Jones v. U.S., 81-3567

Decision Date07 December 1982
Docket NumberNo. 81-3567,81-3567
Citation693 F.2d 1299
PartiesIda I. JONES and Lisa A. Jones, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. UNITED STATES of America, Defendant-Appellee. v. NATIONAL PARK CONCESSIONS, INC.; Joseph B. Barlow; and Bainbridge Bible Chapel, Third Party Defendants and Additional Defendants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Daniel F. Sullivan, Seattle, Wash., argued for plaintiffs-appellants; Tom Golden, Seattle, Wash., on brief.

Susan Barnes, Asst. U.S. Atty., Seattle, Wash., for defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington.

Before WRIGHT and SKOPIL, Circuit Judges and JAMESON, * District Judge.

JAMESON, District Judge:

Ida I. Jones and Lisa A. Jones appeal from a judgment in favor of the United States in this suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. Secs. 1346(b) and 2671 et seq. We affirm.

I. Factual Background

Lisa, then 15 years of age, was severely injured in an accident on April 16, 1977, on a slope at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park in the State of Washington. 1 She was on an outing sponsored by her church, the Bainbridge Bible Chapel, under the supervision of Joseph B. Barlow. Lisa and her friend, Beverly Thornberry, each rented an inner tube from National Park Concessions, Inc. (NPC) 2 for a dollar to use for snow sliding. Initially they tubed with others in a "Snow Play Area", designated by a directional sign at the Park lodge. 3 Eventually, however, they moved to the slope where the accident occurred. 4 Beverly went down the slope first, mounted on her inner tube stomach down, and rolled off the tube at a level area near the bottom of the slope. Lisa, seated on her tube, was unable to stop, crossed the level area at a high rate of speed, and crashed into a tree, fracturing her spine, shoulder and several ribs.

II. District Court Proceedings

Lisa's mother, Ida I. Jones, individually and as guardian for Lisa, brought suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act. NPC, Bainbridge Bible Chapel, and Barlow were later added as defendants. 5 The district court granted the Government's motion for partial summary judgment, holding the Government's liability was controlled and limited by the Washington Recreational Land Use Act, RCW 4.24.210, which requires proof that the Government's conduct was willful and wanton.

Plaintiff settled with Barlow before trial 6 and NPC during trial, 7 both by way of a covenant not to execute. The jury returned a verdict against Bainbridge Bible Chapel, but found Lisa was 60% comparatively negligent. 8 The trial judge found that the plaintiff had failed to establish willful and wanton conduct on the part of the Government as required by the Washington Recreational Land Use Act and entered judgment for the Government. 9

III. Issues on Appeal

Two issues are presented on this appeal: (1) whether the liability of the United States is controlled by the Washington Recreational Land Use Act; and (2) if so, whether the conduct of the United States was willful or wanton.

IV. Washington Recreational Land Use Act

Under the Federal Tort Claims Act the Government is liable for negligent acts and omissions of its employees, "if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred." 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1346(b). Since the accident occurred on government land in Washington, Washington tort law is applicable, Rayonier Inc. v. United States, 352 U.S. 315, 318, 77 S.Ct. 374, 376, 1 L.Ed.2d 354 (1957). In granting partial summary judgment, the district court concluded that the land in question was subject to the Washington Recreational Land Use Act.

RCW 4.24.210 (as it read at the time of Lisa's injury) provided in pertinent part:

Any public or private landowners or others in lawful possession and control of agricultural or forest lands ... and rural lands adjacent to such areas ... who allow members of the public to use them for the purpose of outdoor recreation, .... without charging a fee of any kind therefor, shall not be liable for unintentional injuries to such users; Provided, That nothing in this section shall prevent the liability of such a landowner or others in lawful possession and control for injuries sustained to users by reason of a known dangerous artificial latent condition for which warning signs have not been conspicuously posted: Provided further, That nothing in RCW 4.24.200 and 4.24.210 limits or expands in any way the doctrine of attractive nuisance.

The purpose of the Act is stated in RCW 4.24.200:

The purpose of RCW 4.24.200 and 4.24.210 is to encourage owners or others in lawful possession and control of land and water areas or channels to make them available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting their liability toward persons entering thereon and toward persons who may be injured or otherwise damaged by the acts or omissions of persons entering thereon.

Appellants contend that the district court erred in holding (1) that the Government was a "recreational landowner" entitled to assert the immunities of the Washington Recreational Land Use Act; (2) that Olympic National Park was "forest land" as defined in the Act; and (3) that "the fee charged for the use of the inner tube was not a fee charged" for Lisa's use of the recreational facilities.

A. Was the Government a "Recreational Landowner"?

This court has held that "The principle of encouraging landowners to open their land by limiting potential tort liability applies with equal force to the Government as to other landowners." Gard v. United States, 594 F.2d 1230, 1233 (9th Cir.1979) cert. denied, 444 U.S. 866, 100 S.Ct. 138, 62 L.Ed.2d 90 (1979). 10 Appellants do not contend that the Government is not entitled to the immunities of the Washington Recreational Land Use Act because it is a political entity, but rather because the statute applies only to "a landowner who gives up his right to keep out members of the public." They argue that the requisite element of "consent to public use" 11 is not present, noting that Olympic National Park was "reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or disposal ... and dedicated and set apart as a public park for the benefit and enjoyment of the people ...." Act of June 29, 1938, Pub.L. No. 75-778, Sec. 1, 52 Stat. 1241 (codified at 16 U.S.C. Sec. 251 (1976)). Appellants argue that while the purpose of the Washington statute is to "encourage" owners to "allow" someone to use their land, that purpose is not met when, as here, the public has a right and expectation to use the land that pre-exists the passage of the Act 12 and the Government has no right to bar entry.

While it is true that the Olympic National Park was open to public use prior to the passage of the Washington statute, the Government properly notes that federal regulations permit the closure of national parks by the Government. 36 C.F.R. Sec. 2.6, (41 FR 4537, Jan. 30, 1976), reads in part:

Sec. 2.6 Closures and public use limits.

(a) Closing of areas. (1) The Superintendent may establish a reasonable schedule of visiting hours for all or portions of a park area and close to public use all or any portion of a park area when necessary for the protection of the area or the safety and welfare of persons or property by the posting of appropriate signs indicating the extent and scope of closure.

In construing a similar regulation with respect to national forests open to the public, in Otteson v. United States, 622 F.2d 516, 519 (10 Cir.1980), 13 the court said in part:

Plaintiff's argument that the government should not be treated as a private party under the Colorado sightseer statute because it is somehow obligated to keep the national forests open to the public is unpersuasive. The Forest Service regulations allow each Forest Supervisor, among others, to close or restrict the use of forest areas and roads. If liability were imposed upon the government in cases such as this one, the Forest Service might well choose to close the forests to public use rather than bear the heavy burden of maintaining logging roads as public thoroughfares. This result is precisely what the Colorado sightseer statute was enacted to prevent. Thus, we hold that the government is entitled to the protection of the Colorado sightseer statute and is therefore only liable "[f]or willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a known dangerous condition...." Colo.Rev.Stat. 33-41-104(a) (1973). 14

The same reasoning applies here. The United States could close a park or a part thereof or restrict its use. We agree with the district court that the Government was a recreational landowner under the Washington Recreational Land Use Act.

B. Was the Land in Question "Forest Land"?

Appellants contend that the district court erroneously concluded that Olympic National Park was "forest land", and in the alternative, that a factual issue was presented which precluded summary judgment. Appellants rely on Kucher v. Pierce County, 24 Wash.App. 281, 600 P.2d 683 (1979), where the court held that "forest lands" did not include a wooded area in a city park administered by a city park district. The court in Kucher referred to a law review article 15 which suggests that three factors bear on the scope of applicability of the immunity statute: (1) the amount of land owned by the landowner, (2) the arrangement of the land and its improvements, and (3) the relative proximity of the land to a population center.

Appellants focus solely on the Hurricane Ridge area and urge it is similar to an urban park because of the improvements, patrol and accessibility. The Government focuses on the totality of the Park, noting that it covers 898,000 acres or 1,350 square miles 16 and is at least 70 miles from the metropolitan Puget Sound area. We agree with the Government that the Park is in no sense similar to a city urban park. Under...

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