Parsons v. Crown Disposal Co., No. S049011

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtGEORGE; WERDEGAR; MOSK; KENNARD
Citation15 Cal.4th 456,63 Cal.Rptr.2d 291,936 P.2d 70
Parties, 936 P.2d 70, 97 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 3423, 97 Daily Journal D.A.R. 5921 Darrell PARSONS, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. CROWN DISPOSAL COMPANY, Defendant and Respondent
Docket NumberNo. S049011
Decision Date08 May 1997

Page 291

63 Cal.Rptr.2d 291
15 Cal.4th 456, 936 P.2d 70, 97 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 3423,
97 Daily Journal D.A.R. 5921
Darrell PARSONS, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
CROWN DISPOSAL COMPANY, Defendant and Respondent.
No. S049011.
Supreme Court of California
May 8, 1997.
Rehearing Denied July 9, 1997.

Page 292

[15 Cal.4th 460] [936 P.2d 71] Robert A. Brown, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Gregory F. Stannard, Peter J. King, Santa Monica, Musick, Peeler & Garrett, Harry W.R. Chamberlain, II, and Mary Catherine M. Bohen, Los Angeles, for Defendant and Respondent.

Fred J. Hiestand, Sacramento, E. William Hutton, Torrance, Lee Keller, O'Flaherty & Belgum, Robert M. Dato, Long Beach, Astor & Phillips and John Kelly Astor, Orange, as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Respondent.

GEORGE, Chief Justice.

Plaintiff was thrown from the horse on which he was riding after the horse was frightened by loud noises from a nearby garbage truck that was operating in its normal manner. Plaintiff sought recovery for his injuries from defendant garbage company,

Page 293

[936 P.2d 72] but the trial court granted summary judgment for defendant. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that under the applicable common law authorities and this court's decision in Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296, 11 Cal.Rptr.2d 2, 834 P.2d 696 [15 Cal.4th 461] (Knight ), defendant owed a duty to plaintiff to avoid increasing the risk of harm over that inherent in the recreational activity of horseback riding, and that there was a triable issue of fact as to whether defendant had breached that duty.

We conclude that the Court of Appeal erred in reversing the trial court judgment in favor of defendant. As we shall explain, the Court of Appeal's mistaken analysis of and conclusion on the duty question posed here rested in part upon the appellate court's misapplication of the common law cases concerning liability for injury caused by fright to horses, and in part upon its misunderstanding of our decision in Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th 296, 11 Cal.Rptr.2d 2, 834 P.2d 696.

As discussed below, for more than 150 years courts have recognized that a defendant breaches no duty of care merely by operating socially beneficial machinery in a manner that is regular and necessary, even if such ordinary operation happens to frighten a nearby horse and, as a result of the horse's reaction, some injury or damage ensues. This long-standing line of authority establishes that although defendant had a duty to conduct its garbage collection activity in a prudent fashion (and to use due care to avoid making unusual noises unnecessary to accomplish its task), it had no duty to avoid making the regular noises that were a normal incident to its operations merely because of the possibility that these ordinary operations might happen to frighten a horse that was in the vicinity of its truck. Once the scope of defendant's duty of care is properly understood, we believe it is clear that the record in this case discloses no evidence that defendant breached its duty of care to plaintiff, and thus that the trial court properly entered summary judgment in favor of defendant. Hence, we shall reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeal setting aside the trial court's judgment.

Contrary to what is implied in the Court of Appeal's reasoning, neither Knight nor its progeny established a broad, expansive duty on the part of defendant to avoid increasing the risk of harm to plaintiff over that inherent in the recreational activity of horseback riding--a purported duty that takes no account of the established authority recognizing reasonable limitations on the responsibility of others for the risk of injury arising from the skittishness of horses. Although the decision in Knight clarified the nature and scope of the duty owed by a participant in an active sport to other coparticipants in the sport, and also explained that, in light of the adoption of comparative fault principles, the assumption of risk doctrine completely bars a plaintiff's action only in those instances in which the defendant has not breached any duty of care to the plaintiff, Knight did not purport to establish the parameters of the duty of care owed by all potential defendants to persons who happen to be engaged in a sport or activity at the time they sustain an injury. [15 Cal.4th 462] In this case, in which defendant had no participatory involvement in the activity undertaken by plaintiff, the decision in Knight does not define whatever duty was owed by defendant to plaintiff. As already noted, the nature and scope of defendant's duty in these circumstances is established by the considerable line of authority addressing the question of a defendant's potential liability for injuries resulting from the frightening of a horse.

I

According to declarations and deposition transcripts submitted in support of and in opposition to defendant's motion for summary judgment, at 10:00 a.m. on a Monday in early December 1991, plaintiff Darrell Parsons rode his horse, Poco, on a public bridle path adjacent to the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in the City of Burbank. This portion of the bridle path is about a mile long, and at one point runs parallel to and fewer than 10 feet from a chain link fence, on the other side of which is a parking lot located to the rear of a restaurant.

At the same time that plaintiff rounded a corner and approached this location, a trash

Page 294

[936 P.2d 73] collection truck operated by defendant's employee, Efren Ramirez, was in the process of picking up and emptying a large debris bin located next to the fence in the restaurant's parking lot. While the truck stood stationary, Ramirez, from inside the truck's cab, inserted mechanical forks into the trash bin. Plaintiff, in deposition testimony appended to defendant's motion for summary judgment and thereafter lodged with the court by plaintiff, testified as follows: When he was approximately 10 feet from the truck, he noticed his horse look directly at the truck and "begin to tense up." The bin was lifted off the ground, to the height of the truck's windshield. Ramirez began shaking the bin up and down, apparently to settle its contents before taking the bin "all the way up and over" his cab to empty it into the truck bed. Plaintiff saw Ramirez "in the side-view mirror," at which time Ramirez proceeded "to go ahead up with the trash bin and all I heard was--evidently there were bottles and cans in the trash bin and the loudest noise--I can't begin to explain how loud that noise was. [p] By then my horse is bolting and spinning and bucking and that's when I landed ... on the concrete." According to plaintiff, "it was a matter of split seconds [from] when I turned onto that trail [until] what happened."

The parties stipulated that both plaintiff and Ramirez knew that horses are susceptible to being frightened, and that Ramirez had known for two years that the restaurant abutted a bridle path frequented by horses and their [15 Cal.4th 463] riders. 1 The record contains no evidence that Ramirez saw plaintiff (or that plaintiff was within Ramirez's view) until after plaintiff was thrown and injured. Indeed, plaintiff's own deposition testimony, noting that he saw Ramirez in the side-view mirror, suggests that plaintiff's horse reacted to the noise and became uncontrollable while plaintiff and his horse were behind defendant's truck. 2

Plaintiff's complaint for damages alleged, as the basis for defendant's liability, that defendant "negligently operated a trash collection vehicle so as to scare plaintiff's horse, causing plaintiff to be thrown from the horse to the ground and to proximately and legally cause injuries and damages to plaintiff...."

Defendant filed an answer asserting that plaintiff had failed to state a cause of action. Thereafter defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on ostensibly alternative, but, as explained herein, essentially identical grounds. First, defendant asserted it owed plaintiff no duty to guard against the injuries complained of, citing in support the policy considerations set out in Rowland v.

Page 295

[936 P.2d 74] Christian (1968) 69 Cal.2d 108, 112-113, 70 Cal.Rptr. 97, 443 P.2d 561, and other cases. Second, defendant asserted, plaintiff's recovery was barred under the doctrine of "primary assumption of risk," as set out in our then recent opinions, Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th 296, [15 Cal.4th 464] 11 Cal.Rptr.2d 2, 834 P.2d 696, and Ford v. Gouin (1992) 3 Cal.4th 339, 11 Cal.Rptr.2d 30, 834 P.2d 724. 3 Plaintiff responded that summary judgment should be denied because it could not be determined as a matter of law that defendant breached no duty owed to plaintiff.

The trial court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that defendant owed and possibly breached a duty to use care not to frighten horses being ridden on the trail, and that the case thus fell outside the bar of primary assumption of risk. We granted review.

II

A "motion for summary judgment shall be granted if all of the papers submitted show that there is no triable issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. In determining whether the papers show that there is no triable issue as to any material fact the court shall consider all of the evidence set forth in the papers, ... and all inferences reasonably deducible from the evidence...." (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (c).) A defendant "has met his or her burden of showing that a cause of action has no merit if that party has shown that one or more elements of the cause of action, even if not separately pleaded, cannot be established, or that there is a complete defense to that cause of action. Once the defendant ... has met that burden, the burden shifts to the plaintiff ... to show that a triable issue of one or more material facts exists as to that cause of action or...

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249 practice notes
  • Verdugo v. Target Corp., No. 10–57008.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 28, 2014
    ...313, 248 P.3d 1170 [rejecting claimed exception to duty of care for stopping alongside a freeway]; Parsons v. Crown Disposal Co. (1997) 15 Cal.4th 456, 472–478, 63 Cal.Rptr.2d 291, 936 P.2d 70 [recognizing exception to duty of care for normal operation of garbage truck near bridle path]; Ro......
  • Verdugo v. Target Corp., No. 10–57008.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 28, 2014
    ...313, 248 P.3d 1170 [rejecting claimed exception to duty of care for stopping alongside a freeway]; Parsons v. Crown Disposal Co. (1997) 15 Cal.4th 456, 472–478, 63 Cal.Rptr.2d 291, 936 P.2d 70 [recognizing exception to duty of care for normal operation of garbage truck near bridle path]; Ro......
  • HG Doe v. Roman Catholic Archbishop of L. A., B305810
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • October 20, 2021
    ...duty on summary judgment where the plaintiff did not produce sufficient evidence of foreseeability]; Parsons v. Crown Disposal Co. (1997) 15 Cal.4th 456, 474, 63 Cal.Rptr.2d 291, 936 P.2d 70 [concluding on summary judgment that the burden to the defendant weighed in favor of an exception to......
  • O'Neil v. Crane Co., No. S177401.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • January 12, 2012
    ...law to say that the particular plaintiff is entitled to protection.’ ” [Citation.]' [Citation.]” ( Parsons v. Crown Disposal Co. (1997) 15 Cal.4th 456, 472, 63 Cal.Rptr.2d 291, 936 P.2d 70.) Courts of this state have traditionally considered several factors in determining the existence and ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
248 cases
  • Verdugo v. Target Corp., No. 10–57008.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 28, 2014
    ...313, 248 P.3d 1170 [rejecting claimed exception to duty of care for stopping alongside a freeway]; Parsons v. Crown Disposal Co. (1997) 15 Cal.4th 456, 472–478, 63 Cal.Rptr.2d 291, 936 P.2d 70 [recognizing exception to duty of care for normal operation of garbage truck near bridle path]; Ro......
  • Verdugo v. Target Corp., No. 10–57008.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 28, 2014
    ...313, 248 P.3d 1170 [rejecting claimed exception to duty of care for stopping alongside a freeway]; Parsons v. Crown Disposal Co. (1997) 15 Cal.4th 456, 472–478, 63 Cal.Rptr.2d 291, 936 P.2d 70 [recognizing exception to duty of care for normal operation of garbage truck near bridle path]; Ro......
  • HG Doe v. Roman Catholic Archbishop of L. A., B305810
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • October 20, 2021
    ...duty on summary judgment where the plaintiff did not produce sufficient evidence of foreseeability]; Parsons v. Crown Disposal Co. (1997) 15 Cal.4th 456, 474, 63 Cal.Rptr.2d 291, 936 P.2d 70 [concluding on summary judgment that the burden to the defendant weighed in favor of an exception to......
  • O'Neil v. Crane Co., No. S177401.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • January 12, 2012
    ...law to say that the particular plaintiff is entitled to protection.’ ” [Citation.]' [Citation.]” ( Parsons v. Crown Disposal Co. (1997) 15 Cal.4th 456, 472, 63 Cal.Rptr.2d 291, 936 P.2d 70.) Courts of this state have traditionally considered several factors in determining the existence and ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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