The Boy Scouts of America are not liable because they owed no duty, they did not own the camp. Negligence requires a duty, and no duty exists if you are not the owners, manager, supervisor or someone who is liable.

The BSA was dismissed because the plaintiff was unable to prove the BSA supervised, owned or managed the camp where he was injured. The BSA had no custody or control of the camp. The plaintiff also failed to argue that a rule, policy, regulation or procedure of the camp had been violated.

Gomes v. Boy Scouts of America, et al., 2013 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 4622; 2013 NY Slip Op 32453(U)

Date of the Decision: October 9, 2013

Plaintiff: Davide E. Gomes

Defendant: Boy Scouts of America, et al.,

Plaintiff Claims: failure to keep the area safe, in good repair, well-lit and free from obstruction or defect and supervise him and the other scouts

Defendant Defenses:

Holding: For the defendant Boy Scouts of America

The plaintiff, a 13-year-old Boy Scout fell leaving the shower area at a BSA council camp. He sustained injuries and sued the Boy Scouts of America and other parties.

The Boy Scouts of America moved for a dismissal claiming they were not the owners, in control of, or supervisors of the camp. The camp was owned by the Northern New Jersey Council, BSA. The Northern New Jersey Council is a separate legal entity from the Boy Scouts of America.

There was disputed testimony, whether the plaintiff was running (from witnesses) or walking along the path where he fell. It was lit inside the shower area but not lit outside. The plaintiff had a headlamp with him. During discovery, the plaintiff admitted he did not remember what happened that caused him to fall.

The BSA moved for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court leading to this appeal.

Summary of the case

The arguments in the case are simple. Did the Boy Scouts of America own, manage, supervise or run the camp or was the camp owned by a third party. The court referred to the legal phrase, did the BSA have “custody and control” of the camp. A Boy Scout Council is a separate and distinct entity from the Boy Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts of America grants a charter (sort of like a license) to promote and use the Boy Scout program to the youth in the council’s geographic area. Boy Scout councils own camps like this one where the plaintiff was injured. The title on the deed is Northern New Jersey Council, Boy Scouts of America, not Boy Scouts of America.

The court looked at several other cases, which found the same way.

…BSA not liable for alleged negligence of charter BSA Council as there was no agency relationship between it and Council, and it lacked requisite supervision, direction, or control over adult leader who had custody of Scouts during trip at issue….

…where plaintiff died while on Scout trip, BSA granted summary judgment as it exercised no supervisory control over troop or adult leaders who accompanied scouts on trip….

The court also quoted a decision where a Council was not liable for the acts of a volunteer because the Council did not have control over the Scoutmaster. “…absent evidence that Council had supervision or control over day-to-day activities of Scout troop or scoutmaster, it could not be held liable for scoutmaster’s alleged negligent supervision…”

What caught my eye in this decision was this statement by the court.

Here, there is no issue of very young campers being unsupervised or placed in risky circumstances as plaintiff and his fellow scouts were all teenagers and there is no evidence that any camp policy was violated or that BSA had any control over the camp’s operation.

Here the court might have ruled differently if it had found that the policy of the camp had been violated.

So Now What?

The first issue is agency or ownership. The Boy Scouts of America were not liable to the camper because the BSA did not own, supervise or manage the particular piece of property where the scout was hurt. You can’t sue someone for negligence, unless they owed a duty to you. If you don’t own, manager or supervise the place where the plaintiff was injured you can’t be negligent because you owe no duty to that person.

Of greater interest is the fact the camp had no policies that were violated, which lead to the injury of the plaintiff. As a camp director of a BSA, GSA or any other camp or operation, you need to understand that the rules, regulations, policies and procedures that you write for your camp are going to be used as the rule, the standard, against which you will be judged at trial.

Don’t write rules, policies, regulations, or policies you can’t live up to.

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N.H., a minor child, v. Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87452 (ED Ten 2012)

N.H., a minor child, v. Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87452 (ED Ten 2012)

N.H., a minor child, by and through his parents Jorge Hernandez and Elizabeth Hernandez and Jorge Hernandez and Elizabeth Hernandez, Individually, v. Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America

NO. 2:11-CV-171

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE

2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87452

April 30, 2012, Filed

COUNSEL: [*1] For Jorge Hernandez, Individually Minor N. H, Elizabeth Hernandez, Individually Minor N. H., Plaintiffs: Thomas C Jessee, Jessee & Jessee, Johnson City, TN.

For Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America, defendant: Suzanne S Cook, LEAD ATTORNEY, Hunter, Smith & Davis – Johnson City, Johnson City, TN.

JUDGES: J. RONNIE GREER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

OPINION BY: J. RONNIE GREER

OPINION

ORDER

This personal injury action is before the Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Pending before the Court is the defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ demand for punitive damages pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). [Doc. 5]. For the reasons which follow, the motion is GRANTED.

FACTS

The following facts are taken from plaintiffs’ Complaint and are assumed true for the purposes of defendant’s motion to dismiss. In June 2010, the minor plaintiff was registered by his parents to participate in a summer camp owned and operated by defendant in an attempt to earn merit badges towards becoming an Eagle Scout. On June 15, 2010, while at this summer camp, the minor plaintiff participated in a mountain biking activity/class sponsored by defendant. During the course of his participation, the minor plaintiff discovered [*2] that the brakes on his bike were not working, and he rode off the trail and struck a tree, sustaining severe bodily injuries.

The defendant was allegedly negligent as follows: (1) it failed to keep the mountain bike trails in a reasonably safe condition; (2) it failed to warn the minor plaintiff of hidden perils of the trails which defendant knew, or by reasonable inspection, could have discovered; (3) it failed to properly train its employees; (4) it failed to properly mark the bike trail; (5) it failed to properly evaluate and assess the skill of the minor plaintiff before allowing him to ride the trail; and (6) it was “negligent in other manners.” [Doc. 1 at ¶19]. The Complaint also states that “the negligence of Defendant . . . was the proximate cause of the injuries to the minor plaintiff.” Id. at ¶20. The Complaint contains a number of additional paragraphs that allege how the “negligence” of the defendant was the proximate cause of various other consequences. Id. at ¶¶22-27. The final paragraph of the Complaint states, “As a proximate . . . result of the negligence of Defendant, the Plaintiffs have been damaged . . . in an amount not to exceed $600,000.00 actual damages. As a [*3] direct and proximate result of the gross negligence of the Defendant, the Plaintiffs believe they are entitled to recover punitive damages . . ..” Id. at ¶28 (emphasis added).

Defendant has filed a motion asking the Court to dismiss the Complaint so far as punitive damages are concerned on the ground that the plaintiffs have failed to adequately plead a factual basis that would provide for the award of punitive damages.

LEGAL STANDARD

[HN1] Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) requires “a short and plain statement of the claims” that “will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the ground upon which it rests.” The Supreme Court has held that “[w]hile a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitlement to relief’ requires more than just labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007).

[HN2] “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, [*4] accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Thus, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 1950. When considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all of the plaintiff’s allegations as true in determining whether a plaintiff has stated a claim for which relief could be granted. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S. Ct. 2229, 81 L. Ed. 2d 59 (1984).

ANALYSIS

[HN3] “In a diversity action . . . the propriety of an award of punitive damages for the conduct in question, and the factors the jury may consider in determining their amount, are questions of state law.” Browning-Ferris Indus. of Vt., Inc., v. Kelco Disposal, Inc., 492 U.S. 257, 278, 109 S. Ct. 2909, 106 L. Ed. 2d 219 (1989). Thus, to survive a motion to dismiss, a claim for punitive damages must be plausible as defined by Tennessee law.

[HN4] The Tennessee Supreme Court has held that punitive damages are available in cases involving “only the most egregious of wrongs.” [*5] Hodges v. S.C. Toof & Co., 833 S.W.2d 896, 901 (Tenn. 1992). Accordingly, under Tennessee law, “a court may . . . award punitive damages only if it finds a defendant has acted either (1) intentionally, (2) fraudulently, (3) maliciously, or (4) recklessly.” Id. 1

1 [HN5] The Tennessee Supreme Court has expressly stated that punitive damages are not available for “gross negligence.” Hodges, 833 S.W.2d at 900-901. However, the legal sufficiency of a complaint does not depend upon whether or not the plaintiffs invoked the right “magic words,” but instead whether the facts as alleged may plausibly be construed to state a claim that meets the standards of Rule 12(b)(6). See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009)(clarifying the dismissal standard under Rule 12(b)(6) and noting that “Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era”). Consequently, the Court will construe the plaintiffs’ allegations of “gross negligence” in paragraph 28 of the Complaint as an allegation that defendant behaved “recklessly.”

Here, defendant asserts that “Although the Complaint cursorily mentions ‘gross negligence’ one time in a conclusory manner, the Complaint [*6] lacks any facts or allegations that aver an utter lack of concern or reckless disregard such that a conscious indifference can even be implied . . ..” [Doc. 6 at 3]. The plaintiff counters that “The plaintiff in this case has identified specific detailed acts of negligence on the part of the defendant and . . . [consequently] it is clear that a jury could decide that the actions of the defendant were grossly negligent.” [Doc. 7 at 2].

The Court has reviewed the Complaint and agrees with the defendant. [HN6] “Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant’s liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Such is the case with the Complaint in this matter. The entirety of the Complaint is dedicated to explaining why the defendant was negligent. However, there is no separate mention made regarding why the defendant was reckless. To be sure, the plaintiff could argue that by alleging in multiple paragraphs that defendant “knew, or should have known,” of certain unsafe conditions, he has sufficiently pled both negligence and recklessness. However, plaintiff would be mistaken in asserting such [*7] argument.

[HN7] Under Tennessee law, “A person acts recklessly when the person is aware of, but consciously disregards, a substantial and unjustifiable risk of such a nature that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances.” Hodges, 833 S.W.2d at 901. An examination of the Complaint reveals that plaintiffs have failed to allege how or why the defendant was aware of the deficiencies in the bicycle and the biking trail. This is fatal to plaintiffs’ claim for punitive damages. See Carrier Corp. v. Outokumpu Oyj, 673 F.3d 430, 445 (6th Cir. 2012) ( [HN8] “To survive a motion to dismiss . . . allegations must be specific enough to establish the relevant ‘who, what, where, when, how or why.”); See also, Tucker v. Bernzomatic, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43771, 2010 WL 1838704 (E.D.Pa. May 4, 2010) (Dismissing punitive damages claim in products liability action because consumer did not allege how or why manufacturer knew that its product was dangerous).

In light of the foregoing, the Court concludes that the Complaint does not contain sufficient factual content to allow the Court to draw the reasonable inference that defendant has acted recklessly. [*8] See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The punitive damages claim will therefore be dismissed.

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ demand for punitive damages [Doc. 5] is GRANTED and plaintiffs’ demand for punitive damages is DISMISSED.

ENTER:

/s/ J. RONNIE GREER

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

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You cannot be liable for what you do not control or what volunteers do

Moore v. Boy Scouts of America Los Angeles Area Council, Inc., 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 11180

It is also hard to be liable for not watching where you are walking

This case stems from injuries received when a volunteer was setting up a tent and fell over one of the guy lines for the tent.

The plaintiff was a volunteer and with other volunteers was setting up a large tent at a Scout Camp. The camp was owned by the Los Angeles Area Council, Inc. which was granted a charter by the Boy Scouts of America to offer the Scouting program to local youth. The tent was a large military wall tent, similar to what you would see on reruns of M*A*S*H.

While setting up the tent, another volunteer asked the plaintiff to get more tent stakes. She walked around the tent, picked up more stakes and while walking back tripped over one of the guy lines holding up the tent. None of the guy lines had been marked with flags or markers to indicate there was a line there and the accident occurred around 7:00 Pm in July. (None are marked in the M*A*S*H reruns either.) The factual issue became whether or not markers or flags should have been used to identify the guy-lines on the tents.

The court went through and clearly identified factual issues the court felt were important.

Moore had not set up the specific pole, rope or stake upon which she tripped.

The ropes coming off the tent were at varying angles and pitches. The ropes varied in length, de-pending upon location. There were no flags or markers on the ropes.

Before this date, Moore had never been involved in setting up or taking down this tent or this type of tent. However, in years past, Moore had used rope or flags to mark the guy ropes on this tent to make the ropes more visible.

Before Moore fell, neither Moore nor any of the other adult volunteers saw anything they considered unsafe or dangerous.

In the past, some of the adult volunteers had used markers (e.g., cloth or fluorescent plastic tape) to make ropes more visible in scout camps and in non-scout camping situations. In prior years, this tent had been used in the Boy Scout camp, and flags had been used to mark the ropes. It is unclear if markers were used each time the tent was used.

The plaintiff argued the BSA did not have a policy of marking guy lines with markers or flags.

The plaintiff sued for premises liability and negligence. The premises liability claim was based on negligently setting up a tent without guy lines and the negligence claim for not using reasonable care when setting up tents by not using markers on guy-lines.

The Boy Scouts filed a motion for summary judgment based on the fact there was no triable issues, no real legal claims, which was granted and the plaintiff appealed.

So?

The plaintiff’s main arguments were supported by its expert an ergonomist who was a human factors and safety consultant. (This has me confused too, as to why an ergonomist (whatever) has any knowledge of setting up a tent.) The ergonomist said that that groups in Virginia, Australia and Louisiana has policies on markers on tent lines.

The court first looked at the premises liability claim. A premises liability claim is based on a dangerous condition on land. The owner of land is liable for “only for hazardous conditions of which the possessor had actual or constructive knowledge.” The tent was not part of the land so there was no legal basis for a premises liability claim.

The negligence claim was also dismissed by the court. Since the tent was being set up by volunteers, there was no proof that the BSA created the dangerous condition or was aware that a dangerous condition existed. The BSA could not breach a duty of care when the actions which created a dangerous condition were not those of the BSA. Nor does the lack of a policy create a dangerous condition on land. The plaintiff’s argument the court reasoned, where closer to tent issues not land issues.

So Now What?

The legal issues are as stretched in this case as you can get in my opinion. You are setting up a tent by setting up guy lines; you can’t sue when you trip over a guy line.

The claims were incorrect for the facts. The court looked at the issues and could not find any legal connection between the facts, the claims and the law.

However, that does not mean that not watching where you walk might not lead to litigation at some future date that does hold some water.

You can write policies till there are no more trees. In doing so, you’ll probably sink some other group who is trying to save trees. Better to educate than kill a tree. Train your volunteers, prove you trained them, and then explain how the organization they are volunteering for cannot afford lawsuits, stupid ones or regular ones. By that I mean include litigation training; you can’t sue us, in the training you provide.

Explain how it is their job to protect each other as well as to protect the organization. Tell them and prove you told them that you cannot identify all of the risks they may encounter.

You might even have them sign a release.

Plaintiff: Josephine Moore

 

Defendant: Boy Scouts of America Los Angeles Area Council, Inc.

 

Plaintiff Claims: Premises Liability and Negligence

 

Defendant Defenses: not triable issues of fact, no negligence

 

Holding: Trial court dismissal was affirmed

 

 

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Moore v. Boy Scouts of America Los Angeles Area Council, Inc., 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 11180

Moore v. Boy Scouts of America Los Angeles Area Council, Inc., 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 11180

Josephine Moore, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Boy Scouts of America Los Angeles Area Council, Inc., Defendant and Respondent.

B170389

COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT, DIVISION THREE

2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 11180

December 10, 2004, Filed

NOTICE: [*1] NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS. CALIFORNIA RULES OF COURT, RULE 977(a), PROHIBIT COURTS AND PARTIES FROM CITING OR RELYING ON OPINIONS NOT CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED, EXCEPT AS SPECIFIED BY RULE 977(B). THIS OPINION HAS NOT BEEN CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED FOR THE PURPOSES OF RULE 977.

PRIOR HISTORY: APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. NC040331. Elizabeth Allen White, Judge.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

CORE TERMS: scout, tent, rope, volunteer, flag, summary judgment, scout camp, causes of action, hazard, marker, adult, guy ropes, feet, dangerous condition, declaration, triable, conspicuity, warning, premises liability, issues of fact, negligently, military, donated, wall tent, lighting, tripped, visible, manual, pole, trip

COUNSEL: Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold, Thomas A. Delaney and Steven S. Streger, for Defendant and Respondent.

Desjardins Kelly and Warren D. Kelly, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

JUDGES: ALDRICH, J.; CROSKEY, Acting P. J., KITCHING, J. concurred.

OPINION BY: ALDRICH

OPINION

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff and appellant Josephine Moore (Moore) was setting up a tent for a scout camp site when she tripped over a rope that was securing the tent. Moore appeals from a summary judgment entered in favor of defendant and respondent Boy Scouts of America Los Angeles Area Council. Inc. (the Boy Scouts). We affirm.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

1. Facts.

Following the usual rules on appeal, we construe the facts in the light most favorable [*2] to Moore, the party who opposed the motion for summary judgment. (Jackson v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc. (1993) 16 Cal.App.4th 1830, 1836.)

On July 8, 2001, Moore was setting up a scout camp site. She and other adult volunteers were erecting a wall tent that was secured by poles and ropes. No employee of the Boy Scouts was involved in setting up the tent. The Boy Scouts did not own the tent. The rectangular tent was oblong, about 24 feet long by 16 feet wide. The poles used to hold up the tent were 6 feet long. Beige ropes were used to secure the tent to the ground and to keep the tent upright.

At about 7:00 p.m., the volunteers had been setting up the tent for 30 to 60 minutes. The tent was about four or five feet from a picnic table. One of the other adults asked Moore to retrieve additional stakes from the opposite side of the tent. Moore walked around the tent and picked-up six or seven stakes. Moore walked near the tent, toward the adult who had requested the stakes. In doing so, Moore tripped over one of the ropes that had already been staked into the ground. The stake holding the rope was two to five feet from the tent and two to five feet from the picnic table.

[*3] Moore had not set up the specific pole, rope or stake upon which she tripped.

The ropes coming off the tent were at varying angles and pitches. The ropes varied in length, depending upon location. There were no flags or markers on the ropes.

Before this date, Moore had never been involved in setting up or taking down this tent or this type of tent. However, in years past, Moore had used rope or flags to mark the guy ropes on this tent to make the ropes more visible.

During the time the tent was being set up, Moore was aware that some guy ropes were already in place, extending out from corners of the tent.

Before Moore fell, neither Moore nor any of the other adult volunteers saw anything they considered unsafe or dangerous.

In the past, some of the adult volunteers had used markers (e.g., cloth or fluorescent plastic tape) to make ropes more visible in scout camps and in non-scout camping situations. In prior years, this tent had been used in the Boy Scout camp, and flags had been used to mark the ropes. It is unclear if markers were used each time the tent was used.

The Boy Scout’s manual did not address rope safety and did not instruct that markers were to be used, although [*4] some believed marking the ropes made good sense. The photograph of a wall tent in the manual appeared to have markers on the ropes.

At one Boy Scout volunteer training session held a few years prior to this accident, volunteers were told to flag tent ropes so no one would trip. The Boy Scouts had no documents relating to the use of warnings on ropes.

The scout camp is planned by volunteers. The Boy Scout district executive, Jim McCarthy, attends the planning meetings.

2. Procedure.

Moore sued the Boy Scouts. The complaint stated two causes of action.

In the first cause of action for premises liability, Moore alleged that the Boy Scouts “negligently maintained, managed, controlled, and operated the Scout Camp, in that the guy ropes attached to a certain tent in the Scout Camp were unmarked with flags, or with anything, and were obscured from view without some kind of flag, marker, or other warning, owing to their color, size and geometry, location, time of day, and other factors, which [the Boy Scouts] knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known, constituted a dangerous condition and unreasonable risk of harm of which [Moore] was at all times . . . [*5] unaware. [The Boy Scouts] negligently failed to take steps to either make the condition safe or warn [Moore] of the dangerous condition, all of which caused [Moore] to trip and fall on one of the guy ropes, and to suffer the injuries and damages hereinafter described.”

In the second cause of action for negligence, Moore alleged that the Boy Scouts failed to “use reasonable care in the construction, maintenance, management, and control of the Scout Camp, including but not limited to placing flags or some other kind of marker or warning to identify and call attention to the presence and location of the guy ropes surrounding the tent tarp. [P] . . . [The Boy Scouts] knew or should have known that the construction of the Scout Camp was likely to create during the construction a risk of harm to those who were working on and around the Scout Camp unless special precautions were taken, in that, among other things, guy ropes, which were obscured from view . . . would be emanating from the tent, unmarked and unguarded, in a fashion that constituted a hazard to persons, including [Moore].”

The Boys Scouts brought a motion for summary judgment.

In opposing the motion, Moore submitted [*6] the declaration of psychologist Ilene B. Zackowitz, Ph.D. Dr. Zackowitz declared the following. She was a human factors and safety consultant and a certified professional ergonomist. 1 She had reviewed the discovery in this case. “When wall tents that are secured with ropes and stakes are used, it is foreseeable that the low conspicuity of the ropes may present a tripping hazard. Despite this foreseeable hazard, [the Boy Scouts have] no stated policy or procedure that addresses the hazard, namely using flags to increase the conspicuity of guy ropes, in the [Scout] Camping merit badge book or the Scouts ‘Guide to Safe Scouting.’ ” “Other Scout Councils recognize the hazard and have policies in place to address the hazard[, such as a troop in Georgetown, Virginia, the Scout Association of Australia, and the Southeast Louisiana Council].” “A stated policy of securing conspicuous flags to the ropes as they are secured to the ground (as opposed to waiting until the entire tent is erected) would greatly increase the conspicuity of the anchoring ropes.” “The incident occurred at dusk such that lighting conditions and contrast were reduced. Under ideal lighting conditions, a rope and [*7] stake would have low contrast with the dirt covered ground surface. . . . There were no visual cues that the hazard was present. . . . A flag on the rope would have provided contrast and would have called attention to the hazard.”

1 Dr. Zackowitz’s curriculum vitae includes information that she serves as a forensic consultant for personal injury accidents, including slips, trips, missteps, and falls, the effectiveness of warnings, visibility, conspicuity, and lighting.

The trial court granted the summary judgment motion. In the order granting summary judgment, the trial court found there were no triable issues of fact because: (1) there was no evidence of a dangerous condition and Dr. Zackowitz’s declaration was not admissible on the issue; (2) the Boy Scouts had no notice of the condition as the only ones present were volunteers, who were not agents of the Boy Scouts; and (3) the condition was open and notorious.

Judgment was entered against Moore, from which she appealed.

DISCUSSION

1. Standard [*8] of review upon a motion for summary judgment.

Following the granting of a summary judgment, we review the moving papers independently to determine whether there is a triable issue as to any material fact and whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (Jackson v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., supra, 16 Cal.App.4th at p. 1837.)

A defendant who brings a motion for summary judgment asserting that the plaintiff cannot state a cause of action need only address the theories advanced in the complaint, as the complaint frames the issues. (United States Golf Assn. v. Arroyo Software Corp. (1999) 69 Cal.App.4th 607, 623; Varni Bros. Corp. v. Wine World, Inc. (1995) 35 Cal.App.4th 880, 886-887; FPI Development, Inc. v. Nakashima (1991) 231 Cal. App. 3d 367, 381, 282 Cal. Rptr. 508.) “A party cannot successfully resist summary judgment on a theory not pleaded. [Citation.]” (Roth v. Rhodes (1994) 25 Cal.App.4th 530, 541.)

2. Moore has not demonstrated a triable issue of fact with regard to the two theories presented.

Moore stated two causes of action – premises [*9] liability and negligence. She contends there are triable issues of fact with regard to these causes of action. This contention is unpersuasive.

A cause of action for premises liability generally is based upon a dangerous condition on land. (Delgado v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc. (1999) 72 Cal.App.4th 1403, 1406, fn. 1.) The possessor of land is liable only for hazardous conditions of which the possessor had actual or constructive knowledge. (Ortega v. Kmart Corp. (2001) 26 Cal.4th 1200, 1203.) Here, the tent was set up by volunteers, who were not the agents of the Boy Scouts. (Young v. Boy Scouts of America (1935) 9 Cal. App. 2d 760, 765 [adult volunteers are not agents of local councils].) There is no evidence the Boy Scouts knew the tent was being set up. Thus, the Boy Scouts neither created the “dangerous” condition nor were aware that it existed.

With regard to the negligence cause of action, Moore alleged that the Boy Scouts negligently constructed, maintained, managed, and controlled the camp. However, the undisputed facts were that the volunteers undertook all of these activities. Thus, Moore failed to establish that the [*10] Boy Scouts breached its duty to her. (Cf. Ortega v. Kmart Corp., supra, 26 Cal.4th at p. 1205 [negligence requires duty, breach, causation, damages].)

Moore argues that notice of the condition is irrelevant as liability “is not based on acts of the volunteers who erected the tent, but on the policy (or lack thereof) of the [Boy Scouts] relating to tent safety, as well as the fact that [the Boy Scouts] provided a tent with inconspicuous ropes and no flags.” These arguments are based primarily upon (1) statements made by some of the volunteers who said that the past they had marked the ropes to make them more visible, (2) comments by Moore’s expert (Dr. Zackowitz), and (3) Dr. Zackowitz’s reference to other scout manuals.

However, Moore’s complaint, which framed the issues, did not alleged that the Boy Scouts lacked a policy with regard to rope safety, nor did it allege that the Boy Scouts were negligent in supplying a defective tent. (Cf. FNS Mortgage Service Corp. v. Pacific General Group, Inc. (1994) 24 Cal.App.4th 1564, 1572 [discussing negligent undertaking].)

Further, there is an evidentiary problem with Moore’s argument [*11] relating to the Boy Scouts supplying the tent. In Moore’s appellate brief, she does not provide a citation to the record to support the statement that the tent had been supplied by the Boy Scouts or that it had been donated to the Boy Scouts by the military. (Grant-Burton v. Covenant Care, Inc. (2002) 99 Cal.App.4th 1361, 1378-1379 [parties have obligation to provide proper citations to record].) 2 In Moore’s separate statement of disputed and undisputed material facts, Moore also fails to establish that the tent had been supplied by the Boy Scouts, or that it had been donated to the Boy Scouts by the military. Additionally, Moore testified in her deposition that she did not believe that the Boy Scouts owned the tent. Dr. Zackowitz did state in her declaration that the tent had been donated to the Boy Scouts by the military. However, Dr. Zackowitz does not identify the source of this information and therefore this testimony lacks foundation.

2 In the introduction to her brief, Moore points to the Clerk’s Transcript, pages 226 to 264 for this factual assertion. This is an insufficient citation. (Grant-Burton v. Covenant Care, Inc., supra, 99 Cal.App.4th at p. 1379 [appropriate reference to records must include exact page citations].)

[*12] Summary judgment was properly granted in favor of the Boy Scouts. 3

3 In light of our conclusion, we need not address whether the trial court made evidentiary errors with regard to Dr. Zackowitz’s declaration.

DISPOSITION

The judgment is affirmed. Moore is to pay all costs on appeal.

ALDRICH, J.

We concur:

CROSKEY, Acting P. J.

KITCHING, J.

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Decision explains the liability in New Hampshire of a land owner allowing kids to sled on their land

Reed v. National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Inc., 2010 DNH 18; 706 F. Supp. 2d 180; 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9236

Decision was a rare case were lawsuit was not brought until after the injured minorHistory of the Boy Scouts of America reached age 18

In this decision, the plaintiff was an 11-year-old Boy Scout a camping trip. During the camp out the trip went sledding on a hill at a local Boy Scout Council camp. The

camp was not owned by a council that was not the chartering council of the scout troop. While sledding, the boys built a jump. Around lunch time the adult leaders left to go prepare lunch leaving the scouts unattended.

The court noted that this was in violation of the Guide to Safe Scouting, a set of procedures developed by the BSA to keep kids safer. (Safer, kids get hurt, it is part of growing up.)

The plaintiff sued the council that owned the camp, Boston Minuteman Council, the landowner and the National Council, BSA. The National Council grants charters to local groups, councils in a specific geographic area to offer the Scouting program to youth in their area. The local council, in this case Daniel Webster Council issued a charter to the group of parents who ran the troop the plaintiff was part of.

The court took note of the fact that neither volunteers scoutmasters nor the local council Daniel Webster Council.

The plaintiff was only 11 and the youngest scout on the camp out. He had watched other scouts go over the jump and fall. He had gone over the jump once when the scoutmaster was present and fell on his back but did not suffer any injuries. After the adult, volunteers left the area the plaintiff went over the jump again breaking his leg.

Summary of the case

The case has two major parts in the decision. The first is the decision over the land owner’s liability. The second is a motion in limine over the future or potential earnings and medical bills of the plaintiff. For the purpose of this article, the second part of the discussion will be ignored because it is not relevant.

The first point of interest in this decision is one sentence. The plaintiff did not sue until after he had turned age 18. Under the law a minor, someone under the age of 18 can sue by and through their parents in most states, any time after their injury, or they can wait until they turn age 18 and sue then. The parental lawsuit has a statute of limitation, in NH two years, because it is an adult suit on behalf of the minor child. The minor child when he reaches the age of majority, 18, then also has two years to sue after turning age 18.

The defendant land owner filed this motion for summary judgment based on the New Hampshire Recreational Use statute and fact the risk was an open and obvious danger.

The New Hampshire recreational use statute protects land owners from lawsuits brought by people who are using the land for free. The exception to the rule is if the injury to the plaintiff was caused intentionally by the land owner.

508:14  Landowner Liability Limited.

I. An owner, occupant, or lessee of land, including the state or any political subdivision, who without charge permits any person to use land for recreational purposes or as a spectator of recreational activity, shall not be liable for personal injury or property damage in the absence of intentionally caused injury or damage.

II. Any individual, corporation, or other nonprofit legal entity, or any individual who performs services for a nonprofit entity, that constructs, maintains, or improves trails for public recreational use shall not be liable for personal injury or property damage in the absence of gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

III. An owner of land who permits another person to gather the produce of the land under pick-your-own or cut-your-own arrangements, provided said person is not an employee of the landowner and notwithstanding that the person picking or cutting the produce may make remuneration for the produce to the landowner, shall not be liable for personal injury or property damage to any person in the absence of willful, wanton, or reckless conduct by such owner.

The plaintiff argued the defendant land owner should be held liable because only scouts were allowed on the land; therefore, the land was not open to the public, part of the statute. Court held that the statute had latitude or a land owner would lose all control over his or her land. The court held that the landowner could not be held liable because it was protected by the New Hampshire recreational sue statute.

The second defense brought by the landowner was the “open and obvious” defense.

“a defendant generally has no duty to warn and instruct a plaintiff of obvious dangers about which the plaintiff’s knowledge and appreciation equal the defendant’s.”

The “open and obvious” defense is similar to an assumption of risk defense. If you can see or understand the dangerous situation on the land, then the landowner has no duty to warn you of the dangers.

The open and obvious defense requires that the dangerous condition be recognizable by the reasonable person. In the case of a minor the reasonable person test is changed to a reasonable person of the same age, intelligence and experience. A jump created by the other youth would have been obvious to the plaintiff even at age 11. Jumps are made to throw people into the air. Many courts have found that sledding and snowboarding over jumps is something a person of the plaintiff’s age, intelligence and experience should recognize so the court found that the defendant did not owe a duty to warn of the dangers of sledding or snowboarding over a jump.

So Now What?

This is an interesting and odd case. Not suing the local council or the scoutmasters is confusing. Waiting until the plaintiff turned 18 is even more confusing.

However, you can gain a few things from this case.

1.      If you are a volunteer unit leader understand the rules by which the parent organization expects you to operate and do not violate those rules.

2.    If you are a landowner who knows that people use your land for free without charging them for it, do two things.

a.     Make sure your state recreational use statute is broad enough to protect you from litigation.

b.    Make sure your liability policy provides you with coverage for allowing people to use your land.

Please, do NOT stop people from using your land, Please!

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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In this mountain biking case, fighting each claim pays off.

N.H., a minor child, v. Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87452

Gross negligence claim is thrown out because the complaint failed to plead enough facts.

This case is about a minor, who was attending a Boy Scout summer camp. While at camp, he went mountain biking on a camp bicycle. While riding the mountain bike the plaintiff alleges the brakes were not working and the plaintiff road off the trail and hit a tree.

The plaintiff’s complaint alleged the following:

(1) it failed to keep the mountain bike trails in a reasonably safe condition; (2) it failed to warn the minor plaintiff of hidden perils of the trails which defendant knew, or by reasonable inspection, could have discovered; (3) it failed to properly train its employees; (4) it failed to properly mark the bike trail; (5) it failed to properly evaluate and assess the skill of the minor plaintiff before allowing him to ride the trail; and (6) it was “negligent in other manners.

The plaintiff also requested gross negligence as part of his damages. His complaint stated, “the negligence of Defendant . . . was the proximate cause of the injuries to the minor plaintiff….

Generally, gross negligence is defined as greater than normal negligence. (Only a lawyer could get away with that definition….) A better definition might be:

Another definition is the failure to exercise that care that even a careless person would exercise. Gross Negligence falls just short of a reckless disregard of the consequences of the actor’s acts. Aggravated Negligence is gross negligence. The actual differences between ordinary negligence and gross negligence are difficult to define, and ordinarily done by the jury.[1]

For more on Gross Negligence see Good Release stops lawsuit against Michigan’s bicycle renter based on marginal acts of bicycle renter or New Jersey upholds release for injury in faulty bike at fitness club.

The defendant camp filed a motion for summary judgment to eliminate the claim for gross negligence. The reason is based upon the complaint the allegation of gross negligence is the only real basis for the demand for punitive damages. Eliminate the claim for gross negligence and you have taken most of the fight out of the gross negligence claim and a lot of the ability of the plaintiff to threaten from the case.

A claim of gross negligence is not enough under Tennessee’s law to allow a jury to award punitive damages. Punitive damages can only be awarded if the jury finds the defendant acted “(1) intentionally, (2) fraudulently, (3) maliciously, or (4) recklessly.

Intentionally, fraudulently and maliciously are easily understood. In Tennessee, a person acts recklessly when:

A person acts recklessly when the person is aware of, but consciously disregards, a substantial and unjustifiable risk of such a nature that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances.

Because the complaint did not allege how or why the defendant was aware of the problems with the bicycle or the trail, he could not sustain a claim for gross negligence and consequently, claim punitive damages.

The court granted the defendants claim.

So?

Not every lawsuit provides the opportunity to start and win a fight based on the pleadings. However, every pleading, complaint, should be examined to make sure, under the law of that state, the pleadings make a legal case.

Even if a flaw is found, you need to examine the cost of the fight and the benefit. Sometimes a flaw can be allowed to survive to be attacked later. However, litigation is a fight and every opportunity to weaken the opposing side should be taken.

For additional cases looking at the legal issues of cycling see:

Connecticut court works hard to void a release for a cycling event

Good Release stops lawsuit against Michigan bicycle renter based on marginal acts of bicycle renter

How to fight a Bicycle Product Liability case in New York. One step at a time

Maine upholds release in a mountain bike race and awards defendants costs and attorney fees

New York Decision explains the doctrine of Primary Assumption of the Risk for cycling

PA court upholds release in bicycle race

Release for training ride at Triathlon training camp stops lawsuit

Release stops most of the litigation against a ski area and USA Cycling in a Mountain Bike race but leaves other members out in the cold or should I say stuck in the courtroom

Summary Judgment granted for bicycle manufacturer and retailer on a breach of warranty and product liability claim.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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[1]           Outdoor Recreation Risk Management, Insurance and Law, Chapter 7

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N.H., a minor child, v. Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87452

N.H., a minor child, v. Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87452

N.H., a minor child, by and through his parents Jorge Hernandez and Elizabeth Hernandez and Jorge Hernandez and Elizabeth Hernandez, Individually, v. Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America

NO. 2:11-CV-171

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE

2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87452

April 30, 2012, Filed

CORE TERMS: punitive damages, trail, gross negligence, recklessly, survive, failed to properly, bike, damages claim, reasonable inference, entitlement to relief’, plausibility, punitive, reckless, biking, summer camp, proximate cause, proximate result, mountain

COUNSEL: [*1] For Jorge Hernandez, Individually Minor N. H, Elizabeth Hernandez, Individually Minor N. H., Plaintiffs: Thomas C Jessee, Jessee & Jessee, Johnson City, TN.

For Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America, defendant: Suzanne S Cook, LEAD ATTORNEY, Hunter, Smith & Davis – Johnson City, Johnson City, TN.

JUDGES: J. RONNIE GREER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

OPINION BY: J. RONNIE GREER

OPINION

ORDER

This personal injury action is before the Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Pending before the Court is the defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ demand for punitive damages pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). [Doc. 5]. For the reasons which follow, the motion is GRANTED.

FACTS

The following facts are taken from plaintiffs’ Complaint and are assumed true for the purposes of defendant’s motion to dismiss. In June 2010, the minor plaintiff was registered by his parents to participate in a summer camp owned and operated by defendant in an attempt to earn merit badges towards becoming an Eagle Scout. On June 15, 2010, while at this summer camp, the minor plaintiff participated in a mountain biking activity/class sponsored by defendant. During the course of his participation, the minor plaintiff discovered [*2] that the brakes on his bike were not working, and he rode off the trail and struck a tree, sustaining severe bodily injuries.

The defendant was allegedly negligent as follows: (1) it failed to keep the mountain bike trails in a reasonably safe condition; (2) it failed to warn the minor plaintiff of hidden perils of the trails which defendant knew, or by reasonable inspection, could have discovered; (3) it failed to properly train its employees; (4) it failed to properly mark the bike trail; (5) it failed to properly evaluate and assess the skill of the minor plaintiff before allowing him to ride the trail; and (6) it was “negligent in other manners.” [Doc. 1 at ¶19]. The Complaint also states that “the negligence of Defendant . . . was the proximate cause of the injuries to the minor plaintiff.” Id. at ¶20. The Complaint contains a number of additional paragraphs that allege how the “negligence” of the defendant was the proximate cause of various other consequences. Id. at ¶¶22-27. The final paragraph of the Complaint states, “As a proximate . . . result of the negligence of Defendant, the Plaintiffs have been damaged . . . in an amount not to exceed $600,000.00 actual damages. As a [*3] direct and proximate result of the gross negligence of the Defendant, the Plaintiffs believe they are entitled to recover punitive damages . . ..” Id. at ¶28 (emphasis added).

Defendant has filed a motion asking the Court to dismiss the Complaint so far as punitive damages are concerned on the ground that the plaintiffs have failed to adequately plead a factual basis that would provide for the award of punitive damages.

LEGAL STANDARD

Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) requires “a short and plain statement of the claims” that “will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the ground upon which it rests.” The Supreme Court has held that “[w]hile a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitlement to relief’ requires more than just labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007).

“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, [*4] accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Thus, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 1950. When considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all of the plaintiff’s allegations as true in determining whether a plaintiff has stated a claim for which relief could be granted. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S. Ct. 2229, 81 L. Ed. 2d 59 (1984).

ANALYSIS

“In a diversity action . . . the propriety of an award of punitive damages for the conduct in question, and the factors the jury may consider in determining their amount, are questions of state law.” Browning-Ferris Indus. of Vt., Inc., v. Kelco Disposal, Inc., 492 U.S. 257, 278, 109 S. Ct. 2909, 106 L. Ed. 2d 219 (1989). Thus, to survive a motion to dismiss, a claim for punitive damages must be plausible as defined by Tennessee law.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has held that punitive damages are available in cases involving “only the most egregious of wrongs.” [*5] Hodges v. S.C. Toof & Co., 833 S.W.2d 896, 901 (Tenn. 1992). Accordingly, under Tennessee law, “a court may . . . award punitive damages only if it finds a defendant has acted either (1) intentionally, (2) fraudulently, (3) maliciously, or (4) recklessly.” Id. 1

1 The Tennessee Supreme Court has expressly stated that punitive damages are not available for “gross negligence.” Hodges, 833 S.W.2d at 900-901. However, the legal sufficiency of a complaint does not depend upon whether or not the plaintiffs invoked the right “magic words,” but instead whether the facts as alleged may plausibly be construed to state a claim that meets the standards of Rule 12(b)(6). See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009)(clarifying the dismissal standard under Rule 12(b)(6) and noting that “Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era”). Consequently, the Court will construe the plaintiffs’ allegations of “gross negligence” in paragraph 28 of the Complaint as an allegation that defendant behaved “recklessly.”

Here, defendant asserts that “Although the Complaint cursorily mentions ‘gross negligence’ one time in a conclusory manner, the Complaint [*6] lacks any facts or allegations that aver an utter lack of concern or reckless disregard such that a conscious indifference can even be implied . . ..” [Doc. 6 at 3]. The plaintiff counters that “The plaintiff in this case has identified specific detailed acts of negligence on the part of the defendant and . . . [consequently] it is clear that a jury could decide that the actions of the defendant were grossly negligent.” [Doc. 7 at 2].

The Court has reviewed the Complaint and agrees with the defendant. “Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant’s liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Such is the case with the Complaint in this matter. The entirety of the Complaint is dedicated to explaining why the defendant was negligent. However, there is no separate mention made regarding why the defendant was reckless. To be sure, the plaintiff could argue that by alleging in multiple paragraphs that defendant “knew, or should have known,” of certain unsafe conditions, he has sufficiently pled both negligence and recklessness. However, plaintiff would be mistaken in asserting such [*7] argument.

Under Tennessee law, “A person acts recklessly when the person is aware of, but consciously disregards, a substantial and unjustifiable risk of such a nature that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances.” Hodges, 833 S.W.2d at 901. An examination of the Complaint reveals that plaintiffs have failed to allege how or why the defendant was aware of the deficiencies in the bicycle and the biking trail. This is fatal to plaintiffs’ claim for punitive damages. See Carrier Corp. v. Outokumpu Oyj, 673 F.3d 430, 445 (6th Cir. 2012) (“To survive a motion to dismiss . . . allegations must be specific enough to establish the relevant ‘who, what, where, when, how or why.”); See also, Tucker v. Bernzomatic, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43771, 2010 WL 1838704 (E.D.Pa. May 4, 2010) (Dismissing punitive damages claim in products liability action because consumer did not allege how or why manufacturer knew that its product was dangerous).

In light of the foregoing, the Court concludes that the Complaint does not contain sufficient factual content to allow the Court to draw the reasonable inference that defendant has acted recklessly. [*8] See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The punitive damages claim will therefore be dismissed.

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ demand for punitive damages [Doc. 5] is GRANTED and plaintiffs’ demand for punitive damages is DISMISSED.

ENTER:

/s/ J. RONNIE GREER

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

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