Martinez v. Ross

Decision Date29 April 2020
Docket NumberNo. 2374, Sept. Term, 2018,2374, Sept. Term, 2018
Parties Anthony MARTINEZ v. Daniel ROSS, et al.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

245 Md.App. 581
227 A.3d 667

Daniel ROSS, et al.

No. 2374, Sept. Term, 2018

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

April 29, 2020

Argued by: Dennis F. O’Brien (Dennis F. O’Brien, PA, Bel Air, MD, J. Mitchell Lambros, Lambros & Lambros, Cockeysville, MD), all on the brief, for Appellant

Argued by: Gerald F. Ragland, Jr. (Edward J. Longosz, II, Mark A. Johnston, Eckert, Seamans, Cherin & Mellott, LLC, Washington, D.C.), all on the brief, for Appellee

Panel: Kehoe, Nazarian, Arthur, JJ.

Arthur, J.

227 A.3d 669
245 Md.App. 584

This case concerns the "Maryland Recreational Use Statute," which is codified at Maryland Code (1974, 2018 Repl. Vol.), §§ 5-1101 to 1109 of the Natural Resources Article ("NR"). The statute, which is derived from a model act that has been adopted in various forms in dozens of states, states that its "purpose" is "to encourage" owners to make their land "available to the public" for "recreational and educational purpose[s]." NR § 5-1102(a). The statute achieves its stated purpose by "limiting the owner’s liability" in tort "toward any person who enters on land" for recreational and educational purposes. Id.

In what a number of courts have described as a " ‘drafting problem,’ "1 the operative portions of the statute can be read to limit the owner’s tort liability to anyone who enters the land for recreational or educational purposes, including the owner’s social guests, and not just members of the general public. In light of the stated purpose of the model act, however, courts

245 Md.App. 585

elsewhere have held, almost uniformly, that the statute does not override an owner’s common-law duty of care to social guests.

In this case, the Circuit Court for Frederick County ruled that, under the Recreational Use Statute, a landowner owed no duty to a social guest who suffered catastrophic injuries at a social gathering on the property. Accordingly, the court entered summary judgment in favor of the owner, and against the guest.

The guest appealed. We reverse.


Appellee Penn Shop Farms LLC owns a property in Mt. Airy that is known as "Penn Shop Farm." Penn Shop Farms LLC is owned or controlled by appellee Daniel Ross. The LLC leases the property to Ross’s business, appellee Ross Contracting Inc.

Ross’s companies use Penn Shop Farm primarily to store excavating equipment and to deposit dirt from construction sites. Ross and others have constructed all-terrain vehicle (ATV) courses on the property.

Penn Shop Farm is not open to the public. The sole entrance is controlled with fencing and a metal gate that is locked with a chain and padlock. There are multiple warning signs at the entrance that prohibit entry. They read: "Keep Out"; "No Trespassing"; and "Posted. No Trespassing. Keep Out."

Ross planned a social event on the property for October 29, 2016. The event, which was called "Cookout, Bikes, and Music," was an all-afternoon gathering of friends and family members. Ross invited

227 A.3d 670

guests to bring and ride their ATVs and dirt bikes on the courses that he had constructed on the land. Of the persons who received invitations, approximately 90 attended, including appellant Anthony Martinez.

245 Md.App. 586

Ross and Martinez had met through business contacts and had become close friends. Ross acted as a mentor to Martinez, frequently providing him with personal and business advice as well as religious guidance. Ross invited Martinez to the cookout by Evite on October 17, 2016, and followed up the next day by text message to ensure his attendance. Ross explained to Martinez that the event was primarily for persons who, like Martinez, attended his church.

On the morning of October 29, 2016, Martinez helped Ross transport ATVs and other off-road vehicles from Ross’s home to Penn Shop Farm. Once at Penn Shop Farm, Ross gave Martinez an ATV to ride. While traversing one of the courses on the ATV, Martinez was thrown over the handlebars. The ATV landed on top of him. He suffered a spinal injury that rendered him a quadriplegic.

Martinez brought suit in the Circuit Court for Frederick County, alleging that his injuries were caused by Ross’s negligence. Martinez’s experts appear to have opined that the accident occurred because of the defective design of the course.

Ross and his companies moved for summary judgment, claiming statutory immunity under the Recreational Use Statute. Martinez opposed the motion. He argued that the Recreational Use Statute did not apply because Ross did not make his land "available to the public."

After some back and forth, the circuit court eventually granted summary judgment in favor of Ross and his companies. The court determined that Ross made his property " ‘available to the public’ for recreational purposes as contemplated by [the] words of the statute" when he invited "the large group over to Penn Shop Farm for a cookout, and to ride dirt bikes and ATVs." Thus, the court concluded that Ross and his companies were "entitled to the protection the statute affords," effectively immunizing them from liability for Martinez’s injuries.

Martinez noted a timely appeal from the judgment.

245 Md.App. 587


Martinez raises a single issue for review: "Whether the circuit court erred in concluding, as a matter of law, that the immunity conferred by [the Recreational Use Statute] applies to a landowner, whose land is not open to the public generally for recreational use, to a claim arising from use of the land during an invitation[-]only party?"


On review of the grant of summary judgment, this Court "must make the threshold determination as to whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists, and only where such dispute is absent will we proceed to review determinations of law." Johnson v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore , 430 Md. 368, 376, 61 A.3d 33 (2013). In this case, there is no genuine dispute of material fact; the dispute involves the purely legal question of the correct interpretation of a statutory provision. See Trim v. YMCA of Cent. Maryland , 233 Md. App. 326, 332-33, 165 A.3d 534 (2017). Where the parties " ‘agree on the facts, leaving the interpretation of [a statute] as the sole legal issue[,]’ the appropriate standard of review is de novo." Richard Beavers Constr., Inc. v. Wagstaff , 236 Md. App. 1, 13, 180 A.3d 211 (2018) (citing Johnson v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore , 430 Md. at 376, 61 A.3d 33 ).

227 A.3d 671

The stated purpose of the Recreational Use Statute is "to encourage any owner of land to make land ... available to the public for any recreational and educational purpose." NR § 5-1102(a). To achieve that purpose, the statute limits an owner’s common-law liability "toward any person who enters" the land for any recreational or educational purpose. Id.3

245 Md.App. 588

At common law, when persons are injured while on the property of another, their legal status dictates the scope of an owner’s duties to them. See , e.g. , Macias v. Summit Mgmt., Inc. , 243 Md. App. 294, 316-17, 220 A.3d 363 (2019). "[I]n general, the highest duty is owed to invitees; namely, the duty to ‘use reasonable and ordinary care to keep the premises safe for the invitee and to protect the invitee from injury caused by an unreasonable risk which the invitee, by exercising ordinary care for the invitee’s own safety will not discover.’ " Id . at 317, 220 A.3d 363 (quoting Deboy v. City of Crisfield , 167 Md. App. 548, 555, 893 A.2d 1189 (2006) ). "At the bottom rung are trespassers and bare licensees, to whom is owed no more than to ‘abstain from willful or wanton misconduct or entrapment.’ " Id. (quoting Deboy v. City of Crisfield , 167 Md. App. at 555, 893 A.2d 1189 ). In the middle is the social guest, or "licensee by invitation." Id. at 320, 220 A.3d 363. In the case of a social guest, an owner or occupier has a common-law duty to exercise reasonable care to make the premises safe for the guest or to warn the guest of known, dangerous conditions that the guest cannot reasonably discover. Id. at 321, 220 A.3d 363 (citing Bramble v. Thompson , 264 Md. 518, 521-22, 287 A.2d 265 (1972) ).

Where the Recreational Use Statute applies, however, it alters an owner’s common-law liability in several respects.

First, section 5-1103 significantly diminishes an owner’s duty of care:

Except as specifically ... provided in § 5-1106 of this subtitle, an owner of land owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for any recreational or educational purpose, or to give any warning of a dangerous condition ... on the premises to any person who enters on the land for these purposes.

The exception in NR section 5-1106 applies only in the case of a "willful or malicious failure to...

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