Posted: February 5, 2018 | Author: Recreation Law | Filed under: Jurisdiction and Venue (Forum Selection), Massachusetts, Zip Line | Tags: authenticity, Binding, canopy, causes of action, contractual, counterclaim, designated, enforceability, federal common law, file suit, Forum selection clause, fraudulently induced, harmless, indemnify, interpreting, Jurisdiction, Jurisdiction and Venue (Forum Selection), Jurisdiction and Venue Clause, Lawsuit, mandatory, Ordinary Negligence, permissive, present case, qualifying, recommendations, removal, Venue, written objection, zip |
This case was based on a zip-line accident. The release signed by the plaintiff had a forum selection clause, also known as a jurisdiction and venture clause. However, the clause was limited way so that when the defendant brought a counterclaim for attorney fees, it negated the forum selection clause.
Pittman, v. Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107839
State: Massachusetts, United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts
Plaintiff: Josephine Pittman
Defendant: Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, Inc.
Plaintiff Claims: gross negligence and fraudulent inducement concerning a participant agreement and waiver of liability
Defendant Defenses: Release
Holding: Basically, for the Plaintiff
This case was based on a zip line accident at the defendant’s location. The plaintiff filed the case in state court in Massachusetts. The defendant then removed the case to Federal District Court because the parties were from two different states.
After removal, the defendant filed a counterclaim for fees and costs as per the release. The plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss the counter claim because it was filed in the wrong court. Meaning the jurisdiction and venue clause was written in such a way it only applied to the complaint and not the counterclaim.
The facts concerning the actual accident are nowhere in the decision. This decision is based solely on the issues of jurisdiction and venue.
This opinion is based upon a motion to dismiss filed by the plaintiff, to dismiss the counter claim of the defendant for attorney fees and costs for filing the complaint to begin with.
No decision on the facts was made as of the writing of this decision.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The court did a thorough analysis of forum selection clauses in its review of the issues.
In that jurisdiction, forum selection clauses, also known as jurisdiction and venue clauses, are valid and usually upheld. “Forum selection clauses “‘are prima facie valid and should be enforced.'”
There are two issues the court must review to determine if the forum selection clause should be followed.
Before giving effect to a forum selection clause, a court must address certain threshold is-sues, including whether: (1) the clause is mandatory or permissive; and (2) the clause governs the claims allegedly subject to it.
There are two types of forum selection clauses, mandatory and permissive. Permissive forum selection clauses allow the parties to change the jurisdiction and venue. Mandatory clauses require the court to follow the contract and change the venue and apply the jurisdiction identified in the forum selection clause.
“‘Permissive forum selection clauses, often described as “consent to jurisdiction” clauses, authorize jurisdiction and venue in a designated forum, but do not prohibit litigation elsewhere. . . . In contrast, mandatory forum selection clauses contain clear language indicating that jurisdiction and venue are appropriate exclusively in the designated forum.'”
Not only is the language in the clause used to determine if it is permissive or mandatory, but also if the forum selection clause refers to a venue. Mandatory forum selection clauses include a required venue.
The next part, whether the clause governs the claims allegedly subject to the clause was the major issue. Consequently, the language of the clause was the difference. The clause stated: “”[i]n the event [Plaintiff] file[s] a lawsuit against Zoar, [Plaintiff] agree[s]” to the venue specified in paragraph 6 of the Participant Agreement”
The court interpreted the clause to only apply to the lawsuit brought by the plaintiff, as the clause states. The court found the forum selection clause did not apply to the counterclaim filed by the defendant against the plaintiff.
Thus, by far the most persuasive reading of the forum selection clause is that it dictated the venue where Plaintiff could file suit against Defendant but did not waive Defendant’s right of removal or dictate the forum in which Defendant could bring claims against Plaintiff arising out of the Participant Agreement.
However, here is where the decision starts to twist, and the defendant is saved, but only saved by accident.
The plaintiff in filing their motion to dismiss the counterclaim did not also move to change the venue or send the case back to state court. The plaintiff’s claim was going to be litigated in Federal District court where it has been moved.
The court implies if the plaintiff had moved to dismiss or change venue the court might have been inclined to do so. As it was, the forum selection clause only applied to the plaintiff’s claims against the defendant. The court claim was not subject to the clause.
Thus, by far the most persuasive reading of the forum selection clause is that it dictated the venue where Plaintiff could file suit against Defendant but did not waive Defendant’s right of removal or dictate the forum in which Defendant could bring claims against Plaintiff arising out of the Participant Agreement.
However, since the majority of the lawsuit would be based on the plaintiff’s complaint, it would be jurisdictionally economical to keep both cases together. Furthermore, the plaintiff claimed in her defense to the release that she was fraudulently induced to sign the release. If she prevailed on that claim, the forum selection clause would not apply because the contract, the release would not be valid.
If she succeeds in meeting her burden of proof on this point, she will not be bound by the terms of the Participant Agreement, which is the sole basis for Defendant’s counterclaim for fees and costs. Thus, Plaintiff’s claims and Defendant’s counterclaim “involve a common nucleus of operative fact [and] all claims should be adjudicated together in this court.
So, until the trial is over on the plaintiff’s complaint and the validity of the plaintiff’s defense to the release, the motion to change the venue because the forum selection, clause did not apply to the country claim was denied.
The court dismissed the plaintiff’s motion to dismiss the defendant’s counterclaim.
So Now What?
Here again, not understanding the breath of a lawsuit when writing a release almost cost the defendant. Judicial economy, not wasting the court’s time and money or either of the parties’ time and money is what saved the day.
If you need your release written properly to cover the issues, you have, the people you market too and the activities you offer, please contact me.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
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Posted: January 20, 2018 | Author: Recreation Law | Filed under: Jurisdiction and Venue (Forum Selection), Legal Case, Massachusetts, Release (pre-injury contract not to sue), Zip Line | Tags: authenticity, Binding, canopy, causes of action, contractual, counterclaim, designated, enforceability, federal common law, file suit, Forum selection clause, fraudulently induced, harmless, indemnify, interpreting, Jurisdiction, Jurisdiction and Venue (Forum Selection), Jurisdiction and Venue Clause, Lawsuit, mandatory, Ordinary Negligence, permissive, present case, qualifying, recommendations, removal, Venue, written objection, zip, zip line |
Pittman, v. Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107839
Josephine Pittman, Plaintiff, v. Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, Inc., Defendant.
Civil Action No. 16-30182-MGM
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS
2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107839
June 9, 2017, Decided
June 9, 2017, Filed
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Adopted by, Motion denied by Pittman v. Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106873 (D. Mass., July 11, 2017)
COUNSEL: [*1] For Josephine Pittman, Plaintiff, Counter Defendant: Timothy L. O’Keefe, LEAD ATTORNEY, Brittani K. Morgan, Kenny, O’Keefe & Usseglio, P.C., Hartford, CT; Timothy P. Wickstrom, Wickstrom Morse, LLP, Whitinsville, MA.
For Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, Inc., Defendant, Counter Claimant: Thomas B. Farrey, III, LEAD ATTORNEY, Burns & Farrey, Worcester, MA; Michael W. Garland, Burns & Farrey, P.C., Worcester, MA.
For Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, Inc., Counter Claimant: Thomas B. Farrey, III, LEAD ATTORNEY, Burns & Farrey, Worcester, MA.
For Josephine Pittman, Counter Defendant: Timothy L. O’Keefe, LEAD ATTORNEY, Brittani K. Morgan, Kenny, O’Keefe & Usseglio, P.C., Hartford, CT.
JUDGES: KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON, United States Magistrate Judge.
OPINION BY: KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO DISMISS COUNTERLCLAIM FOR IMPROPER VENUE
(Dkt. No. 11)
On or around October 19, 2016, plaintiff Josephine Pittman (“Plaintiff”) filed a complaint in the Trial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Superior Court Department, Franklin County (Dkt. No. 1-1). In summary, the complaint alleged that Plaintiff suffered serious injuries as a participant in a zip [*2] line canopy tour on the premises of defendant Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, Inc. (“Defendant”). Defendant removed the case to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), which provides for removal of actions where the parties are diverse (Dkt. No. 1). In this court, Defendant answered the complaint and asserted a counterclaim against Plaintiff for fees and costs (Dkt. No. 3). Presently before the court is Plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss Counterclaim for Improper Venue (“Plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss”), which was referred to the undersigned for Report and Recommendation by the presiding District Judge (Dkt. No. 27). For the reasons set forth below, the court recommends that Plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss be denied.
II. Relevant background
Plaintiff’s initial complaint (“Complaint”) asserted claims of gross negligence (Count I) and fraudulent inducement concerning a participant agreement and waiver of liability (“Participant Agreement”) signed by Plaintiff as a condition of her participation in the zip lining activity (Count II) (Dkt. No. 1-1).1 In its response to the Complaint, Defendant asserted a counterclaim for contractual indemnification based on the contents of the Participation Agreement signed by Plaintiff. [*3] 2 Defendant attached a copy of the Participant Agreement as Exhibit A to Defendant’s Answer to Plaintiff’s Complaint, Counterclaim and Claim for Jury Trial (Dkt. No. 3).
1 With leave of court, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on June 5, 2017 (“Amended Complaint”), adding a claim of ordinary negligence and claims of loss of consortium on behalf of her husband, Ronald Pittman, and her daughter, Lillian Pittman (Dkt. No. 34).
2 The formal title of the document is “Participant Agreement, Release and Acknowledgement of Risk.”
In relevant part, the Participant Agreement provides as follows:
2. I expressly agree to and promise to accept and assume all of the risks existing in this activity [expressly including zip line canopy tours]. My participation in this activity is purely voluntary, and I elect to participate in spite of the risks.
3. I hereby voluntarily release, forever discharge, and agree to indemnify and hold harmless Zoar from any and all claims, demands, or causes of action, which are in any way connected with my participation in this activity or my use of Zoar’s equipment, vehicles, facilities, or premises before, during, and after this activity including any such claims which allege negligent acts or omissions of Zoar.
4. Should Zoar or anyone acting on their behalf, be required to incur attorney’s fees and costs to enforce this agreement, I agree to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs.
. . .
6. In the event that I file a lawsuit against Zoar, I agree the Venue of any dispute that may arise out of this agreement [*4] or otherwise between the parties to which Zoar or its agents is a party shall be either in the town of Charlemont, Massachusetts Justice Court or the County or State Supreme Court in Franklin County, Massachusetts. I further agree that the substantive law of Massachusetts shall apply in that action without regard to the conflict of law rules of that state.3
(Dkt. No. 3-1 at 2).
3 The court takes judicial notice of the fact that a “town of Charlemont Justice Court” does not exist in Charlemont, Massachusetts. The parties agreed at oral argument that the Superior Court in Franklin County is the venue designated by the forum selection clause.
Plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss is based solely on the forum selection clause in paragraph 6 of the Participant Agreement (Dkt. No. 11).
III. Standard of Review and Applicable Law
In this circuit, a motion to dismiss based on a forum selection clause is treated “as a motion alleging the failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6).” Rivera v. Centro Medico de Turabo, Inc., 575 F.3d 10, 15 (1st Cir. 2009) (citing Silva v. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 239 F.3d 385, 387 & n.3 (1st Cir. 2001)). This court “must ‘accept as true the well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint, draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the [counterclaim] plaintiff’s favor, and determine whether the [counterclaim], so read, limns facts sufficient to justify recovery on any cognizable theory.'” Id. (quoting LaChapelle v. Berkshire Life Ins. Co., 142 F.3d 507, 508 (1st Cir. 1998)). A court considering a motion to dismiss “may properly consider only facts and documents that are part of or incorporated into the complaint.” Trans-Spec Truck Serv., Inc. v. Caterpillar, Inc., 524 F.3d 315, 321 (1st Cir. 2008). In the present [*5] action, Defendant has attached the Participant Agreement in support of its counterclaim, and neither party disputes the authenticity of the document. Accordingly, in ruling on Plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss, the court may appropriately take into account the contents of the Participant Agreement, including the choice of forum provision which is the basis of that motion. See Alternative Energy, Inc. v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co., 267 F.3d 30, 33 (1st Cir. 2001) (document sufficiently referred to in the complaint, the authenticity of which is not disputed, properly may be considered on a 12(b)(6) motion).
It remains an unsettled question in this circuit whether “‘forum selection clauses are to be treated as substantive or procedural for Erie purposes.'” Rivera, 575 F.3d at 16 (quoting Lambert v. Kysar, 983 F.2d 1110, 1116 & n.10 (1st Cir. 1993)). This is a question that the court need not address. See id. The forum selection clause in the Participant Agreement provides that Massachusetts law shall apply to legal actions arising out of the agreement or otherwise between the parties (Dkt. No. 35-1 at 1, ¶ 6). This court should, therefore, look to Massachusetts law for principles bearing on interpretation of the Participant Agreement. That said, there is no conflict between federal common law and Massachusetts law regarding the enforceability and interpretation [*6] of forum selection clauses. See generally Boland v. George S. May Int’l Co., 81 Mass. App. Ct. 817, 969 N.E.2d 166, 169-74 (Mass. App. Ct. 2012) (relying on federal and Massachusetts law for purposes of interpreting a forum selection clause). Accordingly, it is also appropriate for this court to apply federal common law in ruling on the enforceability and interpretation of the Participant Agreement’s forum selection clause. See Rivera, 575 F.3d at 16-17; see also OsComp Sys., Inc. v. Bakken Express, LLC, 930 F. Supp. 2d 261, 268 n.3 (D. Mass. 2013) (relying on federal common law where the parties did so; noting that there do not appear to be material discrepancies between federal and Massachusetts law regarding the validity and interpretation of forum selection clauses); Summa Humma Enters., LLC v. Fisher Eng’g, Civil No. 12-cv-367-LM, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 856, 2013 WL 57042, at *3 (D. Me. Jan. 3, 2013) (court would apply Maine law to interpretation of forum selection clauses; because Maine law was co-extensive with federal law concerning the interpretation of a forum selection clause, the court would also apply federal common law to the interpretive task).
Notwithstanding citations to cases ruling that forum selection clauses can constitute a waiver of a defendant’s right to remove a case to federal court, Plaintiff has not moved for dismissal or remand of this case to the state court where it was filed. Rather, Plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss is limited [*7] to seeking dismissal of Defendant’s counterclaim. On this point, Plaintiff contends that this court is an improper venue for a counterclaim alleging contractual indemnity because the claim is a dispute between the parties that arises out of the Participant Agreement. Plaintiff notes that, in setting forth the designated venue, the forum selection clause uses the word “shall,” which, Plaintiff argues, connotes a mandatory choice of venue which is binding on Defendant (Dkt. No. 12). Defendant opposes Plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss on the ground that the forum selection clause was binding on Plaintiff, but by its terms, did not constrain Defendant’s choice of venue for any claims it had against Plaintiff arising from the Participant Agreement (Dkt. No. 15). In the court’s view, Defendant has the better of the arguments.
Forum selection clauses “‘are prima facie valid and should be enforced.'” Silva, 239 F.3d at 386 (quoting M/S Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 407 U.S. 1, 10, 92 S. Ct. 1907, 32 L. Ed. 2d 513 (1972)). “A forum selection clause ‘does not divest a court of [the] jurisdiction it otherwise retains, rather it constitutes a stipulation in which the parties join in asking the court to give effect to their agreement by declining to exercise jurisdiction.'” Provanzano v. Parker View Farm, Inc., 827 F. Supp. 2d 53, 58 (D. Mass. 2011) (quoting Silva, 239 F.3d at 389 n.6). Before giving effect to [*8] a forum selection clause, a court must address certain threshold issues, including whether: (1) the clause is mandatory or permissive; and (2) the clause governs the claims allegedly subject to it. See id.
1. The Forum Selection Clause is Mandatory as to Claims to Which it Applies
“‘Permissive forum selection clauses, often described as “consent to jurisdiction” clauses, authorize jurisdiction and venue in a designated forum, but do not prohibit litigation elsewhere. . . . In contrast, mandatory forum selection clauses contain clear language indicating that jurisdiction and venue are appropriate exclusively in the designated forum.'” Rivera, 575 F.3d at 17 (quoting 14D C.A. Wright, A.R. Miller & E.H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3803.1 (3d ed. 1998)). “The use of words such as ‘will’ or ‘shall’ demonstrate parties’ exclusive commitment to the named forum.” Provanzano, 827 F. Supp. 2d at 60 (citing Summit Packaging Sys., Inc. v. Kenyon & Kenyon, 273 F.3d 9, 12 (1st Cir. 2001)). Moreover, “[a] crucial distinction between mandatory and permissive clauses is whether the clause only mentions jurisdiction or specifically refers to venue.” Arguss Communs. Group, Inc. v. Teletron, Inc., No. CIV. 99-257-JD, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18085, 2000 WL 36936, at *7 (D.N.H. Nov. 19, 1999). In the present case, “[b]ecause the [Participant] Agreement uses the term ‘shall’ to describe . . . the commitment to resolving . . . [certain] litigation [*9] ‘in [either the town of Charlemont, Massachusetts Justice Court or the County or State Supreme Court in Franklin County, Massachusetts,’] [and because it refers to ‘venue,’ not just ‘jurisdiction,’] it is a mandatory clause.” Xiao Wei Yang Catering Linkage in Inner Mongolia Co., LTD v. Inner Mongolia Xiao Wei Yang USA, Inc., 150 F. Supp. 3d 71, 77 (D. Mass. 2015). Indeed, the parties do not appear to dispute that the forum selection clause in the Participant Agreement is mandatory as to claims to which it applies.
2. The Forum Selection Clause Does Not Apply to Defendant’s Counterclaim
Whether to enforce a forum selection clause depends on whether the clause governs the claims asserted in the lawsuit. See Provanzano, 827 F. Supp. 2d at 60 (citing Huffington v. T.C. Grp., LLC, 637 F.3d 18, 21 (1st Cir. 2011)); see also Pacheco v. St. Luke’s Emergency Assocs., P.C., 879 F. Supp. 2d 136, 140 (D. Mass. 2012). This is a matter of interpreting the terms of the contract between the parties. “The construction of a written contract which is plain in its terms and free from ambiguity presents a question of law for the court,'” Boland, 969 N.E.2d at 173 (quoting Hiller v. Submarine Signal Co., 325 Mass. 546, 91 N.E.2d 667, 669 (Mass. 1950)), and it is “‘the language of the forum selection clause itself that determines which claims fall within its scope.'” Pacheco, 879 F. Supp. 2d at 140 (quoting Rivera, 575 F.3d at 19).
In the present case, the plain language of the forum selection clause mandated venue in the Franklin County Superior Court, but only as to claims asserted by Plaintiff. Plaintiff’s contention that the forum selection clause is binding on Defendant ignores the qualifying introductory clause of the provision, which states [*10] that “[i]n the event [Plaintiff] file[s] a lawsuit against Zoar, [Plaintiff] agree[s]” to the venue specified in paragraph 6 of the Participant Agreement (Dkt No. 3-1 at 2). In this case, as in Rivera, the mandatory venue language “is preceded and informed by a qualifying phrase: ‘In the event that . . . [I file suit against Zoar] . . ., I . . . agree [the Venue] . . . .’ That is, the [Participant Agreement] required [Plaintiff] to assert any causes of action that [she] may have against [Defendant] in the [Franklin County Superior Court].” Rivera, 575 F.3d at 18. There is no comparable venue provision, nor is there any mandatory or restrictive language, in paragraph 4 related to an assertion by Defendant of a claim for recovery of attorney’s fees and costs (Dkt. No. 3-1 at 2). Thus, by far the most persuasive reading of the forum selection clause is that it dictated the venue where Plaintiff could file suit against Defendant but did not waive Defendant’s right of removal or dictate the forum in which Defendant could bring claims against Plaintiff arising out of the Participant Agreement. See Pacheco, 879 F. Supp. 2d at 140; Boland, 969 N.E.2d at 174; cf. Xiao Wei Catering Linkage, 150 F. Supp. 3d at 77 (satisfaction of condition precedent was required to trigger application of a forum selection clause).
Furthermore, because [*11] Plaintiff has not moved for remand and intends to prosecute her claims against Defendant in this court, it would be a waste of judicial resources to require Defendant to seek recovery of fees and costs in a separate state court action. In Count II of Plaintiff’s Complaint (and her amended complaint), she has alleged that she was fraudulently induced to sign the Participant Agreement. “It is black-letter law that an agreement . . . is voidable by a party who is fraudulently induced to enter into it.” Green v. Harvard Vanguard Med. Assocs., Inc., 79 Mass. App. Ct. 1, 944 N.E.2d 184, 193 (Mass. App. Ct. 2011); see also St. Fleur v. WPI Cable Sys./Mutron, 450 Mass. 345, 879 N.E.2d 27, 35 (Mass. 2008) (a party is not bound by a contract she was fraudulently induced to sign). To prevail on the claim of ordinary negligence alleged in the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff will be required to prove that she was fraudulently induced to sign the Participant Agreement. See Lee v. Allied Sports Assocs., 349 Mass. 544, 209 N.E.2d 329, 332-33 (Mass. 1965). If she succeeds in meeting her burden of proof on this point, she will not be bound by the terms of the Participant Agreement, which is the sole basis for Defendant’s counterclaim for fees and costs. Thus, Plaintiff’s claims and Defendant’s counterclaim “involve a common nucleus of operative fact [and] all claims should be adjudicated together in this court.” Pacheco, 879 F. Supp. 2d at 138.
For these reasons, it is this court’s RECOMMENDATION [*12] that Plaintiff’s Motion be DENIED.4
4 The parties are advised that under the provisions of Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b) or Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b), any party who objects to these findings and recommendations must file a written objection with the Clerk of this Court within fourteen (14) days of the party’s receipt of this Report and Recommendation. The written objection must specifically identify the portion of the proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made and the basis for such objection. The parties are further advised that failure to comply with this rule shall preclude further appellate review by the Court of Appeals of the District Court order entered pursuant to this Report and Recommendation. See Keating v. Secretary of HHS, 848 F.2d 271, 275 (1st Cir. 1988); United States v. Valencia-Copete, 792 F.2d 4, 6 (1st Cir. 1986); Scott v. Schweiker, 702 F.2d 13, 14 (1st Cir. 1983); United States v. Vega, 678 F.2d 376, 378-79 (1st Cir. 1982); Park Motor Mart, Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 616 F.2d 603, 604 (1st Cir. 1980). See also Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 154-55, 106 S. Ct. 466, 88 L. Ed. 2d 435 (1985). A party may respond to another party’s objections within fourteen (14) days after being served with a copy thereof.
/s/ Katherine A. Robertson
KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON
United States Magistrate Judge
DATED: June 9, 2017
Posted: September 26, 2011 | Author: Recreation Law | Filed under: Cycling, Legal Case, Maine, Release (pre-injury contract not to sue) | Tags: assigns, bicycle, collectively, Collision, counterclaims, Cycling, entities, genuine, heirs, indirectly, Issue of Material Fact, law enforcement agencies, legal representatives, mandatory, matter of law, Membership, Mountain, Off Road, own negligence, promoter, property owners, sponsor, Sport, successors, successors in interest, Summary judgment, Travel, waive, wanton negligence, willful |
Lloyd v. Bourassa, 2002 Me. Super. LEXIS 132
C. Gary Lloyd, Plaintiff v. Tom Bourassa, Sugarloaf Mountain Corp., and United States Cycling, Inc. d/b/a National Off-Road Bicycle Association, Defendants
Civil Action Docket No. 01-CV-039
Superior Court of Maine, Hancock County
2002 Me. Super. LEXIS 132
August 20, 2002, Decided
August 21, 2002, Filed and Entered
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Affirmed by, Remanded by, Sub nomine at Lloyd v. Sugarloaf Mt. Corp., 2003 ME 117, 2003 Me. LEXIS 131 (Sept. 25, 2003)
DISPOSITION: [*1] Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on pleadings denied. Motions for summary judgment filed by defendants U.S.A. Cycling and Sugarloaf granted. Judgment granted to defendants on Counts II and III of plaintiff’s amended complaint.
CORE TERMS: cycling, membership, summary judgment, sponsor, bicycle, successors, mandatory, off-road, counterclaims, collision, promoter, mountain, collectively, indirectly, genuine, assigns, travel, entities, sport, waive, heirs, wanton negligence, willful, law enforcement agencies, matter of law, own negligence, issue of material fact, legal representatives, successors in interest, property owners
JUDGES: Ellen A. Gorman.
OPINION BY: Gorman
On June 22, 1995, C. Gary Lloyd applied for membership in “USCF . NORBA . NCCA.” After filling in some identifying information on the first page of the application form, Lloyd placed his signature on the second page, under a section entitled “Acknowledgment of Risk and Release of Liability.” That section contained the following language:
Please accept this as my application for membership and a USCF, NORBA and/or NCCA license.
I acknowledge that cycling is an inherently dangerous sport in which I participate at my own risk and that the United States Cycling Federation, Inc. is a non-profit corporation formed to advance the sport of cycling, the efforts of which directly benefit me. In consideration of the agreement of the USCF to issue a license to me, hereby on behalf of myself, my heirs, assigns and personal representatives, I release and forever discharge the USCF, its employees, agents, members, [*2] sponsors, promoters and affiliates from any and all liability, claim, loss, cost or expense, and waive and promise not to sue on any such claims against any such person or organization, arising directly or indirectly from or attributable in any legal way to any negligence, action or omission to act of any such person or organization in connection with sponsorship, organization or execution of any bicycle racing or sporting event, including travel to and from such event, in which I may participate as a rider, team member or spectator.
On August 11, 1995, with his NORBA membership in hand, Lloyd traveled to Kingfield, Maine to participate in a mountain biking event sponsored by the Sugarloaf Mountain Corporation known as the Widowmaker Challenge. At Kingfield, Lloyd signed the Official Entry Form, which included the following language under the heading of “Athlete’s Entry & Release Form 1“:
I fully realize the dangers of participating in a bicycle race and fully assume the risks associated with such participation including, by way of example, and not limitations, the following: the dangers of collision with pedestrians, vehicles, other racers and fixed or moving objects; the [*3] dangers arising from surface hazards, equipment failure, inadequate safety equipment and weather conditions; and the possibility of serious physical and/or mental trauma or injury associated with athletic cycling competition.
I hereby waive, release and discharge for myself, my heirs, executors, administrators, legal representatives, assigns, and successors in interest (hereinafter collectively “successors”) any and all rights and claims which I have or which may hereafter occur to me against the sponsors of this event, the National Off-Road Bicycle Association, the promoter and any promoting organization(s), property owners, law enforcement agencies, all public entities, and special districts and…. through or by which the events will be held for any and all damages which may be sustained by me directly or indirectly in connection with, or arising out of, my participation in or association with the event, or travel to or return from the event . . . .
I agree, for myself and successors, that the above representations are contractually binding, and are not mere recitals, and that should I or my successors assert my claim in contravention of this agreement, I or my successors shall [*4] be liable for the expenses incurred (including legal fees) incurred by the other party or parties in defending, unless the other parties are financially adjudged liable on such claim for willful and wanton negligence.
1 To avoid confusion, the “release” signed in June shall be referred to as the “Membership Release,” and the release signed in August shall be referred to as the “Event Release.”
Lloyd registered to participate in both the cross-country race and the downhill challenge. While completing a mandatory practice run on August 11, 1995, Lloyd was involved in a collision with another participant, Tom Bourassa.
On August 10, 2001, Lloyd filed suit against Bourassa, Sugarloaf Mountain Corporation, and United States Cycling Federation d/b/a National Off-Road Bicycle Association, asserting negligence claims against all three. Soon thereafter, Lloyd learned that he had failed to name the appropriate corporate defendant, and filed a motion to amend the complaint. Over objection, that motion was granted, [*5] and U.S.A. Cycling, Inc. replaced United States Cycling Federation d/b/a National Off-Road Bicycle Association.
In their Answers, both Sugarloaf and U.S.A. Cycling responded that Lloyd’s claims were barred by the releases quoted above. In addition, both asserted Counterclaims against Lloyd for breaching the terms of the releases. Both demanded Lloyd be held liable for any expenses they incurred in defending his suit.
On January 25, 2002, Lloyd filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings with respect to Defendants’ Counterclaims and Affirmative Defenses of Release and Waiver. Sugarloaf Mountain Corporation opposed that motion and filed its own Motion for Summary Judgment on March 11, 2002. U.S.A. Cycling also opposed the plaintiff’s motion, and filed its Motion for Summary Judgment on April 11, 2002. All of the motions requested that the court review the language of the releases and determine whether and how it affected the outcome of this suit. A hearing on all three motions was held on July 3, 2002. Any findings included below are based upon the properly submitted affidavits and statements of material fact. Specifically excluded from that category is the affidavit form Attorney [*6] Greif.
1. Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
The plaintiff argues that he is entitled to judgment on the defendants’ counterclaims and on their affirmative defenses of release and waiver because “the release, 2” by its terms, does not apply to U.S.A. Cycling, does not apply to the facts of this case, does not protect the defendants from their own negligence, and is unenforceable as contrary to public policy.
2 Plaintiff did not address the language of the Membership Release in his motion.
In considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court is required to accept all of the responding party’s pleadings as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor. Judgment is only appropriate if the responding party can prove no set of facts that would entitle it to relief. The plaintiff has failed to meet that burden.
Applicability to U.S.A. Cycling
In support of his first assertion, Lloyd argued that, because the Event Release does not mention U.S.A. Cycling, [*7] that defendant is not within the category of potentially released entities. With its response to this motion, U.S.A. Cycling filed an affidavit by Barton Enoch to establish that NORBA, a named sponsor of the Widowmaker, was the off-road division of U.S.A. Cycling, Inc. The clear language of the Entry Release covers sponsors, including U.S.A. Cycling d/b/a NORBA.
As mentioned above, Lloyd applied for membership in the United States Cycling Federation (USCF) and NORBA in June 1995. Soon thereafter, USCF merged into a new corporation, U.S.A. Cycling, Inc, that assumed all of its rights and responsibilities. By signing the Membership Release, Lloyd released U.S.A. Cycling, Inc. from responsibility for any accidents that might occur during his participation in any race events it sponsored.
Definition of Event
Lloyd has argued that the strictly construed language of the Event Release does not cover accidents that occur during the training run. In support of this argument, he has cited Doyle v. Bowdoin College, 403 A.2d 1206 (Me. 1979.) In that case, the Law Court said “releases absolving a defendant of liability for his own negligence must expressly spell out [*8] ‘with the greatest particularity’ the intention of the parties contractually to extinguish negligence liability.” Doyle, at 1208. Contrary to the plaintiff’s assertions, the language of the Event Release does precisely that:
I hereby waive, release and discharge for myself, my heirs, executors, administrators, legal representatives, assigns, and successors in interest (hereinafter collectively “successors”) any and all rights and claims which I have or which may hereafter occur to me against the sponsors of this event, the National Off-Road Bicycle Association, the promoter and any promoting organization(s), property owners, law enforcement agencies, all public entities, and special districts and properties . . . . through or by which the events will be held for any and all damages which may be sustained by me directly or indirectly in connection with, or arising out of, my participation in or association with the event, or travel to or return from the event . . . . (emphasis added)
All parties have agreed that the training run was a mandatory part of the event. To interpret the Event Release in such a convoluted fashion that it excludes a mandatory part of the [*9] event from the term “event” defies logic and is contrary to the intent of the parties as demonstrated by the plain language of the release. Hardy v. St. Clair, 1999 ME 142, 739 A.2d 368.
Although releases of liability are “traditionally disfavored,” in Maine that disfavor has resulted in strict interpretation rather than prohibition. Doyle v. Bowdoin College, Id. The cases cited by plaintiff in support of his contrary argument are from other jurisdictions and do not accurately describe the law in Maine. When asked to consider the issue raised here, both Maine state courts and the First Circuit have consistently enforced the language of releases. See, e.g., Hardy v. St. Clair, 1999 ME 142, 739 A.2d 368; McGuire v. Sunday River Skiway Corp., 1994 WL 505035 (D.Me.)(Hornby, J.), aff’d 47 F.3d 1156 (1st Cir. 1995). Despite his reference to a “contract of adhesion,” Lloyd was not compelled to sign either release. He chose to sign both because he wanted to participate in an inherently risky sport. He is free to make such choices, but must also accept responsibility for what happens as a result [*10] of that choice.
For the reasons stated above, plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied.
2. Defendants’ Motions for Summary Judgment
The Law Court has addressed motions for summary judgment on many occasions:
In reviewing a summary judgment, we examine the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonprevailing party to determine whether the record supports the conclusion that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the prevailing party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. (citation omitted) In testing the propriety of a summary judgment, we accept as true the uncontroverted facts properly appearing in the record. (citation omitted)
Champagne v. Mid-Maine Med. Ctr., 1998 ME 87, P5, 711 A.2d 842, 844. The issue is not whether there are any disputes of fact, but whether any of the disputes involve a “genuine” issue of “material” fact. See Rule 56(c). After reviewing the record provided with these standards in mind, the court must conclude that there are no genuine issues of disputed fact.
Both Lloyd and the defendants agree that Lloyd was required to complete a practice run in order to participate [*11] in the Widowmaker Challenge. All of them agree that Lloyd signed both releases before he took that mandatory run, and all agree that he was involved in a collision with another bicyclist during that run. As was discussed above, the practice run and any problems encountered during it are covered by the terms of the releases Lloyd signed. The Membership Release contains express language releasing claims arising from negligence. The Entry Release contains express language describing the types of accidents or dangers covered by the release, including “the dangers of collision with … other racers.” The collision between Lloyd and Bourassa was precisely the type of accident contemplated by the parties and waived by Lloyd in both releases.
Lloyd has failed to refer to any evidence in the record that might support his theory that that the Event Release should be seen as a substitution or novation of the Membership Release. Without such evidence, the court may not presume that the parties intended that one contract be substituted for the other.
Lloyd has asserted that the reference in the Event Release to an exception for “willful and wanton negligence” precludes summary judgment. However, [*12] no such tort has yet been recognized in Maine, so no jury could be asked to determine whether the defendants had acted with willful or wanton negligence. That exception is inapplicable in this jurisdiction. In addition, that language refers only to the portion of the Release that discusses the defendants’ right to recover expenses, including legal fees. On the record presented, there are no material issues of disputed fact concerning the language of the releases.
U.S.A. Cycling was a sponsor and Sugarloaf was a promoter of the race. As a matter of law, the court finds that the mandatory practice run was included within the language of the Releases, that the releases are clear and unambiguous, and that the accident Lloyd claims falls entirely within the types of harms contemplated by the parties at the time the releases were signed. There is nothing left to be litigated on either plaintiff’s Complaint against defendants U.S.A. Cycling and Sugarloaf, or on their Counterclaims against him.
For the reasons stated above, the court finds that the releases signed by Lloyd individually and collectively bar any civil action against either U.S.A. Cycling, d/b/a NORBA or against Sugarloaf for [*13] the injuries Lloyd allegedly sustained on August 11, 1995. Summary judgment on plaintiff’s Complaint is granted to U.S.A. Cycling, d/b/a NORBA and to Sugarloaf. In addition, summary judgment against Lloyd on their Counterclaims is granted to both U.S.A. Cycling, d/b/a NORBA and. Within thirty (30) days, counsel for these defendants shall submit proof of expenses, including attorney fees, incurred in defense of this action.
Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied. The motions for summary judgment filed by defendants U.S.A. Cycling and Sugarloaf are granted. Judgment is granted to those defendants on Counts II and III of plaintiff’s amended complaint.
The Clerk is directed to incorporate this Order in the docket by reference, in accordance with M.R.Civ.P. 79(a).
DATED: 20 August 2002
Ellen A. Gorman