Your Jurisdiction and Venue clause must be relevant to the possible location of the accident. Screw this up and you can void your release as occurred in this ski racing case.Posted: April 3, 2017
This is not the first decision I’ve read where the United States Ski Association (USSA) had its release laughed out of court. The court found ZERO legal arguments for the jurisdiction and venue clause in the release used.
State: Vermont, United States District Court for the District of Vermont
Plaintiff: Brian J Tierney
Defendant: Okemo Limited Liability Company, d/b/a Okemo Mountain Resort, and The United States Ski and Snowboard Association,
Plaintiff Claims: alleging negligent installation of safety netting during a downhill alpine ski race
Defendant Defenses: Release
Holding: for the plaintiff
The United States Ski Association (USSA) has members sign a release online before they can participate in any USSA as a ski race. Ski areas rely on this release when holding USSA sanctioned races. The USSA release, however, is a poorly written document and time after time the ski areas, and the USSA lose a lawsuit by a plaintiff because they relied on the USSA release.
The number-one reason why the USSA as a release is thrown out by the courts is the jurisdiction and venue clause. Jurisdiction is the law that will be applied case and venue is the actual location of where the trial will be held. The USSA release says the jurisdiction for any case is Colorado. The problem is unless the accident occurred in Colorado; no other relationship exists between Colorado and the parties to the lawsuit.
The USSA is based, located, in Utah. In this case, the defendant ski area was located in Vermont. There were zero relationships between the USSA in Utah the ski area in Vermont and the injured plaintiff who was from New York, and the state of Colorado.
Consequently, the court throughout the jurisdiction and venue clause and found as 99% of most courts would that the location of the lawsuit should be Vermont, the place where the accident happened.
Vermont, however, does not recognize releases. (See States that do not Support the Use of a Release.).
The plaintiff argued the release was invalid because a copy with his signature could not be produced. The plaintiff signed and agreed to the documentation, including the release when he became a member of the USSA. The plaintiff argued in court that he did not remember signing or agreeing to the release. However, the USSA could show through their IT expert the only way that the plaintiff could have become a member of the USSA was by signing the release. You either had to click on and accept the release, or you could go no further in signing up to be a member of the USSA.
The plaintiff was injured while competing in amateur downhill ski race at the defendant ski area at Okemo Mountain resort. The USSA sanctioned the race. To be eligible to participate in the race a person had to be a USSA member, had to have conducted a visual inspection of course, and had to have taken at least two official training runs prior to the race.
The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the release. This ruling denied the motion for summary judgment.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The court first commented on the jurisdiction and venue issue.
The release also contained a choice-of-law provision, which stated that it would be “construed in accordance with, and governed by the substantive laws of the State of Colorado, without reference to principles governing choice or conflict of laws.”
The court then went through the various arguments of the plaintiff and defendant concerning the motion to dismiss, first off, with the plaintiff’s argument that he never remembered signing the release could not have signed release. The court termed the online release as a clip wrap release. This means that the release could not have been rejected by the plaintiff because the website only allows you to go forward after clicking yes to the release.
Because the click-wrap technology does not permit the customer to continue to use the website, unless he or she clicks on the required box on the screen, courts have accepted proof of use at the site as evidence of the customer’s agreement.
The court stated that generally clip wrap releases are upheld. The court went through several different decisions where clip-wrap releases had been decided. The court concluded that the plaintiff had to have signed the release because the plaintiff admitted that he had been charged for his USSA membership on his credit card and received an email about his membership from the USSA. “Plaintiff admits that he received a confirmation email from USSA and that his credit card statement reflects a payment for his USSA membership.”
The court then went into the choice of law clause. That means the jurisdiction and venue clause. A choice of law clause is not a clause that is controlled strictly by the contract.
Whenever there is a decision based on what law shall apply the law where the accident happened or where the court is sitting is the law that is applied to determine what law will apply. In many cases, such as this one, the choice of law decision leans toward granting the choice of law to the place where the test is being determined.
“The validity of a contractual choice-of-law clause is a threshold question that must be decided not under the law specified in the clause, but under the relevant forum’s choice-of-law rules governing the effectiveness of such clauses.” As this is a diversity action, the court looks to Vermont’s choice-of-law rules to determine which law applies.
A jurisdiction and venue clause is also not solely determined based on the four corners of the document. Meaning, just because you have a jurisdiction and venue clause in the document does not mean that is what is going to be upheld by the court. Here the court applied the choice of laws test as set forth in Vermont to determine what law should apply in governing where the suit in the law to be applied is suit to take place.
Simply put the court found there was no relationship between the choice of law clause in the release and the parties or where the accident occurred. The test for what choice of law applies a substantial relationship test. That means that the law that should be applied should be the one that has the greatest relationship to the parties and or the location of the incident giving rise to the lawsuit. In this case the court found, there was no relationship to the parties of the transaction. Plaintiff was a resident of New York the USSA was a Utah corporation, and the defendant ski area was a defendant was a Vermont location.
The arguments made by the USSA as an aid to justify Colorado’s choice of law clause were just plain weak. They argued that the majority of their races occurred in Colorado and that there was a good chance that the plaintiff would race in Colorado. The court found neither of those arguments to be persuasive.
The chosen state of Colorado has no “substantial relationship” to the parties or the transaction. Plaintiff is a resident of New York. USSA is a Utah corporation and Okemo is a Vermont entity. The incident in question did not occur in Colorado. The only facts Defendants have offered in sup-port of applying Colorado law to this case are: (1) Colorado is home to more USSA member clubs than any other state and hosts the majority of USSA’s major events, and (2) there was a possibility that Plaintiff could have competed in Colorado at some point during the relevant ski season. The court finds that such a tenuous and hypothetical connection does not vest in the state of Colorado a substantial relationship to the parties or specific transaction at issue in this case.
The court did find that Vermont had a substantial and significant interest in the transaction. The defendant was based in Vermont. The accident occurred in Vermont. The plaintiff was issued a lift ticket by the defendant ski area that required all disputes to be litigated in Vermont. The plaintiff participated in the inspection and training runs as well as the race in Vermont.
In contrast, Vermont’s relationship to the parties and transaction is significant. Okemo is a Vermont corporation, the competition was held in Vermont, Plaintiff was issued a lift ticket by Okemo requiring all disputes to be litigated in Vermont, Plaintiff participated in inspection and training runs in Vermont, and Plaintiff’s injury occurred in Vermont.
(Of note is the fact the court looked at the writing on the lift ticket as a quasi-contract. Rarely are lift tickets anything more than simple “signs” providing warnings rather than contracts or quasi contracts. See Lift tickets are not contracts and rarely work as a release in most states.)
The court then took apart the choice of law provision in the USSA release. It found no substantial relationship of the parties to the transaction in Colorado. The minimal facts offered by the USSA to support Colorado did not establish a reasonable basis for choosing Colorado.
The court also reasoned that finding Colorado as the applicable choice of law would violate a fundamental policy of Vermont law, which is releases for skiing or void under Vermont law.
First, applying Colorado law would undoubtedly produce a result contrary to a fundamental policy of Vermont. Whereas exculpatory clauses in ski contracts have been held to be enforceable under Colorado law, courts applying Vermont law consistently hold such re-leases to be void as contrary to important public policies of the state.
The court also found the Vermont had a materially greater interest in case then Colorado. Colorado’s interest in the case is minimal. Vermont had a great interest in applying Vermont law to issues, transactions and accidents that occur in Vermont. Skiing is a significant and important recreational activity in Vermont, and the Vermont Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that they have a significant interest in holding ski resorts responsible for skier safety in Vermont.
Second, Vermont has a “materially greater interest” than Colorado in the determination of this issue.4 Colorado’s interest in this case is minimal. The fact that Plaintiff may have competed there in the course of the relevant ski season and that USSA hosts many events in that state does not create a significant interest in a case concerning a Vermont ski race. Conversely, Vermont’s interest is plain. Vermont has a general interest in having its laws apply to contracts governing transactions taking place within the state. Vermont also has a significant interest in the conduct at issue here. Skiing is an important recreational activity for Vermonters and those visiting the state, and the Vermont Supreme Court has repeatedly noted its interest in holding ski resorts responsible for skier safety.
The court then held the choice of law provision in the USSA release did not control, and the Vermont law would apply to this case.
Under Vermont law releases for skiing activities are unenforceable. (See Federal court voids release in Vermont based on Vermont’s unique view of release law). The Vermont Supreme Court had determined that it was a violation of public policy under Vermont law to allow ski area to use a release to avoid liability for its own negligence. The court used a totality of the circumstances test to make the determination that the ski areas had the greater responsibility and the greater ability to keep its patrons out of harm’s way.
The Court concluded that “ultimately the determination of what constitutes the public interest must be made considering the totality of the circumstances of any given case against the backdrop of current societal expectations.” It then went on to make its public policy determination largely on the basis of two factors derived from the seminal case of Tunkl v. Regents of University of California, 383 P.2d 441 (Cal. 1963): (1) ski areas are open to the general public without regard to special training or ability, and (2) the longstanding rule that premises owners are in the best position to assure for the safety of their visitors.
(Using Tunkl to void a release seems to be an extremely odd reading of Tunkl. The Tunkl decision is a California case setting forth requirements for Assumption of the Risk.)
The court also looked at the difference between skiing in Vermont participating in a ski race. Here too though, the Vermont Supreme Court already ruled. The Vermont Supreme Court found that there was really no difference between ski racing and skiing in Vermont, and the releases would be void in both cases.
There had been Vermont decisions upholding release law based on restricted access to the race or because total control for the majority the control for the welfare of the racers was in the racer’s hands. These decisions concerned motorcycle racing.
The defendant argued that ski racing was much like motorcycle racing in Vermont. However, the court found that although membership in the motorcycle racing was restricted, it was not restricted in the ski racing case. Any person could become a member of the USSA, and any person could race, as long as they inspected the course and made two runs and. That effectively was not a bar to anyone participating in the race.
The Court saw “no salient distinctions between [its case] and making clear that, under Vermont law, ski areas and sport event organizers will not be absolved from liability by virtue of an exculpatory clause even in the context of amateur racing.
The court in evaluating the release law and ski areas in Vermont determined that the cases were based on a premise’s liability argument. Premise’s liability says that the owner of the land has a duty to inform guests of the risks on the land. This responsibility included eliminating any known risks or risk the by the landowner should discover. It did not find in the motorcycle cases that a premise’s liability relationship existed because the risk was largely in control of the racer on the motorcycle.
Consequently, the court ruled that the release was invalid under Vermont law, and dismissed the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
So Now What?
I suspect that USSA wanted to take advantage of the Colorado Statute that allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue: Colorado Revised Statutes 13-22-107. Colorado’s release law is clearer and there is no issue with a release stopping suits by ski areas. Utah has mixed issues with releases and ski areas. However, to use Colorado as the site of the lawsuit, there must be a nexus to the state of Colorado, not just one created on paper.
Not only must the language stating the jurisdiction and venue be correct; the clause must also contain the reasoning why the jurisdiction and venue should be in a location other than location where the accident happened. In this case that would mean that there was an agreement between the parties that outlined all the reasons why the lawsuit should be brought back to Utah would be the only state, based on the contractual law of Utah.
I doubt there is any way that you could really write a release based on the law of a state that had no relationship, no nexus, to the accident or the parties in the case.
Vermont was the obvious answer, and that is what the court found. They might’ve been able also argued New York law, which would’ve been better than Vermont law. However, that would require them to litigate a case wherever the people who are racing in their events are located.
To be effective the jurisdiction and venue claw must have a nexus to either the parties in the case of the place of the accident occurred. USSA could move to Colorado, and that would provide a much better argument that Colorado law could apply. The USSA could argue that since they’re facing litigation from across the United States that they need to have one law apply to their releases and lawsuits, and that law should be the law where the located.
Whenever you’re stretching the jurisdiction and venue clause, you need to make sure that you incorporate in the clause all the legal reasons for picking the venue where the clause says the accident or location will occur. You just can’t state venue, and jurisdiction will be here.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
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Copyright 2017 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law
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By Recreation Law Recfirstname.lastname@example.org 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, United States Ski Association, USSA, Okemo, Vermont, Choice of Law, Jurisdiction, Venue, Jurisdiction and Venue, Ski Racing, Amateur Racing, Electronic Click Wrap Agreements, Click Wrap Agreements. Nexus, Legal Relationship,
Kearney, v. Okemo Limited Liability Company, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106011
FIS establishes new regulations for ski racing helmets. Standards filter down to other ski races and eventually maybe the public.Posted: May 20, 2015
Basis of the new test for ski helmets is the helmet must survive a drop test that is approximately three feet higher and at a speed approximately three mph faster.
I’m not going to try to interpret the regulations here you are better off trying to figure it out on your won. Seriously, the regulations are the most convoluted work I’ve read and were made to make it impossible to understand. On top of that they make it impossible to copy the information from their website, even off PDF’s. (Why don’t they want this information to be known?)
1) To show the new helmets meet the new standards they are going to have the CE Mark and conform to one of the following regulations.
a) DIN EN 1077
b) ASTM F2040
c) SNELL S98 or RS 98
2) If the helmet is designed for GS (Giant Slalom), SG (Super G) or DH (Downhill) racing it must have a conformity label affixed in a non-removable way, at the back of the helmet, in a position not be covered by the goggle strap. The conformity label must contain the text “Racing helmet to conform to FIS specifications 2013.”
If you want a better ski helmet look for one that meets the new requirements. It can take a bigger impact.
It is going to be a simple helmet, hard ear covers, no spoilers, etc. These helmets are going to be pretty dull, little venting and nothing except the stickers you put on them. However, if you want to protect your head….
What do you think? Leave a comment.
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Copyright 2015 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law
Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law
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By Recreation Law Recemail@example.comJames 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, USSA, FIS, Skiing, Ski Helmet, GS, DH, SG, Downhill, Super G, Giant Slalom, International Ski Federation, US Ski Association,
Rutherfordv. Talisker Canyons Finance Co., LLC, 2014 UT App 190; 767 Utah Adv. Rep. 41; 2014 Utah App. LEXIS 201Posted: November 6, 2014
Philip Rutherford and Wendy Rutherford, on Behalf of Their Minor Child, Levi Rutherford, Plaintiffs and Appellees, v. Talisker Canyons Finance Co., LLC and ASC UTAH, LLC, Defendants and Appellants.
COURT OF APPEALS OF UTAH
2014 UT App 190; 767 Utah Adv. Rep. 41; 2014 Utah App. LEXIS 201
August 14, 2014, Filed
THIS OPINION IS SUBJECT TO REVISION BEFORE PUBLICATION IN THE OFFICIAL REPORTER.
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Third District Court, Silver Summit Department. The Honorable Todd M. Shaughnessy. No. 100500564.
COUNSEL: Eric P. Lee, M. Alex Natt, Elizabeth Butler, and Timothy C. Houpt, Attorneys, for Appellants.
David A. Cutt, Attorney, for Appellees.
JUDGES: JUDGE JAMES Z. DAVIS authored this Opinion, in which JUDGE GREGORY K. ORME and SENIOR JUDGEPAMELA T. GREENWOOD concurred.1 DAVIS, Judge.
1 The Honorable Pamela T. Greenwood, Senior Judge, sat by special assignment as authorized by law. See generally Utah Code Jud. Admin. R. 11-201(6).
OPINION BY: JAMES Z. DAVIS
[*P1] Talisker Canyons Finance Co., LLC and ASC Utah, LLC (collectively, the Ski Resort) bring this interlocutory appeal challenging the trial court’s denial of their motion for summary judgment and the trial court’s grant of partial summary judgment in favor of Philip and Wendy Rutherford, on behalf of their minor child, Levi Rutherford (collectively, the Rutherfords). We affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings in accordance with this decision.
[*P2] In 2010, ten-year-old Levi Rutherford was a member of the Summit Ski Team, a ski racing club that is affiliated with the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (the USSA). The Ski [**2] Team trained primarily at the Canyons, a ski resort near Park City, Utah, with the resort’s permission and subject to the resort’s requirement that the Ski Team carry liability insurance. The Ski Team’s liability insurance was provided through its affiliation with USSA. All Summit Ski Team participants were required to become USSA members, and USSA membership required applicants to execute a release indemnifying USSA from any injury the individual may suffer in connection with his participation in USSA-associated activities, regardless of USSA’s negligence. Because of Levi’s age, his father, Philip Rutherford, executed the release on Levi’s behalf. In that agreement, the term “USSA” is defined as including, inter alia, local ski clubs and ski and snowboard facility operators.
[*P3] On January 15, 2010, Levi and his seven-year-old brother were at the Canyons to attend a Ski Team race-training session. The brothers rode a chairlift that carried them along the length of the “Retreat” ski run where the Ski Team was setting up for practice. Snowmaking machines along the Retreat run were actively making snow at this time. After exiting the chairlift, Levi and his brother skied down Retreat.2 Levi [**3] skied down the slope maintaining a racing stance and without making any turns. Near the bottom of the run, Levi fell when he collided with a mound of man-made snow that was of a different and wetter consistency than other snow on the run. Levi sustained injuries as a result of his fall.
2 It is unclear whether the Ski Team coaches instructed Levi and his brother to take a warm-up run down Retreat or whether the brothers did so of their own accord. See infra note 7.
[*P4] The Rutherfords filed a complaint against the Ski Resort and the Ski Team, seeking damages for Levi’s injuries, which they claim were caused by the defendants’ negligence. As against the Ski Resort specifically, the Rutherfords alleged that the machine that produced the snow mound was not functioning properly, that the Ski Resort could have warned patrons of the hazard by marking the mound or closing the trail, and that the Ski Resort did not adequately monitor the snowmaking taking place on the Retreat run that day.
[*P5] The parties filed several motions for summary judgment. The Ski Team submitted motions for summary judgment on the basis that Utah’s Inherent Risks of Skiing Act (the Act) precluded the Rutherfords’ claims against [**4] it because Levi was indisputably injured when he crashed into a mound of machine-made snow, an inherent risk of skiing for which ski-area operators are exempted from liability under the Act. See generally Utah Code Ann. §§ 78B-4-401 to -404 (LexisNexis 2012) (Inherent Risks of Skiing Act); id. § 78B-4-402(1)(b) (machine-made snow exemption). The Ski Team also contended that it had no duty to protect Levi from a risk inherent to skiing and that it otherwise did not owe him a general duty of care as alleged by the Rutherfords. The Ski Resort joined in the Ski Team’s motions, specifically arguing that the Act exempts the Ski Resort, as a ski-area operator, from any duty to protect Levi from the inherent risk of skiing posed by the mound of machine-made snow. The Ski Resort did not argue that any of the Act’s exemptions other than the machine-made snow exemption applied in this case. The Rutherfords moved for partial summary judgment, arguing that the Act did not bar their claims against the Ski Resort.
[*P6] The trial court rejected the Ski Team’s argument that it is entitled to protection under the Act but granted the Ski Team’s motion for summary judgment on the negligence issue, dismissing with prejudice the Rutherfords’ negligence [**5] claim against it. The trial court concluded that “the Ski Team did not owe Levi a general duty of reasonable care to protect him from harm as alleged by [the Rutherfords]” and that even assuming that it did, “given the undisputed facts in this case, no reasonable jury could find that the Ski Team breached such a duty.”3 The trial court denied the Ski Resorts’ joinder in the Ski Team’s motion for summary judgment based on the Act, ruling that the applicability of the Act and the machine-made snow exemption to the Ski Resort depended on the resolution of disputed facts, namely, whether the snowmaking equipment along Retreat was functioning properly. The trial court granted the Rutherfords’ motion for partial summary judgment based on their argument that the Act did not bar their claims against the Ski Resort.
3 The Ski Team is not a party to this interlocutory appeal.
[*P7] The Ski Resort also filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis that the USSA release that Mr. Rutherford signed on behalf of his son barred Levi’s claims. The court denied the motion based on its determinations (1) that the waiver’s Colorado choice-of- law provision “is unenforceable and . . . Utah law applies to the [**6] USSA release”; (2) that the release is unenforceable under Utah law based on the Utah Supreme Court’s decision in Hawkins ex rel. Hawkins v. Peart, 2001 UT 94, 37 P.3d 1062; and (3) that even if the release was enforceable under Utah or Colorado law, Levi was not racing at the time of his injury or otherwise engaged in the activities covered by the release because the Ski Team’s practice had not yet begun. The Ski Resort petitioned for interlocutory review, which was granted by our supreme court and assigned to this court.
ISSUES AND STANDARD OF REVIEW
[*P8] The Ski Resort contends that the trial court erroneously granted the Rutherfords’ motion for partial summary judgment after finding that Levi was not engaged in race training at the time of his injury and that an exemption in the Act regarding competitive skiing did not bar the Rutherfords’ claims. See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-4-402(1)(g) (competitive-skiing exemption). The Ski Resort also asserts that the trial court’s interpretation of the Act’s machine-made snow exemption was incorrect and that, as a matter of law, summary judgment should be entered for the Ski Resort based on either the machine-made snow exemption or the competitive-skiing exemption. Last, the Ski Resort argues that the trial court erred in determining that [**7] the Colorado choice-of-law provision in the USSA release was not enforceable, that the release was not enforceable under Utah law, and that the release was nevertheless inapplicable here, where Levi was engaged in an activity not covered by the release when he was injured.
[*P9] [HN1] Summary judgment is appropriate “only when all the facts entitling the moving party to a judgment are clearly established or admitted” and the “undisputed facts provided by the moving party . . . preclude, as a matter of law, the awarding of any relief to the losing party.” Smith v. Four Corners Mental Health Ctr., Inc., 2003 UT 23, ¶ 24, 70 P.3d 904 (alteration in original) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Utah R. Civ. P. 56(c). “We also note that summary judgment is generally inappropriate to resolve negligence claims and should be employed only in the most clear-cut case.” White v. Deseelhorst, 879 P.2d 1371, 1374 (Utah 1994) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). “An appellate court reviews a trial court’s legal conclusions and ultimate grant or denial of summary judgment for correctness, and views the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Orvis v. Johnson, 2008 UT 2, ¶ 6, 177 P.3d 600 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).
I. The Distinction Between Competitive Skiing and Recreational [**8] Skiing
[*P10] [HN2] The Act exempts ski resorts from liability for injuries sustained by individuals engaged in “competitive” skiing, including injuries sustained as a result of an individual’s “participation in, or practicing or training for, competitions or special events.” See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-4-402(1)(g) (LexisNexis 2012).4 Here, a determination that Levi was injured while engaged in competitive, as opposed to recreational, skiing under the Act could be case-determinative.5
4 Except where otherwise noted, we cite the most recent version of the Utah Code for the convenience of the reader.
5 The applicability of the USSA release could also turn on whether Levi was injured while engaged in one of the activities specifically enumerated in the release; if he was not, then the release cannot apply, rendering irrelevant the question of the release’s enforceability under Utah or Colorado law. The release defines the covered activities as “skiing and snowboarding in their various forms, as well as preparation for, participation in, coaching, volunteering, officiating and related activities in alpine, nordic, freestyle, disabled, and snowboarding competitions and clinics” “in which USSA is involved in any way.” Because USSA employs different [**9] terminology to describe the competitive skiing activities covered by the release, a determination that Levi was not injured while competitively skiing under the terms of the Act would not necessarily foreclose a finding that he was engaged in an activity covered by the release. However, because we determine that the release is unenforceable for other reasons, see infra ¶ 30, we need not address whether Levi was injured while engaging in an activity covered by the release.
[*P11] In their complaint, the Rutherfords allege that Levi was injured during Ski Team practice, stating, “[T]he Summit Ski Team instructed Levi to ski down the Retreat run. . . . As Levi was skiing down Retreat, he crashed into [a mound of snow] and sustained serious injuries . . . .” Similarly, in the Rutherfords’ motions for partial summary judgment as to the enforceability of the Act and the USSA release, they state, “Levi was injured while participating in racing practice as a member of [the Ski Team].”6 Further, the Rutherfords’ expert witness, whose statement was submitted with the Rutherfords’ summary judgment filings, based his expert report and evaluation on the premise that Levi was engaged in race training and practice. [**10] In its response to the Rutherfords’ motions, the Ski Resort agreed that it was an undisputed fact that “Levi was injured while participating in racing practice as a member of the [Ski Team].”7
6 On appeal, the Rutherfords assert that they “never alleged that Levi was injured while ski racing” but only that he “was injured in connection with Ski Team practice,” and that it was through discovery that they learned that Levi was injured before practice started. To the extent this sentiment is contradictory to the allegations contained in the Rutherfords’ complaint, we note that [HN3] “[a]n admission of fact in a pleading is a judicial admission and is normally conclusive on the party making it.” See Baldwin v. Vantage Corp., 676 P.2d 413, 415 (Utah 1984); see also Amgen Inc. v. Connecticut Ret. Plans & Trust Funds, 133 S. Ct. 1184, 1197 n.6, 185 L. Ed. 2d 308 (2013) (holding that a party was bound by an admission in its answer); Belnap v. Fox, 69 Utah 15, 251 P. 1073, 1074 (Utah 1926) (overturning a finding entered by the trial court because the finding was “against and in conflict with the admission in the answer of the principal defendant”). But see Baldwin, 676 P.2d at 415 (recognizing “that an admission may be waived where the parties treat the admitted fact as an issue”).
7 The Ski Team, although not a party to this appeal, disputed in part the Rutherfords’ assertion that Levi was injured during practice, stating, “[A]lthough Levi was injured [**11] during a practice in which the [Ski Team] had intended to conduct race training, he was injured while free skiing and not while running gates.” The Ski Team’s summary judgment filings imply that there is a factual dispute as to whether a “warm-up” run can constitute part of the Ski Team’s race training. See supra note 2.
[*P12] The trial court, however, likened Levi to a recreational skier, rather than a competitive skier, and determined that Levi’s accident occurred while he was “skiing on an open run that any member of the public could ski on” and that his accident indisputably did not occur during a ski race, while skiing through gates, or while otherwise “negotiating for training purposes something that had been specifically designated as a race course.” The trial court made this ruling in the context of rejecting the Ski Resort’s argument that the USSA release is enforceable under Utah law. Thus, while the specific details in the trial court’s ruling are not entirely in conflict with the parties’ undisputed statement of fact that Levi was injured during race training, the court’s comparison of Levi to a recreational skier amounts to a rejection of the parties’ undisputed statement of [**12] fact. This ruling also implies a distinction between injuries sustained during a competition and injuries sustained during training for competition that is not made in the Act’s provision that “participation in, or practicing or training for, competitions” are all inherent risks of skiing. See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-4-402(1)(g). We conclude that the trial court improperly made a finding in the summary judgment context and that its finding is contrary to what appear to be undisputed facts. We vacate this ruling and direct the trial court to reconsider the parties’ arguments in light of the undisputed statements of fact as set forth in the Rutherfords’ and the Ski Resort’s pleadings and motion filings.8 See Staker v. Ainsworth, 785 P.2d 417, 419 (Utah 1990) ( [HN4] “Where a triable issue of material fact exists, the cause will be remanded for determination of that issue.”). We likewise leave for the trial court’s determination the question of whether Levi’s engagement in race training at the time of his injury is truly undisputed by the parties.
8 Although we often provide guidance for the trial court on remand by addressing “[i]ssues that are fully briefed on appeal and are likely to be presented on remand,” State v. James, 819 P.2d 781, 795 (Utah 1991), we do not address whether the competitive-skiing exemption precludes the Rutherfords’ [**13] claims against the Ski Resort based on the parties’ agreement that Levi was injured while engaged in race training. That argument was not presented below, nor was it sufficiently briefed on appeal. See McCleve Props., LLC v. D. Ray Hult Family Ltd. P’ship, 2013 UT App 185, ¶ 19, 307 P.3d 650 (determining that [HN5] “it is better to leave” a legal issue that was not addressed by the parties in briefing “for the district court to address in the first instance based on appropriate briefing by the parties” than to “endeavor to provide the district court with guidance”); cf. Medley v. Medley, 2004 UT App 179, ¶ 11 n.6, 93 P.3d 847 (declining to provide the trial court with guidance on a legal issue likely to arise on remand where the court of appeals had “no consensus on whether [it] should offer guidance . . . and, if so, what any such guidance should be”).
II. The Machine-Made Snow Exemption
[*P13] The Ski Resort next argues that the trial court erroneously denied its motion for summary judgment based on the machine-made snow exemption under the Act, particularly where the machine that produced the snow mound that Levi skied into “was indisputably making snow.” (Emphasis omitted.) [HN6] The Act identifies as an inherent risk of skiing “snow or ice conditions as they exist or may change, such as hard pack, powder, packed powder, wind pack, corn, crust, [**14] slush, cut-up snow, or machine-made snow.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-4-402(1)(b); see also id. § 78B-4-402(1)(d) (immunizing ski-area operators from injuries caused by “variations or steepness in terrain, whether natural or as a result of slope design, snowmaking or grooming operations”).
[*P14] The Ski Resort contends that the Rutherfords’ “allegations fall squarely into” the machine-made snow exemption given the Rutherfords’ own assertion that Levi was injured when he came into contact with a patch of wet, machine-made snow. As a result, the Ski Resort argues, the trial court “erred in ruling that a mere allegation of malfunctioning snowmaking equipment was sufficient to force a jury trial.”9
9 Because we ultimately reject the Ski Resort’s interpretation of the Act, we do not address the Rutherfords’ argument that the Ski Resort’s interpretation renders the Act unconstitutional.
[*P15] The trial court ruled,
Solely for purposes of this Motion, the existence of ongoing snowmaking is an inherent risk of skiing and a type of danger that skiers wish to confront. Among other things, plaintiff claims that the snowmaking equipment in this particular case was not functioning properly. That claim creates a question of fact as to whether skiers wish to confront [**15] this type of risk and whether that risk could be eliminated through the exercise of reasonable care.
The trial court’s ruling recognizes the principles explained in Clover v. Snowbird Ski Resort, 808 P.2d 1037 (Utah 1991). In that case, our supreme court expressly rejected Snowbird Ski Resort’s argument that recovery from the resort for “any injury occasioned by one or more of the dangers listed in [the Act] is barred by the statute because, as a matter of law, such an accident is caused by an inherent risk of skiing.” Id. at 1044–45. Instead, the court held that [HN7] the Act “does not purport to grant ski area operators complete immunity from all negligence claims initiated by skiers” but protects ski-area operators “from suits to recover for injuries caused by one or more of the dangers listed [in the Act] only to the extent those dangers, under the facts of each case, are integral aspects of the sport of skiing.” Id. at 1044 (emphasis added). The court interpreted the Act as providing a non-exclusive list of dangers that must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis to determine whether a given danger is “inherent” in the sport. Id. at 1044–45 (alteration in original) (quoting Utah Code Ann. § 78-27-52(1) (current version at id. § 78B-4-402(1) (LexisNexis 2012))).
[*P16] The court explained, [HN8] “The term ‘inherent risk of skiing,’ using [**16] the ordinary and accepted meaning of the term ‘inherent,’ refers to those risks that are essential characteristics of skiing–risks that are so integrally related to skiing that the sport cannot be undertaken without confronting these risks.” Id. at 1047. The court divided these risks into two categories, the first of which represents “those risks, such as steep grades, powder, and mogul runs, which skiers wish to confront as an essential characteristic of skiing.” Id. Under the Act, “a ski area operator is under no duty to make all of its runs as safe as possible by eliminating the type of dangers that skiers wish to confront as an integral part of skiing.” Id.
[*P17] [HN9] “The second category of risks consists of those hazards which no one wishes to confront but cannot be alleviated by the use of reasonable care on the part of a ski resort,” such as weather and snow conditions that may “suddenly change and, without warning, create new hazards where no hazard previously existed.” Id. For this category of risks, “[t]he only duty ski area operators have . . . is the requirement set out in [the Act] that they warn their patrons, in the manner prescribed in the statute, of the general dangers patrons must confront [**17] when participating in the sport of skiing.” Id. However, this does not exonerate a ski-area operator from any “duty to use ordinary care to protect its patrons”; “if an injury was caused by an unnecessary hazard that could have been eliminated by the use of ordinary care, such a hazard is not, in the ordinary sense of the term, an inherent risk of skiing and would fall outside of [the Act].” Id. The Clover court then applied its interpretation of the Act to the facts before it, stating that because “the existence of a blind jump with a landing area located at a point where skiers enter the run is not an essential characteristic of an intermediate run,” the plaintiff could “recover if she [could] prove that [the ski resort] could have prevented the accident through the use of ordinary care.” Id. at 1048; see also White v. Deseelhorst, 879 P.2d 1371, 1374–75 (Utah 1994) (reaffirming the approach taken by the court in Clover and concluding that summary judgment was precluded by the question of fact as to whether “an unmarked cat track on the blind side of a ridge” was a risk that the ski resort “could have alleviated . . . through the exercise of ordinary care”).
[*P18] In light of how narrowly the Clover court’s ruling suggests the inherent risk determination [**18] ought to be framed, we agree with the trial court here that summary judgment in favor of the Ski Resort is not appropriate on this claim. The trial court recognized that under the facts of this case, “the existence of ongoing snowmaking is an inherent risk of skiing and a type of danger that skiers wish to confront” but that the Rutherfords’ allegations that the equipment “was not functioning properly,” “[a]mong other things,” created questions of fact as to “whether skiers wish to confront [the] type of risk” created by malfunctioning snowmaking equipment and “whether that risk could be eliminated through the exercise of reasonable care.” Cf. Moradian v. Deer Valley Resort Co., No. 2:10-CV-00615-DN, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116075, 2012 WL 3544820, at *4 (D. Utah Aug. 16, 2012) (affirming summary judgment in favor of a ski resort based on a provision in Utah’s Inherent Risks of Skiing Act that immunizes ski-area operators from injuries sustained by a patron’s collision with other patrons because “[t]his type of collision cannot be completely prevented even with the exercise of reasonable care, and is an inherent risk in the sport of skiing,” and rejecting the plaintiff’s speculation that the individual that collided with him was a Deer Valley employee as insufficient “to create [**19] a genuine issue of material fact necessary to defeat summary judgment”). Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s ruling that questions of fact regarding the applicability of the machine-made snow exemption preclude summary judgment on this issue, and we likewise reject the Ski Resort’s argument that the inclusion of machine-made snow as an inherent risk of skiing in the Act is, by itself, sufficient to immunize the resort from liability in this case.10 See White, 879 P.2d at 1374 ( [HN10] “Courts cannot determine that a risk is inherent in skiing simply by asking whether it happens to be one of those listed in [the Act].”).
10 It is notable, as the Ski Resort points out in its opening brief, that the language of the Act has broadened since the issuance of Clover. See Clover v. Snowbird Ski Resort, 808 P.2d 1037, 1044 (Utah 1991). At the time Clover was decided, the Act listed “snow or ice conditions” as inherent risks. Id. [HN11] In the current version of the Act, those same risks are described as “snow or ice conditions, as they exist or may change, such as hard pack, powder, packed powder, wind pack, corn, crust, slush, cut-up snow, or machine-made snow.” See Act of March 1, 2006, ch. 126, § 1, 2006 Utah Laws 549, 549 (codified at Utah Code Ann. § 78B-4-402(1)(b) (LexisNexis 2012)). The Ski Resort contends that this expansion [**20] supports the “practical” necessity of interpreting “the Act broadly when allegations regarding the consistency of snow are in issue” because “the consistency of the snow cannot be objectively tested, measured, retained, analyzed, photographed, or reliably documented.” That this element may be hard to prove, however, is not a persuasive reason to otherwise repudiate our supreme court’s precedent rebuffing the notion that the presence of a risk on the list in the Act is necessarily the end of the inquiry. See White v. Deseelhorst, 879 P.2d 1371, 1374 (Utah 1994); Clover, 808 P.2d at 1044. We likewise reject the Ski Resort’s argument that the post-Clover amendment to the statute adding the competitive-skiing exemption conflicts with the Clover analysis in a manner that “would render the statutory language nonsensical.”
III. Enforceability of the USSA Release
[*P19] To the extent our analysis of the issues raised under the Act may not be dispositive of this case on remand, we next address the parties’ arguments related to the USSA release. See State v. James, 819 P.2d 781, 795 (Utah 1991) ( [HN12] “Issues that are fully briefed on appeal and are likely to be presented on remand should be addressed by [the appellate] court.”). The Ski Resort challenges the trial court’s determination that the Colorado choice-of-law provision [**21] in the USSA release was not enforceable in this case and the court’s subsequent application of Utah law. The Ski Resort contends that the USSA release is enforceable under both Utah and Colorado law and that as a result, the release immunizes it from the Rutherfords’ claims.11 We address each argument in turn.
11 Because of the manner in which we resolve the issues under this heading, we decline to address what impact, if any, the fact that the Ski Resort is not a signatory to the USSA release may have on the applicability of the release to the Ski Resort.
A. The Colorado Choice-of-Law Provision
[*P20] The Ski Resort contends that the trial court erred in ruling that the Colorado choice-of-law provision in the USSA release was not enforceable based on the court’s determination that “Utah is the only state that has an interest in the outcome of the case.” The Ski Resort explains that USSA’s operation as a national organization justifies the need for the choice-of-law provision. It also explains that the USSA designated Colorado law because the USSA holds “more major events in Colorado than any other state” and “more USSA athletes compete in Colorado than any other state,” thereby giving Colorado [**22] “a particular interest in the outcome of this case.” [HN13] We review the trial court’s choice-of-law analysis for correctness. See One Beacon Am. Ins. Co. v. Huntsman Polymers Corp., 2012 UT App 100, ¶ 24, 276 P.3d 1156.
[*P21] [HN14] “Since Utah is the forum state, Utah’s choice of law rules determine the outcome of” whether Utah law or Colorado law applies. See Waddoups v. Amalgamated Sugar Co., 2002 UT 69, ¶ 14, 54 P.3d 1054. To determine whether the choice of Colorado law will govern our substantive interpretation of the USSA release, we must determine first whether “‘two or more states have an interest in the determination of the particular issue'” in this case and, if so, we then analyze whether Colorado has a “‘substantial relationship to the parties or the transaction'” or there is a “‘reasonable basis for the parties[‘] choice.'” Prows v. Pinpoint Retail Sys., Inc., 868 P.2d 809, 811 (Utah 1993) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 187(2)(a) & cmt. d (Supp. 1988)).
[*P22] In Prows v. Pinpoint Retail Systems, Inc., 868 P.2d 809 (Utah 1993), a Canadian company that conducted business throughout the United States sought to enforce a New York choice-of-law provision contained in a contract it entered into with a Utah-based business. Id. at 810–11. The Utah Supreme Court recognized that although “New York has no substantial relationship to the parties or the transaction, there is a reasonable basis for [the Canadian company’s] choosing New York law to govern the [contract]”–“to limit the number of forums in which it may be required to bring [**23] or defend an action.” Id. at 811 (internal quotation marks omitted). Nonetheless, the court concluded that “[t]he existence of that ‘reasonable basis,’ . . . [was] without effect” because “New York [had] no interest in the determination of [the] case.” Id. The court identified various “relevant contacts” that Utah had with the case and concluded that Utah was “the only state with an interest in the action.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Specifically, the court noted that a “Utah plaintiff brought this suit against a Utah defendant and a Canadian defendant,” that the contract “was to be performed in Utah,” that the contract “was signed in Utah, and [that] the alleged breach and tortious conduct occurred [in Utah].” Id. In other words, without any similar relevant contacts, New York had no interest in the case for the choice-of-law provision to be enforceable. Id.
[*P23] Besides analyzing what contacts a state may have with the case, Prows does not provide much guidance for our analysis of whether Colorado has an interest in this case. Indeed, Prows appears to use the terms “interest in,” “substantial relationship,” and “relevant contacts” interchangeably. Accordingly, we look to the Restatement [**24] for guidance. See American Nat’l Fire Ins. Co. v. Farmers Ins. Exch., 927 P.2d 186, 190 (Utah 1996) (noting that [HN15] Utah courts should apply the test “explained in Restatement of Conflict section 188” to resolve “a conflict of laws question in a contract dispute”). The Restatement lists several factors a court might consider in analyzing the significance of a state’s relationship to the parties and transaction at issue, including, “(a) the place of contracting, (b) the place of negotiation of the contract, (c) the place of performance, (d) the location of the subject matter of the contract, and (e) the domicil, residence, nationality, place of incorporation and place of business of the parties.” Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 188(2) (1971).
[*P24] Here, any interest the state of Colorado may have in this case arises out of the possibility that Levi could have competed in Colorado at some point during the relevant ski season as a USSA member because USSA holds most of its competitions in Colorado and that is where most USSA athletes compete. According to the Ski Resort, “at the time they entered the contract, the parties did not know and could not have known the full geographic scope of where the [USSA] contract was to be performed.” All of these factors, however, relate to the reasonableness of USSA’s choice of Colorado law, not Colorado’s interest [**25] in or substantial relationship with the parties in this case or the transaction at issue. As dictated by Prows, USSA’s interest in having one state’s laws apply to its contracts with its members located throughout the country, and the logic behind its choice of Colorado law specifically, does not vest in the state of Colorado a “substantial relationship” or “interest in” the parties or the transaction before us. See Prows, 868 P.2d at 811. And, as in Prows, the state of Utah clearly has an interest in the determination of this case; the Rutherfords entered into the USSA release while domiciled in Utah, they remained domiciled in Utah at the time of Levi’s injury, Levi’s injury occurred in Utah, USSA is a Utah entity, and the Ski Resort’s principal place of business is in Utah. See id. Accordingly, the choice-of-law provision does not control in this case and we rely on Utah law to determine the enforceability of the release.
B. Enforceability of the USSA Release under Utah Law
[*P25] The Ski Resort argues that even if the Colorado law provision does not apply here, the USSA release is enforceable under Utah law. The trial court determined that the release was unenforceable under Utah law based on case law describing [**26] a general policy in Utah rejecting pre-injury releases signed by parents on behalf of minors and, alternatively, based on its determination that Levi was a recreational skier and pre-injury releases executed by recreational skiers are not valid under the Act. We agree with the trial court that the release, as it may apply to the Ski Resort, is unenforceable under Utah law, but we reach this conclusion based on somewhat different reasoning. See Bailey v. Bayles, 2002 UT 58, ¶ 13, 52 P.3d 1158 ( [HN16] “[A]n appellate court may affirm the judgment appealed from if it is sustainable on any legal ground or theory apparent on the record.” (emphasis, citation, and internal quotation marks omitted)).
1. Enforceability of the USSA Release Based on Levi’s Status as a Minor
[*P26] The trial court ruled that Utah law rejects pre-injury releases signed by a parent on behalf of a minor, rendering the USSA release invalid in Utah. The trial court interpreted Utah case law as “prevent[ing] enforcement of the USSA release,” relying specifically on one Utah Supreme Court case in which the court rejected as against public policy a pre-injury release signed by a parent on behalf of a minor as a prerequisite to the minor’s participation in a recreational horseback ride. See Hawkins ex rel. Hawkins v. Peart, 2001 UT 94, ¶¶ 2, 13-14, 37 P.3d 1062, superseded [**27] by statute, Utah Code Ann. § 78B-4-203(2)(b) (LexisNexis 2012), as recognized in Penunuri v. Sundance Partners, Ltd., 2013 UT 22, ¶ 21 n.43, 301 P.3d 984.
[*P27] In Hawkins, a minor was injured when she was thrown off of a horse during a guided trail ride. Id. ¶ 3. She filed suit against the company that provided the horses and trail guides based on various claims of negligence. Id. The guide company argued that a release signed by the minor’s mother prior to the horseback ride precluded her suit. Id. In addressing the parties’ arguments, the supreme court recognized that releases for liability are, in general, permitted in most jurisdictions “for prospective negligence, except where there is a strong public interest in the services provided.” Id. ¶ 9. The court recognized various standards and criteria employed in other jurisdictions to aid in “determining public policy limitations on releases” but declined to specifically adopt any one standard. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. Instead, the Hawkins court held that “[i]n the absence of controlling statutes or case law,” “general statements of policy found in statutes detailing the rights of minors and the responsibilities of guardians” demonstrate a public policy in Utah disfavoring “contracts releasing individuals or entities from liability for future injuries to [**28] minors.” Id. ¶¶ 7, 11-13. The court was also persuaded by the “clear majority of courts treating the issue” that “have held that a parent may not release a minor’s prospective claim for negligence.” Id. ¶ 10 (collecting cases). Most notably, the court adopted the holding expressed by the Washington Supreme Court that “‘[s]ince a parent generally may not release a child’s cause of action after injury, it makes little, if any, sense to conclude a parent has authority to release a child’s cause of action prior to an injury.'” Id. ¶¶ 10, 13 (alteration in original) (quoting Scott ex rel. Scott v. Pacific W. Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d 484, 834 P.2d 6, 11-12 (Wash. 1992)). The Hawkins court affirmed the trial court’s ruling that because “the general rule permitting release of liability did not apply where a parent signs the contract on behalf of a minor,” the release signed by Hawkins’s mother on her behalf was unenforceable. Id. ¶¶ 6, 13.
[*P28] Since the Utah Supreme Court’s decision in Hawkins, the statute applicable in that case–the Limitations on Liability for Equine and Livestock Activities Act (the Equine Act)–has been amended to specifically “permit a parent to sign a release on behalf of a minor.” See Penunuri, 2013 UT 22, ¶ 21 n.43, 301 P.3d 984; see also Utah Code Ann. §§ 78B-4-201 to -203 (LexisNexis 2012) (Equine Act); id. § 78B-4-203(2)(b) (permitting a parent to sign a release). [**29] [HN17] Our supreme court recently recognized that Hawkins remains a valid example of how to determine whether a contract offends public policy when the public policy is not clearly discernible in the applicable statutes or case law. See Penunuri, 2013 UT 22, ¶ 28, 301 P.3d 984 & n.43. The court also explained that a public policy statement arrived at in the manner undertaken in Hawkins does not take precedence over express policy language in a controlling statute. See id. (indicating that, to the extent Hawkins conflicts with the amended Equine Act, the Equine Act controls and the conclusion in Hawkins is overruled).
[*P29] Here, the Act includes a clear “legislative expression of public policy” regarding the specific industry and activities at issue; thus, we need not undertake a Hawkins-like public policy analysis. See Rothstein v. Snowbird Corp., 2007 UT 96, ¶¶ 11, 19, 175 P.3d 560. The public policy statement in the Act provides,
[HN18] The Legislature finds that the sport of skiing is practiced by a large number of residents of Utah and attracts a large number of nonresidents, significantly contributing to the economy of this state. It further finds that few insurance carriers are willing to provide liability insurance protection to ski area operators and that the premiums charged by those carriers [**30] have risen sharply in recent years due to confusion as to whether a skier assumes the risks inherent in the sport of skiing. It is the purpose of this act, therefore, to clarify the law in relation to skiing injuries and the risks inherent in that sport, to establish as a matter of law that certain risks are inherent in that sport, and to provide that, as a matter of public policy, no person engaged in that sport shall recover from a ski operator for injuries resulting from those inherent risks.
Utah Code Ann. § 78B-4-401 (LexisNexis 2012). [HN19] Our supreme court has interpreted this public policy statement as prohibiting pre-injury releases of liability for negligence obtained by ski-area operators from recreational skiers. Rothstein, 2007 UT 96, ¶¶ 16-17, 175 P.3d 560. And the court has outright rejected the notion that releases of liability serve the purpose of the Act–to immunize ski-area operators from liability generally–stating,
This reasoning fails to account for the Legislature’s inescapable public policy focus on insurance and ignores the reality that the Act’s core purpose is not to advance the cause of insulating ski area operators from their negligence, but rather to make them better able to insure themselves against the risk of loss occasioned [**31] by their negligence.
Id. ¶ 17.
[*P30] In other words, [HN20] the Act prohibits pre-injury releases of liability for negligence entirely, regardless of the age of the skier that signed the release or whether the release was signed by a parent on behalf of a child. The Act does not differentiate among the “large number” of residents and nonresidents engaged in the sport of skiing that “significantly contribut[e] to the economy of this state” based on the participant’s age. Accordingly, we reject the trial court’s determination that the USSA release is unenforceable because it was signed by a parent on behalf of a minor; rather, the release is unenforceable based on the Act’s policy statement.
2. Enforceability of the USSA Release Based on Levi’s Status as a Competitive or Recreational Skier
[*P31] The trial court also determined that the USSA release was unenforceable in this case based on its determination that Levi was injured while engaging in recreational skiing, rather than competitive skiing. Utah courts have interpreted the Act’s policy statement as prohibiting pre-injury releases signed by recreational skiers, see Rothstein, 2007 UT 96, ¶¶ 3, 16, 175 P.3d 560, while permitting pre-injury releases signed by competitive skiers, see Berry v. Greater Park City Corp., 2007 UT 87, ¶¶ 18, 24, 171 P.3d 442. Here, the trial court [**32] rejected the release’s enforceability by likening Levi to the recreational skier in Rothstein.
[*P32] As previously discussed, our supreme court in Rothstein v. Snowbird Corp., 2007 UT 96, 175 P.3d 560, explained that [HN21] the Act was enacted in recognition that the ski industry, which plays a “prominent role in Utah’s economy,” was in the midst of an “insurance crisis.” Id. ¶ 14. To achieve the Act’s goal of ensuring that ski-area operators had access to “insurance at affordable rates,” the Act prohibited “skiers from recovering from ski area operators for injuries resulting from the inherent risks of skiing.” Id. ¶¶ 13, 15. The court explained that the Act was designed to strike a “bargain” with ski-area operators by freeing them “from liability for inherent risks of skiing so that they could continue to shoulder responsibility for noninherent risks by purchasing insurance.” Id. ¶ 16. Accordingly, the Rothstein court concluded that “[b]y extracting a preinjury release from Mr. Rothstein for liability due to [the ski resort’s] negligent acts, [the resort] breached [the Act’s] public policy bargain.” Id.
[*P33] However, not long before Rothstein, our supreme court in Berry v. Greater Park City Corp., 2007 UT 87, 171 P.3d 442, deemed a pre-injury release enforceable based on the type of skiing involved in that case. [**33] Id. ¶¶ 18, 24. The pre-injury release in that case was signed in favor of a ski resort by an adult prior to, and as prerequisite for, his participation in a skiercross race. Id. ¶¶ 2-3. The Berry court recognized that the vitality of Utah’s ski industry is a matter of public interest, as evidenced by the enactment of the Act, and “that most jurisdictions that permit [pre-injury] releases draw the line [of enforceability of those releases] at attempts to limit liability for activities in which there is a strong public interest.” Id. ¶¶ 12, 17. The court then applied a six-part test to determine whether skiercross racing is an activity “in which there is strong public interest.” Id. ¶¶ 12, 15 (citing Tunkl v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal., 60 Cal. 2d 92, 32 Cal. Rptr. 33, 383 P.2d 441, 445-46 (Cal. 1963) (in bank)). The Berry court determined that “skiercross racing” “has simply not generated sufficient public interest either through its popularity or because of hazards associated with it to generate a call for intervention of state regulatory authority” and that it is therefore “subject to a separate analysis for the purpose of evaluating the enforceability of preinjury releases,” even though “the services provided by a business operating a recreational ski area and the services provided [**34] by a business sponsoring a competitive ski race may be covered by the provisions of the Act.” Id. ¶¶ 17-18. Accordingly, the supreme court held “that the release Mr. Berry executed in favor of [the ski resort was] enforceable.” Id. ¶ 24.
[*P34] Here, the Ski Resort asserted, and the trial court agreed, “that the critical distinction between Berry and Rothstein is that the plaintiff in Berry signed a release as a condition of participating in a competitive skiercross racing event, while the plaintiff in Rothstein was simply a recreational skier who signed a release when he purchased a ski pass.” Based on that distinction and the seemingly undisputed fact as between the Ski Resort and the Rutherfords that Levi was injured during race training, the Ski Resort argued that the USSA release was enforceable under Utah law because this case “more closely resembles Berry than Rothstein.”
[*P35] However, [HN22] the Act was amended in 2006 to expand the definition of “the sport of skiing to include participation in, or practicing or training for, competitions or special events.”12 See Act of March 1, 2006, ch. 126, § 1, 2006 Utah Laws 549, 549 (codified at Utah Code Ann. § 78B-4-402(1)(g) (LexisNexis 2012)). This amendment indicates the legislature’s intent [**35] that competitive skiing, including practicing and training for competitions, should be treated the same way as recreational skiing.13 Cf. Collins v. Schweitzer, Inc., 21 F.3d 1491, 1493-94 (9th Cir. 1994) (holding that Idaho’s similar act precludes claims brought by competitive skiers against ski resorts, particularly in light of the fact that the statute “does not distinguish between injuries suffered during racing and injuries suffered during other types of skiing”); Brush v. Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, Inc., 626 F. Supp. 2d 139, 148–49 (D. Mass. 2009) (determining that a USSA waiver was valid under Colorado law and also concluding that a Massachusetts statute requiring ski-area operators to operate their ski areas “in a reasonably safe manner” does not impose on ski-area operators a “greater duty to racing skiers than to other, perhaps less experienced, recreational skiers” because [c]ompetitive skiers . . . have the same responsibility to avoid collisions with objects off the trail as other skiers”); Rowan v. Vail Holdings, Inc., 31 F. Supp. 2d 889, 901 (D. Colo. 1998) (explaining that Colorado law defines “[c]ompetitor” as “a skier actually engaged in competition or in practice therefor with the permission of the ski area operator on any slope or trail or portion thereof designated by the ski area operator for the purpose of competition” (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)); Lackner v. North, 135 Cal. App. 4th 1188, 37 Cal. Rptr. 3d 863, 869, 875 (Cal. Ct. App. 2006) (holding that a ski resort has no [**36] duty to eliminate or protect a recreational skier from a collision with a participant in a snowboarding race and that the resort had no duty to supervise the race participants as they warmed up on a designated training run prior to a competition). In conjunction with Rothstein, the amendment supports the conclusion that pre-injury releases extracted by ski-area operators from competitive skiers are also contrary to public policy.
12 Although both Rothstein and Berry were decided in 2007, long after the May 1, 2006 effective date of the amendment to the Act, neither case acknowledges the amended text; the only reference to the amendment was in the Berry court’s inclusion of the 2007 supplement as part of its general citation to where the Act was codified. See Berry v. Greater Park City Co., 2007 UT 87, ¶ 17, 171 P.3d 442.
13 During the Senate floor debates on the 2006 amendment to the Act, Senator Lyle Hillyard, the sponsor of the bill amending the Act, explained that the “dramatic change[s] of our skiing” industry since the Act’s initial passage required that the Act be updated to “also include the sports of recreational, competitive, or professional skiing so that we cover not just the sport, but also the competitive and professional part.” Recording of Utah [**37] Senate Floor Debates, 56th Leg., Gen. Sess. (Feb. 13, 2006) (statements of Sen. Lyle Hillyard). This and other proposed changes were intended “to make [the Act] more compatible with what the ski industry is now doing.” Id. (Feb. 14, 2006). Senator Hillyard also noted that “there is no intention in [the proposed 2006 amendment] to exempt the negligence of the ski resort,” clarifying, “We are just talking about the inherent risks when people go skiing. . . . It’s just bringing the statute . . . up to date and clarify[ing its] policy and so that’s what we’ve done is taken those words and given better definitions and more specificity.” Id. (Feb. 13, 2006).
[*P36] To the extent our interpretation of the Act and its 2006 amendment may seem to be in conflict with the holding in Berry, we note that the plaintiff in that case was injured in February 2001, long before the Act contained the competitive-skiing exemption. Accordingly, [HN23] because the Act does not contain a specific provision permitting the retroactive application of the 2006 amendment, we presume the Berry court abided by “[t]he well-established general rule . . . that statutes not expressly retroactive should only be applied prospectively.” In re J.P., 648 P.2d 1364, 1369 n.4 (Utah 1982) [**38] ; see also Utah Code Ann. § 68-3-3 (LexisNexis 2011) (“A provision of the Utah Code is not retroactive, unless the provision is expressly declared to be retroactive.”). Therefore, we construe Berry as applying an older version of the Act and interpreting the Act as it existed prior to the insertion of the competitive-skiing exemption at issue in this case. As it applies to the Ski Resort, we determine that the USSA release is unenforceable because it is contrary to the holding in Rothstein, to the purpose of the Act’s 2006 amendment, and to the public policy statement in the Act, all of which reject pre-injury releases executed by competitive and recreational skiers of all ages in favor of ski-area operators.
[*P37] The trial court’s determination that Levi was not engaged in race training at the time of his injury, especially in the face of the fact, apparently undisputed by the parties, that he was injured during racing practice, was improper in the context of the Ski Resort’s motions for summary judgment. The trial court correctly denied the Ski Resort’s joinder in the Ski Team’s motion for summary judgment based on the Act and correctly granted the Rutherfords’ related partial motion for summary judgment, based on the court’s determination that there were disputed issues of material fact regarding the applicability of the machine-made snow exemption. We affirm the trial court’s denial of the Ski Resort’s motion for summary judgment based on the USSA release and the court’s determination that the Colorado choice-of-law provision in the USSA release is inapplicable here. We agree with the trial court that the release, as it pertains to the [**39] Ski Resort, is unenforceable under Utah law, but base this conclusion on different grounds than the trial court. We remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this decision.
MA Ski Safety Act and a release prevent the plaintiff’s suit.
As the court said, this is a sad case; the plaintiff was a student ski racer. She hit a lift tower during a race and became a paraplegic. She sued the ski area, Jimmy Peak Mountain Resort, Williams College, its coaches and several other officials of the race.
The race was part of a weekend Williams Winter Carnival. The carnival was at Jimmy Peak and included ski races. The plaintiff examined the Giant Slalom course. She exited the course during a run and struck an unprotected lift tower. The factual issues resolved around whether the tower was supposed to be protected by B-Netting (the red netting you see on the sides of ski races) or padding.
The race was on a homologated hill (a slope that met FIS regulations). The race organizers prepared a plan for the netting on the course which showed the netting in the area where the plaintiff left the course. When the plaintiff left the course, there was no netting to slow her down or stop her.
The plaintiff argued the “plan” was a requirement to run the race as required by FIS. The defendants argued the plan was where safety equipment might need to be necessary. The B-netting was not set up according to the plan.
Summary of the case
The plaintiff claimed the defendant ski area was liable for “…negligent operation of a ski area in violation of the MSSA (Count I); negligent failure to undertake duties assumed under a contract with Williams (Count II); and negligent inspection (Count III).”
The court fist looked at the definition of Negligence and what the plaintiff must prove under Massachusetts law:
To prevail in a negligence action under Massachusetts law, a plaintiff must prove that (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of reasonable care; (2) the defendant breached this duty; (3) damage to the plaintiff resulted; and (4) the breach of the duty caused this damage.
The court reading the MSSA found the act served two “somewhat contradictory purposes “(1), to limit the liability of ski operators in order to ensure their economic survival and (2) to ensure skier safety.”
Reading the act the court found the duty that caused the plaintiff’s injuries was on the plaintiff, not the ski area. The lift tower was off the ski trail and therefore, under the MSSA the ski area had no duty to set up netting or pad it. If the netting had been set up voluntarily, then the court found there would still be no liability because negligence in a voluntary act does not create liability under the MSSA.
Indeed, this court has previously noted that “imposing liability on ski area operators for duties voluntarily assumed but negligently performed would undercut a key goal of the MSSA,” because it would discourage ski area operators from adding safety features.
The court then looked at the plaintiff’s claims that the agreements of the college to use the ski area which was enveloped in two contracts created contractual duties that the defendant ski area breached. Under Massachusetts law, a tort can be created from a contractual relationship. (This is a minority view in most states.) However, the court could not find language in the contracts that created a duty to undertake steps to keep the competition safe as possible.
The court found that the defendant ski area had not been negligent and had not violated a duty to the plaintiff and dismissed the defendant Jimmy Peak Ski Area.
The court then looked at the remaining defendants, the colleges and the race officials, most of whom were employees of the colleges. These defendants relied upon the release as their defense. The release was required by the USSA (United States Ski and Snowboard Association) to race in USSA events, which this race was. The release had a venue clause that required Colorado law be applied to interpret the release. Choice of law provisions (jurisdiction and venue clauses) absent substantial Massachusetts public policy reasons are upheld in Massachusetts.
The court then examined the release under Colorado law and found the release to be enforceable. The plaintiff argued the release was ambiguous. The waiver was clear to the signor that signing the release waived all claims against the USSA. The USSA waiver listed every possible person to be protected by the release.
United States Ski and Snowboard Association and “its subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, directors, volunteers, employees, coaches, contractors and representatives, local ski clubs, competition organizers and sponsors, and ski and snowboard facility operators.”
Consequently, the waiver protected the remaining defendants. The third party defendants were also released by the waiver because their liability was contingent on the liability of the first party defendants. If the first party defendants were not liable, the third party defendants could not be liable.
The final argument the court reviewed was the claim the actions of the defendants amounted to gross negligence. Under Colorado law a waiver does not protect against gross negligence.
…under Colorado law an exculpatory agreement cannot “provide a shield against a claim for willful and wanton negligence.” In Colorado an individual who “purposefully committed an affirmative act which he knew was dangerous to another’s person and which he performed heedlessly, without regard to the consequences or rights and safety of another’s person” can be found to have acted with willful and wanton negligence.
The court defined gross negligence as “Gross negligence involves “materially more want of care than constitutes simple inadvertence,” though “it is something less than willful, wanton and reckless conduct.”
The court found the defendants had not acted in a way that was gross negligence, and no jury could find gross negligence on the part of any defendants.
There is no evidence in the record, and indeed, no allegation, that any of the Defendants, or anyone at the competition, became aware that there was an area of the trail without netting where netting was normally placed and declined to remedy the situation. At most, there was a collective failure to take a step that might have lessened the injuries suffered by Plaintiff. No reasonable jury could find that this simple inadvertence, no matter how tragic its consequences, constituted gross negligence.
So Now What?
The first issue was what was the plan? Actually, a point that was not addressed in the decision which should be addressed here was why was there a plan?
How can you create a plan, call it a safety plan and not execute it 100%? If it just a draft, or if it is just ideas, you better label it that way. You cannot create documents like that, that are not going to come back and fry you.
Paperwork is the easiest way for a plaintiff to find something to prove you did something wrong. If your paperwork says you will do something that you did not do, or not do something that you did, the plaintiff will work hard to connect it to the injury. You set your own standards, defined your duty to the customers and/or guests (future plaintiffs) and then violated, breached those duties you created.
The choice of laws clause, jurisdiction and venue clause, did not work as it normally would have in this case. The case was brought in federal court because there were parties to the suit from two different states (called diversity jurisdiction cases). No one seemed to want to argue the jurisdiction and venue clause in the release should be enforced. That is difficult to do in some diversity jurisdiction cases in federal court; however, it is not impossible. The case would have had the same outcome under Colorado law, whether or not it would have been filed at all in Colorado after being dismissed in Massachusetts is the question.
Another flaw in how the defendants could have provided more protection is there was not a separate release for the event or the race. Between the Williams College Outing Club, the ski area and the college, someone should have required the participants to sign a release for the event. It could have been based on the course, not all possible courses in the US. It could have named the colleges and their employees to provide better protection. It could have been based on the facts and law of Massachusetts.
It is sad when a young woman has her life upended and changed. However, the law is the law. As the court stated:
It would, however, be false compassion now to ignore the undisputed facts and the unavoidable law. The Massachusetts Ski Safety Act, in the case of Jiminy Peak, and the USSA waiver, in the case of the other Defendants, forecloses any possibility of liability for payment of damages to Plaintiff in these circumstances. To encourage pursuit of a lawsuit lacking a legal basis would only serve to compound the tragedy.
Plaintiff: Kelly Brush
Defendant: Jiminy Peak, Inc., the operator of the ski area where the accident occurred; Williams College and two of its ski coaches, Edward Grees and Oyestein Bakken, who organized the competition; St. Lawrence University and its ski coach, Jeffrey Pier, who was the referee of the race during which Brush was injured; and Barry Bryant, who served as the competition’s Technical Delegate from the Federation Internationale de Ski (“FIS”). Pier and St. Lawrence University have also filed a third-party complaint seeking contribution from Brush’s school, Middlebury College, and its ski coach Forest Carey, who was a race referee for a race
Plaintiff Claims: negligence or gross negligence, negligent operation of a ski area in violation of the MSSA (Count I); negligent failure to undertake duties assumed under a contract with Williams (Count II); and negligent inspection (Count III).
Defendant Defenses: Massachusetts Ski Safety Act and Release
Holding: For all Defendants
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Brush, v. Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, Inc., Et Al, 626 F. Supp. 2d 139; 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52204Posted: March 25, 2013
Brush, v. Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, Inc., Et Al, 626 F. Supp. 2d 139; 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52204
Kelly Brush, Plaintiff v. Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, Inc., Et Al, Defendants and st. Lawrence university, Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff v. Middlebury College, Et Al, Third-Party Defendants
C.A. No. 07-10244-MAP
626 F. Supp. 2d 139; 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52204
June 11, 2009, Decided
COUNSEL: [**1] For Jeffrey Pier, ThirdParty Plaintiff: Michael H. Burke, LEAD ATTORNEY, George W. Marion, Bulkley, Richardson & Gelinas, Springfield, MA.
For Barry Bryant, Defendant: John B. Connarton, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, Luke R. Conrad, Donovan Hatem, LLP, Boston, MA.
For Williams College, Defendant: William J. Dailey, Jr., Brian H. Sullivan, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Sloane & Walsh, LLP, Boston, MA.
For St. Lawrence University, ThirdParty Plaintiff: Thomas E. Day, Edward J. McDonough, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, Flanagan & Cohen, PC, Springfield, MA.
For Kelly Brush, Plaintiff: Walter E. Judge, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, Downs, Rachlin & Martin, Burlington, VT; Robert B. Luce, LEAD ATTORNEY, Downs, Rachlin & Martin PLLC, Burlington, VT.
For Williams College, Defendant: Lawrence J. Kenney, Jr., Sloane & Walsh, Boston, MA.
For Forest Carey, ThirdParty Defendant: Gerald F. Lucey, Nelson, Kinder, Mosseau & Saturley, P.C., Boston, MA.
For Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, Inc., Defendant: David B. Mongue, LEAD ATTORNEY, Donovan & O’Connor, LLP, North Adams, MA.
For Middlebury College Middlebury, VT 05753, ThirdParty Defendant: Robert B. Smith, Nelson, Kinder, Mosseau & Saturley, P.C., Boston, MA.
JUDGES: MICHAEL A. PONSOR, United States District [**2] Judge.
OPINION BY: MICHAEL A. PONSOR
[*143] MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDING CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
(Dkt. Nos. 135, 137, 138, 139, 140, 143, 157)
This case stems from a tragic skiing accident that left the plaintiff, Kelly Brush, permanently disabled. The accident occurred during a collegiate ski race on February 18, 2006 when Brush lost control and crashed into a ski lift stanchion just off the trail. In her six-count amended complaint Brush alleges that the severity of her injuries was the result of negligence or gross negligence on the part of the following defendants: Jiminy Peak, Inc., the operator of the ski area where the accident occurred; Williams College and two of its ski coaches, Edward Grees and Oyestein Bakken, who organized the competition; St. Lawrence University and its ski coach, Jeffrey Pier, who was the referee of the race during which Brush was injured; and Barry Bryant, who served as the competition’s Technical Delegate from the Federation Internationale de Ski (“FIS”). Pier and St. Lawrence University have also filed a third-party complaint seeking contribution from Brush’s school, Middlebury College, and its ski coach Forest Carey, who was a race [**3] referee for a race on the same trail the day before Brush’s accident. Before the court are motions for summary judgment from all of the parties.
Jiminy Peak argues that pursuant to the Massachusetts Ski Safety Act (“MSSA”) it, as the ski area operator, has no liability because Plaintiff’s injuries were caused by her collision with an object off the trail. The other Defendants assert that Plaintiff cannot recover from them because she executed a liability waiver that covered Defendants and their alleged negligence when she registered with the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (“USSA”). The Third-Party Defendants argue that as a matter of law they have no obligation to contribute even if Third-Party Plaintiffs Pier and St. Lawrence are liable to Plaintiff. Plaintiff asks the court to rule that the MSSA does not bar her claims against Jiminy Peak and the USSA liability waiver is not applicable to bar the claims of the other Defendants. Finally she asserts that the facts are sufficient to permit this case to go to trial on a theory of gross negligence, even if the USSA waiver is valid.
For the reasons set forth below, the court will allow all Defendants’ motions for [*144] summary judgment, [**4] deny Plaintiff’s motion, and order entry of judgment for Defendants.
The facts are largely undisputed. Where disputes exist, the court has viewed the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.
A. The Accident.
Brush was injured while competing in the Williams Winter Carnival, a two-day event at the Jiminy Peak ski area in Hancock, Massachusetts hosted by the Williams College Outing Club in association with the Williams College ski team. The Winter Carnival is part of the regular season of the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association (EISA), one conference within the ski program of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The competition was also held under the auspices of the USSA and the FIS, which in the United States operates through the USSA. As a result of the USSA/FIS affiliation, all competitors in the Winter Carnival had to be USSA members, though not all had to be NCAA athletes. The USSA/FIS designation meant that skiers could earn “points” to improve their international, individual standing by competing in the Winter Carnival events.
The particular event during which Plaintiff was injured was the Giant Slalom, which took place on the second day of [**5] the Winter Carnival. This event requires skiers to pass through “gates” set along the trail as they descend the slope as quickly as possible. Skiers are ranked based on their best time through the course and are not penalized for any runs they fail to finish, due for example to a fall. Technological changes in the past decade have increased the sport’s risks. New ski designs allow skiers to reach speeds of forty miles per hour. At the same time it has become harder to predict how skiers will fall if they lose control. Some courses now are set with gates at the edges of the trail to maximize the distance skiers must travel from one side of the trail to another in order to slow skiers down. Persons involved with competitive skiing are aware that technical changes have increased the importance of proper placement of safety equipment during competitions.
Under NCAA and USSA rules, members of the “competition jury” have a responsibility to inspect the layout of a trail prior to its use during a competition. The competition jury for the race during which Brush was injured included the “Chief of the Race,” Defendant Edward Grees, the head ski coach at Williams; the “Chief of the Course,” Defendant [**6] Oyestein Bakken, an assistant ski coach at Williams; the “Race Referee,” Jeffrey Pier, a ski coach at St. Lawrence University; and the “Technical Delegate,” Defendant Barry Bryant. Third-party Defendant Forest Carey, the Middlebury coach, was the “Race Referee” for a race that used the same trail the previous day.
The USSA requires that trails used in competitions be “homologated,” which means that the trail has been confirmed to meet the relevant FIS regulations. The USSA also mandates that trails be prepared in keeping with homologation requirements. The parties disagree about whether all members of the jury were responsible for confirming that the trail was set consistent with the homologation report, but for purposes of this memorandum the court will assume they were. Additionally, there is a dispute as to whether the trail was, in fact, prepared as set out in a homologation report drafted in keeping with FIS requirements. Again, for purposes of its rulings here, the court will [*145] assume that the trail was not prepared as the homologation report contemplated.
Plaintiff asserts that the relevant homologation report required that “B-netting,” a type of netting used to slow errant skiers [**7] before they collide with objects, be placed along the edge of the trail starting uphill from any lift tower and continuing downhill some distance past the lift tower. The homologation report, completed in 2002 by Defendant Grees and an FIS representative for the area where Plaintiff was hurt, included a diagram showing such B-netting. While at least some of the defendants assert the report merely displays safety equipment that might be necessary, rather than the minimal required safety equipment, the court will, again, assume for the current purposes that the report indicated that B-netting should have been installed above and below lift towers. The parties do agree that B-netting was not set up according to the diagram on the day Plaintiff was hurt.
At the time of Plaintiff’s accident there was B-netting along the left edge of the trail, stopping at a point approximately even with the gate where Brush lost control and somewhat uphill from a lift tower. No other netting was placed between the trail and the tower, so that the area directly in front of the tower lacked any protection. In prior years B-netting was placed in accordance with a diagram in the homologation report, extending [**8] past the lift tower above and below.
Not only was there less B-netting on February 18, 2006 than there was in the past, there were no triangular nets set around the lift tower itself. Triangular nets are another available type of safety netting used to deflect a skier from a particular hazard. Additionally, neither the tower nor its support stanchion was equipped with a type of padding known as Willy Bags, though such padding is regularly used in speed events.
After the Giant Slalom course was set, Plaintiff had an opportunity to ski down the slope to assess the course, and she did so. Later, during one of her timed runs, Plaintiff caught an edge of one of her skis and lost control. As a result she left the trail and struck the unprotected lift tower support stanchion. The collision caused life-altering injuries to Plaintiff, including paraplegia.
B. Relevant Agreements.
1. USSA Waiver.
At the time of her accident Plaintiff was a member of the USSA and the FIS. During the summer of 2005 registration forms for both organizations were completed on her behalf. 1 The FIS waiver included language acknowledging the risks of skiing competitively. Additionally, it stated that national or club organizations [**9] in the United States may require a skier to waive any liability claims in order to participate in their activities.
1 The parties agree that Plaintiff’s mother signed the relevant USSA Release and FIS Registration with Plaintiff’s full consent and authorization. They further agree that the weight given to those documents should be the same as it would be if Plaintiff had signed them herself. (Dkt. No. 162, Pl.’s Resp. to Defs.’ Joint Statement of Undisputed Material Facts at 18.)
Those completing the USSA registration form had to sign a clearly-labeled liability release. (Dkt. No. 142, Ex. 9.) Pursuant to that release a USSA member
unconditionally WAIVES AND RELEASES ANY AND ALL CLAIMS, AND AGREES TO HOLD HARMLESS, DEFEND AND INDEMNIFY USSA FROM ANY CLAIMS, present or future, to Member or his/her property, [*146] or to any other person or property, for any loss, damage, expense, or injury (including DEATH), suffered by any person from or in connection with Member’s participation in any Activities in which USSA is involved in any way, due to any cause whatsoever INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE and/or breach of express or implied warranty on the part of USSA.
As used in the release “USSA” referred to the [**10] United States Ski and Snowboard Association and “its subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, directors, volunteers, employees, coaches, contractors and representatives, local ski clubs, competition organizers and sponsors, and ski and snowboard facility operators.” Id. The term “Activities” included “skiing and snowboarding in their various forms, as well as preparation for participation in, coaching, volunteering, officiating and related activities in alpine, nordic, freestyle, disabled, and snowboarding competitions and clinics.” Id.
2. Agreements Between Defendants.
The Williams College ski team utilized the Jiminy Peak ski area for its Winter Carnival and for practice sessions pursuant to a written agreement between the parties. (Dkt. No. 158, Tab 18, Jiminy Peak/Williams College Contract.) That five-paragraph agreement gave Williams and members of its community various types of access to the ski area in exchange for a single annual payment. Jiminy Peak agreed to have its mountain manager work with the Williams alpine coach to determine safe conditions for ski team training and to make and groom snow for the trails that were used during the annual winter carnival.
Jiminy Peak and Williams [**11] College were also parties to an Alpine Schedule Agreement with the USSA. Pursuant to that agreement the competition was listed on the USSA’s official schedule; all competitors had to be members of the USSA; competitors, as noted, were able to earn “points;” competition organizers had to agree to allow some non-collegiate USSA members to compete; and members of the competition jury had to be members of USSA. Additionally, the agreement required that facilities “to be used in the actual competition events . . . conform with applicable rules and with requirements of the [Technical Delegate] and competition jury.” (Dkt. No. 158, Tab 8, Alpine Schedule Agreement 2, P 8.) The competition organizer, the Williams College Outing Club, was responsible for “working with” Jiminy Peak, the USSA, and the competition jury to select facilities and ensure that they were prepared in accordance with “such rules or requirements, and homologation or facility approval requirements according to discipline and type of competition.” Id.
“Summary judgment is appropriate where ‘there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and  the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'” [**12] Coffin v. Bowater, Inc., 501 F.3d 80, 85 (1st Cir. 2007) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). “[C]ourts are required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences ‘in the light most favorable to the party opposing the [summary judgment] motion.'” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S. Ct. 1769, 167 L. Ed. 2d 686 (2007) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S. Ct. 993, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176 (1962)). “Cross-motions for summary judgment do not alter the basic Rule 56 standard, but rather simply require us to determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law on facts that are not disputed.” Adria Int’l Group, Inc. [*147] v. Ferre Dev., Inc., 241 F.3d 103, 107 (1st Cir. 2001).
A. Claims Against Jiminy Peak.
Plaintiff asserts three claims against Jiminy Peak: negligent operation of a ski area in violation of the MSSA (Count I); negligent failure to undertake duties assumed under a contract with Williams (Count II); and negligent inspection (Count III). [HN1] “To prevail in a negligence action under Massachusetts law, a plaintiff must prove that (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of reasonable care; (2) the defendant breached this duty; (3) damage to the plaintiff resulted; and (4) the breach of the duty caused this [**13] damage.” Brown v. United States, 557 F.3fd 1, 3 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting Jupin v. Kask, 447 Mass. 141, 849 N.E.2d 829, 835 (Mass. 2006)). Jiminy Peak asserts that under the MSSA it did not owe Plaintiff any duty to use reasonable care to prevent her collision with an object off the ski trail. Plaintiff argues that Jiminy Peak had a duty to her pursuant to the MSSA and its agreements with Williams College and the USSA.
1. Statutory Duty.
[HN2] The MSSA serves two somewhat contradictory purposes, (1) to limit the liability of ski operators in order to ensure their economic survival and (2) to ensure skier safety. McHerron v. Jiminy Peak, Inc., 422 Mass. 678, 665 N.E.2d 26, 27 (Mass. 1996). Pursuant to the MSSA a ski area operator has a general duty to operate the “ski areas under its control in a reasonably safe manner.” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 143, § 71N(6) (2008).
However, this duty is sharply limited by other provisions of the act. Of particular relevance in this case is that the MSSA places “the duty to avoid any collision with any . . . object on the hill below” solely on the skier, so long as the object was not improperly marked. Id. at § 71O. The MSSA does shift the duty to avoid collisions back to the ski area operator [**14] when the ski operator has not marked the obstruction “pursuant to the regulations promulgated by the [recreational tramway] board” or “as otherwise provided” in the statute. Id.; see also Eipp v. Jiminy Peak, Inc., 154 F. Supp. 2d 110, 116 (D. Mass. 2001) (declining to enter summary judgment for the ski area operator where skier was injured after striking “a snowgun in the middle of a ski trail”). At the time of Plaintiff’s accident the only active regulations, at 526 C.M.R. § 10, did not address signage requirements.
The other requirements established by the MSSA require ski area operators to (1) mark maintenance and snow-making equipment that is in use (Id. at § 71N(1)), (2) mark with flashing lights trail maintenance and emergency vehicles in use in a ski area (Id. at § 71N(2)), and (3) mark the location of snow-making hydrants “within or upon a slope or trail” § 71N(4)).
[HN3] Under the MSSA, skiers are also solely responsible for any injuries resulting from skiing anywhere other than on an open slope or trail. 2 Id. at § 71O; Spinale v. Pam F., Inc., 1995 Mass. App. Div. 140, 142 (Mass. App. Div. 1995) (“[Section] 71O expressly imposes responsibility for injuries sustained while ‘skiing [**15] on other than an open slope or trail within the ski area’ on the skier, and thereby exempts the ski area operator from liability for the [*148] same.”). The ski area operator has no duty to provide netting or padding around obstacles off the trail. Walsh v. Jiminy Peak, Inc., No. 02-11890-MAP, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18463 at *12-13 (D. Mass. Aug. 29, 2005). Nor does it assume such a duty by padding some obstacles. Id. Indeed, this court has previously noted that “imposing liability on ski area operators for duties voluntarily assumed but negligently performed would undercut a key goal of the MSSA,” because it would discourage ski area operators from adding safety features. 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18463 at *16.
2 [HN4] A “[s]ki slope or trail” is limited to the “area designed by the person or organization having operational responsibility for the ski area as herein defined, including a cross-country ski area, for use by the public in furtherance of the sport of skiing . . . .” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 143, § 71I.
The parties agree that the lift tower stanchion 3 Plaintiff struck was “off the course and off the trail.” (Dkt. No. 162 at 23.) Given these facts, the MSSA placed the duty to avoid collisions on Plaintiff alone. 4
3 Plaintiff [**16] separately argues that Jiminy Peak had a specific duty to protect skiers from collisions with ski lift stanchions pursuant to 526 C.M.R. 10.09(4)(b). That regulation specifies that ski area operators are to fence or barricade any area of the tramway that could cause injury to a person. However, that requirement appears within a section entitled “Protection Against moving parts or Other Hazards and Clearance Envelopes.” Id. at 10.09(4). Given that context, it is clear that this fencing requirement is only intended to keep members of the public from getting too close to moving parts of a tramway system which might cause injury and does not apply to nonmoving elements like stanchions and support towers.
4 Ski area operators’ liability is also limited such that they “shall not be liable for damages to persons or property, while skiing, which arise out of the risks inherent in the sport of skiing.” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 143, § 71N(6). The parties disagree about the applicability of this limitation to this case. Jiminy Peak argues that collisions with off-trail objects, regardless of their cause, are a risk inherent in the sport of skiing. Plaintiff notes that the “inherent risks” enumerated [**17] in the statute are natural conditions that can cause a skier to lose control, not dangers that result from such a loss of control. Id. at § 71O (enumerating the “risks inherent in the sport of skiing” as including “variations in terrain, surface or subsurface snow, ice conditions or bare spots”). Plaintiff appears to have the stronger argument that off-trail collisions, though not unexpected, are in a different category than the inherent risks identified in § 71O. As neither party suggests that Plaintiff’s crash resulted from an encounter with a natural condition like those listed in the statute, the limitation on ski area operator liability related to inherent risks of skiing is irrelevant. The determinative fact in this case, undisputed on the record, is that Plaintiff lost control and struck a stationary object, the stanchion, off the trail. The MSSA shields Jiminy Peak from liability in this situation. There is no need for an “inherent risk” analysis.
Plaintiff argues that Jiminy Peak’s duty to her was not fully circumscribed by the MSSA because her injury occurred during the course of a race. Ski racing is certainly dangerous, perhaps more dangerous than ordinary recreational skiing [**18] because speed is pursued sometimes to the limit of a skier’s competence, and beyond. Jiminy Peak undoubtedly was aware of the dangers associated with ski racing and took some steps, together with the race organizers, to try to reduce those dangers. However, no authority suggests that Jiminy Peak or any other ski operator in Massachusetts owes a greater duty to racing skiers than to other, perhaps less experienced, recreational skiers.
Plaintiff asserts that Jiminy Peak assumed a greater duty to racing skiers, similar to the heightened duty one Massachusetts trial court determined ski area operators owed to a minor child enrolled in an instructional program. Sanchez-Souquet v. Jiminy Peak, Inc., 1997 MBAR-094, 1997 Mass. Super. LEXIS 198 (Mass. Super. Ct. 1997). In Sanchez-Souquet, the state court concluded that it was unfair to require “a ski student to ‘assume the risk’ for his injury” [*149] because ski area operators knew that such skiers lacked experience and judgment and were relying on their instructors to keep them safe. 1997 Mass. Super. LEXIS 198 at *9. Plaintiff urges this court to conclude that racing skiers also should be held to a lower standard than regular recreational skiers because, like students [**19] learning to ski, competitive skiers ski at the edge of their ability. Even if the court was persuaded that the court reached the correct outcome in Sanchez-Souquet (a decision the court need not, and does not, reach) it would not be inclined to carve out a further exception for competitive skiers. While it may be unreasonable to presume that a child learning to ski “know[s] the range of his own ability to ski on any slope, trail or area,” a similar presumption cannot be applied to collegiate competitive skiers. Mass. Gen Laws ch. 143, § 71O.
More importantly, [HN5] the MSSA applies to all skiers, a group which includes “any person utilizing the ski area under control of a ski area operator for the purpose of skiing . . . .” Id. at § 71I; Fetzner v. Jiminy Peak, The Mountain Resort, 1995 Mass. App. Div. 55, 56 (Mass. App. Div. 1995) (“The definition of skier in G.L.c. 143 includes any person utilizing the ski area.”). Competitive skiers thus have the same responsibility to avoid collisions with objects off the trail as other skiers. Ski area operators simply have no duty under the statute to prevent the injuries suffered by a skier who collides with an off-course obstacle. Without such a duty, [**20] Jiminy Peak’s alleged negligence cannot give rise to liability. McHerron v. Jiminy Peak, Inc., 422 Mass. 678, 665 N.E.2d 26, 28 (Mass. 1996) (“As the defendant had no duty to remedy a statutorily defined unavoidable risk inherent in the sport of skiing, the defendant’s alleged negligence in failing to eliminate the [risk] does not create liability.”).
2. Contractual Duty.
Plaintiff asserts that even if Jiminy Peak did not have a duty to her pursuant to the MSSA or through its voluntary safety efforts, it did have a contractual duty to undertake specific steps to ensure the competition would be as safe as possible. Failing to take those steps, Plaintiff asserts, constituted a breach of a separate, non-statutory duty. Massachusetts recognizes that “a claim in tort may arise from a contractual relationship . . . and may be available to persons who are not parties to the contract.” Parent v. Stone & Webster Engineering Corp., 408 Mass. 108, 556 N.E.2d 1009, 1012 (Mass. 1990). However, Jiminy Peak did not obligate itself to provide particular safety measures, such as netting or padding, in either of the two contracts relied on by Plaintiff. Pursuant to its agreement with Williams College, Jiminy Peak agreed to consult [**21] about safe training conditions for Williams skiers and to permit use of several trails for the Winter Carnival competition. Under the Alpine Schedule Agreement, the competition organizers are responsible for “working with” the ski area operator to ensure that ski facilities were prepared in accordance with all USSA rules, regulations, and applicable homologation requirements. The ski area operator, Jiminy Peak, did not itself undertake that responsibility and therefore any failure to ensure that applicable safety requirements were met did not give rise to tort liability.
B. Claims Against Competition Organizers and Officials.
1. The USSA Waiver.
Defendants collectively argue that Plaintiff’s various negligence claims are precluded by the liability waiver executed when her USSA membership was renewed the summer before her accident. Plaintiff [*150] asserts that the waiver does not bar her claims because its language was ambiguous as to the persons and entities it covered. In resolving this question the court applies Colorado law, as urged by Plaintiff and agreed to by Defendants. The waiver includes a choice of law provision selecting Colorado law and [HN6] in the absence of a “substantial Massachusetts [**22] public policy reason,” Massachusetts law honors choice of law provisions in contracts. Jacobson v. Mailboxes Etc. U.S.A., 419 Mass. 572, 646 N.E.2d 741, 744 (Mass. 1995).
[HN7] Under Colorado law “[e]xculpatory agreements are disfavored and, therefore, they are strictly construed against the party seeking to limit its liability.” Del Bosco v. United States Ski Ass’n, 839 F. Supp. 1470, 1473 (D. Colo. 1993). Under Colorado law the applicability of a liability waiver is a legal question to be resolved by the court after consideration of four factors: “(1) the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.” Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981) (citations omitted). Plaintiffs urge the court to rule that the waiver invoked by Defendants is inapplicable under the third and fourth factors.
As to the third factor, Plaintiff argues that the USSA waiver was a contract of adhesion because the USSA’s dominance over amateur ski racing in this country prevented her from being able to negotiate less onerous contract terms with the USSA. [HN8] “Colorado [**23] defines an adhesion contract as ‘generally not bargained for, but imposed on the public for a necessary service on a take it or leave it basis.'” Bauer v. Aspen Highlands Skiing Corp., 788 F. Supp. 472, 474 (D. Colo. 1992) (citing Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 374 (Colo. 1981)).
On the undisputed facts of this case, Plaintiff’s “adhesion” argument must fail, because under Colorado law recreational activities and services are not essential. Rowan v. Vail Holdings, Inc., 31 F. Supp. 2d 889, 898 (D. Colo. 1998) (holding that waiver was not fairly entered because skier was skiing “as a part of work, not as a part of recreation”); Bauer, 788 F. Supp. at 475 (enforcing waiver executed as part of ski rental, even though all ski rental outlets used similar waivers, because such services were recreational, not essential). Plaintiff completed the USSA waiver in order to engage in a recreational activity. The nature of the activity is not changed by its competitive nature, its subjective importance in Plaintiff’s life, or the fact that a single entity controlled virtually all opportunities to engage in the recreational activity. But see O’Connor v. United States Fencing Ass’n, 260 F. Supp. 2d 545, 552 (E.D.N.Y. 2003) [**24] (concluding that a liability waiver was not binding under Colorado law because the waiver’s author so controlled the sport of fencing that an athlete wishing to compete had no choice but to agree to the terms in the waiver).
Finally, Plaintiff argues that the waiver did not express the parties’ intentions in clear and unambiguous language. Having reviewed the waiver, the court concludes that the language of the waiver was clear and unambiguous. Clear language indicates that the signer is waiving all claims against the USSA including those based on negligence, as indicated in bold, italic, capital letters. See Jones, 623 P.2d at 378. The waiver defined USSA quite expansively to encompass a host of individuals and groups including all affiliates, volunteers, competition organizers, sponsors, coaches, and representatives. It is clear that the list was meant to encompass any [*151] one involved in running a competition sanctioned by the USSA. Finally, it is undisputed that skiers, including Plaintiff, participating in the Williams Winter Carnival knew the event was sanctioned by the FIS through the USSA because they knew they were competing, in part, for FIS points.
2. Gross Negligence.
Plaintiff [**25] asserts that even if the USSA waiver is valid, she should be able to proceed against these Defendants on a theory of gross negligence. The argument is colorable but ultimately unpersuasive.
It is true that [HN9] under Colorado law an exculpatory agreement cannot “provide a shield against a claim for willful and wanton negligence.” Id. at 376. In Colorado an individual who “purposefully committed an affirmative act which he knew was dangerous to another’s person and which he performed heedlessly, without regard to the consequences or rights and safety of another’s person” can be found to have acted with willful and wanton negligence. Barker v. Colorado Region–Sports Car Club, Inc., 35 Colo. App. 73, 532 P.2d 372, 379 (Colo. Ct. App. 1974). In Massachusetts, waivers may only release a defendant from ordinary negligence. Zavras v. Capeway Rovers Motorcycle Club, Inc., 44 Mass. App. Ct. 17, 687 N.E.2d 1263, 1265 (Mass. App. Ct. 1997).
Plaintiff has alleged in her complaint that Defendants were grossly negligent. [HN10] Gross negligence involves “materially more want of care than constitutes simple inadvertence,” though “it is something less than  willful, wanton and reckless conduct.” Altman v. Aronson, 231 Mass. 588, 121 N.E. 505, 506 (Mass. 1919). Despite [**26] the severity of Plaintiff’s injuries, the conduct alleged by Plaintiff is simple inadvertence. There is no evidence in the record, and indeed no allegation, that any of the Defendants, or anyone at the competition, became aware that there was an area of the trail without netting where netting was normally placed and declined to remedy the situation. At most there was a collective failure to take a step that might have lessened the injuries suffered by Plaintiff. No reasonable jury could find that this simple inadvertence, no matter how tragic its consequences, constituted gross negligence.
C. Third-Party Claims.
Having concluded that all Defendants, including the Third-Party Plaintiffs, are entitled to summary judgment, the court necessarily grants Third-Party Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the third-party contribution claims asserted against them. Any negligence on the part of Forest Carey, whether in his capacity as a race official or as Plaintiff’s coach is expressly covered by the USSA waiver. Even if the court had concluded that the waiver was inapplicable, Third-Party Defendants would be entitled to summary judgment because Carey simply did not breach any duty he owed [**27] to Plaintiff. His role as a race official concluded the day before Plaintiff’s accident. As a competitor on the following day, Plaintiff was outside the group of people likely to be injured by his acts or omissions as a referee. Therefore he had no duty with respect to her safety. See Matteo v. Livingstone, 40 Mass. App. Ct. 658, 666 N.E.2d 1309, 1312 (Mass. App. Ct. 1996) (citing Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R. Co., 248 N.Y. 339, 162 N.E. 99 (N.Y. 1928)). The risk which caused Plaintiff harm, improper safety fencing, was similarly not reasonably foreseeable to Carey in his capacity as her coach. See Moose v. Mass. Inst. of Tech., 43 Mass. App. Ct. 420, 683 N.E.2d 706, 710 (Mass. App. Ct. 1997) (upholding a jury’s finding that a coach was negligent where the risk which caused a student-athlete’s [*152] injury was reasonably foreseeable). Third-party Defendants would thus be entitled to summary judgment even absent the USSA waiver.
This is a terribly sad case. A young woman has been tragically, permanently injured. Putting aside considerations of legal liability, somebody connected with the 2006 Winter Carnival should, as a matter of conscience and professionalism, have noticed the unprotected ski tower and made sure that appropriate netting [**28] was installed to provide a greater degree of protection to the competitors.
It would, however, be false compassion now to ignore the undisputed facts and the unavoidable law. The Massachusetts Ski Safety Act, in the case of Jiminy Peak, and the USSA waiver, in the case of the other Defendants, forecloses any possibility of liability for payment of damages to Plaintiff in these circumstances. To encourage pursuit of a lawsuit lacking a legal basis would only serve to compound the tragedy.
For the reasons set forth above, Defendants’ Motions for Summary Judgment (Dkt. Nos. 135, 137, 138, 139, 140) are hereby ALLOWED, Third-Party Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 143) is hereby ALLOWED, and Plaintiff’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 157) is hereby DENIED. The trial scheduled for September 28, 2009 will obviously not go forward.
The Clerk is ordered to enter judgment for Defendants; the case may now be closed.
It is So Ordered.
/s/ Michael A. Ponsor
MICHAEL A. PONSOR
U. S. District Judge