational Use Act and Texas Tort Claims Act defeat injured climber’s lawsuit

Court looks at whether a release will defeat a claim for gross negligence but does not decide the case on that issue. Case is confusing, because court discussed defenses that were not applicable. Plaintiff waived all but the gross negligence claims.

Benavidez v. The University of Texas — Pan American, 2014 Tex. App. LEXIS 11940

State: Texas, Court of Appeals

Plaintiff: Rolando Benavidez

Defendant: The University of Texas — Pan American

Plaintiff Claims: failure to properly use the climbing equipment and properly supervise [Benavidez] during the climb, Under the theory of respondeat superior, Benavidez claimed that his injuries were caused by the negligence and gross negligence of UTPA (University of Texas– Pan American), negligent use of tangible personal property in that UTPA breached its “legal duty to [Benavidez] to provide supervision of [Benavidez], use safe equipment with [Benavidez], and to properly secure [Benavidez’s] harness prior to climbing.” negligent use or condition of real property in that UTPA breached its duty to provide a safe climbing wall for Benavidez and failed to use ordinary care to protect Benavidez from an unreasonably dangerous condition. UTPA had subjective awareness of a high degree of risk and acted with “conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of [Benavidez] or others similarly situated.

Defendant Defenses: Release, Recreational Use Statute and the Texas Tort Claims Act

Holding: For the defendant

Year: 2014

The plaintiff was climbing at the university’s climbing wall. He signed a release to climb. On the back of the release was a set of rules about climbing that the plaintiff also had to sign. i.e. Two legal documents on one sheet of paper.

The plaintiff argued the rules on the backside of the agreement were part of the contract. Because the climbing wall had not followed the rules, the release was no longer valid and the defendant had acted negligently and gross negligently.

While climbing the plaintiff reached the top of the wall and was told to lean back while he was lowered. The plaintiff fell 33’ suffering injuries. Based on witness statements of other employees of the wall, it appeared the figure 8 (knot) used to tie the plaintiff’s harness to the rope had been tied incorrectly.

The trial court dismissed the case, awarded costs against the plaintiff based on the Texas Tort Claims Act, and the plaintiff appealed.

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

The court first looked at the Texas Tort Claim Act and its application to the case.

As a governmental unit, UTPA is immune from both suit and liability unless the Tort Claims Act has waived that immunity. Section 101.021 of the Tort Claims Act has been interpreted as waiving sovereign immunity in three general areas: “use of publicly owned automobiles, premises defects, and injuries arising out of conditions or use of property.”

The court then brought in the Texas Recreational Use Statute. Under the Texas Recreational Use Statute, a state landowner (governmental entity) can only be liable for gross negligence.

When injury or death results on state-owned, recreational land, the recreational use statute limits the state’s duty even further to that owed by a landowner to a trespasser, which means that the State only waives immunity for conduct that rises to the level of gross negligence.

The university is state land, and the climbing wall is on the land. It was used for recreation and probably as a student for free, although this was not discussed in the case. Consequently, the Texas Recreational Use Act protected the university from negligence claims.

With the ordinary negligence claims gone, the court turned to the gross negligence claims and looked at the release. Under Texas law to be valid, a release must:

(1) provide fair notice by being conspicuous, and (2) comply with the express negligence doctrine. To be conspicuous, a release must be written, displayed, or presented such that a reasonable person against whom it is to operate ought to have noticed it. A release satisfies the express negligence doctrine if it expresses the intent of the parties to exculpate a party for its own negligence.

The burden is on the defendant, the person relying on the defense of release, to prove the validity of the release and the requirements set forth by the court.

The court then looked at whether the release then barred the claim for gross negligence. The court reviewed several Texas cases; however, the court did not decide whether a release in this situation barred a claim for gross negligence. The court found the gross negligence claim was not raised on the appeal.

For a legal argument to be argued in the court, there are two basic components that must be met before any argument can be made. The argument must be made in the trial court and in many cases an objection to the court’s ruling made. Second the issue must be argued in the statements (pleadings) at the appellate court also. Here, although argued in the trial court the issue was not argued or probably raised at the appellate court.

The court then went back to the release to see if the release was still valid. The plaintiff claimed the defendant violated the release because it failed to follow the rules on the reverse side of the release. Because the rules were on the document called the release the plaintiff argued they were part of the release. Those rules set forth how the climbers and allegedly the gym was supposed to act. One of the rules required all knots to be checked by specific persons at the gym, which was not done in this case, and allegedly not done at all until after the plaintiff’s injury.

Arguing the rules and release were one document, the plaintiff stated the failure to follow the rules was a material breach of the contract. A material breach or avoidance of the contract voids it.

Under Texas law, a release is a contract and is subject to avoidance just like any other contract. When construing a contract, the court’s primary concern is to give effect to the written expression of the parties’ intent. This court is bound to read all parts of a contract together to ascertain the agreement of the parties. The contract must be considered as a whole. Moreover, each part of the contract should be given full effect.

A prior material breach one that occurs before the execution of the contract discharges the parties from the contractual obligations. “Under the theory of prior material breach, a party is discharged from its contractual obligations based on the other party’s material breach of the contract.”

Execution of the contract means the contract by its terms has not been completed. Meaning there is part so the contract that have not been complied with by one or more parties. Here the failure of the gym to check the plaintiff’s knot was prior to the climbing of the plaintiff. “Under the theory of prior material breach, a party is discharged from its contractual obligations based on the other party’s material breach of the contract.”

Under Texas law for a court to determine if a prior material breach to occur the court must determine the following:

(1) the extent to which the injured party will be deprived of the benefit which he reasonably expected;

(2) the extent to which the injured party can be adequately compensated for the part of that benefit of which he will be deprived;

(3) the extent to which the party failing to perform or to offer performance will suffer forfeiture;

(4) the likelihood that the party failing to perform or to offer to perform will cure his failure, taking account of all the circumstances including any reasonable assurances; and

(5) the extent to which the behavior of the party failing to perform or to offer to perform comports with standards of good faith and fair dealing.

This court also examined whether or not checking the knot was a condition precedent. A condition precedent requires one thing to occur before the rest of the contract must be done.

Alternatively, a condition precedent is an event that must occur or act that must be per-formed before rights can accrue to enforce an obligation. Ordinarily, terms such as “if,” “provided that,” “on condition that,” or similar conditional language indicate the intent to create a condition precedent. Conditions precedent, which can cause forfeiture of a contractual right, are not favored under the law, and we will not construe a contract provision as a condition precedent unless we are compelled to do so by language that may be construed in no other way.

However, the court found that the language of the safety rules did not relate to the language of the release. The safety rules, overall, were simply rules the plaintiff was to follow and was not part of the contract. “…the safety policy’s side of the document, by its clear language, does not indicate that UTPA promised to comply with the policies or that compliance with the policies by UTPA…

However, reading the safety policies document as a whole, we find that the language of the agreement placed the sole responsibility on the climber to ensure that the procedures in the safety polices were followed.

Because we find that, by its clear language, the waiver and release form did not express the intent of either party to condition the release from liability on any performance by UTPA and did not include a promise by UTPA to follow the safety policies as consideration for the contract, we conclude that UTPA did not breach or fail to satisfy a condition of the release contract.

The remaining issues before the court were dismissed because without a negligence claim, they were also decided. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims and the award of costs under the Texas rules of civil procedure.

Costs are not attorney fees. Costs are the cost of going to trial, the filing fee, witness fees, possibly deposition costs, etc. Most states allow the winning side to recover costs of a trial.

So Now What?

This was close. It was obvious by the amount of time the court spend discussing the issue of a material breach that the language on the back of the release was an issue for the court. Always remember a release is a contract. You don’t buy a house with a laundry list on the back. You don’t rent an apartment with state driving laws on the back. Releases are contracts, and you need to make sure there is no issue that the document you are having your guests sign. A Release must be a contract and nothing else.

The university, because it was a state college was subject to broader and more protective statutes that provided defenses, than a private commercial gym or a private college. A state’s tort claims act provides a broad range for protection.

Whether or not a state’s recreational use statute provides protection for governmental agencies is different in each state. If you are in this position, you should check with counsel to see what protection any state statutes may provide.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

Copyright 2014 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

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

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, Climbing Wall, Climbing, University, Rec Center, University Rec Center, University of Texas, Recreational Use Act, Tort Claims Act, Figure 8 Knot, Harness,

 


Texas Recreational Use Statute

Civil Practice and Remedies Code

Title 4.  Liability in Tort

Chapter 75.  Limitation of Landowners’ Liability

Go to Texas Code Archive Directory

Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 75.001  (2014)

§ 75.001.  Definitions

In this chapter:

(1) “Agricultural land” means land that is located in this state and that is suitable for:

(A) use in production of plants and fruits grown for human or animal consumption, or plants grown for the production of fibers, floriculture, viticulture, horticulture, or planting seed;

(B) forestry and the growing of trees for the purpose of rendering those trees into lumber, fiber, or other items used for industrial, commercial, or personal consumption; or

(C) domestic or native farm or ranch animals kept for use or profit.

(2) “Premises” includes land, roads, water, watercourse, private ways, and buildings, structures, machinery, and equipment attached to or located on the land, road, water, watercourse, or private way.

(3) “Recreation” means an activity such as:

(A) hunting;

(B) fishing;

(C) swimming;

(D) boating;

(E) camping;

(F) picnicking;

(G) hiking;

(H) pleasure driving, including off-road motorcycling and off-road automobile driving and the use of all-terrain vehicles;

(I) nature study, including bird-watching;

(J) cave exploration;

(K) waterskiing and other water sports;

(L) any other activity associated with enjoying nature or the outdoors;

(M) bicycling and mountain biking;

(N) disc golf;

(O) on-leash and off-leash walking of dogs; or

(P) radio control flying and related activities.

(4) “Governmental unit” has the meaning assigned by Section 101.001.

§ 75.002.  Liability Limited

(a) An owner, lessee, or occupant of agricultural land:

(1) does not owe a duty of care to a trespasser on the land; and

(2) is not liable for any injury to a trespasser on the land, except for wilful or wanton acts or gross negligence by the owner, lessee, or other occupant of agricultural land.

(b) If an owner, lessee, or occupant of agricultural land gives permission to another or invites another to enter the premises for recreation, the owner, lessee, or occupant, by giving the permission, does not:

(1) assure that the premises are safe for that purpose;

(2) owe to the person to whom permission is granted or to whom the invitation is extended a greater degree of care than is owed to a trespasser on the premises; or

(3) assume responsibility or incur liability for any injury to any individual or property caused by any act of the person to whom permission is granted or to whom the invitation is extended.

(c) If an owner, lessee, or occupant of real property other than agricultural land gives permission to another to enter the premises for recreation, the owner, lessee, or occupant, by giving the permission, does not:

(1) assure that the premises are safe for that purpose;

(2) owe to the person to whom permission is granted a greater degree of care than is owed to a trespasser on the premises; or

(3) assume responsibility or incur liability for any injury to any individual or property caused by any act of the person to whom permission is granted.

(d) Subsections (a), (b), and (c) shall not limit the liability of an owner, lessee, or occupant of real property who has been grossly negligent or has acted with malicious intent or in bad faith.

(e) In this section, “recreation” means, in addition to its meaning under Section 75.001, the following activities only if the activities take place on premises owned, operated, or maintained by a governmental unit for the purposes of those activities:

(1) hockey and in-line hockey;

(2) skating, in-line skating, roller-skating, skateboarding, and roller-blading;

(3) soap box derby use; and

(4) paintball use.

(f) Notwithstanding Subsections (b) and (c), if a person enters premises owned, operated, or maintained by a governmental unit and engages in recreation on those premises, the governmental unit does not owe to the person a greater degree of care than is owed to a trespasser on the premises.

(g) Any premises a governmental unit owns, operates, or maintains and on which the recreational activities described in Subsections (e)(1)–(4) are conducted shall post and maintain a clearly readable sign in a clearly visible location on or near the premises. The sign shall contain the following warning language:

WARNING

TEXAS LAW (CHAPTER 75, CIVIL PRACTICE AND REMEDIES CODE) LIMITS THE LIABILITY OF A GOVERNMENTAL UNIT FOR DAMAGES ARISING DIRECTLY FROM HOCKEY, IN-LINE HOCKEY, SKATING, IN-LINE SKATING, ROLLER-SKATING, SKATEBOARDING, ROLLER-BLADING, PAINTBALL USE, OR SOAP BOX DERBY USE ON PREMISES THAT THE GOVERNMENTAL UNIT OWNS, OPERATES, OR MAINTAINS FOR THAT PURPOSE.

(h) An owner, lessee, or occupant of real property in this state is liable for trespass as a result of migration or transport of any air contaminant, as defined in Section 382.003(2), Health and Safety Code, other than odor, only upon a showing of actual and substantial damages by a plaintiff in a civil action.

(i) Subsections (b) and (c) do not affect any liability of an owner, lessee, or occupant of real property for an injury occurring outside the boundaries of the real property caused by an activity described by Section 75.001(3)(P) that originates within the boundaries of the real property.

§ 75.003.  Application and Effect of Chapter

(a) This chapter does not relieve any owner, lessee, or occupant of real property of any liability that would otherwise exist for deliberate, wilful, or malicious injury to a person or to property.

(b) This chapter does not affect the doctrine of attractive nuisance, except:

(1) as provided by Section 75.0022(g); and

(2) the doctrine of attractive nuisance may not be the basis for liability of an owner, lessee, or occupant of agricultural land for any injury to a trespasser over the age of 16 years.

(c) Except for a governmental unit, this chapter applies only to an owner, lessee, or occupant of real property who:

(1) does not charge for entry to the premises;

(2) charges for entry to the premises, but whose total charges collected in the previous calendar year for all recreational use of the entire premises of the owner, lessee, or occupant are not more than 20 times the total amount of ad valorem taxes imposed on the premises for the previous calendar year; or

(3) has liability insurance coverage in effect on an act or omission described by Section 75.004(a) and in the amounts equal to or greater than those provided by that section.

(d) This chapter does not create any liability.

(e) Except as otherwise provided, this chapter applies to a governmental unit.

(f) This chapter does not waive sovereign immunity.

(g) To the extent that this chapter limits the liability of a governmental unit under circumstances in which the governmental unit would be liable under Chapter 101, this chapter controls.

(h) In the case of agricultural land, an owner, lessee, or occupant of real property who does not charge for entry to the premises because the individuals entering the premises for recreation are invited social guests satisfies the requirement of Subsection (c)(1).

§ 75.004.  Limitation on Monetary Damages for Private Landowners

(a) Subject to Subsection (b), the liability of an owner, lessee, or occupant of agricultural land used for recreational purposes for an act or omission by the owner, lessee, or occupant relating to the premises that results in damages to a person who has entered the premises is limited to a maximum amount of $ 500,000 for each person and $ 1 million for each single occurrence of bodily injury or death and $ 100,000 for each single occurrence for injury to or destruction of property. In the case of agricultural land, the total liability of an owner, lessee, or occupant for a single occurrence is limited to $ 1 million, and the liability also is subject to the limits for each single occurrence of bodily injury or death and each single occurrence for injury to or destruction of property stated in this subsection.

(b) This section applies only to an owner, lessee, or occupant of agricultural land used for recreational purposes who has liability insurance coverage in effect on an act or omission described by Subsection (a) and in the amounts equal to or greater than those provided by Subsection (a). The coverage may be provided under a contract of insurance or other plan of insurance authorized by statute. The limit of liability insurance coverage applicable with respect to agricultural land may be a combined single limit in the amount of $ 1 million for each single occurrence.

(c) This section does not affect the liability of an insurer or insurance plan in an action under Chapter 541, Insurance Code, or an action for bad faith conduct, breach of fiduciary duty, or negligent failure to settle a claim.

(d) This section does not apply to a governmental unit.

§ 75.007.  Trespassers

(a) In this section, “trespasser” means a person who enters the land of another without any legal right, express or implied.

(b) An owner, lessee, or occupant of land does not owe a duty of care to a trespasser on the land and is not liable for any injury to a trespasser on the land, except that an owner, lessee, or occupant owes a duty to refrain from injuring a trespasser wilfully, wantonly, or through gross negligence.

(c) Notwithstanding Subsection (b), an owner, lessee, or occupant of land may be liable for injury to a child caused by a highly dangerous artificial condition on the land if:

(1) the place where the artificial condition exists is one upon which the owner, lessee, or occupant knew or reasonably should have known that children were likely to trespass;

(2) the artificial condition is one that the owner, lessee, or occupant knew or reasonably should have known existed, and that the owner, lessee, or occupant realized or should have realized involved an unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily harm to such children;

(3) the injured child, because of the child’s youth, did not discover the condition or realize the risk involved in intermeddling with the condition or coming within the area made dangerous by the condition;

(4) the utility to the owner, lessee, or occupant of maintaining the artificial condition and the burden of eliminating the danger were slight as compared with the risk to the child involved; and

(5) the owner, lessee, or occupant failed to exercise reasonable care to eliminate the danger or otherwise protect the child.

(d) An owner, lessee, or occupant of land whose actions are justified under Subchapter C or D, Chapter 9, Penal Code, is not liable to a trespasser for damages arising from those actions.

(e) This section does not affect Section 75.001, 75.002, 75.0021, 75.003, or 75.004 or create or increase the liability of any person.

 


Benavidez v. The University of Texas — Pan American, 2014 Tex. App. LEXIS 11940

Benavidez v. The University of Texas — Pan American, 2014 Tex. App. LEXIS 11940

Rolando Benavidez, Appellant, v. The University of Texas — Pan American, Appellee.

NUMBER 13-13-00006-CV

COURT OF APPEALS OF TEXAS, THIRTEENTH DISTRICT, CORPUS CHRISTI – EDINBURG

2014 Tex. App. LEXIS 11940

October 30, 2014, Delivered

October 30, 2014, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1] On appeal from the 92nd District Court of Hidalgo County, Texas.

COUNSEL: FOR APPELLANT: Hon. Russell Jackson, Law Office of Thomas J. Henry, Corpus Christi, TX.

FOR APPELLEE: Hon. Elsa Giron Nava, Tort Litigation Division, Austin, TX.

JUDGES: Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Rodriguez and Garza. Memorandum Opinion by Chief Justice Valdez.

OPINION BY: ROGELIO VALDEZ

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Memorandum Opinion by Chief Justice Valdez

By three issues, which we construe as four, appellant Rolando Benavidez, challenges the trial court’s order granting appellee The University of Texas-Pan American’s (UTPA) plea to the jurisdiction. Benavidez argues that: (1) the release form he signed did not preclude his lawsuit because UTPA did not abide by the safety policies listed on the back of the form; (2) the Texas Recreational Use Statute did not preclude the lawsuit because Benavidez’s pleadings at least raised a fact issue regarding gross negligence; (3) the trial court erred by granting UTPA’s objections to his evidence; and (4) the trial court erred by ordering Benavidez to pay UTPA’s court costs. We affirm.

I. Background

This suit arises out of injuries sustained by Benavidez after falling from a climbing wall on the campus of UTPA. Prior to climbing the wall, the belayer, an employee of UTPA, tied a rope to a harness attached to Benavidez. While Benavidez climbed the wall, the belayer [*2] held on to the opposite end of the rope. After reaching the top of the wall, the belayer instructed Benavidez to “let go.” Subsequently, Benavidez fell thirty-three feet from the top of the wall, breaking his ankle in multiple places and suffering a lumbar spine compression fracture. Another employee of UTPA witnessed Benavidez fall and immediately came to his aid. She provided deposition testimony in which she explained that the figure eight-knot which is used to tie the rope to the harness was “either not tied properly, or not tied at all.”

Before he climbed the wall, Benavidez signed a waiver/release from liability. On the front of the page, the form stated:

By signing this agreement you give up your right to bring a court action to recover compensation or obtain any other remedy for any injury to yourself or your property or for your death however caused arising out of your use of the University of Texas Pan-American Climbing Wall now or any time in the future.

Also on the front of the page, under the heading, “Release/Indemnification and Covenant Not to Sue”, the form stated:

In consideration of my use of the Climbing Wall, I the undersigned user, . . . HEREBY DO RELEASE University [*3] of Texas Pan American . . . from any cause of action, claims, or demands of any nature whatsoever, including but not limited to a claim of negligence . . . against the University on account for personal injury, property damage, death or accident of any kind arising out of or in any way related to my use of the Climbing Wall, whether that use is SUPERVISED OR UNSUPERVISED, howsoever the injury or damages is caused, including, but not limited to the negligence of the University.

Benavidez initialed under this clause in the blank provided. Benavidez then initialed in the spaces provided under paragraphs stating that he: (1) would indemnify and hold harmless UTPA from all causes of action; (2) had full knowledge of the risks associated with climbing the wall; (3) was in good health and had no physical limitations precluding his safe use of the climbing wall; and (4) was of lawful age and was competent to enter into a legally binding agreement. Appellee signed and dated the bottom of the front page of the document in the space provided.

On the backside of the Waiver and Release from Liability, under the title “SAFETY POLICIES AND RULES”, it stated, inter alia:

I Rolando Benavidez [name written [*4] by Benavidez in space provided] accept full responsibility for my own safety while in the UTPA climbing Wall area. I agree to abide by, and help enforce the following safety policies and rules:

o To enter the climbing area, you must have signed a waiver of liability/assumption of the risk and turn into the climbing wall Supervisor.

o Climbers must check in/out at the Climbing Wall desk during operation hours.

o Before each climbing the entrance instructor and belayer must check each climber to ensure that the knot and harness buckle are correctly fastened and that the belay system and belayers harness buckles are safe.

o The belayer must keep their brake hand on the rope and eyes on the climber at all times.

o Belayers must belay while standing up: NO belaying from benches, seated, or in a reclined position.

. . . .

o No food or open drink containers allowed in the climbing wall area.

o No loose chalk.

o No obscene language.

. . . .

o No Jewelry

. . . .

o Any infraction of these rules will result in loss of climbing privileges. Repeated infractions will result in loss of future privileges for inappropriate or unsafe behavior.

These rules were included in a list of twenty-four safety policies and [*5] rules, all listed as bullet points. At the bottom of the document in bold letters, the document stated, “I acknowledge that I have read and agree to abide by the Wellness and recreational Sports Complex safety polices and Rules.” Underneath this statement, Benavidez printed and signed his name.

At the hearing on the plea to the jurisdiction, deposition testimony was admitted in which the belayer explained that although he believed at the time that he tied the knot securing the rope to the harness properly, he must not have appropriately tied a double figure-eight knot as he was instructed to do. The belayer also testified that an entrance examiner did not check the knot before Benavidez began his climb and that UTPA never followed that policy until after Benavidez’s accident occurred.

Benavidez filed suit under section 101.021 of the Texas Tort Claims Act. In his pleadings, Benavidez alleged that his injuries resulted from the belayer’s “failure to properly use the climbing equipment and properly supervise [Benavidez] during the climb.” Under the theory of respondeat superior, Benavidez claimed that his injuries were caused by the negligence and gross negligence of UTPA. Benavidez alleged a cause of [*6] action for negligent use of tangible personal property in that UTPA breached its “legal duty to [Benavidez] to provide supervision of [Benavidez], use safe equipment with [Benavidez], and to properly secure [Benavidez’s] harness prior to climbing.” Benavidez also alleged a cause of action for negligent use or condition of real property in that UTPA breached its duty to provide a safe climbing wall for Benavidez and failed to use ordinary care to protect Benavidez from an unreasonably dangerous condition. In addition, Benavidez alleged that UTPA had subjective awareness of a high degree of risk and acted with “conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of [Benavidez] or others similarly situated.”

UTPA filed a plea to the jurisdiction alleging that it did not waive immunity under the Texas Tort Claims Act because (1) Benavidez signed a waiver of liability prior to climbing the wall releasing UTPA from liability “for all damages complained of” by Benavidez, and (2) pursuant to the Texas Recreational Use Statute, which further limits a State entity’s waiver of immunity to circumstances in which the State entity fails to exercise a duty of care owed by a landowner to trespasser, [*7] Benavidez was required to demonstrate gross negligence in his pleadings and failed to do so. Benavidez responded by conceding that the Texas Recreational Use Statute applied to his claim and required him to prove gross negligence. Benavidez however contended that, (1) by his pleadings, he raised a fact issue on gross negligence; and (2) he could avoid enforcement of the release from liability as to all of his claims because UTPA committed a prior material breach or failed to satisfy a precondition of the contract by failing to comply with the safety polices.

After holding a hearing, the trial court entered an order granting UTPA’s plea to the jurisdiction and ordered Benavidez to pay UTPA’s court costs. This appeal followed.

II. Standard of Review

[HN1] We review a plea to the jurisdiction under a de novo standard of review. Westbrook v. Penley, 231 S.W. 3d 389, 394 (Tex. 2007). A plea to the jurisdiction seeks to dismiss a case for want of jurisdiction. Tex. Dep’t of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226-27 (Tex. 2004). When reviewing whether a plea was properly granted, we first look to the pleadings to determine if jurisdiction is proper, construing them liberally in favor of the plaintiff and looking to the pleader’s intent. Id. at 226. “If a plea to the jurisdiction challenges the existence of jurisdictional facts, [*8] we consider relevant evidence submitted by the parties when necessary to resolve the jurisdictional issues raised,” even where those facts may implicate the merits of the cause of action. Id. at 227. If that evidence creates a fact issue as to the jurisdictional issue, then it is for the fact-finder to decide. Id. at 227-28. “However, if the relevant evidence is undisputed or fails to raise a fact question on the jurisdictional issue, the trial court rules on the plea to the jurisdiction as a matter of law.” Id. at 228. In considering this evidence, we “take as true all evidence favorable to the nonmovant” and “indulge every reasonable inference and resolve any doubts in the nonmovant’s favor.” City of Waco v. Kirwan, 298 S.W.3d 618, 621-22 (Tex. 2009).

III. Texas Torts Claim Act

[HN2] As a governmental unit, UTPA is immune from both suit and liability unless the Tort Claims Act has waived that immunity. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.001(3)(A) (West, Westlaw through 2013 3d C.S.). Section 101.021 of the Tort Claims Act has been interpreted as waiving sovereign immunity in three general areas: “use of publicly owned automobiles, premises defects, and injuries arising out of conditions or use of property.” Tex. Dep’t of Transp. v. Able, 35 S.W.3d 608, 611 (Tex. 2000). Pursuant to section 101.021, a governmental unit in the state is liable for:

[HN3] (1) property damage, personal [*9] injury, and death proximately caused by the wrongful act or omission or the negligence of an employee acting within his scope of employment if:

(A) the property damage, personal injury, or death arises from the operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle or motor-driven equipment; and

(B) the employee would be personally liable to the claimant according to Texas law; and

(2) personal injury and death so caused by a condition or use of tangible personal or real property if the governmental unit would, were it a private person, be liable to the claimant according to Texas law.

Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.021 (West, Westlaw through 2013 3d C.S.).

In addition, the parties do not dispute that the Texas Recreational Use Statute applies to this case. [HN4] When injury or death results on state-owned, recreational land, the recreational use statute limits the state’s duty even further to that owed by a landowner to a trespasser, which means that the State only waives immunity for conduct that rises to the level of gross negligence. Id. § 75.002 (West, Westlaw through 2013 3d C.S.); see also id. [HN5] §§ 75.003(g) (“To the extent that this chapter limits the liability of a governmental unit under circumstances in which the governmental [*10] unit would be liable under [the Tort Claims Act], this chapter controls.”), 101.058 (same); State v. Shumake, 199 S.W.3d 279, 283 (Tex. 2006).

IV. Release/Waiver of Liability

a. Applicable Law

[HN6] A release operates to extinguish a claim or cause of action and is an absolute bar to the released matter. See Dresser Indus., Inc. v. Page Petroleum, Inc., 853 S.W.2d 505, 509 (Tex. 1993). The Texas Supreme Court has held that in order to be valid, a release must (1) provide fair notice by being conspicuous, and (2) comply with the express negligence doctrine. Id. To be conspicuous, a release must be written, displayed, or presented such that a reasonable person against whom it is to operate ought to have noticed it. See id. 510 (adopting the definition from Tex. Bus. & Com. Code Ann. § 1.201(b)(1) (West, Westlaw through 2013 3d C.S.)). A release satisfies the express negligence doctrine if it expresses the intent of the parties to exculpate a party for its own negligence. Atl. Richfield Co. v. Petroleum Pers., Inc., 768 S.W.2d 724, 726 (Tex. 1989).

The party seeking the protections of a release asserts an affirmative defense. Dresser, 853 S.W.2d at 509. It is therefore the defendant’s burden to establish all elements of the affirmative defense. Id. UTPA argues that it did not waive immunity under the Texas Tort Claims Act because it would not be liable as a private party as it established an affirmative defense as a matter of law. See [*11] Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.021. Accordingly, we apply a traditional summary judgment evidentiary burden to the UTPA’s contention as we would to a private party’s reliance on a release from liability prior to trial. See Tex. Dep’t of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226 (Tex. 2004); Galveston Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Clear Lake Rehab. Hosp., L.L.C., 324 S.W.3d 802, 807 (Tex. App.–Houston [14th Dist.] 2010, no pet.) (reasoning that [HN7] a governmental entity’s challenge to jurisdictional facts implicating the merits of the plaintiff’s lawsuit “mirrors traditional summary-judgment practice”). The burden was therefore on UTPA to provide evidence establishing that Benavidez had released it from liability on the claims before the court. Clear Lake Rehab. Hosp., L.L.C., 324 S.W.3d at 811.

b. Discussion

In its plea to the jurisdiction, UTPA argued that it did not waive immunity from Benavidez’s Texas Tort Claims Act suit because Benavidez executed the release contract, which “released [UTPA] of all liability for the damage complained of in [Benavidez’s] cause of action.”1 Specifically, UTPA asserted that because the release was executed, Benavidez’s “suit is barred in its entirety and [UTPA] moves for dismissal as a matter of law.” Moreover, both in its plea to the jurisdiction and on appeal UTPA described the release from liability as the “real issue before the court,” and UTPA framed its Texas Recreational Use Statute defense as an alternative [*12] argument, asking the trial court to address the issue if it found that the release was not enforceable. In his appellate brief, Benavidez concedes that UTPA’s plea to the jurisdiction was based on two alternative defenses: “(1) [Benavidez] waived all personal injury claims in a waiver/release from liability form . . . ; and (2) [Benavidez’s] claims are barred by the recreational use statute.”

1 This Court has never held that a state entity’s affirmative defense is a proper basis for granting a plea to the jurisdiction. In its plea to the jurisdiction, UTPA relied on Texas Engineering Extension Service v. Gifford, in which the Waco Court of appeals reversed a denial of a plea to the jurisdiction because it found that the plaintiff had executed a release from liability. No. 10-11-00242-CV, 2012 Tex. App. LEXIS 2030, 2012 WL 851742, at *4 (Tex. App.–Waco Mar. 14, 2012, no pet.) (mem. op.). The Gifford court reasoned that under the Texas Tort Claims Act:

A governmental unit is liable for personal injury if the government would be liable, were it a private person, according to Texas law. [The plaintiff’s] execution of the release and indemnity agreement extinguished any liability owed by [the defendant]. Because a private person would not be liable for [the [*13] plaintiff’s] personal injuries, [the defendant] has not waived its sovereign immunity.

Id. (citing Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.021 (West, Westlaw through 2013 3d C.S.)). In this appeal, we need not determine whether we agree with this analysis. Benavidez does not argue that UTPA’s affirmative defense of release is an improper basis for an order granting a plea to the jurisdiction; therefore, we cannot reverse the trial court’s judgment on this basis and we decline to consider this issue. Tex. R. App. P. 47.1. Accordingly, for purposes of this appeal only, we assume without deciding that the affirmative defense of release, if established as a matter of law, may be a valid basis upon which to grant a plea to the jurisdiction.

Notably, while Benavidez did not specifically plead separable causes of action for negligence and gross negligence, he did claim that the injuries alleged were caused by the negligence and gross negligence of UTPA and that UTPA exhibited “conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of [Benavidez] or others similarly situated.” Moreover, in his motion for summary judgment, response to the plea to the jurisdiction, and appellate brief and at the hearing on [*14] the plea and at oral arguments on appeal, Benavidez conceded that the Texas Recreational Use Statue applied to his lawsuit, which required him to show gross negligence. He thereby effectively abandoned any separate claim of ordinary negligence, to the extent that it was originally pleaded, and proceeded only with a suit for gross negligence.

By granting the plea to the jurisdiction, which alleged that Benavidez released all claims against UTPA, the trial court therefore held that Benavidez released UTPA from liability for gross negligence. There is some disagreement among the courts of appeals as to whether a party may validly release claims of gross negligence. Some courts have held that negligence and gross negligence are not separable claims and that therefore a release of liability for negligence also releases a party from liability for gross negligence. Tesoro Petroleum Corp. v. Nabors Drilling U.S., 106 S.W.3d 118, 127 (Tex. App.–Houston [1st Dist.] 2002, pet. denied); Newman v. Tropical Visions, Inc., 891 S.W.2d 713, 722 (Tex. App.–San Antonio 1994, writ denied). In contrast, the Dallas Court of Appeals recently held that a plaintiff’s execution of a contract specifically releasing a defendant from liability for negligence did not release the defendant from liability for gross negligence. Van Voris v. Team Chop Shop, LLC, 402 S.W.3d 915, 926 (Tex. App.–Dallas 2013, no pet.). The Dallas Court reasoned that the public policy requiring an express release from negligence [*15] also requires an express release from gross negligence. See id. Other courts have held that pre-accident waivers of gross negligence are invalid as against public policy. Sydlik v. REEIII, Inc., 195 S.W.3d 329, 336 (Tex. App.–Houston [14th Dist.] 2006, no pet.); Smith v. Golden Triangle Raceway, 708 S.W.2d 574, 576 (Tex. App.–Beaumont 1986, no writ).

This Court has never addressed the issue of whether a release from liability for gross negligence is separable from a release of liability from negligence, or whether a release of liability for gross negligence violates public policy. See Blankenship v. Spectra Energy Corp., 13-12-00546-CV, 2013 Tex. App. LEXIS 10169, 2013 WL 4334306, at *5 n.6 (Tex. App.–Corpus Christi Aug. 15, 2013, no pet.) (declining to decide whether a party may release claims of gross negligence because the release was unenforceable for failure to satisfy fair notice requirements and because summary judgment evidence conclusively negated the gross negligence claim). Here, we cannot decide this issue because it has not been raised. Tex. R. App. P. 47.1. On appeal, Benavidez effectively concedes that the release form purports to release UTPA from liability for all personal injury claims, but relies solely on contract defenses as an attempt to avoid enforcement of the release. He does not challenge enforcement of the release on the ground that it was inapplicable to his gross negligence claims; similarly [*16] he does not argue that the release of his gross negligence claims was invalid because it did not comply with fair notice requirements or because it violated public policy. See id. Moreover, Benavidez did not present any of these arguments to the trial court. See. id. R. 33.1.

Accordingly, we now address Benavidez’s first issue, in which he contends that he can avoid enforcement of the release contract because the belayer failed to properly tie the knot, and because UTPA failed to follow its own policy that required an entrance instructor to check the knot after it was tied. Benavidez argues that these actions constituted either a prior material breach of the release contract or a failure to satisfy a precondition of the contract. We disagree.

[HN8] Under Texas law, a release is a contract and is subject to avoidance just like any other contract. Williams v. Glash, 789 S.W.2d 261, 264 (Tex. 1990). When construing a contract, the court’s primary concern is to give effect to the written expression of the parties’ intent. Forbau v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 876 S.W.2d 132, 133 (Tex. 1994). This court is bound to read all parts of a contract together to ascertain the agreement of the parties. See Royal Indem. Co. v. Marshall, 388 S.W.2d 176, 180 (Tex.1965). The contract must be considered as a whole. Reilly v. Rangers Management, Inc., 727 S.W.2d 527, 529 (Tex.1987); Coker v. Coker, 650 S.W.2d 391, 393 (Tex.1983). Moreover, each part of the contract should be given full effect. [*17] See Barnett v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 723 S.W.2d 663, 666 (Tex.1987).

[HN9] Under the theory of prior material breach, a party is discharged from its contractual obligations based on the other party’s material breach of the contract. See Mustang Pipeline Co. v. Driver Pipeline Co., 134 S.W.3d 195, 198 (Tex. 2004) (determining that a party was released from further contractual obligations when the other party materially breached). In order for a material breach of contract to occur, the party seeking avoidance must be deprived of part of its consideration or an expected benefit of the contract.2 See id. at 199.

2 [HN10] Texas courts have adopted the factors set forth in the Restatement (Second) of Contracts for determining the materiality of a breach:

(1) the extent to which the injured party will be deprived of the benefit which he reasonably expected;

(2) the extent to which the injured party can be adequately compensated for the part of that benefit of which he will be deprived;

(3) the extent to which the party failing to perform or to offer performance will suffer forfeiture;

(4) the likelihood that the party failing to perform or to offer to perform will cure his failure, taking account of all the circumstances including any reasonable assurances; and

(5) the extent to which the behavior of the party failing to perform or to offer to perform comports [*18] with standards of good faith and fair dealing.

Mustang Pipeline Co., v. Driver Pipeline Co., 134 S.W.3d 195, 199 (Tex. 2004); Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 241(a) (1981).

Alternatively, [HN11] a condition precedent is an event that must occur or act that must be performed before rights can accrue to enforce an obligation. See Centex Corp. v. Dalton, 840 S.W.2d 952, 956 (Tex. 1992). Ordinarily, terms such as “if,” “provided that,” “on condition that,” or similar conditional language indicate the intent to create a condition precedent. Criswell v. European Crossroads Shopping Ctr., 792 S.W.2d 945, 948 (Tex.1990). Conditions precedent, which can cause forfeiture of a contractual right, are not favored under the law, and we will not construe a contract provision as a condition precedent unless we are compelled to do so by language that may be construed in no other way. See Reilly, 727 S.W.2d at 530.

As an initial matter, we cannot conclude that under the plain language of the contract, the safety policies listed on the back of the waiver are part of Benavidez’s agreement to release UTPA from liability on the front of the document; therefore, UTPA could not breach or fail to satisfy a condition of the release contract by failing to follow the safety policies. See Mustang Pipeline Co., 134 S.W.3d at 198; Criswell, 792 S.W.2d at 948. Here, the separate sides of the document constitute separate agreements that were each signed separately by Benavidez; moreover, they contain separate promises to perform [*19] distinct duties. In the agreement on the front of the page, Benavidez agreed to release UTPA from liability for its own negligence resulting from any injury. In the agreement on the back of the page, Benavidez again agreed to accept full responsibility for any accident and agreed to comply with the safety policies listed on the form. In addition, the language of the document reveals that the safety policies referred to the release clause only by requiring the prospective climber to complete the release form before climbing the wall. This in no way indicates that the safety policies are part of the consideration or a condition of the waiver/release from liability.3

3 Benavidez also refers us to deposition testimony from the coordinator of campus activities in which he agreed that both the back and front of the document are part of one agreement. This testimony however does not indicate that the safety policies were consideration for or a precondition of the release from liability. Moreover, the coordinator’s testimony did not indicate that he was giving a legal opinion on whether both sides of the agreement constitute one contract.

In fact, the language of the release clause explicitly states [*20] that the consideration for the release is the climber’s opportunity to climb the wall. Further, the clause stipulates, in capital letters, that the release applies whether climbing is “SUPERVISED OR UNSUPERVISED,” which indicates that UTPA was not promising to undertake any duty or conditioning the release on any action other than providing the climber with access to the climbing wall.

Moreover, even if we were to consider the two sides of the document as one agreement, the safety policies side of the document, by its clear language, does not indicate that UTPA promised to comply with the policies or that compliance with the policies by UTPA was consideration for or a condition precedent of Benavidez’s agreement to release UTPA from liability. See Forbau, 876 S.W.2d at 133. Benavidez argues that the bullet point stating, “Before each climbing the entrance instructor and belayer must check each climber to ensure that the knot and harness buckle are correctly fastened” indicates that UTPA undertook an affirmative contractual duty to follow this policy as part of Benavidez’s agreement to waive liability.4 However, reading the safety policies document as a whole, we find that the language of the agreement placed [*21] the sole responsibility on the climber to ensure that the procedures in the safety polices were followed. See Reilly, 727 S.W.2d at 529. At the top of the safety policy side of the document, it specifically states, “I Rolando Benavidez [name written by Benavidez in the space provided] accept full responsibility for my own safety while in the UTPA climbing Wall area. I agree to abide by, and help enforce the following safety policies and rules.” The safety policies are listed as bullet points beneath this agreement. The language Benavidez refers to is listed among multiple bullet points mostly relating to Benavidez’s conduct, such as “no jewelry” and “no obscene language.” As is clear from the plain language of the agreement, these are policies that Benavidez agreed to abide by and help enforce; no language indicates that UTPA agreed to comply with the policies or that the policies were consideration for or a condition precedent of the release from liability.

4 On appeal, Benavidez claims that the word “before”, used as part of the safety polices, indicates that the bullet point was a condition precedent of the contract. Criswell v. European Crossroads Shopping Ctr., 792 S.W.2d 945, 948 (Tex. 1990). However, the term indicates that the safety policies were to be complied with before Benavidez [*22] climbed the wall not before he released UTPA from liability or before the contract could be enforceable. See id.

Further, the final bullet point of the safety policies stated that, “Any infraction of these rules will result in loss of climbing privileges. Repeated infractions will result in loss of future privileges and possibly additionally sanctions . . . .” The fact that the climber was subject to punishment for failure to follow the policies further indicates that the document was intended to require the climber to comply with and ensure compliance with the safety polices, and was not a promise to comply with the policies by UTPA.

Finally, at the bottom of the safety policies, directly before Benavidez’s signature, it explicitly states: “I acknowledge that I have read and agree to abide by the Wellness and recreational Sports Complex safety polices and Rules.” Neither this language nor any other language on either side of the document indicates that Benavidez premised his acceptance of responsibility on or expected the benefit of the performance of any duty on the part of UTPA. See Mustang Pipeline Co., 134 S.W.3d at 198; Criswell, 792 S.W.2d at 948.

Because we find that, by its clear language, the waiver and release form did not express the intent [*23] of either party to condition the release from liability on any performance by UTPA and did not include a promise by UTPA to follow the safety policies as consideration for the contract, we conclude that UTPA did not breach or fail to satisfy a condition of the release contract. See Forbau, 876 S.W.2d at 133. Therefore, Benavidez could not avoid enforcement of the release. See Mustang Pipeline Co., 134 S.W.3d at 198; Criswell, 792 S.W.2d at 948. We overrule Benavidez’s first issue.

V. Remaining Issues

Because we are affirming the order granting the plea to the jurisdiction based on the trial court’s finding that Benavidez released UTPA from liability on all of his claims, we need not address Benavidez’s second issue in which he argues that the Texas Recreational Use Statute does not bar his suit because he pleaded facts sufficient to raise a fact issue on gross negligence. Tex. R. App. P. 47.1. Moreover, we assume without deciding that all of the evidence presented by Benavidez was admissible; therefore, we need not address Benavidez’s third issue in which he argues that the trial court erred by sustaining UTPA’s objections to his evidence. Id.

Finally, Benavidez argues that the trial court erred by awarding UTPA court costs. [HN12] Under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 131, the “successful party to a suit shall recover [*24] court costs incurred therein, except where otherwise provided.” Tex. R. Civ. P. 131. A successful party, under the rule, has been defined as “one that obtains a judgment vindicating a civil right.” Bayer Corp. v. DX Terminals, Ltd., 214 S.W.3d 586, 612 (Tex. App.–Houston [14th Dist.] 2006, pet. denied). Benavidez argues that the trial court could not award court costs because to this date, no judgment has been issued by the trial court. However, Benavidez cites no law, and we find none, indicating that the trial court may not award court costs pursuant to Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 131 in an order granting a plea to the jurisdiction. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 131. Accordingly, we overrule Benavidez’s fourth issue.

VI. Conclusion

We affirm the trial court’s order granting UTPA’s plea to the jurisdiction

/s/ Rogelio Valdez

ROGELIO VALDEZ

Chief Justice

Delivered and filed the 30th day of October, 2014.