Blackwell v. Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC

Decision Date09 January 2017
Docket NumberNo. M2016–00447–COA–R9–CV,M2016–00447–COA–R9–CV
Parties Crystal BLACKWELL, as Next Friend to Jacob Blackwell, a Minor v. SKY HIGH SPORTS NASHVILLE OPERATIONS, LLC.
CourtTennessee Court of Appeals

David J. Weissman, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Crystal Blackwell, as next friend of Jacob Blackwell, a minor.

Ben M. Rose and Joshua D. Arters, Brentwood, Tennessee, for the appellee, Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC.

J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and Brandon O. Gibson, J., joined.

OPINION

J. Steven Stafford, P.J.

In this interlocutory appeal, the defendant trampoline park argues that the trial court erred by refusing to enforce a forum selection clause, a choice of law provision, and a waiver of liability and indemnity clause against the minor plaintiff. Additionally, the minor plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to alter or amend his complaint to allow him to claim pre-majority medical expenses. We reverse the trial court's denial of the minor plaintiff's motion to amend only to the extent that the minor plaintiff may be permitted to assert pre-majority medical expenses that were paid by him or that he is legally obligated to pay. We affirm the trial court in all other respects. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

Background

On July 3, 2012, Plaintiff/Appellant Crystal Blackwell ("Mother") signed a contract entitled "Customer Release of Liability and Assumption of Risk" ("the release") with Defendant/Appellee Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC ("Sky High") in order for her son, Jacob Blackwell ("Son," and, as represented by Mother as next friend in this lawsuit, "Appellants") to participate in activities at an indoor trampoline park operated by Sky High. The release included a forum selection clause designating California as the proper forum for litigation, a choice of law provision stipulating California as the applicable law governing the contract, and a liability waiver on behalf of both Mother and Son, as discussed in detail infra . The release further provided that it would remain in effect for any future visits to Sky High until Son turned eighteen. Mother and Son returned to Sky High to participate in trampolining activities on multiple occasions after Mother signed the contract. On March 26, 2013, Son was allegedly injured at Sky High while participating in a trampoline dodgeball tournament.

On February 5, 2014, Appellants filed a complaint in the Davidson County Circuit Court against "Sky High Sports Nashville, LLC." The complaint alleged that Son moved in an awkward fashion on a trampoline to dodge the ball and landed "awkwardly," that another player's "double bounce" contributed to his awkward landing, and that Son suffered from a torn patellar tendon and broken tibia

as a result, necessitating surgery. According to Appellants, Sky High "knew or should have known that playing dodgeball on a trampoline was a very dangerous activity" and therefore was guilty of negligence. The complaint further alleged that any warnings, disclaimers, or waivers of liability signed by Mother were "void, invalid, and/or inadequate." The complaint sought damages, including past medical expenses, future medical expenses, pain and suffering, emotional injury and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, lost wages, and loss of consortium in the amount of $500,000.00.

On May 5, 2014, Sky High Sports Nashville, LLC filed an answer denying the material allegations contained in the complaint. In addition, Sky High Sports Nashville, LLC raised several affirmative defenses: (1) that Sky High Sports Nashville, LLC was not the proper party; (2) that pursuant to the parties' contract, California was the proper forum and California law was applicable to the dispute; and (3) that Appellants' claims were barred by the release signed by Mother individually and on Son's behalf. On November 3, 2014, Sky High was substituted as the proper defendant by agreement of the parties and an amended complaint was filed reflecting the change.

On March 17, 2015, Sky High filed its motion to enforce the contract between the parties. The motion first argued that any claims on behalf of Mother should be dismissed because the release contained a forum selection clause, a choice of law provision, and a waiver of liability, all of which were enforceable against Mother. Sky High also argued that the forum selection clause, choice of law provision, and liability waiver should be enforced against Son as well, despite "dated Tennessee authority to the contrary" which did "not reflect the current state of the law." In sum, Sky High offered the following various alternative methods for resolving this dispute: (1) that the trial court should dismiss the case based on the forum selection clause; (2) that the trial court retain jurisdiction but apply California law; or (3) that the trial court should enforce the release's liability waiver and dismiss the case as to both Mother and Son.

Appellants filed a response to the motion to enforce on May 4, 2015. Therein, Appellants argued that the forum selection clause and choice of law provision were invalid because the dispute involved in this case has no connection to California. Appellants also asserted that based upon this Court's decision in Childress v. Madison County, 777 S.W.2d 1 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1989), a parent may not effectively waive liability on behalf of a minor. The response offered no argument, however, that the release of liability did not apply to any claims on behalf of Mother. Accordingly, on the same day, Mother filed a notice of voluntary dismissal of her claims against Sky High.

In response to Appellants' contention that the dispute in this case had no connection with California, Sky High filed the affidavit of Rolland Weddell on May 6, 2015. In his affidavit, Mr. Weddell asserted that he helped found Sky High Sports, "a larger national brand" of which Sky High was a part. According to Mr. Weddell, the company's first two stores were founded in California in 2006. Mr. Weddell explained that ten trampoline parks under the Sky High Sports brand currently operate in California. Mr. Weddell, however, resides in Nevada, where he serves as the loss prevention manager for Sky High. There is no dispute that Sky High's corporate headquarters is also in Nevada.

The trial court held a hearing on Sky High's motion to enforce on May 8, 2014. On May 22, 2015, the trial court entered an order denying Sky High's motion to enforce in its entirety. Therein, the trial court ruled that neither the forum selection clause nor the choice of law provision were valid because their enforcement would cause a great hardship for Son to prosecute his action in California and, Tennessee, rather than California, has "a more significant relationship to the facts surrounding this case." The trial court also noted that Tennessee law included a fundamental public policy regarding the protection of children. Consequently, the trial court denied Sky High's request to enforce the waiver of liability as to the Son's claims, noting that such a contract is not permissible in Tennessee under the holding in Childress.

On June 22, 2015, Sky High filed a motion to alter or amend the trial court's judgment, or in the alternative, for an interlocutory appeal of the trial court's denial of the motion to enforce pursuant to Rule 9 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. While this motion was pending, on July 31, 2015, Appellants filed a motion to amend their complaint. Therein, Appellants contended that because the individual claims of Mother had been voluntarily dismissed, an amendment was necessary to ensure the proper parties were named in the complaint and to request medical expenses, both past and future, on behalf of Son, with Mother acting as next friend. Sky High opposed the amendment, arguing that only a parent could bring a claim for past medical expenses for a minor child. Sky High contended that, because Mother's claims were barred by the release, neither Mother nor Son was entitled to recover these damages.

On February 23, 2016, the trial court entered an order on the pending motions to amend the complaint and to alter or amend, or in the alternative, for an interlocutory appeal. First, the trial court denied Sky High's motion to alter or amend but granted their request for an interlocutory appeal of the denial of the motion to enforce. Additionally, the trial court granted Appellants' motion to alter or amend, except to the extent that the amendment would allow "recovery of any pre-majority medical expenses." The trial court, however, also allowed an interlocutory appeal of this ruling. Eventually, this Court also granted the requested interlocutory appeal as to both issues. Accordingly, this appeal followed.

Issues Presented

As we perceive it, this appeal involves four issues:

1. Whether the trial court erred in refusing to enforce the forum selection clause contained in the release?
2. Whether the trial court erred in refusing to enforce the choice of law provision contained in the release?
3. Whether the trial court erred in refusing to enforce the waiver of liability against Son contained in the release signed by Mother?
4. Whether the trial court erred in refusing to allow the amendment to the complaint to allow Son to recover for pre-majority medical expenses.
Standard of Review

In this case, the trial court denied Sky High's motion to dismiss based upon a forum selection clause, a choice of law provision, and a liability waiver contained in the release. In considering an appeal from a trial court's ruling on a motion to dismiss, we take all allegations of fact in the complaint as true and review the trial court's legal conclusions de novo with no presumption of correctness. Mid–South...

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