Stringer v. United States Department of Agriculture, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150168

Stringer v. United States Department of Agriculture, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150168

Daniel T. Stringer, Plaintiff, v. United States Department of Agriculture (Forest Service), Defendant.

Civ. No. 6:13-cv-1902-MC

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF OREGON

2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150168

October 21, 2014, Decided

October 21, 2014, Filed

COUNSEL: [*1] For Daniel T Stringer, Plaintiff: J. Randolph Pickett, LEAD ATTORNEY, Pickett Dummigan Rhodes, LLP, Portland, OR; Matthew D. Kaplan, Matthew D. Kaplan, LLC, Portland, OR; R. Brendan Dummigan, Pickett Dummigan Rhodes, LLP, Portland, OR; Kristen C. West, Pickett Dummigan, LLC, Portland, OR.

For United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Defendant: James E. Cox, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Portland, OR.

JUDGES: Michael J. McShane, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Michael J. McShane

OPINION

OPINION AND ORDER

MCSHANE, Judge:

Plaintiff Daniel Stringer was injured while snowmobiling in the Deschutes National Forest. The United States Forest Service (Forest Service), which manages the Deschutes National Forest, allows members of the public to snowmobile on approximately 600 miles of trail within the forest free of charge.

The Court is asked to consider whether the Forest Service waived sovereign immunity under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671-80. Because Stringer neither paid a “charge” nor engaged or intended to engage in an activity subject to a “charge,” this Court finds that the Forest Service did not waive its immunity. Thus, defendant’s motion to dismiss, ECF No. 10, is GRANTED. [*2]

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This action arises out of a snowmobile accident occurring in the Deschutes National Forest. On March 24, 2012, Stringer, along with five companions, rented five snowmobiles at a rental facility in Bend, Oregon. Compl. 3, ECF No. 1; Decl. of James E. Cox, Jr. 5, ECF No. 13-1. After receiving a 15-minute training tutorial, the group traveled to Wanoga Sno-Park. Decl. of James E. Cox, Jr. 2, ECF No. 13-3. Wanoga Sno-Park, a snowmobiling park located within the Deschutes National Forest between Bend and Mount Bachelor, is open to the public free of charge.1 See Decl. of Kevin W. Larkin 2-3, 5 ECF No. 11.

1 The state of Oregon does charge a $5 vehicle parking fee to park in the Wanoga Sno-Park parking lot. See Compl. 2-3, ECF No. 1; OREGON DEP’T OF TRANSP.,OREGON.GOV: SNO-PARK PARKING PERMITS, http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/DMV/pages/vehicle/sno_park_permits.aspx(last visited Oct. 20, 2014).

At approximately 10 a.m., Stringer and his group departed on snowmobile trail #5 heading west toward Elk Lake Resort. Decl. of James E. Cox, Jr. 5, ECF No. 13-1. Stringer operated a two person sled accompanied by his fiancee, Danielle McBurnett. Compl. 3, ECF No. 1. Between 11:30 a.m. and 11:45 a.m., the group arrived at Elk Lake Resort. Decl. of [*3] James E. Cox, Jr. 5, ECF No. 13-1. After a brief break, the group decided to postpone lunch and return to Wanoga Sno-Park on snowmobile trail #5 heading east. Compl. 3, ECF No. 1; Decl. of James E. Cox, Jr. 5, ECF No. 13-1.

At approximately 12:50 p.m., the group approached a bridge at Falls Creek. See Decl. of James E. Cox, Jr. 1, ECF No. 13-1. Stringer, accompanied by McBurnett, sped up and pulled away from the group. Id. at 5. As he pulled away, Stringer left the trail and cut across an open meadow. Compl. 3, ECF No. 1. Realizing that the meadow led to an embankment of Falls Creek, Jessi Davis, a member of the snowmobiling group, sped up in an unsuccessful attempt to warn Stringer. Decl. of James E. Cox, Jr. 5, ECF No. 13-1. Stringer’s snowmobile launched over the creek and crashed into the far embankment head-on. Compl. 3, ECF No. 1. Stringer and McBurnett fell approximately 15 feet to the bottom of the ravine; resulting in extensive injuries. Id. at 3, 5. Stringer now seeks damages under the FTCA. Id. at 6.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter that “state[s] a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007). A claim is plausible on its face when [*4] the factual allegations allow the court to infer the defendant’s liability based on the alleged conduct. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009). The factual allegations must present more than “the mere possibility of misconduct.” Id. at 678.

While considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all allegations of material fact as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Burgert v. Lokelani Bernice Pauahi Bishop Trust, 200 F.3d 661, 663 (9th Cir. 2000). However, the Court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S. Ct. 2932, 92 L. Ed. 2d 209 (1986). If the complaint is dismissed, leave to amend should be granted unless the court “determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts.” Doe v. United States, 58 F.3d 494, 497 (9th Cir. 1995) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff, in reliance on Coleman v. Oregon Parks & Recreation Dep’t, 347 Or. 94, 217 P.3d 651 (2009), contends that defendant waived sovereign immunity under the FTCA by making a “charge” under ORS §§ 105.672(1)(a), 105.688(3). In response, defendant contests plaintiff’s interpretation of Coleman and argues that a charge was not made, and even if made, Wanoga Sno-Park is specific, separate, and distinct from any land that made such a charge.

The FTCA waives the sovereign immunity of the United States for claims based on the negligence of United States employees. 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1); Yanez v. United States, 63 F.3d 870, 872 (9th Cir. 1995). The liability of the United [*5] States is determined “in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual in like circumstances.” 28 U.S.C. § 2674. Because plaintiff’s accident occurred in Oregon, this action is governed by Oregon law. 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1); Yanez, 63 F.3d at 872.

As stated in ORS § 105.676, “it is the public policy of the State of Oregon to encourage owners of land to make their land available to the public for recreational purposes . . . by limiting their liability toward persons entering thereon for such purposes . . . .” ORS § 105.6822 advances this policy by granting “immunity to landowners who open their land to the public for recreational purposes.” Coleman, 347 Or. at 97.

2 ORS § 105.682 provides:

(1) Except as provided by subsection (2) of this section, and subject to the provisions of ORS 105.688, an owner of land is not liable in contract or tort for any personal injury, death or property damage that arises out of the use of the land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products when the owner of land either directly or indirectly permits any person to use the land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products. The limitation on liability provided by this section applies if the principal purpose for entry upon the land is for recreational [*6] purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products, and is not affected if the injury, death or damage occurs while the person entering land is engaging in activities other than the use of the land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products.

(2) This section does not limit the liability of an owner of land for intentional injury or damage to a person coming onto land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products.

ORS § 105.688, however, limits the immunity provided in ORS § 105.682. ORS § 105.688 provides, in relevant part:

(3) Except as provided in subsection[] (4) . . . of this section, the immunities provided . . . do not apply if the owner makes any charge3 for permission to use the land for recreational purposes . . . .

(4) If the owner charges for permission to use the owner’s land for one or more specific recreational purposes and the owner provides notice in the manner provided by subsection (8) of this section,4 the immunities . . .apply to any use of the land other than the activities for which the charge is imposed. If the owner charges for permission to use a specified part of the owner’s land for recreational [*7] purposes and the owner provides notice in the manner provided by subsection (8) of this section, the immunities . . . apply to the remainder of the owner’s land.

3 ORS § 105.672(1)(a) defines “Charge” as “the admission price or fee requested or expected by an owner in return for granting permission for a person to enter or go upon the owner’s land.” This definition excludes “the fee for a winter recreation parking permit or any other parking fee of $15 or less per day.” ORS § 105.672(1)(c).

4 ORS § 105.688(8) provides:

(8) Notices . . . may be given by posting, as part of a receipt, or by such other means as may be reasonably calculated to apprise a person of:

(a) The limited uses of the land for which the charge is made, and the immunities provided under ORS 105.682 for other uses of the land; or

(b) The portion of the land the use of which is subject to the charge, and the immunities provided under ORS 105.682 for the remainder of the land.

Plaintiff contends that, under Coleman, defendant waived immunity by charging “a fee for any use of the land.” P1.’s Resp. to Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss 5, ECF No. 15 (emphasis in original). Specifically, plaintiff argues that because defendant charged third-parties5 a camping fee or a ski-lift fee within the Deschutes National Forest, defendant [*8] waived recreational immunity as to plaintiff’s injury occurring in that same forest. Id. at 5-8. This Court looks to Coleman.

5 Neither plaintiff nor any member of his snowmobiling group paid a camping fee or purchased a ski-lift ticket.

In Coleman, plaintiffs Bradley and Bonnie Coleman arrived at William M. Tugman State Park (Tugman Park) intending to camp overnight. 347 Or. at 96; Coleman v. Oregon Parks & Recreation Dep’t (Coleman App. Ct.), 221 Or. App. 484, 486, 190 P.3d 487 (2008), rev’d, 347 Or. 94, 217 P.3d 651 (2009). At that time, Tugman Park charged a fee for campsite and gazebo rental, but was otherwise open to the public free of charge. Coleman, 347 Or. at 96. Bradley, having arrived at the campsite, decided to explore the park with a friend on their mountain bikes. Coleman, 347 Or. at 96; Coleman App. Ct., 221 Or. App. at 486. While on a designated trail, Bradley rode his bike off a connected bridge, which lacked a ramp on one side. Coleman App. Ct., 221 Or. App. at 486.

The Supreme Court, in a four-to-three decision, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment and concluded that defendant “did not establish that it made ‘no charge for permission to use’ Tugman Park.” Coleman, 347 Or. at 104. The Court further provided:

To be entitled to immunity, the landowner must make no charge for permission to use the land. If the landowner makes a charge for permission to use the its land, immunity does not apply, even if the injured person is not engaged in the use that was [*9] the basis for the charge at the time of injury. So, as in this case, if the landowner makes a charge to use a park for camping, the landowner forfeits its immunity, even if a camper is injured while biking.

Id. at 102-103 (emphasis in original). Plaintiff, in reliance on an excerpt from this quoted material, seeks to extend Coleman to the current action. This Court declines to do so.

The Deschutes National Forest comprises approximately 1.8 million acres of land, including three independent ranger districts. Decl. of Kevin W. Larkin 2, ECF No. 11. A fee charged at one end of the Deschutes National Forest cannot, as a matter of public policy, waive immunity at the other end of the same forest, thousands of miles away, simply because the government made a charge.6 See Hannon v. United States, 801 F. Supp. 323, 327 (E.D. Cal. 1992) (“The fact that somewhere else in the Inyo National Forest someone other than the plaintiff is charged for services does not negate the immunity defense throughout the Forest.”). As articulated in Coleman, there must be some requisite relationship between the fee charged and the injured plaintiff. 347 Or. at 103-104 (“As campers, plaintiffs were entitled to use all of Tugman Park, including its bike trials . . . . The state also did not establish that [*10] as a camper, plaintiffs’ use was limited to the piece of land associated with the charge.”) (emphasis added); see also Colin v. United States, No. C-99-5045 EDL, 2001 WL 776998, at *12 (N.D. Cal. May 17, 2001) (awarding summary judgment to defendant where “Plaintiff and his companions paid no fee to obtain access to the lake, either directly or indirectly”).7

6 The Coleman Court was presented with an analogous hypothetical:

Why, queries the state, would the legislature preclude recreational immunity for the owner of a 100-acre property that charged to use an equestrian riding center located on 10 acres of that land, but made 90 acres available to the public for free, when the plaintiff was injured hiking on the separate and distinct 90 acres?

347 Or. at 103. The Court declined to address the hypothetical, but indicated that “the land” as used in ORS § 105.688(2)(a) (amended 2009 and 2010), “may refer to a specific, separate, and distinct piece of real property.” Id.

7 In Colin, plaintiff was injured while diving into Lake Sonoma. 2001 WL 776998, at *1. At that time, the United States charged fees for overnight camping and boat launching. Id. at *11. Plaintiff, however, only engaged in activities that were free of charge: “day use of the swimming and picnic facilities.” [*11] Id.

Stringer, unlike the Colemans, lacked this requisite relationship. Stringer was neither a camper nor a skier;8, he was a snowmobiler. As a snowmobiler, Stringer engaged in an activity not subject to a “charge” under ORS § 105.672(1)(a). This conclusion is further supported by Justice Balmer’s dissenting opinion. In that opinion, Justice Balmer explained:

[U]nder the majority’s reasoning, if a person decided to rent a campsite (or to rent the gazebo), the state may not assert recreational immunity as to injuries suffered by that person while riding on a bike trial, but the state may assert such immunity as to a person who does not rent a campsite and who incurs an identical injury in an identical place on the land.

Coleman, 347 Or. at 109 (Balmer, J., dissenting). Stringer, like the dissent’s hypothetical non-camping bicyclist, is subject to recreational immunity. Had Stringer been either a camper or a skier, the state may have waived recreational immunity under ORS § 105.688. However, that factual scenario is not before this Court.

8 This Court reserves judgment as to whether either the camping fee or ski-lift fee qualify as “charges” under ORS § 105.672(1)(a).

CONCLUSION

For these reasons, defendant’s motion to dismiss, ECF No. 10, is GRANTED.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

DATED [*12] this 21st day of October, 2014.

/s/ Michael J. McShane

Michael J. McShane

United States District Judge


Oregon Recreational Use Statute

Oregon Statutes

Title 10. PROPERTY RIGHTS AND TRANSACTIONS

Chapter 105. Property Rights

PUBLIC USE OF LANDS

Current through 2015 Regular Session, Acts 2 through 49, 51 through 187, 189 through 204, 206 through 217, 222, and 228 through 241

§ 105.668. Immunity from liability for injury or property damage arising from use of trail or structures in public easement or right of way. 1

§ 105.672. Definitions for ORS 105.672 to 105.696. 3

§ 105.676. Public policy. 3

§ 105.682. Liabilities of owner of land used by public for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or harvest of special forest products. 4

§ 105.692. Right to continued use of land following permitted use; presumption of dedication or other rights. 4

§ 105.699. Rules applicable to state lands. 5

§ 105.700. Prohibiting public access to private land; notice requirements; damages. 5

 

§ 105.668. Immunity from liability for injury or property damage arising from use of trail or structures in public easement or right of way

(1)       As used in this section:

(a)             “Structures” means improvements in a trail, including, but not limited to, stairs and bridges, that are accessible by a user on foot, on a horse or on a bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle or conveyance.

(b)             “Unimproved right of way” means a platted or dedicated public right of way over which a street, road or highway has not been constructed to the standards and specifications of the city with jurisdiction over the public right of way and for which the city has not expressly accepted responsibility for maintenance.

(2)       A personal injury or property damage resulting from use of a trail that is in a public easement or in an unimproved right of way, or from use of structures in the public easement or unimproved right of way, by a user on foot, on a horse or on a bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle or conveyance does not give rise to a private claim or right of action based on negligence against:

(a)             A city with a population of 500,000 or more;

(b)             The officers, employees or agents of a city with a population of 500,000 or more to the extent the officers, employees or agents are entitled to defense and indemnification under ORS 30.285 ;

(c) The owner of land abutting the public easement, or unimproved right of way, in a city with a population of 500,000 or more; or

(d)             A nonprofit corporation and its volunteers for the construction and maintenance of the trail or the structures in a public easement or unimproved right of way in a city with a population of 500,000 or more.

(3)       Notwithstanding the limit in subsection (2) of this section to a city with a population of 500,000 or more, by adoption of an ordinance or resolution, a city or county to which subsection (2) of this section does not apply may opt to limit liability in the manner established by subsection (2) of this section for:

(a)             The city or county that opts in by ordinance or resolution;

(b)             The officers, employees or agents of the city or county that opts in to the extent the officers, employees or agents are entitled to defense and indemnification under ORS 30.285 ;

(c) The owner of land abutting the public easement, or unimproved right of way, in the city or county that opts in by ordinance or resolution; and

(d)             A nonprofit corporation and its volunteers for the construction and maintenance of the trail or the structures in a public easement or unimproved right of way in the city or county that opts in.

(4)       The immunity granted by this section from a private claim or right of action based on negligence does not grant immunity from liability:

(a)             Except as provided in subsection (2)(b) or (3)(b) of this section, to a person that receives compensation for providing assistance, services or advice in relation to conduct that leads to a personal injury or property damage.

(b)             For personal injury or property damage resulting from gross negligence or from reckless, wanton or intentional misconduct.

(c) For an activity for which a person is strictly liable without regard to fault.

§ 105.672. Definitions for ORS 105.672 to 105.696

As used in ORS 105.672 to 105.696 :

(1)       “Charge”:

(a)             Means the admission price or fee requested or expected by an owner in return for granting permission for a person to enter or go upon the owner’s land.

(b)             Does not mean any amount received from a public body in return for granting permission for the public to enter or go upon the owner’s land.

(c) Does not include the fee for a winter recreation parking permit or any other parking fee of $15 or less per day.

(2)       “Harvest” has that meaning given in ORS 164.813.

(3)       “Land” includes all real property, whether publicly or privately owned.

(4)       “Owner” means the possessor of any interest in any land, such as the holder of a fee title, a tenant, a lessee, an occupant, the holder of an easement, the holder of a right of way or a person in possession of the land.

(5)       “Recreational purposes” includes, but is not limited to, outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, swimming, boating, camping, picnicking, hiking, nature study, outdoor educational activities, waterskiing, winter sports, viewing or enjoying historical, archaeological, scenic or scientific sites or volunteering for any public purpose project.

(6)       “Special forest products” has that meaning given in ORS 164.813.

(7)       “Woodcutting” means the cutting or removal of wood from land by an individual who has obtained permission from the owner of the land to cut or remove wood.

Cite as ORS 105.672

History. 1995 c.456 §1; 2007 c. 372, §1; 2009 c. 532, §1; 2010 c. 52, § 1

§ 105.676. Public policy

The Legislative Assembly hereby declares it is the public policy of the State of Oregon to encourage owners of land to make their land available to the public for recreational purposes, for gardening, for woodcutting and for the harvest of special forest products by limiting their liability toward persons entering thereon for such purposes and by protecting their interests in their land from the extinguishment of any such interest or the acquisition by the public of any right to use or continue the use of such land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products.

Cite as ORS 105.676

History. 1995 c.456 §2; 2009 c. 532, §3

§ 105.682. Liabilities of owner of land used by public for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or harvest of special forest products

(1)       Except as provided by subsection (2) of this section, and subject to the provisions of ORS 105.688, an owner of land is not liable in contract or tort for any personal injury, death or property damage that arises out of the use of the land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products when the owner of land either directly or indirectly permits any person to use the land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products. The limitation on liability provided by this section applies if the principal purpose for entry upon the land is for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products, and is not affected if the injury, death or damage occurs while the person entering land is engaging in activities other than the use of the land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products.

(2)       This section does not limit the liability of an owner of land for intentional injury or damage to a person coming onto land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products.

Cite as ORS 105.682

History. 1995 c.456 §3; 2009 c. 532, §4

§ 105.692. Right to continued use of land following permitted use; presumption of dedication or other rights

(1)       An owner of land who either directly or indirectly permits any person to use the land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products does not give that person or any other person a right to continued use of the land for those purposes without the consent of the owner.

(2)       The fact that an owner of land allows the public to use the land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products without posting, fencing or otherwise restricting use of the land does not raise a presumption that the landowner intended to dedicate or otherwise give over to the public the right to continued use of the land.

(3)       Nothing in this section shall be construed to diminish or divert any public right to use land for recreational purposes acquired by dedication, prescription, grant, custom or otherwise existing before October 5, 1973.

(4)       Nothing in this section shall be construed to diminish or divert any public right to use land for woodcutting acquired by dedication, prescription, grant, custom or otherwise existing before October 3, 1979.

Cite as ORS 105.692

History. 1995 c.456 §5; 2009 c. 532, §5

§ 105.699. Rules applicable to state lands

The State Forester, under the general supervision of the State Board of Forestry, may adopt any rules considered necessary for the administration of the provisions of ORS 105.672 to 105.696 on state land.

Cite as ORS 105.699

History. 1979 c.434 §8; 1995 c.456 §7

§ 105.700. Prohibiting public access to private land; notice requirements; damages

(1)             In addition to and not in lieu of any other damages that may be claimed, a plaintiff who is a landowner shall receive liquidated damages in an amount not to exceed $1,000 in any action in which the plaintiff establishes that:

(a)             The plaintiff closed the land of the plaintiff as provided in subsection (2) of this section; and

(b)             The defendant entered and remained upon the land of the plaintiff without the permission of the plaintiff.

(2)       A landowner or an agent of the landowner may close the privately owned land of the landowner by posting notice as follows:

(a)             For land through which the public has no right of way, the landowner or agent must place a notice at each outer gate and normal point of access to the land, including both sides of a body of water that crosses the land wherever the body of water intersects an outer boundary line. The notice must be placed on a post, structure or natural object in the form of a sign or a blaze of paint. If a blaze of paint is used, it must consist of at least 50 square inches of fluorescent orange paint, except that when metal fence posts are used, approximately the top six inches of the fence post must be painted. If a sign is used, the sign:

(A)       Must be no smaller than eight inches in height and 11 inches in width;

(B)       Must contain the words “Closed to Entry” or words to that effect in letters no less than one inch in height; and

(C)       Must display the name, business address and phone number, if any, of the landowner or agent of the landowner.

(b)             For land through which or along which the public has an unfenced right of way by means of a public road, the landowner or agent must place:

(A)       A conspicuous sign no closer than 30 feet from the center line of the roadway where it enters the land, containing words substantially similar to “PRIVATE PROPERTY, NO TRESPASSING OFF ROAD NEXT _____ MILES”; or

(B)       A sign or blaze of paint, as described in paragraph (a) of this subsection, no closer than 30 feet from the center line of the roadway at regular intervals of not less than one-fourth mile along the roadway where it borders the land, except that a blaze of paint may not be placed on posts where the public road enters the land.

(3)       Nothing contained in this section prevents emergency or law enforcement vehicles from entering upon the posted land.

(4)       An award of liquidated damages under this section is not subject to ORS 31.725, 31.730 or 31.735.

(5)       Nothing in this section affects any other remedy, civil or criminal, that may be available for a trespass described in this section.

Cite as ORS 105.700

History. 1999 c.933 §1

 

 


Don’t charge for your backyard BBQs and your state Recreational Use Statute probably applies

It also helps the defense if you have tried the activity twice already and fallen which is how you were injured the third time.

Winiecki v. Wolf, 147 Mich. App. 742; 383 N.W.2d 119; 1985 Mich. App. LEXIS 3127

State: Michigan, Court of Appeals of Michigan

Plaintiff: Diane A Winiecki

Defendant: Herbert Wolf and Katherine Wolf, landowners, and Richard George, land ski maker

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence probably, but never specifically identified

Defendant Defenses: Michigan Recreational Use Statute

Holding: For the Defendant Landowner

Year: 1985

The plaintiff was a cousin of the land owner. The land owner was hosting a family reunion in their back yard. The defendant Richard George had made a pair of “land skis” which consisted of “two wooden planks with foot holes made from pieces of inner tube.”

Two teams were formed to race around a tree and back. Everyone who tried the game fell. The plaintiff fell twice before falling a third time and injuring herself.

She sued for her injuries. The trial court dismissed her complaint and this appeal followed.

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

The trial court dismissed the complaint based on the Michigan Recreational Use Statute. The statute quoted in the case has changed. The new act is called MCL 324.73301 Liability of landowner, tenant, or lessee for injuries to persons on property for purpose of outdoor recreation or trail use, using Michigan trailway or other public trail, gleaning agricultural or farm products, fishing or hunting, or picking and purchasing agricultural or farm products at farm or “u-pick” operation; definition

The statute has been expanded considerably since this decision, however, the paragraph quoted by the quote is the same.

(1)        Except as otherwise provided in this section, a cause of action shall not arise for injuries to a person who is on the land of another without paying to the owner, tenant, or lessee of the land a valuable consideration for the purpose of fishing, hunting, trapping, camping, hiking, sightseeing, motorcycling, snowmobiling, or any other outdoor recreational use or trail use, with or without permission, against the owner, tenant, or lessee of the land unless the injuries were caused by the gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct of the owner, tenant, or lessee.

The plaintiff’s major attempt at defeating the statute was arguing the statute did not apply to backyards, only other tracts. The court did not find any limiting language in the statute that would prohibit the statute from being applied in this case.

The duty of the courts is to interpret statutes as we find them. A plain and unambiguous statute is to be applied, and not interpreted, since such a statute speaks for itself. The courts may not speculate as to the probable intent of the Legislature beyond the words employed in the act. Ordinary words are to be given their plain and ordinary meaning.

The court also stated the statute would not protect a landowner from gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct. However there were insufficient allegations made in the complaint for either a gross negligence or a willful and wanton claim to be upheld.

The case was dismissed.

So Now What?

I doubt that being asked to supply a side dish would change this decision.

Have a great holiday.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

Copyright 2015 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

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

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

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

 


Winiecki v. Wolf, 147 Mich. App. 742; 383 N.W.2d 119; 1985 Mich. App. LEXIS 3127

Winiecki v. Wolf, 147 Mich. App. 742; 383 N.W.2d 119; 1985 Mich. App. LEXIS 3127

Diane A Winiecki, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Herbert Wolf and Katherine Wolf, Defendants-Appellees, and Richard George, Defendant

Docket No. 80207

Court of Appeals of Michigan

147 Mich. App. 742; 383 N.W.2d 119; 1985 Mich. App. LEXIS 3127

June 26, 1985, Submitted

August 22, 1985, Decided

COUNSEL: Marshal E. Hyman, Birmingham, for plaintiff.

W. J. Zotter, Coticchio, Zotter & Sullivan, P.C., Detroit, for defendants.

JUDGES: R. M. Maher, P.J., and Bronson and D. F. Walsh, JJ.

OPINION BY: PER CURIAM

OPINION

[*743] [**120] Plaintiff appeals from an order of the Macomb County Circuit Court granting defendants Wolfs’ motion for summary judgment of dismissal, GCR 1963, 117.2(1).

Defendants Herbert and Katherine Wolf held a family reunion at their home in Tuscola County. Plaintiff is a cousin of Katherine Wolf. Another cousin, defendant Richard George, brought “land skis”, two wooden planks with foot holes made from pieces of inner tube which he manufactured himself, to the reunion. A game was played with the land skis involving two teams which were to race down to a tree in the yard and back. According to defendants, everyone fell down when they played. The third time plaintiff fell, she sustained injuries to her hip and pelvis which may require [*744] long-term medical care. Plaintiff filed this action to recover damages for her injuries.

The trial court granted defendants Wolfs’ motion for summary judgment based solely on the ground that the [***2] recreational use statute, MCL 300.201; MSA 13.1485, precluded plaintiff’s action against the defendant landowners. The issue on appeal is the correctness of the trial court’s application of that statute to this case.

The recreational use statute provides:

[HN1] “No cause of action shall arise for injuries to any person who is on the lands of another without paying to such other person a valuable consideration for the purpose of fishing, hunting, trapping, camping, hiking, sightseeing, motorcycling, snowmobiling, or any other outdoor recreational use, with or without permission, against the owner, tenant, or lessee of said premises unless the injuries were caused by the gross negligence or wilful and wanton misconduct of the owner, tenant, or lessee.”

Plaintiff, citing various indications of legislative intent, argues that the statute was not intended to protect landowners from liability for injuries occurring in their backyards. Defendants Wolf own a tract of land measuring 7.8 acres, but the land ski game was allegedly played on the lawn behind the garage.

[HN2] The duty of the courts is to interpret statutes as we find them. Melia v Employment Security Comm, 346 Mich 544, 561; 78 [***3] NW2d 273 (1956). A plain and unambiguous statute is to be applied, and not interpreted, since such a statute speaks for itself. Lansing v Lansing Twp, 356 Mich 641, 649; 97 NW2d 804 (1959). The courts may not speculate as to the probable intent of the Legislature beyond the words employed in the act. Id. Ordinary words are to be given their plain and [*745] ordinary meaning. Carter Metropolitan Christian Methodist Episcopal Church v Liquor Control Comm, 107 Mich App 22, 28; 308 NW2d 677 (1981).

This statute, as the trial court has already observed, is clear and unambiguous. Plaintiff was a person on the lands of another, without paying a consideration, for the purpose of an outdoor recreational use. [HN3] The statute offers nothing on its face excluding from its application the backyard of residential property. If the Legislature did not intend the statute to apply to parcels of land this size, it was within its power to insert words limiting the statute’s application, e.g., to lands in their natural state. As we, however, are constrained to apply the statute as written, we cannot say that the trial court erred in relieving defendants of liability based on the [***4] recreational use statue.

[HN4] The recreational use statute does not protect landowners from liability for gross negligence or for wilful and wanton misconduct. Plaintiff’s complaint, however, does not include allegations sufficient to make out a claim either of gross negligence or of wilful and wanton misconduct. McNeal v Dep’t of Natural Resources, 140 Mich App 625, 633; 364 NW2d 768 (1985); Matthews v Detroit, 141 Mich App 712, 717-718; 367 NW2d 440 (1985). The trial court correctly concluded that plaintiff had failed to state a claim of gross negligence or of wilful and wanton misconduct.

Affirmed.


Michigan Recreational Use Statute

MCL 324.73301 Liability of landowner, tenant, or lessee for injuries to persons on property for purpose of outdoor recreation or trail use, using Michigan trailway or other public trail,
gleaning agricultural or farm products, fishing or hunting, or picking and purchasing agricultural or farm products at farm or “u-pick” operation; definition

 

Chapter 324. NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION ACT

Article III. NATURAL RESOURCES MANAGEMENT

Chapter 4. RECREATION

Subchapter 1. RECREATION

RECREATIONAL TRESPASS

Part 733. LIABILITY OF LANDOWNERS

Current through P.A. 42 of the 2015 Legislative Session

§ 324.73301. Liability of landowner, tenant, or lessee for injuries to persons on property for purpose of outdoor recreation or trail use, using Michigan trailway or other public trail, gleaning agricultural or farm products, fishing or hunting, or picking and purchasing agricultural or farm products at farm or “u-pick” operation; definition

(1)       Except as otherwise provided in this section, a cause of action shall not arise for injuries to a person who is on the land of another without paying to the owner, tenant, or lessee of the land a valuable consideration for the purpose of fishing, hunting, trapping, camping, hiking, sightseeing, motorcycling, snowmobiling, or any other outdoor recreational use or trail use, with or without permission, against the owner, tenant, or lessee of the land unless the injuries were caused by the gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct of the owner, tenant, or lessee.

(2)       A cause of action shall not arise for injuries to a person who is on the land of another without paying to the owner, tenant, or lessee of the land a valuable consideration for the purpose of entering or exiting from or using a Michigan trailway as designated under part 721 or other public trail, with or without permission, against the owner, tenant, or lessee of the land unless the injuries were caused by the gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct of the owner, tenant, or lessee. For purposes of this subsection, a Michigan trailway or public trail may be located on land of any size including, but not limited to, urban, suburban, subdivided, and rural land.

(3)A cause of action shall not arise against the owner, tenant, or lessee of land or premises for injuries to a person who is on that land or premises for the purpose of gleaning agricultural or farm products, unless that person’s injuries were caused by the gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct of the owner, tenant, or lessee.

(4)       A cause of action shall not arise against the owner, tenant, or lessee of a farm used in the production of agricultural goods as defined by section 35(1)(h) of the former single business tax act, 1975 PA 228, or by section207(1)(d) of the Michigan business tax act, 2007 PA 36, MCL 208.1207, for injuries to a person who is on that farm and has paid the owner, tenant, or lessee valuable consideration for the purpose of fishing or hunting, unless that person’s injuries were caused by a condition which involved an unreasonable risk of harm and all of the following apply:

(a) The owner, tenant, or lessee knew or had reason to know of the condition or risk.

(b) The owner, tenant, or lessee failed to exercise reasonable care to make the condition safe, or to warn the person of the condition or risk.

(c) The person injured did not know or did not have reason to know of the condition or risk.

(5) A cause of action shall not arise against the owner, tenant, or lessee of land or premises for injuries to a person, other than an employee or contractor of the owner, tenant, or lessee, who is on the land or premises for the purpose of picking and purchasing agricultural or farm products at a farm or “u-pick” operation, unless the person’s injuries were caused by a condition that involved an unreasonable risk of harm and all of the following apply:

(a) The owner, tenant, or lessee knew or had reason to know of the condition or risk.

(b) The owner, tenant, or lessee failed to exercise reasonable care to make the condition safe, or to warn the person of the condition or risk.

(c) The person injured did not know or did not have reason to know of the condition or risk.

(6) As used in this section, “agricultural or farm products” means the natural products of the farm, nursery, grove, orchard, vineyard, garden, and apiary, including, but not limited to, trees and firewood.

Cite as MCL 324.73301

History. Amended by 2007, Act 174, s 4, eff. 12/21/2007.

Add. 1995, Act 58, Imd. Eff. May 24, 1995 .


US Army and BSA not liable for injured kids on Army base. No control by the BSA and recreational use defense by US Army.

Agency requires more than just relationship; it requires actual control over the alleged agents.

Wilson v. United States, 989 F.2d 953; 1993 U.S. App. LEXIS 6165, (8th Cir. 1993)

State: Missouri, United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Plaintiff: Mark D. Wilson; Janet L. Wilson, Jason S. Harbian; Michael Harbian; Sharon Harbian; Daniel R. Winfrey, a Minor, by Susan Crump, his Mother and Next Friend, and; Susan Crump

Defendant: United States of America; the Boy Scouts of America

Plaintiff Claims: Federal Tort Claims Act, and against the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) pursuant to Missouri state law, for negligent supervision and failure to train the adult supervisors

Defendant Defenses: No relationship between the BSA and the adult volunteers and the Missouri Recreational Use Statute

Holding: for the Defendant

Year: 1993

A group of Boy Scouts and their adult leaders were at Fort Leonard Wood, a US Army military post for the weekend to participate in the Army’s Youth Tour Program. The boys and adults stayed in a barrack. Stacked beside the barrack were aluminum alloy irrigation pipes that were approximately 30’ long. The pipes were stacked there when not in use for six years.

Three of the boys grabbed one of the pipes and carried it 20’ west of the building and raised it to a vertical position. It came in contact with a high-voltage line injuring two boys and killing one.

Because one of the defendants was the United States, as the owner of the land and property under the supervision and control of the US Army, the case was brought in the Federal District Court of Missouri for the Eastern District of Missouri.

The trial court dismissed the claims of all plaintiffs because of the Missouri recreational use act for the defendant US Army, and the BSA did not owe the plaintiff’s a duty of care. The plaintiff’s appealed.

Analysis

To sue an agency of the United States, your claims must meet the requirements of the Federal Tort Claims Act. The act allows the defendant to assert any defense allowed under the act and as allowed under the law of the state where the incident occurred.

In this case, the defendant US raised the defense provided by the Missouri Recreational Land Use Statute, Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 537.345 – 537.348. The act provides immunity to landowners who make their property available for recreation without an entry charge.

Except as provided in sections 537.345 to 537.348, an owner of land owes no duty of care to any person who enters on the land without charge to keep his land safe for recreational use or to give any general or specific warning with respect to any natural or artificial condition, structure, or personal property thereon.

Recreational use is defined by the act as “hunting, fishing, camping, picnicking, biking, nature study [and] winter sports.”

The immunity is available unless the landowner is:

…found to have been either maliciously or grossly negligent in failing to guard or warn against a dangerous condition which the owner knew or should have known to be dangerous, or if the landowner negligently failed to warn or guard against an ultrahazardous condition. Other exceptions to the nonliability of the statute include injuries occurring on or in any “noncovered land,” which is defined as land used primarily for commercial, industrial or manufacturing purposes.

The Army charged $2.00 per person to say in the building. The plaintiff’s argued that the recreational use act then did not apply to the defendant US Army.

1) the Army charged $ 2.00 per person to be billeted in Building 1614; (2) the United States receives an economic benefit from offering its land; (3) the Boy Scouts were not members of the “general public,” and thus were not covered by the Act; (4) the injury occurred on “noncovered land;” and (5) the United States negligently failed to protect against an ultrahazardous condition.

The Fort was called an open military post. That means that members of the public were allowed to visit the post. The post was open to the public for “fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, picnicking or canoeing.” The Fort also offered the Youth Tour Program which allowed national youth organizations such as the BSA special programs not available to the general public. These programs included “visits to the Fort’s museum, an indoor rifle range, an obstacle course and a cannon range.”

If the youth group or in this case, the BSA, want to spend the night, the Army charges a $2.00 per person fee.

This fee covers the cost of maintaining and equipping the facility with mattresses, toilet paper, soap, and other supplies. If a troop chooses to stay overnight but no beds are available, the lodging fee is reduced to $ 1.00 per person/per night.

The application of the Missouri Recreational Use Statute, construes fees in the act as defined to enter upon the land. The $2.00 fee was paid to stay overnight in the building, entrance onto the base was free.

There is no evidence in the record to indicate that this fee would have been charged to either participate in the Youth Tour Program, or to enter Fort Leonard Wood, if the scouts had elected not to stay overnight. In fact, all the Fort Leonard Wood documents relating to this fee provide that it is a “lodging” fee, and that it is assessed on a per person/per night basis.

The remaining arguments presented by the plaintiffs were quickly dismissed by the court in a paragraph for each argument.

The court then turned to the claims against the Boy Scouts of America. In order to hold the National Council of the BSA liable for the acts of the volunteer adult leaders in Missouri, the plaintiff has to prove an agency relationship existed between the BSA and the adults. This would allow the plaintiff’s to argue a vicarious liability claim against the BSA.  

The appellants claim the BSA had the right to control and supervise Troop 392’s adults, that the BSA is liable for the negligent acts of the troop’s adult leaders which were committed within the scope and course of their agency relationship, and further that the troop’s adult leaders were clothed with implied and apparent authority to act on behalf of the BSA when they were present at Fort Leonard Wood.

The court then accurately related the legal relationship between the BSA national office and volunteers of a unit.

The Boy Scouts of America is a congressionally chartered benevolent national organization, which is divided into geographic areas known as local councils. Three hundred ninety-eight local councils are chartered in the United States. Local sponsors, such as schools, churches or civic organizations apply for charters from the BSA through their local council. Local volunteers form a patrol leaders’ council to plan troop activities. BSA does not conduct or require any training for these adult volunteers. Troops do not need permission from BSA before participating in activities, with the exception of tours outside the United States or five hundred miles or more from the local council. The BSA had no advanced notice of Troop 392’s trip to Fort Leonard Wood. The troop was not required, nor did it receive, permission from the BSA to go to Fort Leonard Wood.

The court then examined the requirements of respondeat superior, needed to hold an employer liable for the acts of an employee.

Liability based on respondeat superior requires some evidence that a master-servant relationship existed between the parties. The test to determine if respondeat superior applies is whether the person sought to be charged as a master had “the right or power to control and direct the physical conduct of the other in the performance of the act.” If there is no right to control, there is no liability.

The plaintiff failed to produce any evidence that the BSA national council has any control over the “specific activities of individual troops, or that it had a duty to control, supervise or train volunteer leaders for the Fort Leonard Wood activity.”

The appellate court upheld the lower court’s dismissal of the case.

So Now What?

This is another situation where the recreational use statute has been parsed by how the many paid were used by the landowner. Money paid to enter the land does not allow the landowner to use the defense of the state recreational use statute. Money paid for other things once on the land may still allow the use of the statute as a defense.

However, this is a narrow reading of the law and would be specific to each state law. Make sure you have consulted with a local attorney familiar with the law before making this decision to charge for other items.

The Boy Scouts of America do not supervise, control or have any power or authority over its volunteers.

 

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

Copyright 2015 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

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

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

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, BSA, Boy Scouts, Boy Scouts of America, Fort Leonard Wood, Recreational Use Statute, Agency, Respondeat Superior,

 


Wilson v. United States of America, 989 F.2d 953; 1993 U.S. App. LEXIS 6165

Wilson v. United States of America, 989 F.2d 953; 1993 U.S. App. LEXIS 6165

Mark D. Wilson; Janet L. Wilson, Appellants, v. United States of America; The Boy Scouts of America, Appellees. Mark D. Wilson; Janet L. Wilson, Plaintiffs, v. The Boy Scouts of America, Defendants. Jason S. Harbian; Michael Harbian; Sharon Harbian; Daniel R. Winfrey, a Minor, by Susan Crump, his Mother and Next Friend, and; Susan Crump, Appellants, v. United States of America; The Boy Scouts of America, Appellees.

No. 92-1438, No. 92-3363

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT

989 F.2d 953; 1993 U.S. App. LEXIS 6165

September 18, 1992, Submitted

March 29, 1993, Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [**1] Rehearing Denied May 10, 1993, Reported at: 1993 U.S. App. LEXIS 10903.

PRIOR HISTORY: Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. District No. 89-1696-C-7. Jean C. Hamilton, U.S. District Judge.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed

CASE SUMMARY:

COUNSEL: For MARK D. WILSON, JANET L. WILSON, Plaintiffs – Appellants: Alan E. DeWoskin, 314-727-6330, Suite 426, 225 S. Meramec Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63105.

For UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant – Appellee: Joseph Moore, Asst. U.S. Attorney, 314-539-3280, U.S. ATTORNEY’S OFFICE, 1114 Market Street, St. Louis, MO 63101. Robert William Cockerham, BROWN & JAMES, 705 Olive Street, Suite 1100, St. Louis, MO 63101, 314-421-3400. For BOY SCOUTS, OF AMERICA, Defendants – Appellees: Russell F. Watters, Robert William Cockerham, Thomas Michael Ward, BROWN & JAMES, 705 Olive Street, Suite 1100, St. Louis, MO 63101, 314-421-3400.

JUDGES: Before HANSEN, Circuit Judge, and HEANEY and ROSS, Senior Circuit Judges.

OPINION BY: ROSS

OPINION

[*954] ROSS, Senior Circuit Judge.

Appellants Mark Wilson and Janet Wilson, the parents of Anthony Wilson, and [*955] Jason Harbian and Daniel Winfrey, and their parents, appeal from the trial court’s 1 grant of summary judgment in favor of appellees United States of America and the Boy Scouts of America, in an action arising out of the death of Anthony Wilson and the injuries sustained by Jason Harbian and Daniel Winfrey.

1 The Honorable Jean C. Hamilton, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Missouri.

On April 22, 1988, Anthony Wilson, Daniel Winfrey and Jason Harbian, members of Troop 392 of the Boy Scouts of America, St. Louis Area Council, along with other boy scouts and five adult leaders, went to Fort Leonard Wood, a United States Army military post, on a boy scout trip as part of the Army’s Youth Tour Program. A pile of lightweight aluminum [**2] alloy irrigation pipes, approximately thirty feet in length, were stacked outside Building 1614, where the troop was billeted for the weekend. The pipes had been used for irrigation of the athletic field adjacent to the building, and when not in use, were stored alongside the building. The pipes had been stacked in this manner for approximately six years.

On the second night of their weekend stay, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Anthony, age thirteen, and five or six other scouts, ages twelve to sixteen, were outside Building 1614, while the leaders were inside the building. Anthony, Daniel and Jason picked up one of the aluminum pipes, carried it approximately twenty feet west of the building, and raised it to a near vertical position, causing the pipe to come in contact with a 7,200 volt power line which ran over the building. All three scouts received electric shocks; Anthony died as a result of the injuries he sustained.

Mark and Janet Wilson brought a wrongful death action against the United States pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, and against the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) pursuant to Missouri state law, for negligent supervision and failure to train the adult supervisors. [**3] Sometime later the Harbian/Winfrey plaintiffs filed personal injury actions against both the United States and the BSA, and eventually these cases were consolidated with the Wilson case for trial. Motions for summary judgment filed by the United States and the BSA were eventually granted as against all appellants. 2

2 On December 4, 1992, following oral argument of the Wilson appeal before this court, the Harbian and Winfrey cases were consolidated with the Wilson appeal. All parties agree that these cases arose from the same occurrence and are identical in material fact and law. The Harbians and the Winfreys rely on the briefs and oral argument submitted in the Wilson appeal. The Wilsons, Harbians and Winfreys will be collectively referred to as “appellants.”

The appellants’ theory of recovery against the BSA is based on an alleged agency relationship between the BSA and the adult volunteers supervising the scouts. The district court granted the BSA’s motion for summary judgment, concluding [**4] that appellants failed to produce any evidence that the national organization of the BSA had a duty to control, supervise or train volunteer leaders for the Fort Leonard Wood activity. The district court also granted the United States’ motion for summary judgment based on its finding that the United States owed no duty of care to the scouts because they were recreational users of the property under Missouri’s Recreational Land Use Statute. See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.346. After careful consideration of each allegation raised by the appellants, we affirm the decision of the district court.

I. United States of America

The action against the United States arises [HN1] under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671-2680, thus, the “United States shall be liable . . . in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances.” Id. at § 2674. Further, the United States is “entitled to assert any defense based upon judicial or legislative immunity which otherwise would have been available to the employee of the United States . . . as well as any other defenses to which the United States is entitled.” [**5] Id. Therefore, the United States is entitled to [*956] the benefit of state recreational use statutes, if applicable, when it is sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act. See Hegg v. United States, 817 F.2d 1328, 1329 (8th Cir. 1987) (construing the Iowa Recreational Use Statute); Umpleby v. United States, 806 F.2d 812, 815 (8th Cir. 1986) (applying North Dakota’s Recreational Use Statute).

[HN2] The Missouri Recreational Land Use Statute, Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 537.345 – 537.348 immunizes landowners who make their property available for the recreational use of others without an entry charge. The statute specifically provides:

[HN3] Except as provided in sections 537.345 to 537.348, an owner of land owes no duty of care to any person who enters on the land without charge to keep his land safe for recreational use or to give any general or specific warning with respect to any natural or artificial condition, structure, or personal property thereon.

Id. at § 537.346. “Charge” is defined in the statute as:

[HN4] the admission price or fee asked by an owner of land or an invitation or permission without price or fee to use land for recreational [**6] purposes when such invitation or permission is given for the purpose of sales promotion, advertising or public goodwill in fostering business purposes.

Id. at § 537.345(1). “Recreational use” as defined in the statute includes outdoor activities, such as “hunting, fishing, camping, picnicking, biking, nature study [and] winter sports. Id. at § 537.345(4).

[HN5] While providing for a general immunity against liability, a landowner may nonetheless be liable if found to have been either maliciously or grossly negligent in failing to guard or warn against a dangerous condition which the owner knew or should have known to be dangerous, or if the landowner negligently failed to warn or guard against an ultrahazardous condition. Id. at § 537.348(1). Other exceptions to the nonliability of the statute include injuries occurring on or in any “noncovered land,” which is defined as land used primarily for commercial, industrial or manufacturing purposes. Id. at § 537.348(3)(d).

The appellants contend that the Missouri Recreational Land Use Statute does not apply to the United States because (1) the Army charged $ 2.00 per person to be billeted in Building 1614; (2) the United States [**7] receives an economic benefit from offering its land; (3) the Boy Scouts were not members of the “general public,” and thus were not covered by the Act; (4) the injury occurred on “noncovered land;” and (5) the United States negligently failed to protect against an ultrahazardous condition.

A.

Fort Leonard Wood is an open military post, where members of the public can freely enter without being stopped or questioned by guards or military police. Specified areas are open to the public for fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, picnicking or canoeing. Many tours are given to various groups, such as senior citizens and church and school groups, free of charge. The Fort also offers a Youth Tour Program which is open only to national youth organizations, such as the Boy Scouts of America. The program includes activities which are not available to the general public, such as visits to the Fort’s museum, an indoor rifle range, an obstacle course and a cannon range.

If a troop in the Youth Tour Program chooses to stay overnight in Building 1614, a $ 2.00 per person/per night lodging fee is charged. This fee covers the cost of maintaining and equipping the facility with mattresses, toilet paper, [**8] soap, and other supplies. If a troop chooses to stay overnight but no beds are available, the lodging fee is reduced to $ 1.00 per person/per night. Significantly, the lodging fee is charged on a per person/per night basis, while there is no charge for the tour itself, which is offered only on Saturdays.

The interpretation of the various recreational use statutes is controlled by the precise language of each statute. Courts that have construed recreational land use statutes with language similar to the Missouri statute have interpreted “charge” as ” [*957] an admission fee to enter the land.” For example, in Genco v. Connecticut Light and Power Co., 7 Conn. App. 164, 508 A.2d 58, 62 (Conn. App. Ct. 1986), noting that the Connecticut General Statute § 52-557f defines “charge” as “the admission price or fee asked in return for invitation or permission to enter or go upon the land,” the court held that “the only way to avoid inconsistent application of the Act . . . is to interpret the word ‘charge’ as an actual admission price paid for permission to enter the land at the time of its use for recreational purposes.” Id. (emphasis added).

Furthermore, a parking fee paid by [**9] a camper is not a charge within the meaning of the Nebraska Recreational Use Statute, which defines “charge” as “the amount of money asked in return for an invitation to enter or go upon the land.” Garreans v. City of Omaha, 216 Neb. 487, 345 N.W.2d 309, 313 (Neb. 1984) (emphasis added). In Garreans, the court noted that the

charges were made for the right to park a camper on a pad, for the right to pitch a tent in a tent camping area, and for the use of camper dumping facilities. Payment of the fee . . . did not entitle . . . [the person paying the fee] to a greater right to use any of the park’s other facilities than that had by the general public.

Id.

As in Jones v. United States, 693 F.2d 1299, 1303 (9th Cir. 1982), where a one dollar fee was charged the injured plaintiff to rent an inner tube for snow sliding, the fee paid by the scouts to bunk in Building 1614 was not “charged to members of the public for entry on to the land or for use of the land.” Id. Rather, the scouts paid the $ 2.00 fee to bunk in Building 1614, but entered the park without paying a fee. The Jones court held that the plaintiff [**10] “could have used . . . the Park without making any payment if she had brought her own tube.” Id. Similarly, the appellants could have used Fort Leonard Wood without making this $ 2.00 payment if they had chosen not to stay overnight. The Missouri statute does not provide that the immunity for an entire parcel should be nullified if a landowner charges for admission to a different portion of the parcel, nor would such a rule be consistent with the statute’s purpose. “Consideration should not be deemed given . . . unless it is a charge necessary to utilize the overall benefits of a recreational area so that it may be regarded as an entrance or admission fee.” Moss v. Department of Natural Resources, 62 Ohio St. 2d 138, 404 N.E.2d 742, 745 (Ohio 1980) (emphasis added).

The appellants herein paid $ 2.00 per night for the right to stay overnight in Building 1614. There is no evidence in the record to indicate that this fee would have been charged to either participate in the Youth Tour Program, or to enter Fort Leonard Wood, if the scouts had elected not to stay overnight. In fact, all of the Fort Leonard Wood documents relating to this fee provide that it is a “lodging” [**11] fee and that it is assessed on a per person/per night basis. The appellants have failed to present any evidence that the fee was required in order to enter Fort Leonard Wood.

B.

The remainder of appellants’ arguments with regard to the liability of the United States are also without merit. The appellants contend that the United States is outside the protection of the Missouri Recreational Land Use Statute because the scouts are not “members of the general public.” They contend that because only members of national youth organizations are eligible to participate in the Youth Tour Program, the scouts should be treated as guests or invitees. Appellants’ argument, however, relies upon a distinction not made within the language of the Missouri Recreational Land Use Statute. The plain language of the statute indicates that a landowner owes no duty of care “to any person who enters on the land without charge” for recreational purposes. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.346 (emphasis added).

We also reject the appellants’ argument that the United States is outside the protection of the Missouri statute because the Army’s purpose in allowing admission to Fort Leonard Wood is to develop public [*958] goodwill [**12] in fostering a business purpose. See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.345(1). When Boy Scout troops visit the Fort, they are not recruited or encouraged in any way to join the Army, nor are any records kept of scouts who have participated in the Youth Tour Program. Further, appellants have failed to establish that the Army operates as a business within the intended meaning of the statute.

Finally, appellants’ argument that Building 1614 was essentially a commercial “hotel” located in a “populated, residential area,” and therefore falls within the “noncovered land” exception of section 537.348(3)(d) is without merit. The record does not support appellants’ contention that the Fort was “predominately used for residential purposes,” nor that Building 1614 was operated as a commercial enterprise. Nor can we accept appellants’ argument that the United States acted with willful and wanton disregard for the safety of the troops or negligently failed to protect them against an ultrahazardous condition. There simply has been no evidence presented to establish either of these theories.

The judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of the United States is affirmed.

II. Boy [**13] Scouts of America

The appellants also challenge the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Boy Scouts of America. The appellants contend there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether an agency relationship existed between the BSA and the adult volunteers of Troop 392 so as to provide for vicarious liability for any negligence on the part of the adult leaders. The appellants claim the BSA had the right to control and supervise Troop 392’s adults, that the BSA is liable for the negligent acts of the troop’s adult leaders which were committed within the scope and course of their agency relationship, and further that the troop’s adult leaders were clothed with implied and apparent authority to act on behalf of the BSA when they were present at Fort Leonard Wood.

The appellants first argue that the district court improperly considered the affidavit of Lloyd Roitstein, Area Director in the North Central Region of the Boy Scouts of America, in considering the relationship between the national organization and the individual troops because the affidavit was not based on personal knowledge. We agree with the district court that Roitstein’s role as an Area Director [**14] establishes his personal familiarity with the Boy Scout organization and conclude that the affidavit was properly considered.

The Boy Scouts of America is a congressionally chartered benevolent national organization, which is divided into geographic areas known as local councils. Three hundred ninety-eight local councils are chartered in the United States. Local sponsors, such as schools, churches or civic organizations apply for charters from the BSA through their local council. Local volunteers form a patrol leaders’ council to plan troop activities. BSA does not conduct or require any training for these adult volunteers. Troops do not need permission from BSA before participating in activities, with the exception of tours outside the United States or five hundred miles or more from the local council. The BSA had no advanced notice of Troop 392’s trip to Fort Leonard Wood. The troop was not required, nor did it receive, permission from the BSA to go to Fort Leonard Wood.

[HN6] Under the doctrine of respondeat superior an employer is liable for the negligent acts or omissions of his employee which are committed within the scope of his employment. Light v. Lang, 539 S.W.2d 795, 799 (Mo. App. Ct. 1976). [**15] Liability based on respondeat superior requires some evidence that a master-servant relationship existed between the parties. Usrey v. Dr. Pepper Bottling Co., 385 S.W.2d 335, 338 (Mo. Ct. App. 1964). The test to determine if respondeat superior applies is whether the person sought to be charged as a master had “the right or power to control and direct the physical conduct of the other in the performance of the act.” Id. at 339. If there is no right to control, there is no liability.

Courts of other jurisdictions that have addressed the issue now before this court have rejected the imposition of liability against the BSA or the local councils, [*959] noting the lack of control these entities exercise over individual troops and their sponsoring organizations. For example, in Mauch v. Kissling, 56 Wash. App. 312, 783 P.2d 601 (Wash. Ct. App. 1989), the court found there was no basis for the doctrine of apparent authority because the plaintiff had not presented evidence that BSA consented to or had control of the scoutmaster’s activities. Id. at 605.

Similarly, in Anderson v. Boy Scouts of America, Inc., 226 Ill. App. 3d 440, 589 N.E.2d 892, 168 Ill. Dec. 492 (Ill. App. Ct. 1992), [**16] the court found the plaintiffs had failed to establish that an agency relationship existed between the plaintiffs and the local council or the BSA:

We find no provisions in the charter, bylaws, rules and regulations promulgated by the BSA, nor can plaintiffs cite to any provisions within these documents, which specifically grant BSA or its district councils direct supervisory powers over the method or manner in which adult volunteer scout leaders accomplish their tasks.

Id. at 894-95.

Recently, the Missouri Court of Appeals considered the Wilson’s cause of action against the St. Louis Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, arising from the same circumstances of the instant case. The Missouri court dismissed the suit against the local council, finding that “Council neither controlled the actions of the troop leaders nor ran the program at Fort Leonard Wood.” While the Missouri state court decision involved the local council, it is instructional here because the relationship between the national organization and the individual troop leaders is even more remote.

Appellants also contend that sufficient facts establish a jury question as [**17] to whether a principal/agent relationship existed under a theory of implied agency or apparent authority. Implied agency and apparent authority, however, are based on manifestations by the principal which causes a third person reasonably to believe that an agent of the principal is authorized to do certain acts. Barton v. Snellson, 735 S.W.2d 160, 162 (Mo. Ct. App. 1987). Appellants contend the use of common uniforms, emblems, books and awards in the scouting program, a national insurance program, issuance of the national membership card and other printed materials locally, as well as other indicia of a relationship between BSA and the local council, create a manifestation of authority upon which an innocent third party might reasonably rely.

Appellants fail, however, to produce any evidence that BSA manifested that it had direct control over the specific activities of individual troops or that it had a duty to control, supervise or train volunteer leaders for the Fort Leonard Wood activity. On the contrary, the Boy Scout Handbook clearly provides, “what the troop does is planned by the patrol leaders’ council.” The organizational structure of the BSA [**18] leaves the control of the specific activities at the level closest to the individual troop. Appellants have produced no direct or circumstantial evidence to suggest that in this case BSA manifested control.

In summary, we conclude that the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the Boy Scouts of America and the United States. The judgment of the district court is affirmed.


75 Ft waterfall, middle of the night, no lights and a BAC of .18% results in two fatalities and one lawsuit. However, facts that created fatalities were the defense.

Tennessee’s duty to protect its citizens more than its duty to safety to invitees to its state parks is refreshing.

Morgan v. State of Tennessee, 2004 Tenn. App. LEXIS 62

State: Tennessee Court of Appeals

Plaintiff: Evelean Morgan

Defendant: State of Tennessee

Plaintiff Claims: negligently creating or maintaining a dangerous condition at Colditz Cove State Natural Area

Defendant Defenses: (1) Tennessee recreational use statute Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 (1995), (2) lack of actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition, and (3) assertion that the decedent’s fault exceeded its own

Holding: For the Defendant State of Tennessee

Year: 2004

After the local bars closed the deceased and several friends went to a local state park to continue talking and drinking. The park was created because of the rock formations and the 75’ Northrup Falls. After taking and drinking in the parking lot, several members of the group decided to walk to the falls. The trail was primitive with no lights. One member of the group of five had a flashlight.

At a Y in the trail, two members of the group sat down to talk. The remaining three continued to walk. At one point, one person went into the bushes to pee and fell over the cliff on his way back. One member of the group sitting at the Y came down to assist. Later that same person decided to go for help, taking the flashlight with him.

The two remaining parties tried to start a fire to no avail. Eventually, the deceased, the daughter of the plaintiff in this lawsuit, also fell over the cliff. Approximately, an hour later rescue workers found the deceased floating in the water at the base of the falls. The deceased, the subject to this lawsuit had a blood-alcohol content of .18%

The mother of the deceased, the plaintiff, sued the State of Tennessee because the falls were a state park. In Tennessee this means filing a claim with the Tennessee Claims Commission. The claims commission commissioner reviewed the motions and granted the State of Tennessee’s motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed. The commissioner’s decision was not based on the Tennessee Recreational Use Act but was based on the state’s defense of “(2) its lack of actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition, and (3) its assertion that the decedent’s fault exceeded its own

Several states employ a separate state agency to handle claims against the state. The commissioner or judge hearing the claims is usually an attorney, called an administrative law judge. These judges operate with a separate set of rules of civil procedure and sometimes rules of evidence. The entire procedure is controlled by the statute that outlines how the state may be sued.

Summary of the case

The appellate court first looked at the Tennessee Recreation Use Act to see if it applied to this case. For the plaintiff to defeat the recreational use act, she must:

(1) prove that the defendant is not a “landowner,” (2) prove that the injured party was not engaged in a recreational activity, or (3) prove that the landowner’s conduct fits within one of the three exceptions in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104.

The court quickly determined that Tennessee was a landowner and that hiking and/or sightseeing (at night) was a recreational activity. The third issue was whether an exception to the act applied to the case. The sole exception argued by the plaintiff was the actions of the state were gross negligence.

Under Tennessee’s law, gross negligence is defined as:

… negligent conduct reflecting a reckless disregard for the safety of others. It does not require a particular state of mind as long as it creates an extremely unjustified risk to others. It differs from ordinary negligence only in degree, not in kind. Thus, gross negligence is a negligent act or failure to act that reflects more than lack of ordinary care (simple negligence) but less than intentional misconduct.

Ordinarily, the determination of whether a defendant’s actions were gross negligence is a factual determination, which can only be done by the trier of fact or a jury. However, if the facts are not in dispute and conclusions reasonable drawn from the facts would only lead to one conclusion; a court can determine if the acts rose to the level of gross negligence.

We find no evidence in this record upon which a reasonable person would conclude that the State was grossly negligent with regard to the construction or maintenance of the Colditz Cove State Natural Area.

The court then made a statement that places Tennessee in the minority, that the protection of the natural area in this case takes precedence over the safety issues.

The State had a statutory obligation to maintain this area in a pristine, natural condition. Erecting warning signs, installing lighting along the trails, fencing the entire area, or installing guard rails, barriers, or other sorts of buffers, while perhaps appropriate at Dollywood, would have been entirely unwarranted and unnecessary for a natural area such as Colditz Cove.

The court held that the recreational use act applied, and the plaintiff had not raised any defenses to its application.

The court then looked at the second issue, whether the state met the ordinary reasonable person standard of care for a landowner.

The State is not the insurer of the safety of persons on its property. It is, however, liable to these persons to the same extent that private owners and occupiers of land are liable, because Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) has imposed this common-law duty on the State. Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) provides that the State may be held monetarily liable for negligently created or maintained dangerous conditions on state controlled real property.

The state, as a landowner, has a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent foreseeable injuries to persons on the premises. To prevail, the plaintiff must prove the actions leading to the fatality were a reasonably foreseeable probability. The court found this had not been proven.

The record contains no factual, legal, or policy basis for concluding that the State should have foreseen that intoxicated persons that were unfamiliar with the Colditz Cove State Natural Area would hike down the trail to Northrup Falls in the middle of the night without adequate illumination.

The final argument made by the plaintiff was the state’s gross negligence was greater than the negligence of the deceased. Having found the state was not grossly negligent, this argument also failed.

Ms. Zegilla’s [deceased] voluntary intoxication on the evening of July 26, 1997 does not relieve her from the responsibility of her own negligence. She was required to use reasonable care under the circumstances, and her conduct must be measured against the conduct of an ordinary, reasonable person rather than an ordinary and reasonable intoxicated person. Accordingly, if her conduct while intoxicated was a proximate cause of her death, it may be compared with the fault of the other parties whose fault was also a proximate cause.

It cannot be reasonably disputed that Ms. Zegilla was intoxicated when she arrived at Colditz Cove State Natural Area after midnight on July 26, 1997. Even though she had never visited the natural area before, she decided to venture into a wooded area down an unfamiliar, rough foot path in the dark. After one of her companions fell to his death, she continued to walk around in the darkness even though she must have known that danger was close at hand. As tragic as her death is, the only conclusion that reasonable persons can draw from these facts is that her fault far exceeded any fault that may reasonably be attributed to the State.

The plaintiff failed to make any arguments that the state could be held liable for the death of her daughter.

So Now What?

State statutes that outline the procedures for a claim against a state are so varied; it is difficult to rely on any decision on this issue. Similar arguments can be made when reviewing a state’s Recreational Use Statute.

However, here, the State of Tennessee did nothing to cause injury to the deceased. More importantly for future generations, the state does not have to destroy its natural areas to prevent drunks walking around parks at night from getting hurt.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

Copyright 2014 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

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

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

<rel=”author” link=” https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/112453188060350225356/” />

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Colditz Cove State Natural Area, Recreational Use, Recreational Use Statute, Tennessee, Gross Negligence, Landowner,

 


Morgan v. State of Tennessee, 2004 Tenn. App. LEXIS 62

Morgan v. State of Tennessee, 2004 Tenn. App. LEXIS 62

Evelean Morgan v. State of Tennessee

No. M2002-02496-COA-R3-CV

COURT OF APPEALS OF TENNESSEE, AT NASHVILLE

2004 Tenn. App. LEXIS 62

November 3, 2003, Session

January 27, 2004, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1] Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Claims Commission Affirmed. Appeal from the Tennessee Claims Commission No. 99000125 W. R. Baker, Commissioner.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed and remanded.

COUNSEL: David H. Dunaway, LaFollette, Tennessee, for the appellant, Evelean Morgan.

Paul G. Summers, Attorney General and Reporter; Michael E. Moore, Solicitor General; and Christopher Michael Fancher, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

JUDGES: WILLIAM C. KOCH, JR., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the court, in which WILLIAM B. CAIN and PATRICIA J. COTTRELL, JJ., joined.

OPINION BY: WILLIAM C. KOCH, JR., P.J., M.S.

OPINION

This appeal involves a fatal accident at the Colditz Cove State Natural Area in Fentress County. The mother of a woman who fell to her death from the bluff surrounding Northrup Falls filed a claim with the Tennessee Claims Commission. The State of Tennessee denied liability based on (1) the recreational use defense in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 (1995), (2) its lack of actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition, and (3) its assertion that the decedent’s fault exceeded its own. The commissioner granted the State’s motion for summary judgment. [*2] While he did not rely on the statutory recreational use defense, the commissioner determined that the State had no notice of a dangerous condition at the natural area, it was not reasonably foreseeable that intoxicated persons who were unfamiliar with the natural area would hike into the area of the falls in the middle of the night, and the decedent’s actions were the sole proximate cause of her death. The decedent’s mother has appealed. We have determined that the commissioner properly granted the summary judgment because, as a matter of law, (1) the State established a defense under Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102, (2) the decedent’s estate presented no evidence that the State had actual or constructive notice of an allegedly dangerous condition on the trail in the natural area, and (3) the decedent’s fault far exceeded whatever fault could be attributed to the State.

I.

Rochelle Copeland Zegilla and her two small children were living with her mother in mid-1997 following a separation from her husband. On Saturday evening, July 26, 1997, she told her mother that she was “going to go out for awhile,” and then she drove to the Top of the Mountain Lounge in [*3] Jamestown, Tennessee. After the lounge closed at midnight, Ms. Zegilla and four companions 1 decided to drive to a nearby VFW club. When they arrived at the club, however, they discovered that it had closed earlier than usual. After a brief discussion in the club parking lot, the group decided to continue their drinking and talking in the parking lot of the Colditz Cove State Natural Area.

1 Ms. Zegilla’s companions at the Top of the Mountain Lounge were Chris Smith, Loretta Johnson, Edward Raines, and Larry King.

The Colditz Cove State Natural Area is a 165-acre Class II natural-scientific area in Fentress County owned by the State of Tennessee. It is heavily wooded and contains the 75-foot Northrup Falls and a scenic gorge with interesting rock formations. 2 The area has been designated by statute as “worthy of perpetual preservation,” 3 and accordingly, improvements to the area are limited to foot trails, foot bridges, and primitive campgrounds 4 and “facilities as may be reasonably necessary . . .for [*4] the safe and proper management and protection of the area.” 5 In addition to a parking lot, the State had erected several signs and a gate and had constructed a 1.5 mile foot trail along the bluff overlooking Northrup Falls, as well as a scenic overlook. The State had not installed lights in the parking lot or along the foot trail.

2 Tenn. Code Ann. § 11-14-108(b)(2)(F) (Supp. 2003).

3 Tenn. Code Ann. § 11-14-105(2) (1999).

4 Tenn. Code Ann. § 11-14-106(a)(1)(B) (1999).

5 Tenn. Code Ann. § 11-14-106(a)(2).

All of the group except Mr. Raines had been drinking throughout the evening, and they continued drinking in the parking lot because Messrs. Smith and King had brought along a cooler of beer purchased earlier in the evening at Midway Qwick Stop. After talking for several minutes, the group decided to walk down the foot trail toward Northrup Falls in the pitch dark even though [*5] three of them, including Ms. Zegilla, had never been to Colditz Cove before. The only illumination they had was Mr. King’s flashlight.

When the group reached a fork in the trail, Mr. Raines and Ms. Johnson decided to walk no further and sat near a trash container to talk and drink. Ms. Zegilla and Messrs. Smith and King kept walking along the trail toward Northrup Falls. After they stopped to drink and talk, Mr. King asked Mr. Smith to shine the flashlight into the bushes to enable him to find a place to urinate. Mr. King walked into the bushes and, on his return, he fell over the bluff into the gorge below.

Mr. Smith yelled, “Larry has fallen off,” and called to Mr. Raines for assistance. Mr. Raines made his way down the trail to Mr. Smith and Ms. Zegilla. After they all called out to Mr. King to no avail, Mr. Raines decided to go for help and took the flashlight to help make his way back up the foot path to the parking lot. Ms. Zegilla and Mr. Smith, now joined by Ms. Johnson, continued to call for Mr. King. Mr. Smith decided to start a fire with his shirt to make some light. After his shirt went out, Ms. Zegilla somehow fell over the bluff. The rescue workers who arrived at the [*6] scene at approximately 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 27, 1997, found the lifeless bodies of both Mr. King and Ms. Zegilla in the water at the bottom of the falls. An autopsy revealed that Ms. Zegilla’s blood alcohol level was .18%.

On July 23, 1998, Evelean Morgan, Ms. Zegilla’s mother and her personal representative, filed a claim for $ 500,000 with the Tennessee Claims Commission asserting that the State had violated Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) (Supp. 2003) by negligently creating or maintaining a dangerous condition at Colditz Cove State Natural Area. 6 The State moved to dismiss the claim on the ground that it was shielded from liability by the recreational use statute [Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 70-7-101, -105 (1995)]. After the claims commissioner denied its motion, the State filed an answer denying Ms. Morgan’s negligence claims. The State asserted, as affirmative defenses, (1) that Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 shielded it from liability, (2) that it had no actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition at Colditz Cove State Natural Area and that it was not reasonably foreseeable that intoxicated [*7] persons who were unfamiliar with the natural area would hike into the area of the falls in the middle of the night, and (3) that Ms. Zegilla’s own negligence “contributed in excess of 50% to the cause of her death.”

6 Ms. Morgan also filed a civil damage action in the Circuit Court for Fentress County against Ms. Johnson, Messrs. Smith and Raines, and the estate of Mr. King.

In February 2002, following lengthy and somewhat contentious discovery, the State moved for a summary judgment on two grounds – Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 and its assertion that Ms. Zegilla’s “negligence was equal to or greater than [the] negligence of the State, if any.” 7 In April 2002, Ms. Morgan responded by asserting that the State was not entitled to a judgment on either ground because the State was grossly negligent and because its negligence was greater than Ms. Zegilla’s. The claims commissioner held a hearing on the State’s motion for summary judgment after conducting his own personal inspection of [*8] the Colditz Cove State Natural Area without the lawyers or parties present. On June 5, 2002, the commissioner filed an order granting the State’s motion for summary judgment. While the commissioner declined to base his decision on Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102, he determined that the undisputed evidence demonstrated as a matter of law that Ms. Morgan had not shown that she could prove notice and foreseeability as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) and that Ms. Zegilla was “preponderantly negligent in her own death.” 8 The commissioner later denied Ms. Morgan’s request for a hearing before the entire claims commission. Ms. Morgan has appealed.

7 The State based the latter assertion on what it called the “step in the dark” rule, i.e., that stepping into an unfamiliar dark area constitutes the proximate cause of injuries sustained by falling down stairs hidden in the darkness. Eaton v. McLain, 891 S.W.2d 587, 594 (Tenn. 1994); Goodman v. Memphis Park Comm’n, 851 S.W.2d 165, 171 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1992).

[*9]

8 We construe this finding to be that Ms. Zegilla’s fault exceeded the fault of the State, if any. The claims commissioner stated later in its order that “the sole proximate cause of Ms. Zegilla’s death was her own actions.”

II.

THE STANDARD OF REVIEW

The standards for reviewing summary judgments on appeal are well-settled. [HN1] Summary judgments are proper in virtually any civil case that can be resolved on the basis of legal issues alone. Fruge v. Doe, 952 S.W.2d 408, 410 (Tenn. 1997); Byrd v. Hall, 847 S.W.2d 208, 210 (Tenn. 1993); Pendleton v. Mills, 73 S.W.3d 115, 121 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001). They are not, however, appropriate when genuine disputes regarding material facts exist. Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04. Thus, a summary judgment should be granted only when the undisputed facts, and the inferences reasonably drawn from the undisputed facts, support one conclusion – that the party seeking the summary judgment is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Pero’s Steak & Spaghetti House v. Lee, 90 S.W.3d 614, 620 (Tenn. 2002); [*10] Webber v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 49 S.W.3d 265, 269 (Tenn. 2001).

[HN2] The party seeking a summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating that no genuine dispute of material fact exists and that it is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Godfrey v. Ruiz, 90 S.W.3d 692, 695 (Tenn. 2002); Shadrick v. Coker, 963 S.W.2d 726, 731 (Tenn. 1998). To be entitled to a judgment as a matter of law, the moving party must either affirmatively negate an essential element of the non-moving party’s claim or establish an affirmative defense that conclusively defeats the non-moving party’s claim. Byrd v. Hall, 847 S.W.2d at 215 n. 5; Cherry v. Williams, 36 S.W.3d 78, 82-83 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000).

[HN3] Once the moving party demonstrates that it has satisfied Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56’s requirements, the non-moving party must demonstrate how these requirements have not been satisfied. Bain v. Wells, 936 S.W.2d 618, 622 (Tenn. 1997). Mere conclusory generalizations will not suffice. Cawood v. Davis, 680 S.W.2d 795, 796-97 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1984). The non-moving party must convince the [*11] trial court that there are sufficient factual disputes to warrant a trial (1) by pointing to evidence either overlooked or ignored by the moving party that creates a factual dispute, (2) by rehabilitating evidence challenged by the moving party, (3) by producing additional evidence that creates a material factual dispute, or (4) by submitting an affidavit in accordance with Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.07 requesting additional time for discovery. McCarley v. West Quality Food Serv., 960 S.W.2d 585, 588 (Tenn. 1998); Byrd v. Hall, 847 S.W.2d at 215 n. 6. A non-moving party who fails to carry its burden faces summary dismissal of the challenged claim because, as our courts have repeatedly observed, the “failure of proof concerning an essential element of the cause of action necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Alexander v. Memphis Individual Practice Ass’n, 870 S.W.2d 278, 280 (Tenn. 1993).

[HN4] A summary judgment is not appropriate when a case’s determinative facts are in dispute. However, for a question of fact to exist, reasonable minds must be able to differ over whether some alleged occurrence or event did or did not happen. Conatser v. Clarksville Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 920 S.W.2d 646, 647 (Tenn. 1995); [*12] Harrison v. Southern Ry. Co., 31 Tenn. App. 377, 387, 215 S.W.2d 31, 35 (1948). If reasonable minds could justifiably reach different conclusions based on the evidence at hand, then a genuine question of fact exists. Louis Dreyfus Corp. v. Austin Co., 868 S.W.2d 649, 656 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1993). If, on the other hand, the evidence and the inferences to be reasonably drawn from the evidence would permit a reasonable person to reach only one conclusion, then there are no material factual disputes and the question can be disposed of as a matter of law. Godfrey v. Ruiz, 90 S.W.3d at 695; Seavers v. Methodist Med. Ctr., 9 S.W.3d 86, 91 (Tenn. 1999); Beaudreau v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 118 S.W.3d 700, 703 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003).

[HN5] Summary judgments enjoy no presumption of correctness on appeal. BellSouth Advertising & Publ’g Co. v. Johnson, 100 S.W.3d 202, 205 (Tenn. 2003); Scott v. Ashland Healthcare Ctr., Inc., 49 S.W.3d 281, 285 (Tenn. 2001). Accordingly, appellate courts must make a fresh determination that the requirements of Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56 have been satisfied. [*13] Hunter v. Brown, 955 S.W.2d 49, 50-51 (Tenn. 1997). We must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and we must resolve all inferences in the non-moving party’s favor. Godfrey v. Ruiz, 90 S.W.3d at 695; Doe v. HCA Health Servs., Inc., 46 S.W.3d 191, 196 (Tenn. 2001). When reviewing the evidence, we must determine first whether factual disputes exist. If a factual dispute exists, we must then determine whether the fact is material to the claim or defense upon which the summary judgment is predicated and whether the disputed fact creates a genuine issue for trial. Byrd v. Hall, 847 S.W.2d at 214; Rutherford v. Polar Tank Trailer, Inc., 978 S.W.2d 102, 104 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998).

III.

THE APPLICATION OF TENN. CODE ANN. § 70-7-102

The State’s defense predicated on Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 figures prominently in this appeal even though the claims commissioner expressly declined to base his decision on this defense. 9 For her part, Ms. Morgan asserts that the commissioner erred by “failing and refusing” [*14] to rule on this defense. While the State does not specifically assert that the commissioner erred by not addressing this defense, 10 it asserts that it did not owe a duty to Ms. Zegilla by virtue of Tenn. Code Ann. § 70- 7-102. Accordingly, we have decided to address the applicability of Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 to this case head on.

9 The commissioner’s cryptic rulings regarding Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 are not easy to reconcile. He stated:

The Commission renders its ruling without considering the applicability of the state Recreational Use Immunity Statute. The individuals involved in this incident were using the State property for recreation, thus the Recreational Use Statute applies.

As for gross negligence, if the facts involved the Recreational Use statute alone, in absence of the other three factors discussed heretofore, then this claim should probably proceed to trial. Although the Commission believes there was not any gross negligence, it does not base its conclusion on the Recreational Use Immunity statute.

Because the commissioner stated twice that he was not basing his decision on Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102, we will take him at his word.

[*15]

10 The State could have raised this issue pursuant to Tenn. R. App. P. 13(a).

A.

At common law, property owners could be held liable for injuries to persons who were using their property, with or without their permission, for recreational purposes. Beginning in the 1950s, state legislatures began to enact statutes to limit property owners’ liability when persons were using their property for recreational purposes. 11 The Tennessee General Assembly enacted one of these statutes in 1963. 12 As originally enacted, the statute was applicable only to private landowners and excluded from its coverage the “willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity.”

11 James C. Becker, Landowner or Occupier Liability for Personal Injuries and Recreational Use Statutes: How Effective Is the Protection?, 24 Ind. L. Rev. 1587, 1587-88 (1991).

12 Act of Mar. 15, 1963, ch. 177, 1963 Tenn. Pub. Acts 784, codified at Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 70-7-101, -105 (1995).

[*16] In 1987, the Tennessee General Assembly amended the recreational use statute in two significant ways that are directly applicable to this case. First, it amended the statute to explicitly apply to real property owned by governmental entities. 13 Second, it broadened the exemption to cover “gross negligence, willful or wanton conduct.” 14

13 Act of May 7, 1987, ch. 448, § 8, 1987 Tenn. Pub. Acts 897, 899, codified at Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-101(2)(B).

14 Act of May 7, 1987, ch. 448, § 5, 1987 Tenn. Pub. Acts 897, 898, codified at Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104(1).

The operation of the recreational use statutes is straightforward. Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 [HN6] is an affirmative defense available to persons who fit within the definition of “landowner” in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-101(2). Parent v. State, 991 S.W.2d 240, 242 (Tenn. 1999); Bishop v. Beckner, 109 S.W.3d 725, 728 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2002). [*17] Landowners may assert a Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 defense if they prove that the injured person was engaged in a recreational activity 15 at the time of the injury. Plaintiffs may defeat this affirmative defense in essentially three ways: (1) prove that the defendant is not a “landowner,” (2) prove that the injured party was not engaged in a recreational activity, or (3) prove that the landowner’s conduct fits within one of the three exceptions in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104. The exceptions in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104 do not create new independent causes of action against the landowner. Rather, they enable a plaintiff to pursue its negligence claim by negating a landowner’s Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 defense. Parent v. State, 991 S.W.2d at 242-43.

15 The applicable recreational activities are identified in Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 70-7-102, -103.

[HN7] Applying Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 70-7-101 [*18] , -105 to a particular case requires a three-step analysis. First, the court must determine whether the party asserting the Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 defense is a landowner. Second, the court must determine whether the activity in which the injured party was engaged at the time of the injury is a recreational activity. Third, the court must determine whether any of the exceptions in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104 are applicable to the case. See Parent v. State, 991 S.W.2d at 243. If the activity is recreational and no Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104 exceptions apply, the landowner is shielded from liability by Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102. If, however, the activity is recreational, but one of the exceptions applies, the landowner may be liable.

B.

Based on the undisputed facts, there can be no dispute (1) that the State, as a governmental entity, is a “landowner” under Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-101(2)(B), (2) that Ms. Zegilla was engaged in a recreational activity because she was “hiking” or “sightseeing” when she fell to her death, [*19] and (3) that the land on which Ms. Zegilla was killed was not exempt from coverage of the statute. 16 Thus, the only remaining question with regard to the application of the recreational use statute is whether one of Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104’s exceptions applies to this case. Ms. Morgan insists that the exception for gross negligence in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104(1) applies.

16 Ms. Morgan argued before the claims commissioner that improvements in state natural areas and parks were somehow exempt from Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 70-7-101, -105. However, both the Tennessee Supreme Court and this court have recognized that [HN8] the recreational use statute may apply to state parks and wildlife management areas. Parent v. State, 991 S.W.2d at 241; Rewcastle v. State, 2002 Tenn. App. LEXIS 943, No. E2002-00506-COA-R3-CV, 2002 WL 31926848, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 31, 2002) (No Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application filed).

[HN9] Gross negligence [*20] is negligent conduct reflecting a reckless disregard for the safety of others. Davidson v. Power Bd., 686 S.W.2d 581, 586 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1984); Odum v. Haynes, 494 S.W.2d 795, 807 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1972). It does not require a particular state of mind as long as it creates an extremely unjustified risk to others. 1 DAN B. DOBBS, THE LAW OF TORTS § 147, at 351 (2001). It differs from ordinary negligence only in degree, not in kind. W. PAGE KEETON, PROSSER & KEETON ON THE LAW OF TORTS § 34, at 212 (5th ed. 1984). Thus, gross negligence is a negligent act or failure to act that reflects more than lack of ordinary care (simple negligence) but less than intentional misconduct. Inter-City Trucking Co. v. Daniels, 181 Tenn. 126, 129-30, 178 S.W.2d 756, 757 (1944); Bennett v. Woodard, 60 Tenn. App. 20, 31-32, 444 S.W.2d 89, 94 (1969).

[HN10] Determining whether particular conduct rises to the level of gross negligence is ordinarily a question of fact. 3 STUART M. SPEISER ET AL., THE AMERICAN LAW OF TORTS § 10:05, at 368 (1986) (“SPEISER”); see also Adams v. Roark, 686 S.W.2d 73, 76 (Tenn. 1985) (gross negligence [*21] determined from the facts alleged in the complaint). However, it may be decided as a matter of law when the material facts are not in dispute and when these facts, and the conclusions reasonably drawn from them, would permit a reasonable person to reach only one conclusion. Leatherwood v. Wadley, 121 S.W.3d 682, ___, 2003 WL 327517, at *8-9 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003) (affirming summary judgment dismissing gross negligence claim); Buckner v. Varner, 793 S.W.2d 939, 941 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1990) (affirming summary judgment dismissing gross negligence claim); Fellows v. Sexton, 46 Tenn. App. 274, 282, 327 S.W.2d 391, 394 (1959) (granting a judgment notwithstanding the verdict on a gross negligence claim).

We find no evidence in this record upon which a reasonable person would conclude that the State was grossly negligent with regard to the construction or maintenance of the Colditz Cove State Natural Area. The State had a statutory obligation to maintain this area in a pristine, natural condition. Erecting warning signs, installing lighting along the trails, fencing the entire area, or installing guard rails, barriers, or other sorts of buffers, [*22] while perhaps appropriate at Dollywood, would have been entirely unwarranted and unnecessary at a natural area such as Colditz Cove. Accordingly, we have determined that the record, as a matter of law, supports the claims commissioner’s conclusion that “there was not any gross negligence.” 17 The State was simply not acting recklessly with disregard of the safety of persons entering the natural area.

17 Ms. Morgan asserts in her brief that “the State of Tennessee knew that at Northrop [sic] Falls . . . there was a cliff that eroded into a commonly used path which suddenly dropped at a ninety degree angle approximately one hundred feet and that it posed a deadly, dangerous condition.” This is the only assertion in her papers that approaches an allegation of gross negligence. We have searched the record for substantiation of this claim and have found none. There is no evidence that any of the trails in Colditz Cove had dangerously eroded on July 26, 1997. There is no evidence that the State had actual or constructive notice of any dangerous erosion along any of the trails in the natural area. There is likewise no evidence that either Ms. Zegilla or Mr. King fell to their deaths at a spot on the trail that had eroded.

[*23] Because the State was not grossly negligent, it was entitled to assert a defense predicated on Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102. Therefore, we have concluded, based on the undisputed facts, that the recreational use statute shields the State from liability for Ms. Zegilla’s death and that the State was entitled to a summary judgment dismissing her claims on this ground alone.

IV.

THE STATE’S LIABILITY UNDER TENN. CODE ANN. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C)

Despite our conclusion that the State has established an affirmative defense under Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 as a matter of law, we will also address Ms. Morgan’s assertion that the claims commissioner erred by concluding that she had failed to demonstrate that she would be able to prove that the State was liable for her daughter’s death under Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C). We have concluded that the undisputed facts also support the commissioner’s conclusion that the State was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law because Ms. Morgan had not demonstrated that she would be able to prove the essential elements of her claim.

[*24] [HN11] The State is not the insurer of the safety of persons on its property. Byrd v. State, 905 S.W.2d 195, 197 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1995). It is, however, liable to these persons to the same extent that private owners and occupiers of land are liable, Sanders v. State, 783 S.W.2d 948, 951 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1989), because Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) has imposed this common-law duty on the State. Parent v. State, 991 S.W.2d at 242. Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) provides that the State may be held monetarily liable for

Negligently created or maintained dangerous conditions on state controlled real property. The claimant under this subsection must establish the foreseeability of the risks and notice given to the proper state officials at a time sufficiently prior to the injury for the state to have taken appropriate measures.

Based on this statute, the State, like a private landowner, has a duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances to prevent foreseeable injuries to persons on the premises. Eaton v. McLain, 891 S.W.2d at 593-94. This duty is [*25] grounded on the foreseeability of the risk involved. To recover, a claimant must prove that the injury was a reasonably foreseeable probability. Dobson v. State, 23 S.W.3d 324, 331 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999).

Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) required Ms. Morgan to prove that Ms. Zegilla was injured in a manner that was reasonably foreseeable and that the State had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition that caused Ms. Zegilla’s death in time to take “appropriate measures.” The claims commissioner properly concluded that she failed on both counts.

The record contains no factual, legal, or policy basis for concluding that the State should have foreseen that intoxicated persons who were unfamiliar with the Colditz Cove State Natural Area would hike down the trail to Northrup Falls in the middle of the night without adequate illumination.

Likewise, the record contains no evidence meeting the standards in Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04 and Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.06 that the improvements to Colditz Cove are either inherently dangerous 18 or, as we have already pointed out, that the State had actual or constructive notice of any particular [*26] dangerous condition in the natural area that caused Ms. Zegilla’s death.

18 Ms. Morgan’s lawyer asserted in the proceeding below that he had consulted an architect who “felt” that the Colditz Cove State Natural Area was “unduly dangerous” and that “the majority of the defects were certainly foreseeable and could have been rectified at a relatively modest capital investment.” While the record contains an unauthenticated letter from this architect summarizing his impressions of the improvements in the natural area, it does not contain the architect’s affidavit or deposition stating these conclusions. The architect’s letter does not meet the requirements in Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04 and Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.06 for evidentiary materials that may be used to support or oppose a motion for summary judgment.

V.

COMPARISON OF MS. ZEGILLA’S FAULT WITH THE STATE’S FAULT

As a final issue, Ms. Morgan asserts that the claims commissioner erred by determining that Ms. Zegilla’s fault exceeded the State’s fault. [*27] She bases her argument on the assertion that the State’s “gross negligence” should somehow count for more in a comparative fault analysis. We have determined that this argument has no merit for two reasons. First, we have already concluded that the undisputed facts demonstrate, as a matter of law, that the State was not grossly negligent. Second, even if the States could somehow be considered grossly negligent, its fault would still be compared with Ms. Zegilla’s fault. Conroy v. City of Dickson, 49 S.W.3d 868, 873 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001). A majority of the courts in comparative fault jurisdictions permit gross negligence to be compared to ordinary negligence. 3 SPEISER, § 13:25, at 764; 1 ARTHUR BEST, COMPARATIVE NEGLIGENCE LAW & PRACTICE § 4.40[3] (1999); Restatement (Third) of Torts: Apportionment of Fault § 7 cmt. b (1999).

[HN12] The allocation of fault is ordinarily a question of fact for the jury or the trial court sitting without a jury. Brown v. Wal-Mart Discount Cities, 12 S.W.3d 785, 789 (Tenn. 2000). The task of allocating fault should be taken from the fact-finder only when it can be determined beyond question (or alternatively, when reasonable [*28] minds cannot differ) that the plaintiff’s fault is equal to or greater than the defendant’s. Staples v. CBL & Assocs., Inc., 15 S.W.3d 83, 91-92 (Tenn. 2000); Eaton v. McLain, 891 S.W.2d at 589; Kim v. Boucher, 55 S.W.3d 551, 556-57 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001). The procedural avenues for obtaining a decision that the plaintiff’s fault exceeds the defendant’s as a matter of law are governed by the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. The question may be raised using (1) a motion for summary judgment under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56, (2) a motion for directed verdict governed by Tenn. R. Civ. P. 50.01, and (3) a post-trial motion for a judgment as a matter of law governed by Tenn. R. Civ. P. 50.02. Henley v. Amacher, 2002 Tenn. App. LEXIS 72, No. M1999-02799-COA-R3-CV, 2002 WL 100402, at *6 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 28, 2002) (No Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application filed).

Ms. Zegilla’s voluntary intoxication on the evening of July 26, 1997 does not relieve her from the responsibility of her own negligence. Kirksey v. Overton Pub, Inc., 739 S.W.2d 230, 235 (Tenn. 1987); Schwartz v. Johnson, 152 Tenn. 586, 592, 280 S.W. 32, 33 (1926). [*29] She was required to use reasonable care under the circumstances, and her conduct must be measured against the conduct of an ordinary, reasonable person rather than an ordinary and reasonable intoxicated person. Louisville & Nashville R.R. v. Hall, 5 Tenn. Civ. App. 491, 502 (1915). Accordingly, if her conduct while intoxicated was a proximate cause of her death, it may be compared with the fault of the other parties whose fault was also a proximate cause. Worley v. State, 1995 Tenn. App. LEXIS 755, No. 02A01-9312-BC-00267, 1995 WL 702792, at *6 (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 28, 1995) (No Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application filed).

It cannot be reasonably disputed that Ms. Zegilla was intoxicated when she arrived at Colditz Cove State Natural Area after midnight on July 26, 1997. Even though she had never visited the natural area before, she decided to venture into a wooded area down an unfamiliar, rough foot path in the dark. After one of her companions fell to his death, she continued to walk around in the darkness even though she must have known that danger was close at hand. As tragic as her death is, the only conclusion that reasonable persons can draw from these facts is that her fault [*30] far exceeded any fault that may reasonably be attributed to the State. Accordingly, the claims commissioner properly concluded the State was not liable to Ms. Zegilla’s estate because her fault exceeded any fault that could be attributed to the State.

VI.

We affirm the order dismissing the Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) claim of Ms. Zegilla’s estate against the State and remand the case to the Tennessee Claims Commission for whatever further proceedings may be required. We tax the costs of this appeal to Evelean Morgan for which execution, if necessary, may issue.


Tennessee Recreational Use Statute

Tennessee Recreational Use Statute

Title 70  Wildlife Resources 

Chapter 7  Liability for Activities 

Part 1  Liability of Landowner to Persons Using Land

GO TO THE TENNESSEE ANNOTATED STATUTES ARCHIVE DIRECTORY

Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102  (2014)

70-7-101.  Part definitions.

As used in this part, unless the context otherwise requires:

(1)  (A) “Land” or “premises” means and includes all real property, waters, private ways, trees and any building or structure that might be located on real property, waters and private ways;

(B) “Land” or “premises” includes real property, waters, private ways, trees and any building or structure located on the land or premises, owned by any governmental entity, including, but not limited to, the Tennessee valley authority; and

(C) “Land” or “premises” does not include the landowner’s principal place of residence and any improvements erected for recreational purposes that immediately surround such residence, including, but not limited to, swimming pools, tennis or badminton courts, barbecue or horse shoe pits, jacuzzis, hot tubs or saunas;

(2)  (A) “Landowner” means the legal title holder or owner of such land or premises, or the person entitled to immediate possession of the land or premises, and includes any lessee, occupant or any other person in control of the land or premises; and

(B) “Landowner” includes any governmental entity.

70-7-102.  Landowner’s duty of care.

(a) The landowner, lessee, occupant, or any person in control of land or premises owes no duty of care to keep such land or premises safe for entry or use by others for such recreational activities as hunting, fishing, trapping, camping, water sports, white water rafting, canoeing, hiking, sightseeing, animal riding, bird watching, dog training, boating, caving, fruit and vegetable picking for the participant’s own use, nature and historical studies and research, rock climbing, skeet and trap shooting, skiing, off-road vehicle riding, and cutting or removing wood for the participant’s own use, nor shall such landowner be required to give any warning of hazardous conditions, uses of, structures, or activities on such land or premises to any person entering on such land or premises for such purposes, except as provided in § 70-7-104.

(b) The landowner, lessee, occupant, or any person in control of land or premises owes no duty of care to keep such land or premises safe for entry or use by others for recreational noncommercial aircraft operations or recreational noncommercial ultra light vehicle operations on private airstrips except as to known hazards or defects and except as provided in § 70-7-104.

70-7-103.  Effect of landowner’s permission.

Any landowner, lessee, occupant, or any person in control of the land or premises or such person’s agent who gives permission to another person to hunt, fish, trap, camp, engage in water sports, participate in white water rafting or canoeing, hike, sightsee, ride animals, bird watch, train dogs, boat, cave, pick fruit and vegetables for the participant’s own benefit, engage in nature and historical studies and research, climb rocks, shoot skeet and trap, ski, ride off-road vehicles, recreational noncommercial aircraft operations or recreational noncommercial ultra light vehicle operations on private airstrips, and cut and remove wood for the participant’s own use upon such land or premises does not by giving such permission:

(1) Extend any assurance that the premises are safe for such purpose;

(2) Constitute the person to whom permission has been granted to legal status of an invitee to whom a duty of care is owed; or

(3) Assume responsibility for or incur liability for any injury to such person or purposely caused by any act of such person to whom permission has been granted except as provided in § 70-7-104.

70-7-104.  Conditions under which liability unaffected.

(a) This part does not limit the liability that otherwise exists for:

(1) Gross negligence, willful or wanton conduct that results in a failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity; or

(2) Injury caused by acts of persons to whom permission to hunt, fish, trap, camp, hike, sightsee, cave, recreational noncommercial aircraft operations or recreational noncommercial ultra light vehicle operations on private airstrips, or any other legal purpose was granted, to third persons or to persons to whom the person granting permission, or the landowner, lessee, occupant, or any person in control of the land or premises, owed a duty to keep the land or premises safe or to warn of danger.

(b) Subdivision (a)(1) shall not be construed to impose liability or remove the immunity conferred by § 70-7-102 for failure to guard or warn of a dangerous condition created by forces of nature.

70-7-105.  Waiver of landowner’s duty of care.

Any person eighteen (18) years of age or older entering the land of another for the purpose of camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, dog training, cutting or removing firewood, recreational noncommercial aircraft operations or recreational noncommercial ultra light vehicle operations on private airstrips, for such person’s use for a consideration may waive, in writing, the landowner’s duty of care to such person for injuries that arise from camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, dog training, cutting or removing firewood, recreational noncommercial aircraft operations or recreational noncommercial ultra light vehicle operations on private airstrips for such person’s use, if such waiver does not limit liability for gross negligence, or willful or wanton conduct, or for a failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity.

WordPress Tags: Tennessee,Recreational,Statute,Title,Wildlife,Resources,Chapter,Activities,Part,Landowner,Persons,Land,STATUTES,ARCHIVE,DIRECTORY,Tenn,Code,definitions,context,premises,trees,valley,residence,improvements,purposes,horse,tubs,saunas,holder,owner,person,possession,lessee,occupant,bird,participant,road,vehicle,wood,aircraft,airstrips,Effect,permission,agent,boat,vegetables,vehicles,Extend,assurance,purpose,Constitute,status,Assume,injury,Conditions,Gross,negligence,failure,danger,Subdivision,Waiver,firewood,injuries,skeet,noncommercial,hike,whom

 


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.

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

Copyright 2012 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

blog@rec-law.us

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog:www.recreation-law.com

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

#RecreationLaw, #@RecreationLaw, #Cycling.Law #Fitness.Law, #Ski.Law, #Outside.Law, #Recreation.Law, #Recreation-Law.com, #Outdoor Law, #Recreation Law, #Outdoor Recreation Law, #Adventure Travel Law, #law, #Travel Law, #Jim Moss, #James H. Moss, #Attorney at Law, #Tourism, #Adventure Tourism, #Rec-Law, #Rec-Law Blog, #Recreation Law, #Recreation Law Blog, #Risk Management, #Human Powered, #Human Powered Recreation,# Cycling Law, #Bicycling Law, #Fitness Law, #Recreation-Law.com, #Backpacking, #Hiking, #Mountaineering, #Ice Climbing, #Rock Climbing, #Ropes Course, #Challenge Course, #Summer Camp, #Camps, #Youth Camps, #Skiing, #Ski Areas, #Negligence, #Snowboarding, #RecreationLaw, #@RecreationLaw, #Cycling.Law #Fitness.Law, #SkiLaw, #Outside.Law, #Recreation.Law, #RecreationLaw.com, #OutdoorLaw, #RecreationLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #AdventureTravelLaw, #Law, #TravelLaw, #JimMoss, #JamesHMoss, #AttorneyatLaw, #Tourism, #AdventureTourism, #RecLaw, #RecLawBlog, #RecreationLawBlog, #RiskManagement, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation,# CyclingLaw, #BicyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #RecreationLaw.com, #Backpacking, #Hiking, #Mountaineering, #IceClimbing, #RockClimbing, #RopesCourse, #ChallengeCourse, #SummerCamp, #Camps, #YouthCamps, #Skiing, #Ski Areas, #Negligence, #Snowboarding, sport and recreation laws, ski law, cycling law, Colorado law, law for recreation and sport managers, bicycling and the law, cycling and the law, ski helmet law, skiers code, skiing accidents, Recreation Lawyer, Ski Lawyer, Paddlesports Lawyer, Cycling Lawyer, Recreational Lawyer, Fitness Lawyer, Rec Lawyer, Challenge Course Lawyer, Ropes Course Lawyer, Zip Line Lawyer, Rock Climbing Lawyer, Adventure Travel Lawyer, Outside Lawyer, Recreation Lawyer, Ski Lawyer, Paddlesports Lawyer, Cycling Lawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #FitnessLawyer, #RecLawyer, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #RopesCourseLawyer, #ZipLineLawyer, #RockClimbingLawyer, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #OutsideLawyer, landowner, land owner, BSA, Boy Scouts of America, Council, Daniel Webster Council, Boston Minuteman Council, National Council, Scoutmaster, Recreational Use, Recreational Use Statute,
WordPress Tags: Decision,Hampshire,owner,National,Council,Scouts,America,Supp,Dist,LEXIS,lawsuit,plaintiff,Scout,hill,boys,Around,leaders,violation,Guide,Safe,procedures,Safer,Boston,Minuteman,landowner,councils,area,youth,Daniel,Webster,parents,fact,injuries,Summary,earnings,purpose,article,discussion,Under,injury,statute,limitation,defendant,judgment,Recreational,danger,owners,lawsuits,exception,occupant,lessee,subdivision,person,purposes,spectator,absence,corporation,negligence,misconduct,employee,remuneration,Court,latitude,dangers,knowledge,assumption,situation,intelligence,Jumps,Many,unit,leader,Make,litigation,policy,coverage,Leave,Twitter,LinkedIn,Recreation,Edit,RecreationLaw,Facebook,Page,Outdoor,Adventure,Travel,Blog,Mobile,Site,Outside,Moss,James,Attorney,Tourism,Risk,Management,Human,Rock,Ropes,Course,Challenge,Summer,Camp,Camps,Areas,SkiLaw,OutdoorLaw,OutdoorRecreationLaw,AdventureTravelLaw,TravelLaw,JimMoss,JamesHMoss,AttorneyatLaw,AdventureTourism,RecLaw,RecLawBlog,RecreationLawBlog,RiskManagement,HumanPoweredRecreation,CyclingLaw,BicyclingLaw,FitnessLaw,RopesCourse,ChallengeCourse,SummerCamp,YouthCamps,Colorado,managers,helmet,accidents,Lawyer,Paddlesports,Line,RecreationalLawyer,FitnessLawyer,RecLawyer,ChallengeCourseLawyer,RopesCourseLawyer,ZipLineLawyer,RockClimbingLawyer,AdventureTravelLawyer,OutsideLawyer,Scoutmaster,scoutmasters

Wisconsin Recreational Use Statute prevents lawsuit over accidental drowning of guests at sports club

WI Supreme Court thoroughly reviews the definition of non-profit in examining the recreational use statute

Trinidad v. Capitol Indemnity Corporation, 2008 WI App 36; 308 Wis. 2d 394; 746 N.W.2d 604; 2008 Wisc. App. LEXIS 50 aff’d Trinidad v. Capitol Indemnity Corporation, 2009 WI 8; 315 Wis. 2d 324; 759 N.W.2d 586; 2009 Wisc. LEXIS 3

This is always a tough situation when the court has to apply the law no matter how sad the facts of the case. However, this is how our country works, the law controls no matter how hard the heartstrings are tuagged.

In this case, a family went to a wildlife area that was incorporated as a non-profit hunting club. While there, two young girls drowned. The parents sued the non-profit corporation for their loss. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, which was upheld by the appellate court and the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The legal issue was the application of the Wisconsin Recreational Land Use Statute, Wis. Stat. § 895.52 (2009). The state has different laws on how the protection of the recreational use statute will be applied based on the type of landowner. In this case, a landowner who is a non-profit, has broader protection if there is a fee charged for the use of the land.

The group that invited the plaintiffs to the hunting club paid the fee for the use of the land, not the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs were on the land for free.

The Wisconsin Recreational Use Statute first defines a non-profit as “Nonprofit organization” means an organization or association not organized or conducted for pecuniary profit.” Wis. Stat. § 895.52. The statute then defines the activities that will be protected by the statute.

Recreational activity” includes hunting, fishing, trapping, camping, picnicking, exploring caves, nature study, bicycling, horseback riding, bird-watching, motorcycling, operating an all-terrain vehicle, ballooning, hang gliding, hiking, tobogganing, sledding, sleigh riding, snowmobiling, skiing, skating, water sports, sight-seeing, rock-climbing, cutting or removing wood, climbing observation towers, animal training, harvesting the products of nature, sport shooting and any other outdoor sport, game or educational activity

The families activities, picnicking and water sports, are specifically listed as protected.

The immunity afforded by the statute is specific.

1. A duty to keep the property safe for recreational activities.

2. A duty to inspect the property, except as provided under s. 23.115 (2)

3. A duty to give warning of an unsafe condition, use or activity on the property. (b) Except as provided in subs. (3) to (6), no owner and no officer, employee or agent of an owner is liable for the death of, any injury to, or any death or injury caused by, a person engaging in a recreational activity on the owners property or for any death or injury resulting from an attack by a wild animal.

The statute then provides additional protection for non-profit entities as defined by the statute.

(5) LIABILITY; PROPERTY OF NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS.

Subsection (2) does not limit the liability of a nonprofit organization or any of its officers, employees or agents for a death or injury caused by a malicious act or a malicious failure to warn against an unsafe condition of which an officer, employee or agent of the nonprofit organization knew, which occurs on property of which the nonprofit organization is the owner.

The statute goes further to allow property owners to collect up to $2000.00 per year for the use of the property.

The court in Trinidad concentrated on the definition of a non-profit. The plaintiff argued the organization had not kept its articles of incorporation current with the changes in the statute over the years. The Wisconsin Statutes concerning Wisconsin non-profits had changed several times since the defendant had been incorporated as a non-profit entity.

However, the court did not find this controlling. The Wisconsin Secretary of State and the IRS still considered the defendant a non-profit and that was all that mattered.

So?

Many corporations forget that they may have to amend their articles of organization as the statutes controlling a corporation or LLC changes. Always check with an attorney, whether you are a non-profit or for profit entity to make sure your paperwork is current and up to date.

A big area that most corporations fail to do is titles. No state statute recognizes CEO. Although the CEO may be the top person, the president has all of the legal authority according to state law.

All fifty states in the US have recreational use statutes. All 50 of them are very different. If you are going to rely on the recreational use statute for protection from litigation, make sure you meet each of the requirements based on the activities occurring on your land and the type of landowner you are.

When in doubt, do not rely on the recreational use statute alone. Either receive an indemnification agreement from groups bringing people on to your land or have each person entering and using your land sign a release.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2010 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law, Recreation.Law@Gmail.com

Keywords:

#recreation-law.com, #outdoor law, #recreation law, #outdoor recreation law, #adventure travel law, #law, #travel law, #Jim Moss, #James H. Moss, #attorney at law, #tourism, #adventure tourism, #rec-law, #rec-law blog, #recreation law, #recreation law blog, #risk management, #Human Powered, #human powered recreation,# cycling law, #bicycling law, #fitness law, #recreation-law.com, #backpacking, #hiking, #Mountaineering, #ice climbing, #rock climbing, #ropes course, #challenge course, #summer camp, #camps, #youth camps, #skiing, #ski areas, #negligence, #Recreational Use Statute, #Charitable Immunity, #non-profit, #Wisconsin, #Wisconsin Supreme Court, #Private Club, #Hunting Club Technorati Tags: ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
Windows Live Tags: Wisconsin,Recreational,Statute,lawsuit,guests,recreation,adventure,Moss,James,attorney,tourism,management,Human,youth,areas,negligence,Charitable,Supreme,Court,Private,Club,blog
WordPress Tags: Wisconsin,Recreational,Statute,lawsuit,guests,recreation,adventure,Moss,James,attorney,tourism,management,Human,youth,areas,negligence,Charitable,Supreme,Court,Private,Club,blog
Blogger Labels: Wisconsin,Recreational,Statute,lawsuit,guests,recreation,adventure,Moss,James,attorney,tourism,management,Human,youth,areas,negligence,Charitable,Supreme,Court,Private,Club,blog

Enhanced by Zemanta

Trinidad v. Capitol Indemnity Corporation, 2009 WI 8; 315 Wis. 2d 324; 759 N.W.2d 586; 2009 Wisc. LEXIS 3

Nelly De La Trinidad, Individually, and as Special Administrator of the Estate of Elizabeth Callejas-De La Trinidad, Deceased, and Victor Leonardo Aguilar-Hernandez, and Luz Maria Torres-Sanches, Individually, and as Special Administrator of the Estate of Marisol Aguilar-Torres, Deceased, Plaintiffs-Appellants-Petitioners, v. Capitol Indemnity Corporation, a Wisconsin Insurance Corporation, Halter Wildlife, Inc., and Rachel Proko, Defendants-Respondents.

No. 2007AP45

SUPREME COURT OF WISCONSIN

2009 WI 8; 315 Wis. 2d 324; 759 N.W.2d 586; 2009 Wisc. LEXIS 3

November 4, 2008, Argued
January 23, 2009, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY:
REVIEW of a decision of the Court of Appeals. COURT: Circuit. COUNTY: Kenosha. JUDGE: David M. Bastianelli. (L.C. No. 2005CV145).
De La Trinidad v. Capitol Indem. Corp., 2008 WI App 36, 308 Wis. 2d 394, 746 N.W.2d 604, 2008 Wisc. App. LEXIS 50 (2008)
DISPOSITION: Affirmed.
COUNSEL: For the plaintiffs-appellants-petitioners there were briefs by Patrick O. Dunphy, Robert D. Crivello, and Cannon & Dunphy, S.C., Brookfield, and oral argument by Robert D. Crivello.
For the defendants-respondents there were briefs by James S. Smith, Wendy G. Gunderson, and Smith, Gunderson & Rowen, S.C., Brookfield, and oral argument by Wendy G. Gunderson.
JUDGES: N. PATRICK CROOKS, J.
OPINION BY: N. PATRICK CROOKS
OPINION

[**327] [***588] [*P1] N. PATRICK CROOKS, J. Petitioners Nelly De La Trinidad, Victor Leonardo Aguilar-Hernandez, and [**328] Luz Maria Torres-Sanches (collectively, De La Trinidad) are the parents of two children who drowned in a pond on the grounds of Halter Wildlife, Inc. De La Trinidad seeks review of an unpublished court of appeals opinion 1 affirming a circuit court order that dismissed their lawsuit against Halter Wildlife, Inc. (Halter); its insurer, Capitol Indemnity Corporation; and lifeguard Rachel Proko, an employee of Halter, on the grounds that the recreational immunity statute 2 applies and bars a suit under these circumstances.

1 Nelly De La Trinidad v. Capitol Indem. Corp., No. 2007AP45, 2008 WI App 36, 308 Wis. 2d 394, 746 N.W.2d 604, unpublished slip op. (Wis. Ct. App. Jan. 23, 2008).
2 Wis. Stat. § 895.52 (2005-06). All subsequent references to the Wisconsin Statutes are to the 2005-06 version unless otherwise indicated.

[*P2] The sole question before us is whether Halter is “an organization or association not organized or conducted for pecuniary profit” under Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(c) and as such entitled to immunity from liability for negligence, as well as for safe place violations, for any deaths occurring during recreational activity on Halter’s land. 3 De La Trinidad contends that Halter cannot be a nonprofit organization for two reasons: first, because it was incorporated in 1984 under the statute that since 1953 has governed for-profit corporations; and second, because it supplemented membership dues with revenues from other [**329] activities–revenues that created a budget surplus or profit which in turn meant dividends for members in the form of dues that were lower than they would otherwise have been. Halter argues that its articles of incorporation show that it was organized as a nonprofit, and its financial records and its status with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) show that it is not conducted for profit and has never paid any dividends.

3 Because the statute also grants immunity to the employees and agents of nonprofit landowners, and because Proko is being sued in her capacity as an employee of Halter, the resolution of this question affects the claims against Proko as well. “[N]o owner and no officer, employee or agent of an owner is liable for the death of, any injury to, or any death or injury caused by, a person engaging in a recreational activity on the owner’s property. . . .” Wis. Stat. § 895.52(2)(b).

[*P3] The recreational immunity statute does not define nonprofits by referencing the chapter under which they were incorporated, either chapter 180 or 181, so that factor is not dispositive of the question. We see no basis in the statute for defining “profit” as broadly as De La Trinidad urges. Halter’s articles of incorporation, tax returns, and financial statements make clear that it was organized and is conducted as a nonprofit organization, a fact recognized by both Wisconsin and the federal government. For these reasons, explained more fully below, Halter is a nonprofit organization as defined by the statute and is thus entitled to immunity.
[*P4] We therefore affirm the decision of the court of appeals.

[***589] I. BACKGROUND
[*P5] Though it filed restated articles of incorporation in 1984 and 1988 which varied in some respects from the original articles, Halter has since its inception consistently defined itself as a nonprofit stock corporation under ch. 180 of the Wisconsin Statutes. These articles and successive restated articles of incorporation were accepted for filing by the secretary of state. The current articles of incorporation describe Halter as a [**330] hunt and sportsman club with the purpose of promoting wetlands preservation and environmental education.
Its regulations allow its approximately 275 dues-paying members to invite guests 4 to events held on the club’s grounds, which include a clubhouse, a picnic area, a ball park, and a beach and pond used for fishing and swimming. In addition to annual membership dues, Halter collects extra fees from members who host picnics and other events to which guests are invited.

4 The general public does not have access to Halter’s facilities; only club members and their guests may be on the property. Payment of invoices or statements is required under the organization’s regulations to be made by a member’s check.

[*P6] It was at one such event, a company picnic hosted on July 13, 2002, by Finishing and Plating Services (FPS) of Kenosha, 5 that the tragic drownings of the two children occurred.

5 The picnic guests were not charged admission; in keeping with Halter’s regulations, FPS, which held a corporate membership with Halter, paid the invoice for the picnic.

[*P7] De La Trinidad filed this lawsuit, alleging negligence and safe place violations by Halter, and negligence by Proko. The Kenosha County Circuit Court, the Honorable David Bastianelli presiding, granted summary judgment for the defendants. The circuit court noted that despite Halter’s organization under ch. 180 6 as a nonprofit stock corporation, all of the documentation of its existence, from its articles of incorporation to its tax returns, supported the conclusion that it was organized as a nonprofit. The circuit [**331] court also concluded that under the statute’s definition, Halter’s fund-raising activities did not make it a for-profit corporation, noting that the record showed no distributions of profits or earnings to members. The court of appeals affirmed, pointing out that the recreational immunity statute does not define nonprofit with reference to the chapter under which the organization is incorporated. The court of appeals also found that Halter’s nonprofit status turned not on how funds were generated, but rather on how they were used. It noted, “[M]ost importantly, Halter is not organized to distribute profits to anyone, and it does not do so.” Nelly De La Trinidad v. Capitol Indem. Corp., No. 2007AP45, 2008 WI App 36, 308 Wis. 2d 394, 746 N.W.2d 604, unpublished slip op., P15 (Wis. Ct. App. Jan. 23, 2008). For those reasons it affirmed the circuit court. De La Trinidad petitioned this court for review, and on May 13, 2008, review was granted.
6 The present version of ch. 180 of the Wisconsin Statutes governs “Business Corporations,” which include those issuing stock. Wis. Stat. § 180.0103(5). The present version of ch. 181 governs “Nonstock Corporations,” which are defined as including nonprofit corporations. Wis. Stat. § 181.0103(5).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
[*P8] [HN1] The application of a statute to undisputed facts is reviewed de novo. Wis. Dep’t of Revenue v. Menasha Corp., 2008 WI 88, P44, 311 Wis. 2d. 579, 754 N.W.2d 95.

[***590] III. DISCUSSION
[*P9] The question we address is whether Halter was a nonprofit organization under the recreational immunity statute 7 and is therefore entitled to immunity [**332] from liability for negligence, as well as for the claimed safe place violations. [HN2] Nonprofit organizations are among the types of property owners to whom immunity is extended under the statute. 8 7 Wisconsin Stat. § 895.52(2):

[HN3] No duty; immunity from liability. (a) Except as provided in subs. (3) to (6), no owner and no officer, employee or agent of an owner owes to any person who enters the owner’s property to engage in a recreational activity:

1. A duty to keep the property safe for recreational activities.
2. A duty to inspect the property, except as provided under s. 23.115(2).
3. A duty to give warning of an unsafe condition, use or activity on the property.

(b) Except as provided in subs. (3) to (6), no owner and no officer, employee or agent of an owner is liable for the death of, any injury to, or any death or injury caused by, a person engaging in a recreational activity on the owner’s property . . . .

Subsections (3) to (6) do not apply in this case. They deal with government property, malicious acts, and private property owners who collect fees for recreational use of the land in excess of $ 2,000 per year.
There is no dispute here either as to the ownership of the land or as to the recreational nature of the activity.
8 Wisconsin Stat. § 895.52(1), (c) and (d):

[HN4] (c) “Nonprofit organization” means an organization or association not organized or conducted for pecuniary profit.

(d) “Owner” means either of the following:

1. A person, including a governmental body or nonprofit organization, that owns, leases or occupies property. . . .

[*P10] We begin of course with [HN5] the statute’s definition of a nonprofit organization as “an organization or association not organized or conducted for pecuniary profit.” Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(c). We address each prong in turn: how Halter is organized and how it is conducted. 9

9 Wisconsin Stat. § 895.52(1)(c) uses the wording “not organized or conducted for pecuniary profit,” which can be read as intending to mean both prongs would have to be met (as in, “neither organized nor conducted for pecuniary profit”) or as intending to mean that at least one prong would have to be met (as in, “not organized or not conducted for pecuniary profit”).

Yet, in Szarzynski, this court has called the language “clear on its face and capable of one simple construction–that the organizations that are organized and/or conducted for purposes other than profit-making are eligible for recreational immunity under the statute.” Szarzynski v. YMCA, 184 Wis. 2d 875, 890, 517 N.W.2d 135 (1994). Neither party argues that Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(c) may be interpreted in the conjunctive or disjunctive, and it is not necessary for us to consider the question here. Halter does not argue that because it was either organized or conducted as a nonprofit, it was entitled to immunity. Rather, it argues that it met both requirements. We recognize that the “and/or” construction often can be problematic. See, e.g., Wisconsin Bill Drafting Manual § 2.01(9)(a) (2009-10) (“Never use the compound ‘and/or.’ ‘And’ is conjunctive and ‘or’ is disjunctive; decide whether you mean ‘and’ or ‘or’ and use the proper word.”).
[**333] A. “Not organized . . . for pecuniary profit”

[*P11] De La Trinidad’s contention that Halter is organized for pecuniary profit centers on the fact that, as Halter’s restated articles of incorporation provide, it is organized as a stock-issuing corporation “pursuant to the authority and provisions of Chapter 180 of the Wisconsin Statutes.” De La Trinidad contends that this means it is by definition a for-profit–or at best a corporation masquerading as a nonprofit while reserving the legal right to convert to for-profit whenever it chooses–regardless of what its articles of incorporation currently say.

[***591] [*P12] Halter argues that the question of whether it is organized for pecuniary profit is answered by the statement of purpose in its articles of incorporation: “The corporation will be a non-profit corporation which is to be formed not for private profit but exclusively for educational, benevolent, fraternal, social and athletic [**334] purposes within the meaning of Section 501(c)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 . . . .” The articles of incorporation, Halter argues, are consistent with its status with the federal and state governments: the Department of the Treasury granted it tax exempt status under § 501(c)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code, and the state Department of Financial Institutions has confirmed that it has operated since its inception as a nonprofit. Halter points to our decision in Szarzynski v. YMCA, 184 Wis. 2d 875, 890, 517 N.W.2d 135 (1994), in which we cited the definition provided in Black’s Law Dictionary for the term “nonprofit corporation.” That definition made explicit reference to the federal tax code 10 and included corporations “no part of the income of which is distributable to its members, directors or officers.” Id. at 890 (quoting Black’s Law Dictionary 1056 (6th ed. 1990)). Because it distributes no income to members, directors or officers and because it is a nonprofit for purposes of federal taxation, Halter argues that it is organized as a nonprofit.

10 In fact, part of the dictionary’s definition of “nonprofit corporation” not quoted in Szarzynski refers readers to I.R.C. § 501(c) “for a list of exempt organizations.” Black’s Law Dictionary 1056 (6th ed. 1990). The clear inference from that definition is that it intends to define all § 501(c) organizations as nonprofit corporations.

[*P13] A brief summary of the history of chapters 180 and 181 will help make sense of the parties’ arguments. Prior to 1953, it was not unusual for Wisconsin organizations to be incorporated as nonprofit stock corporations under ch. 180. There was a change in the statute, however, that took effect that year and remained in effect at the time of Halter’s incorporation, and it is not entirely clear whether by that change, the legislature intended to continue to permit nonprofit [**335] stock organizations under ch. 180. De La Trinidad relies on a 1958 opinion of the attorney general that examined the statute and concluded otherwise: “[A] nonprofit stock corporation cannot be lawfully organized under ch. 180 subsequent to July 1, 1953 . . . .” 47 Wis. Op. Att’y Gen. 78, 81 (1958).

[*P14] As even that attorney general’s opinion acknowledged, however, it is difficult to reconcile several provisions of the statute. 11 One provision, for example, defines “corporation” as including “a corporation with capital stock but not organized for profit.” Wis. Stat. § 180.02(1) (1957). Another appears to contemplate nonprofits organized under ch. 180 even after 1953: “After June 30, 1953 ch. 180 shall apply to all domestic corporations with capital stock, regardless of when they were organized and whether for profit or not . . . .” Wis. Stat. § 180.97(1) (1957) (emphasis added). However, that same section contains a provision that refers only to nonprofits formed prior to 1953, and is silent as to nonprofits formed thereafter: “any domestic corporation with capital stock but not organized for profit which has before July 1, 1953, been organized under the general corporation laws . . . shall be subject to ch. 180 only to the extent that the provisions of ch. 180 are not inconsistent [***592] with the articles or form of organization of such corporation . . . .” Id. (emphasis added).

11 The opinion noted, “It would have been much more explicit if the legislature had stated plainly that no stock nonprofit corporations are to be organized under ch. 180 after July 1, 1953.” 47 Wis. Op. Att’y Gen. 78, 81 (1958).

[*P15] The attorney general’s 1958 opinion in response to a query from the secretary of state acknowledged that the statute “does say that there can be such a thing as a corporation with capital stock but not [**336] organized for profit.” 47 Wis. Op. Att’y Gen. at 80. The opinion also said Wis. Stat. § 180.97(1) “leaves the door wide open for nonprofit stock corporations” because the language in that section is “about as all-embracing as human draftsmanship can devise.” Id. Nevertheless, in light of an absence of any language in Wis. Stat. § 180.97(1) (1957) about post-1953 stock nonprofits, the attorney general advised that absent explicit statutory authority, the secretary of state “would be justified in finding that the proposed articles [for a nonprofit stock] do not conform to law.” Id. at 81.

[*P16] De La Trinidad urges us to adopt the reasoning of that attorney general’s opinion and reach the same conclusion concerning Halter’s articles of incorporation. Of course, we are not bound to do so. [HN6] “‘An Attorney General’s opinion is only entitled to such persuasive effect as the court deems the opinion warrants.'” State v. Gilbert, 115 Wis. 2d 371, 380, 340 N.W.2d 511 (1983) (quoting Hahner v. Bd. of Educ., 89 Wis. 2d 180, 192, 278 N.W.2d 474 (Ct. App. 1979)). In this case, the opinion does not warrant great persuasive effect; it candidly acknowledges broad language in the statute, for example, that leads to the opposite conclusion. However, even if the attorney general’s opinion was correct as to ch. 180 nonprofits, it merely concluded that the secretary of state “would be justified” in rejecting articles of incorporation for such an organization. 12

12 Even if the secretary of state erred in permitting a nonprofit to organize under ch. 180 rather than requiring it to organize under ch. 181, it does not follow that such an error alone would convert Halter into a for-profit organization. The court of appeals accordingly held that “whether Halter’s form of organization is lawful or not is not the issue in this case.” De La Trinidad, No. 2007AP45, 2008 WI App 36,, 746 N.W.2d 604, unpublished slip op., P8. We agree.

[**337] [*P17] Which brings us to a key point: notwithstanding the attorney general’s opinion on the matter, there is no dispute that the secretary of state did accept and file Halter’s articles of incorporation and restated articles of incorporation. Three times. From the repeated filing and acceptance it is reasonable to infer that the acceptance was intentional and that the secretary of state saw no legal impediment to Halter’s incorporation as a nonprofit under ch. 180. 13 [HN7] Under Wis. Stat. § 180.0203(2), filing of the articles of incorporation by the DFI “is conclusive proof that the corporation is incorporated under this chapter . . . .”

13 It is clear that a different policy was in effect in 1958 in the secretary of state’s office; the attorney general’s opinion from that year makes reference to the fact that the office at that time was “refus[ing] to accept such articles for filing[.]” 47 Wis. Op. Att’y Gen. at 79.

[*P18] That the State of Wisconsin accepted Halter’s incorporation on those terms is verified by the certified document from the secretary of state that confirmed the filing in 1988. It is also confirmed by a 2005 letter from the DFI, which, in response to a letter from Halter about the organization’s status and designation on the DFI online database, stated:

Regarding your written request involving the corporate status of Halter Wildlife, Inc. I have examined the records for this corporation and have determined [***593] that you are correct in that this entity has, since its inception, been a “stock, not-for-profit corporation.[“] Unfortunately, when our database was created we did not set forth a specific “status code” for “stock, not-for-profit” entities. Therefore, although it is a not-for-profit entity, it was included with all other corporations formed [**338] under Chapter 180 having a status code of “01” which reflects the entity as a business corporation on our records. [Emphasis added.]

[*P19] A second, related argument made by De La Trinidad is that an organization formed under ch. 180 cannot be a nonprofit because there is nothing in the law governing it that prevents Halter’s members from voting to amend its articles and becoming a for-profit corporation. De La Trinidad notes that Halter’s articles of incorporation allow the organization to “engage in lawful activity within the purposes for which corporations may be organized under the Wisconsin Business Corporation Law.” Because it was organized under ch. 180, which allows for the distribution of profits to shareholders under Wis. Stat. § 180.0640, De La Trinidad argues that Halter left open the possibility of distributions to shareholders.

[*P20] De La Trinidad cites language from two cases from other jurisdictions in support of the proposition that the mere potential for for-profit conduct should preclude defining Halter as a nonprofit. Both involve organizations that unsuccessfully sought tax exemption by claiming to be nonprofit organizations. Ukranian National Urban Renewal Corp. v. Director, Division of Taxation, 3 N.J. Tax 326 (1981), is easy to distinguish, however, from this case; it turned on the fact that “[t]he organizational focus of this tax exemption statute is on the statute pursuant to which the taxpayer was organized and whether stock was authorized.” Id. at 331 (emphasis added). In other words, the statute at issue there defined a nonprofit in exactly the way the recreational immunity statute does not: pursuant to the statute under which the property owner is organized. The second case, Produce Exchange Stock [**339] Clearing Association, Inc. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 27 B.T.A. 1214, 1219 (1933), is cited for the proposition that a corporation cannot use the fact that dividends have never been paid to claim nonprofit status, when it has retained a legal ability to do so. The case concerned whether the plaintiff was tax-exempt under a statute exempting “business leagues,” which functioned like chambers of commerce. Thus, the central determination was that the plaintiff did not meet the statutory definition of a business league and was therefore not tax-exempt. The language cited by De La Trinidad was an afterthought. (“Although up to the present time the petitioner has not paid any dividends to its stockholder, the New York Produce Exchange, there appears to be no reason under the law why it could not amend its by-laws and pay dividends to its sole stockholder.” Id. at 1219.) Further, on appeal, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals limited its ruling solely to the “business league” question and expressly declined to reach the remainder of the questions. See Produce Exch. Stock Clearing Ass’n, Inc. v. Helvering, 71 F.2d 142, 144 (2d Cir. 1934). In short, for the reasons noted, neither of these cases are as persuasive as De La Trinidad argues.

[*P21] While the “potential for profit” argument may have some merit, it is essentially an argument that it is not good public policy to provide immunity under Wis. Stat. § 895.52 to a nonprofit corporation that has, by incorporating under ch. 180, left open legal avenues for a later change to a for-profit corporation. In other words, it can be argued that the better policy is for the benefits afforded to nonprofits [***594] under the statute to accrue only to those nonprofits that are, by virtue of their incorporation under ch. 181, committed to staying a nonprofit. It is significant, however, that the legislature [**340] did not choose to define nonprofits in Wis. Stat. § 895.52 with reference to the statute under which they were incorporated. 14

14 We note that in some other cases, the legislature has defined nonprofit organization in those terms. See, e.g., Wis. Stat. § 26.40(1c) (referencing “a nonprofit corporation, as defined in s. 181.0103(17)”).
[*P22] Having established that incorporation under ch. 180 does not preclude Halter from being organized as a nonprofit, we arrive at the question of what makes a nonprofit a nonprofit. A leading treatise says the articles of incorporation are the place to focus, and it bolsters our view that the chapter under which Halter is organized is not dispositive here (note especially the second sentence):

[HN8] In order to determine the purpose for which a corporation was created, courts will primarily refer to the stated purpose in the articles of incorporation. . . . A recitation in the articles of incorporation that an organization is organized under a particular statute is not dispositive of the nature of the organization; instead, a corporation’s statement of purpose in its articles determines the corporation’s true nature.

1A Carol A. Jones & Britta M. Larsen, Fletcher Cyclopedia of the Law of Private Corporations § 139 (citing State v. Delano Cmty. Dev. Corp., 571 N.W.2d 233 (Minn. 1997)).

[*P23] We thus turn to the substantive provisions of Halter’s restated articles of incorporation, and we see they:

– explicitly define Halter as a nonprofit;
[**341] forbid income to inure to the benefit of any trustee, director or officer;
– forbid dividends or distributions to be made to stockholders or members;
– limit Halter to activities permissible to a particular type of nonprofit, § 501(c)(7) organizations; and
– provide for its assets to be turned over to a public body or another nonprofit in the event of its dissolution.

[*P24] As noted above, this court has said that [HN9] organizations that are organized “for purposes other than profit-making” are eligible for recreational immunity under the statute. Szarzynski, 184 Wis. 2d at 890.
[*P25] The most recent restated articles of incorporation for Halter are those filed with the Office of the Secretary of State in 1988. 15 They were the documents in effect at the time of the drownings in 2002. They state in part:

[**342] [***595] The purpose of this corporation is to engage in lawful activity within the purposes for which corporations may be organized under the Wisconsin Business Corporations Law. The corporation will be a non-profit corporation which is to be formed not for private profit but exclusively for educational, benevolent, fraternal, social and athletic purposes within the meaning of Section 501(c)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 and in this connection, to promote a hunt and sportsman club, to preserve the environment in its natural setting and to promote education of citizens and youth as to the need to conserve and retain wetlands and adjacent uplands in a natural state . . . .

15 We take judicial notice of the 1988 Restated Articles of Incorporation as we are authorized to do [HN10] under Wis. Stat § 902.01(2)(b), which provides that “A judicially noticed fact must be . . . [a] fact capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” Wis. Stat. § 902.01(3) and (6) provide “[a] judge or court may take judicial notice, whether requested or not[]” and “[j]udicial notice may be taken at any stage of the proceeding.” See Gupton v. City of Wauwatosa, 9 Wis. 2d 217, 101 N.W.2d 104 (1960) (taking judicial notice of articles of incorporation recorded in the office of the secretary of state). The briefs filed with this court quoted the 1984 version and the record included only 1984 versions of the articles of incorporation. The 1988 articles of incorporation were not included despite the fact that references were made to them in documents in the record (e.g., in a letter attached to an affidavit filed by respondents and in a brief filed with the circuit court by De La Trinidad). This error was not cleared up until after oral arguments. Because the 1988 articles of incorporation are the relevant articles, there is no need to address the earlier versions.

[*P26] Additional relevant provisions reiterate the nonprofit nature of the organization:

ARTICLE IV: The corporation has not been formed for pecuniary profit or financial gain, and no part of the assets, income or profit of the corporation is distributable to, or inures to the benefit of, its officers or directors, except to the extent permitted under Wisconsin law. . . . Notwithstanding any other provision of this certificate, the corporation shall not carry on any other activities not permitted to be carried on by a corporation exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(c)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, (or the corresponding provisions of any future United States Internal Revenue law).

. . . .

ARTICLE VIII: No part of the income of the corporation shall inure to the benefit of any trustee, director or officer of the corporation, except that reasonable compensation may be paid for services rendered to or for the corporation affecting one or more of its purposes. In the event of liquidation of the assets of the corporation [**343] any assets available for distribution at the time of such liquidation shall be turned over to an educational, benevolent, fraternal, social, scientific, religious or athletic association within the meaning of Section 501(c)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, or to a public body. Furthermore, no dividends or distributions shall be made to stockholders or members of the corporation during its existence and that upon its liquidation the stockholders or members may receive back no more than their original investment.

(Emphasis added.)

[*P27] The language of the articles of incorporation is clear. It directly prohibits distributions to members, trustees, directors and officers, and covers the liquidation of the organization’s assets at dissolution. De La Trinidad asserts, rather incredibly, that the articles of incorporation are irrelevant to the determination of whether Halter was organized for profit. We cannot agree. It is clear beyond any doubt that Halter’s relevant organizing documents establish an organization with a purpose other than profit-making. As to De La Trinidad’s argument about Halter’s ability under ch. 180 to amend the articles, that ability would become relevant only at the point the organization chose to do so. The immunity extended to nonprofit organizations under Wis. Stat. § 895.52, in other words, continues to extend to Halter unless it amends its articles to allow for a purpose of achieving pecuniary profit.

B. “Not . . . conducted for pecuniary profit”

[*P28] De La Trinidad’s second argument, that Halter does not qualify for immunity under the statute because it is conducted for pecuniary profit, depends on a sort of “penny saved is a penny earned” definition of [**344] profit. This argument is [***596] based on the fact that Halter operated in the black, taking in more revenues than it required for operating expenses; the fact that not all the revenue was from membership dues; and the fact that the income of the organization was therefore distributed, albeit indirectly, to the members, just as if dividends had been paid. This is because those additional fees ultimately reduce the membership dues, De La Trinidad argues; the difference between what the dues are and what they would be without the additional revenues is, according to this argument, the individual member’s dividend.

[*P29] Halter argues that profits from picnics do not affect its immunity because they were returned to the organization, not distributed to members. The relevant inquiry, Halter argues, is whether it made distributions to directors, officers, or members, and its financial statements and tax returns make clear that it never has done so. Halter further points out that De La Trinidad’s approach, limiting nonprofit status to those organizations operating at a deficit, is unworkable and undesirable.

[*P30] De La Trinidad’s arguments rest on broad definitions of the terms “profit” and “distribution.” In support of its position, De La Trinidad cites language from State ex rel. Troy v. Lumbermen’s Clinic, 186 Wash. 384, 58 P.2d 812 (Wash. 1936), a case having to do with a corporation that the state believed had falsely incorporated as a nonprofit while operating as a for-profit. In finding for the state, the court there defined profit thus: “Profit does not necessarily mean a direct return by way of dividends, interest, capital account, or salaries. . . . [I]n considering . . . the question of whether or not respondent is or is not operated for profit, money saved is money earned.” Id. at 816. This holding is at quite a [**345] variance from a standard legal definition of “profit,” as found in Black’s Law Dictionary: “The excess of revenues over expenditures in a business transaction; GAIN (2). Cf. EARNINGS; INCOME.” Black’s Law Dictionary 1246 (8th ed. 2004). There is nothing in the statute that would support such an expansive definition of the word “profit.” 16

16 [HN11] “When giving a statute its plain and ordinary meaning, courts refer to dictionaries to define those terms not defined by the legislature. Wisconsin Stat. § 990.01(1) provides that ‘[a]ll words and phrases shall be construed according to common and approved usage; but technical words and phrases and others that have a peculiar meaning in the law shall be construed according to such meaning.'” Rouse v. Theda Clark Med. Ctr., Inc., 2007 WI 87, P21, 302 Wis. 2d 358, 735 N.W.2d 30 (citation omitted).

[*P31] De La Trinidad also relies on St. John’s Military Academy v. Larson, 168 Wis. 357, 170 N.W. 269 (1919), for the proposition that when an organization operates in the black, it “materially enhance[s] the value of its capital stock, resulting in a pecuniary profit to the shareholders.” Id. at 361. As the underlying facts of the case make clear, it was not the indirect enhancement of the stock that made St. John’s Military Academy a for-profit organization; it was the fact that it was organized as a profit-sharing corporation and had in two prior years declared a dividend on its stock.

[*P32] De La Trinidad’s arguments are unavailing. To adopt them would, with the stroke of a pen, convert innumerable nonprofits in Wisconsin to for-profit enterprises by virtue of the fact that their bills are paid and they have money in the bank. Such a rule would operate to strip any solvent § 501(c)(7) organization of its nonprofit status. In fact, neither case compels the outcome that De La Trinidad seeks. First, St. John’s is [**346] a case about a for-profit organization in the first place. In St. John’s this court noted that the school’s [***597] “articles of incorporation show that it is organized to conduct a private enterprise upon the plan of a profit-sharing corporation . . . .” St. John’s, 168 Wis. 2d at 361. Further, the case shows that “in 1900 and 1901 it declared a small dividend on its stock.” Id. at 360. In contrast, Halter’s articles of incorporation explicitly describe the organization as a non-profit, and there is no allegation that cash distributions have ever been made to members.

[*P33] De La Trinidad’s “indirect benefits” argument is unsupported by Wisconsin case law. [HN12] So long as no profits are distributed to members, the fact that members may obtain other benefits from an organization is no bar to its nonprofit status. That this is the law in Wisconsin is made clear from a reading of Bethke v. Lauderdale of La Crosse, Inc., 2000 WI App 107, P13, 235 Wis. 2d 103, 612 N.W.2d 332. In Bethke, the plaintiff challenged the condo association’s status as a nonprofit organization and its entitlement to immunity under the recreational immunity statute. The basis for the challenge was, among other things, that the statute was unconstitutional when it protected property owners who were nonprofit organizations that further no charitable purposes. There the sole purpose for the revenues raised (in that case, monthly fees from each member) was “to provide for the maintenance, preservation and control of the common area [of the condo].” Id. The court found no bar in the statute for the benefits that accrued to the members, and, consistent with the reasoning in Bethke, we see none here.

[*P34] As the court of appeals observed when it decided the case before us, “even nonpublic-service-oriented [**347] nonprofits receive nonprofit immunity under the statute. . . . Bethke specifically rejected the argument that a nonprofit must [] be charitable to claim the benefit of recreational immunity. In Bethke . . . the defendant was a condominium association, and its revenues were presumably used solely for the benefit of the few people who happened to live in the condominium development.” De La Trinidad, No. 2007AP45, 2008 WI App 36, 308 Wis. 2d 394; 746 N.W.2d 604, unpublished slip op., P14 (citations omitted).

[*P35] Contrary to De La Trinidad’s assertions, there is substantial evidence of Halter’s being conducted as a nonprofit. Halter is recognized by the IRS as a § 501(c)(7) nonprofit organization; 17 documents from the IRS in the record confirm that Halter qualifies as a tax-exempt organization under the Internal Revenue Code. The record also contains Halter’s 2002 IRS Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax, in which Halter identifies itself as a § 501(c)(7) organization. A letter from the IRS dated November 23, 1990, states that Halter’s “organization continues to qualify for exemption from Federal income tax” under § 501(c)(7).

17 The Internal Revenue Code exempts from taxation “[c]lubs organized for pleasure, recreation, and other nonprofitable purposes, substantially all of the activities of which are for such purposes and no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder.” I.R.C. § 501(c)(7) (2006).

[*P36] There is no indication in the record that Halter brings in revenues from outside of its membership though it could do so under IRS guidelines without forfeiting its nonprofit status. 18 The record includes [**348] [***598] regulations from Halter that show that it requires all invoices to be paid by member checks. Deposition testimony in the record is clear that the attendees at the picnic giving rise to this action were not charged for the picnic; a Halter member, FPS of Kenosha, paid the invoice.

18 According to an official IRS publication, “A section 501(c)7 organization may receive up to 35% of its gross receipts, including investment income, from sources outside of its membership without losing its tax-exempt status. Of the 35%, up to 15% of the gross receipts may be derived from the use of the club’s facilities or services by the general public or from other activities not furthering social or recreational purposes for members.” IRS Publication 557 at 49 (Rev. June 2008).

[*P37] A law review author described the standard controlling inquiry for nonprofits:

[HN13] The defining characteristic of a nonprofit corporation is that it is barred from distributing profits, or net earnings, to . . . its directors, officers or members. That does not mean that it is prohibited from earning a profit. Rather, it is only the distribution of those earnings as dividends that is prohibited.

Jane C. Schlicht, Piercing the Nonprofit Corporate Veil, 66 Marq. L. Rev. 134, 136 (1982) (internal quotations omitted).

[*P38] The record is replete with evidence that supports Halter’s 27-year existence as a nonprofit. It would be an absurd result if we were to read the recreational immunity statute as making a for-profit organization out of an organization that throughout its existence has been governed by articles of incorporation that define it as a nonprofit, has been documented by state agencies as a nonprofit, and has been in compliance with IRS regulations as a nonprofit. Like the circuit court and court of appeals, we see no failure on Halter’s part to meet the requirements necessary to be a nonprofit and thus to be entitled to immunity here.

[**349] IV. CONCLUSION
[*P39] The recreational immunity statute does not define nonprofits by referencing the chapter under which they were incorporated, either chapter 180 or 181, so that factor is not dispositive of the question. We see no basis in the statute for defining “profit” as broadly as De La Trinidad urges. Halter’s articles of incorporation, tax returns, and financial statements make clear that it was organized and is conducted as a nonprofit organization, a fact recognized by both Wisconsin and the federal government. For these reasons, Halter is a nonprofit organization as defined by the statute and is thus entitled to immunity.

[*P40] We therefore affirm the decision of the court of appeals.

By the Court.–The decision of the court of appeals is affirmed.

Enhanced by Zemanta