Lane v. Atchison Heritage Conference Center, 94,634.

Decision Date02 June 2006
Docket NumberNo. 94,634.,94,634.
Citation134 P.3d 683
PartiesHoward LANE, Appellant, v. ATCHISON HERITAGE CONFERENCE CENTER, INC., Appellee.
CourtKansas Court of Appeals

John J. Benge, of Benge Law Firm, of Lenexa, for appellant.

Teresa L. Sittenauer and Amanda J. Kiefer of Fisher, Patterson, Sayler & Smith, L.L.P., of Topeka, for appellee.

Before RULON, C.J., ELLIOTT and GREENE, JJ.

RULON, C.J.

Plaintiff Howard Lane appeals the district court's order granting summary judgment in favor of defendant Atchison Heritage Conference Center, Inc. (AHCC) under the recreational use exception of the Kansas Tort Claims Act (KTCA), K.S.A. 75-6101 et seq. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

Underlying Facts

For purposes of this appeal, the facts of this case are relatively undisputed. In 1999, the City of Atchison purchased a conference center and its grounds from Mount St. Scholastica, Inc., using federal block grant funds. The stated intention of the purchase was to attract groups to the Atchison area by providing conference and event planning and services, thereby creating jobs and stimulating the local economy.

AHCC was incorporated to manage the conference center and administer the center's services through a year-to-year lease from the City of Atchison. The lease is automatically renewed absent 60 days' prior notice of termination from either party. AHCC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Atchison Area Economic Development Corporation, and, by the terms of its lease with the City of Atchison, all gross revenue generated by the operation of the conference center is paid to Atchison for "economic development." As of September 2004, AHCC had not generated a profit.

The Board of AHCC consists of nine members, including a representative from the Atchison City Commission and the Atchison Area Economic Development Corporation, five members of the Atchison community at large, the City Manager of Atchison, and the President of the Atchison Chamber of Commerce.

Since the AHCC began management of the conference center in October 1999 until September 2004, the conference center has been used to host meetings on 428 different dates, retreats on 113 different dates, parties or reunions on 82 different dates, and weddings or wedding receptions on 70 different dates. The groups which used the facilities for these purposes ranged from individual members of the public to service organizations, such as Rotary International, to business organizations, such as MGP Ingredients, Inc., to government organizations, such as the Shawnee County Health Agency, to religious organizations, such as Blue Ridge Bible Church, to artistic groups, including the Heart of America Chorus. For many of the groups hosted at the center, AHCC also provided banquet services. In addition, AHCC provided some catering services to the community.

On December 31, 2002, AHCC hosted a New Years' Eve dance, which included a buffet dinner, for the public. The price of admission was $50 for an individual or $80 per couple. To provide musical entertainment, AHCC engaged "The Ranch Hands," led and managed by plaintiff.

During the course of the evening, a bartender working at the party drained the ice and water from a portable beverage cart at the edge of the loading dock. Later, when plaintiff attempted to use the dock to load his band equipment into his van, he slipped on some ice and fell, breaking his right femur and hip.

On September 12, 2003, plaintiff sued AHCC for negligence in the maintenance of the loading dock on December 31, 2002. In its answer, AHCC raised, among other defenses, immunity from liability under the recreational use exception of the KTCA, K.S.A. 2002 Supp. 75-6104(o).

After initial discovery, AHCC filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming immunity from ordinary negligence and noting that plaintiff had alleged merely ordinary negligence in his petition. Plaintiff immediately filed a motion to amend his petition to allege gross and wanton negligence, which was granted, but he also challenged the application of KTCA liability exceptions under the facts of the case.

Eventually, the district court held a hearing on the summary judgment motion against plaintiff's claim for ordinary negligence. The district court was persuaded by AHCC's legal argument and found the recreational use exception to tort liability under the KTCA was applicable. The district court denied AHCC's motion for summary judgment as it pertained to plaintiff's claim for gross and wanton negligence, however. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff voluntarily withdrew his claim for gross and wanton negligence, choosing to appeal the determination that the KTCA recreational use exception applied.

The sole issue before the court on this appeal is whether the district court properly granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's claim for ordinary negligence by virtue of liability immunity under the KTCA. This court's standard of review of summary judgment motions is well established.

Ordinarily, summary judgment is only proper when the available pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, so that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Appellate review is identical to the district court's review of such a motion to the extent that all facts and reasonable inferences must be interpreted in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought. See State ex rel. Stovall v. Reliance Ins. Co., 278 Kan. 777, 788, 107 P.3d 1219 (2005). However, when the parties do not dispute the pertinent facts upon which the summary judgment ruling was based, appellate review is unlimited. Roy v. Young, 278 Kan. 244, 247, 93 P.3d 712 (2004).

Governmental immunity from tort liability in Kansas is governed by the KTCA, and liability is the rule, not the exception. In order to avoid tort liability, a qualified government entity must prove that one of the exceptions in 75-6104 applies. Jackson v. U.S.D. 259, 268 Kan. 319, 322, 995 P.2d 844 (2000). In this appeal, AHCC relies solely upon the recreational use exception in K.S.A. 2002 Supp. 75-6104(o), which states:

"A governmental entity or an employee acting within the scope of the employee's employment shall not be liable for damages resulting from:

. . . .

"(o) any claim for injuries resulting from the use of any public property intended or permitted to be used as a park, playground or open area for recreational purposes, unless the governmental entity or an employee thereof is guilty of gross and wanton negligence proximately causing such injury."

Plaintiff challenges the district court's findings that AHCC is a governmental entity subject to the protection of the KTCA; the conference center where the injury occurred is "public property" within the meaning of the exception; and the conference center is intended or permitted to be used as a recreational area. Resolution of these issues requires statutory interpretation, which is a question of law. Consequently, this court possesses unlimited review. See Rockers v. Kansas Turnpike Authority, 268 Kan. 110, 113, 991 P.2d 889 (1999).

The primary goal in statutory construction is to discern and implement the intent of the legislature, if such intent may be reasonably ascertained. Courts must presume the legislature expressed its intent through the language of the statute. Therefore, where a statute is plain and unambiguous, a court should give effect to the expressed intent without resort to principles of statutory construction. Pieren-Abbott v. Kansas Dept. of Revenue, 279 Kan. 83, 88, 106 P.3d 492 (2005).

Instrumentality of Municipality

By its plain language, the exceptions to liability under 75-6104 are limited to governmental entities. A governmental entity is defined by statute as "state or municipality." K.S.A.2005 Supp. 75-6102(c). Within the meaning of the KTCA, "state" is defined as "the state of Kansas and any department or branch of state government, or any agency, authority, institution or other instrumentality thereof," and "municipality" includes "any county, township, city, school district, or other political or taxing subdivision of the state, or any agency, authority, institution or other instrumentality thereof." K.S.A.2005 Supp. 75-6102(a) and (b).

In arguing their respective positions, the parties cite Gragg v. Wichita State Univ., 261 Kan. 1037, 1058, 934 P.2d 121 (1997) (athletic association deemed a government entity for purposes of KTCA), and League of Kansas Municipalities v. Board of Shawnee County Comm'rs, 24 Kan.App.2d 294, 299-300, 944 P.2d 172 (1997) (League considered an instrumentality of its member municipalities for ad valorem tax purposes). We also find instructive Rockers, 268 Kan. at 114, 991 P.2d 889 ("`This court has consistently held that the Kansas turnpike authority is an arm or agency of the state, created by the legislature to perform an essential governmental function.' [Citation omitted.]"), and Bonewell v. City of Derby, 236 Kan. 589, 593, 693 P.2d 1179 (1985) (Jaycees deemed a governmental instrumentality of the municipality for purposes of KTCA).

A synthesis of these cases leads to the inevitable conclusion that AHCC is an instrumentality of the City of Atchison. Atchison purchased the conference center and grounds with the purpose of providing conference and retreat services in the community to promote economic development. Economic development is a legitimate function of government. See Davidson Bros., Inc. v. D. Katz & Sons, Inc., 274 N.J.Super. 159, 169-70, 643 A.2d 642 (1994); Purdin v. Copperas Cove Economic Development Corp., 143 S.W.3d 290, 299 (Tex.App.2004).

Furthermore, like the athletic association in Gragg, AHCC is substantially controlled by the City of Atchison through the terms of its annual lease, the composition of AHCC's Board, and the...

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3 cases
  • Poston v. Unified School Dist. No. 387, No. 96,568.
    • United States
    • Kansas Supreme Court
    • August 1, 2008
    ...its primary function—"to provide a source of economic development for the community of Atchison." Lane v. Atchison Heritage Conf. Center, Inc., 35 Kan.App.2d 838, 847, 134 P.3d 683 (2006). Because the AHCC's "primary function" was not recreational, the Court of Appeals held that the AHCC di......
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    ...granted its motion and entered final judgment in favor of the AHCC. The Court of Appeals reversed in Lane v. Atchison Heritage Conf. Center, Inc., 35 Kan.App.2d 838, 134 P.3d 683 (2006), concluding that the recreational use exception of the KTCA, K.S.A.2006 Supp. 75-6104(o), did not apply w......
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    ...employees and enjoys the same privileges as WSU") (citing Shriver ).Plaintiffs similarly point to Lane v. Atchison Heritage Conference Center, Inc ., 35 Kan. App. 2d 838, 134 P.3d 683 (2006), as another case where whether an entity qualified as an instrumentality under the KTCA turned on co......

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