Albertson v. Fremont Cnty., Idaho, Case No. 4:09–cv–00598–CWD.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Idaho
Writing for the CourtCANDY W. DALE
PartiesJanine C. ALBERTSON, individually; BNA, a minor, individually; and the Estate of James L. Albertson, Plaintiffs, v. FREMONT COUNTY, IDAHO, a political subdivision; United States of America, the government of the United States of America, Michael T. Benson, individually; and Does A through J, fictitiously named, Defendants.
Decision Date02 December 2011
Docket NumberCase No. 4:09–cv–00598–CWD.

834 F.Supp.2d 1117

Janine C. ALBERTSON, individually; BNA, a minor, individually; and the Estate of James L. Albertson, Plaintiffs,
v.
FREMONT COUNTY, IDAHO, a political subdivision; United States of America, the government of the United States of America, Michael T. Benson, individually; and Does A through J, fictitiously named, Defendants.

Case No. 4:09–cv–00598–CWD.

United States District Court,
D. Idaho.

Dec. 2, 2011.


[834 F.Supp.2d 1119]


William L. Mauk, Mauk & Burgoyne, Boise, ID, for Plaintiffs.

Blake G. Hall, Sam L. Angell, Nelson Hall Parry Tucker, P.A., Idaho Falls, ID, Nicholas J. Woychick, U.S. Attorney's Office, Boise, ID, for Defendants.


MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

CANDY W. DALE, United States Chief Magistrate Judge.
INTRODUCTION

On February 1, 2009, James Albertson sustained fatal injuries while snowmobiling on a groomed trail within in the Caribou–Targhee National Forest located in Fremont County, Idaho. The accident occurred when Mr. Albertson drove onto the state highway at an intersection in the trail, and collided with a passing mini van. Plaintiffs—Janine Albertson (the deceased's wife), BNA (the minor child of the deceased), and the Estate of James Albertson—seek relief against Fremont County and the United States of America (the “United States”) for wrongful death and negligence, alleging that the defendants failed to maintain the snowmobile trail in a

[834 F.Supp.2d 1120]

reasonably safe condition and, in particular, failed to place or maintain traffic control signals and warning signs indicating hazardous or dangerous conditions.

Before the Court are Fremont County's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Dkt. 80), and the United States' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. 88.) Defendants argue, among other things, that they are immune from suit under Idaho's Recreational Use Statute, which provides immunity to those who make their land available to the public for recreational use without charge. Fremont County and the United States also have filed motions to strike or disregard several exhibits that Plaintiffs submitted in opposition to Defendants' motions for summary judgment. (Dkt. 102, 106.)

The parties presented oral argument on the motions on October 20, 2011. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court ordered supplemental briefing on an issue raised by the United States in its reply brief in support of its motion for summary judgment. All of the issues now have been fully briefed and the motions are ripe for adjudication. Having fully reviewed the motions, the parties' memoranda and supplemental materials filed in support of each party's position, and for the reasons discussed below, both of Defendants' motions for summary judgment will be granted as to Plaintiffs' claims for negligence per se and denied as to Plaintiffs' claims for ordinary negligence. Defendants' motions to strike will be denied.

BACKGROUND

The Caribou–Targhee National Forest, managed by the United States Forest Service (the “Forest Service”), contains over 500 miles of groomed winter recreational snowmobile trails. Prior to February 1, 2009, the date Mr. Albertson sustained his fatal injuries, the Forest Service and Fremont County entered into various agreements concerning the operation and maintenance of a winter trail system within the forest.

Plaintiffs claim that these agreements created duties on the part of the Forest Service and Fremont County, and that Defendants breached their duties by failing to maintain the snowmobile trails in accordance with the agreements. During the 2008–2009 winter season, and at the time of the accident in this case, the Forest Service, Fremont County and the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation were operating under a Cost–Share Agreement. (Dkt. 81 at 8.) The purpose of the Cost–Share Agreement was “to document the cooperation among the parties for the groomed snowmobile trails program within the boundaries of State Designated Snowmobile Areas # 22a and 22b in Fremont County.” ( Id.) Pursuant to the Cost–Share Agreement, the Forest Service and Fremont County mutually agreed to develop and implement an Annual Operating Plan and a Sign Plan. ( Id. at 11.)

The Cost–Share Agreement and the Annual Operating Plan assign various responsibilities related to the operation and maintenance of the trail system. For instance, the Annual Operating Plan provides that “The County Shall ... [a]ssist the Forest Service with trail maintenance, as necessary, to keep the snowmobile trails open and safe[,]” and “[i]n cooperation with the Forest Service, [the County shall] mark trails, install sign[s] on trails and trailheads as necessary and as designated in the attached Sign Plan.” (Dkt. 98–13) (capitalization omitted). The Sign Plan, referenced in both the Cost–Share Agreement and the Annual Operating Plan, lists the junctions along the trail system and sets forth the type of signs required to be installed at each junction. (Dkt. 98–12.) The Annual Operating Plan also requires

[834 F.Supp.2d 1121]

the Sign Plan to be in compliance with the federal standards set forth in a document entitled EM–7100–15, Standards for Forest Service Signs and Posters. ( Id.)

The parties, in their briefing, directed the Court to several other documents concerning the installation of, and standards governing, signs along the snowmobile trail. These documents relate to the alleged legal obligations of the Forest Service and Fremont County and will be addressed in more detail below in the Court's discussion of the parties' duties.

Pursuant to the Cost–Share Agreement, the costs of operating the groomed winter trail program are shared among the County, the State of Idaho, and the Forest Service. (Dkt. 81 at 8.) It is undisputed that non-resident and resident snowmobile owners are charged mandatory registration fees for use of snowmobiles within the State of Idaho. SeeIdaho Code §§ 67–7103 and 67–7104. The fees are collected by vendors and then remitted to the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. Idaho Code § 67–7106. Snowmobile owners can designate a county or snowmobile area to receive a portion of their registration fee.

Under the Cost–Share Agreement, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation is required to “disburse snowmobile registration funds to the County for use in the operation and maintenance of the grooming program.” ( Id.) Moreover, the Cost–Share Agreement provides for the institution of a County Snowmobile Advisory Committee, which includes representatives of the Forest Service, and advises “on the use and expenditures of funds for the grooming program.” (Dkt. 81.)

Plaintiffs allege that the Forest Service “has in fact received a portion of the funds disbursed to Fremont County to purchase traffic counters, print trail maps, pay for law enforcement on the trails by the Forest Service and subsidize [the Forest Service's] law enforcement training.” (Pl.s' Statement of Material Facts in Dispute with the United States, Dkt. 98–2 at 3.) It is undisputed that Mr. Albertson paid a registration fee of $32.50 on January 30, 2009, and designated an area within Fremont County as the use area to receive a portion of his fee distributed under the above program.

Idaho State Highway 20 is the main thoroughfare for vehicular traffic through Fremont County and, at various locations, crosses the groomed winter recreation snowmobile trails located in the Caribou–Targhee National Forest. One of those crossings is at Junction 57, where the Chick Creek trail crosses Highway 20 near Ponds Lodge, Idaho. The Sign Plan called for three signs on each side of Highway 20—a Stop sign, a Stop Ahead sign, and an Intersection Ahead sign.

On the morning of February 1, 2009, a group of twelve recreational snowmobilers, including James Albertson, were riding snowmobiles from West Yellowstone, Montana, to Ponds Lodge. As Mr. Albertson traveled westbound on Chick Creek Trail approaching Junction 57, he rode from the trail onto Highway 20 and collided with a passing van driven by Michael Benson. The injuries sustained during the collision resulted in Mr. Albertson's death.

Following Mr. Albertson's death, Plaintiffs filed an action against Fremont County, the City of Island Park, and Michael Benson.1 (Dkt. 1.) The City of Island Park was dismissed from the case, and Plaintiffs later sought, and were granted, leave to add the United States as a defendant.

[834 F.Supp.2d 1122]

2 (Dkt. 45.) In their Second Amended Complaint, (Dkt. 43), Plaintiffs allege that the Forest Service and Fremont County failed to operate and maintain the snowmobile trail in a reasonably safe condition and that Mr. Albertson's death was the result of the Defendants' negligence. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that, of the three signs required to be installed by the Sign Plan, only the Stop sign was present on the day of the accident and it was obscured by a pine tree and could not be seen by snowmobilers approaching the intersection. Plaintiffs further allege that two additional warning signs (a Stop Ahead sign and an Intersection Ahead sign) should have been installed in accordance with the Sign Plan, but that on the day of the accident neither was present. Finally, Plaintiffs contend that Defendants' failure to install and maintain the appropriate signs on the trail in accordance with the Sign Plan (and other standards governing the placement of signs on the trail) was exasperated by the fact that the trail was laid out and groomed with a sharp right-hand turn immediately prior to the Stop sign. Plaintiffs claim that the lay out of the trail created a dangerous condition, making it hard for snowmobile operators to appreciate the danger of the approaching highway and further obscuring the already obscured Stop sign at the intersection.

It is disputed whether some type of warning sign (other than the Stop sign at the intersection) was properly posted at the time of the accident. Plaintiffs claim that no warning sign was posted and the United States recognizes in...

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15 practice notes
  • Eastop v. Bennion, Case No. 1:18-cv-00342-BLW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Idaho
    • November 4, 2019
    ...in support of,Page 9 or in opposition to, a motion for summary judgment are not pleadings. See Albertson v. Fremont County, Idaho, 834 F. Supp. 2d 1117, 1123 n.3 (D. Idaho 2011). Thus, the motion to strike filed in this case will be construed as objections to the materials filed by the oppo......
  • Kids' Town at Falls LLC v. The City of Rexburg, 4:20-cv-00083-DCN
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Idaho
    • November 8, 2021
    ...filed in support of, or in opposition to, a motion for summary judgment are not pleadings. See Albertson v. Fremont County, Idaho, 834 F.Supp.2d 1117, 1123 n.3 (D. Idaho 2011). Thus, the Court properly considers Kids' Town's objections to the declarations as just that: objections, not motio......
  • Ellis v. Corizon, Inc., Case No. 1:15-cv-00304-BLW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Idaho
    • November 30, 2018
    ...filed in support of, or in opposition to, a motion for summary judgment are not pleadings. See Albertson v. Fremont County, Idaho, 834 F. Supp. 2d 1117, 1123 n.3 (D. Idaho 2011). Thus, the motions to strike filed in this case will be construed as objections to the materials filed by the opp......
  • Watts v. Starbucks Corp., Case No. 2:17-cv-00272-DCN
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Idaho
    • March 12, 2018
    ...allege that Fremont County breached a duty by failing to properlyPage 10 maintain the snowmobile trail leading up to the highway." 834 F. Supp. 2d 1117, 1138 (D. Idaho 2011). Plaintiff cited Idaho Code, which in general required locals units of government to maintain "highways" in complianc......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
15 cases
  • Eastop v. Bennion, Case No. 1:18-cv-00342-BLW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Idaho
    • November 4, 2019
    ...in support of,Page 9 or in opposition to, a motion for summary judgment are not pleadings. See Albertson v. Fremont County, Idaho, 834 F. Supp. 2d 1117, 1123 n.3 (D. Idaho 2011). Thus, the motion to strike filed in this case will be construed as objections to the materials filed by the oppo......
  • Kids' Town at Falls LLC v. The City of Rexburg, 4:20-cv-00083-DCN
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Idaho
    • November 8, 2021
    ...filed in support of, or in opposition to, a motion for summary judgment are not pleadings. See Albertson v. Fremont County, Idaho, 834 F.Supp.2d 1117, 1123 n.3 (D. Idaho 2011). Thus, the Court properly considers Kids' Town's objections to the declarations as just that: objections, not motio......
  • Ellis v. Corizon, Inc., Case No. 1:15-cv-00304-BLW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Idaho
    • November 30, 2018
    ...filed in support of, or in opposition to, a motion for summary judgment are not pleadings. See Albertson v. Fremont County, Idaho, 834 F. Supp. 2d 1117, 1123 n.3 (D. Idaho 2011). Thus, the motions to strike filed in this case will be construed as objections to the materials filed by the opp......
  • Watts v. Starbucks Corp., Case No. 2:17-cv-00272-DCN
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Idaho
    • March 12, 2018
    ...allege that Fremont County breached a duty by failing to properlyPage 10 maintain the snowmobile trail leading up to the highway." 834 F. Supp. 2d 1117, 1138 (D. Idaho 2011). Plaintiff cited Idaho Code, which in general required locals units of government to maintain "highways" in complianc......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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