Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc., No. 01SC161.

Docket NºNo. 01SC161.
Citation48 P.3d 1215
Case DateMay 20, 2002
CourtSupreme Court of Colorado

48 P.3d 1215

John W. PIERSON and Wanda L. Pierson, Petitioners,
v.
BLACK CANYON AGGREGATES, INC. and Chauncey Luttrell, Respondents

No. 01SC161.

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc.

May 20, 2002.

As Modified on Denial of Rehearing July 1, 2002.


Woodrow & Roushar, Frank J. Woodrow, Montrose, Colorado, Attorneys for Petitioners.

Younge & Hockensmith, P.C., Earl G. Rhodes, David Dodero, Grand Junction, Colorado, Attorneys for Respondents.

Justice KOURLIS delivered the Opinion of the Court.

In this case, Petitioner John W. Pierson drove over a seventeen-foot embankment into a gravel pit when the roadway on which he was traveling abruptly ended. His vehicle landed on its roof, and he sustained injuries.

48 P.3d 1216
The property where the gravel pit was located was owned by Donald C. and Nellie L. Neal, and was under lease to Montrose County. Pierson brought this action against Respondents, Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc. and Chauncey Luttrell, the operators of the gravel pit pursuant to a gravel crushing agreement with Montrose County. Petitioners, John W. Pierson and his spouse, Wanda L. Pierson, asserted that Respondents were liable to them for negligence under the premises liability statute

Respondents countered that they were not "landowners" under that statute. The trial court granted summary judgment for Respondents, concluding that Montrose County, and not the Respondents, was the party in possession of the property for purposes of the statute and, thus, the landowner. The court of appeals affirmed. Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc., 32 P.3d 567, 569 (Colo.App.2000).

We agreed to grant certiorari on the question of whether the trial court properly construed the meaning of "landowner" under the premises liability statute, § 13-21-115, 5 C.R.S. (2001), and therefore now examine the parameters of that term as defined by the statute.

We read the statute as intending to define and limit the liability of property owners. Such protection is, in our view, available to authorized agents or parties in possession of the property and also to parties legally responsible for the condition of the property or activities conducted on it. Since the protections of the statute are broad-reaching, its responsibilities must be coextensive. Therefore, an independent contractor such as Respondent is a "landowner" for purposes both of the protections and the responsibilities of the statute. Because we determine that the trial court was too narrow in its application of the statutory test, we reverse.

I. Facts

In 1985 the Neals leased the property on which the gravel pit and the road are located to Montrose County (the County) for mining, excavating, and stockpiling gravel, for a term of twenty years.1 Under the lease, the County agreed to maintain all roads used by the County on the premises. The lease specifically referred to the public right-of-way designated as 57.50 Road and gave the County the option to fence the right-of-way or place cattle guards across the road at any location. Finally, the County agreed to reclaim all gravel extraction sites pursuant to specified reclamation provisions.

On November 12, 1996, the County and Respondent Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc. entered into an agreement authorizing Respondent to crush gravel for the County at various County-owned or leased gravel pits throughout Montrose County as directed by the County. The agreement provided that the parties intended to create an independent contractor employer relationship and that Respondent should not be considered an agent or employee of the County for any purpose. The County clarified that it was interested only in the results to be achieved and that the conduct and control of the work was to lie solely with Respondent:

In the performance of the work herein contemplated, [Respondent] is an independent contractor, as above noted, with the authority to control and direct the performance of the details of the work, County being interested only in the results obtained. However, the work contemplated must meet the approval of County's designated agent or representative and shall be subject to County's general right of inspection and supervision to insure the satisfactory completion thereof.

The agreement further gave the County the right to enter the property to correct any dangerous condition:

The work to be performed under this agreement will be performed entirely at [Respondent's] risk, and [Respondent] assumes all responsibility for the condition of
48 P.3d 1217
its tools and equipment used in the performance of this Memorandum. [Respondent] agrees to indemnify County for any and all liability or loss arising in any way out of the performance of this Memorandum. Should County determine that any action being undertaken at respective pits endangers or may endanger the health, safety, welfare, or other normal operations of County, any of its subcontractors, or citizens, County may enter said pit for the purposes of remedying the same, and [Respondent] agrees to pay all reasonable costs incurred by County under such action.

Pursuant to an addendum to the agreement the County even reserved the right to determine "the depth of excavation and approximate location of gravel to be excavated for crushing." Finally, the agreement specified that the County would be responsible for removing overburden and for reclaiming each pit after crushing operations ceased.

The County did not assign its lease of the gravel pits to Respondent. However, the gravel crushing agreement did require Respondent to comply with all leasehold interest agreements at each pit site.

On April 23, 1997, Petitioner John W. Pierson was driving in the area of the pit in question to collect payment for a tractor he had recently sold. On his out-bound trip, he drove around the pit. On his return trip, Petitioner decided to take an alternate route, Road 57.50,2 which runs through the gravel pit. At the gravel pit, Road 57.50 ended in a seventeen-foot drop-off caused by years of excavation and mining activities. Petitioner drove over the bank. Petitioner's vehicle landed on its roof, and he sustained injuries as a result of the accident.

According to undisputed facts before the trial court, the County had operated the pit for a number of years. Respondent had mined the pit on several occasions over the years. Most recently, Respondent had been on the site crushing gravel for less than a month.

On November 6, 1997, Petitioners filed a complaint3 against Respondents, Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc. and its owner, Chauncey Luttrell. Petitioners did not name the County as a defendant in the action. Respondents filed a motion for summary judgment asserting, in pertinent part, that the premises liability statute controlled liability and that they were not landowners under the statute because the County was in possession of the gravel pit. In response, Petitioners agreed that the premises liability statute was controlling, but asserted that Respondents were landowners under the terms of the statute because they were, in fact, in possession of the property pursuant to the agreement between Respondent Black Canyon Aggregates and the County.

The trial court found that the County, and not Respondents, was the landowner within the definition provided by section 13-21-115. Specifically, the trial court determined that: (1) the County was the lessee of the property; (2) the County did not assign the lease to Respondent; (3) the County retained the obligation to repair fences and the right to erect gates; (4) the County and Respondent specifically agreed that they had an employer-independent contractor relationship; (5) the County had the right to inspect the premises, to make safety improvements, to generally supervise the work and condition of the pit, and to dictate the location and depth of the excavation; and (6) the County was responsible for removing the overburden and reclaiming the pit. Thus, the trial court determined that Respondents had no liability for Petitioner's injuries under a premises liability theory. The trial court therefore

48 P.3d 1218
granted summary judgment on Petitioners' premises liability claim

On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed. Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc., 32 P.3d 567, 569 (Colo.App.2000). The court of appeals held that when the County originally leased the gravel pit, it was the party in possession of the property. Id. It noted that Respondents were not granted exclusive possession of the pit, as might have been the case with a lessee; rather, they had only a contractual right to mine, excavate, and stockpile gravel under the County's supervision. Id. It held that Respondents were not solely responsible for the condition of the gravel pit and were not in possession of the premises. Finally, it concluded that "[a]bsent some type of ownership or leasehold interest in the property, a party does not fall within the definition of a `landowner' for purposes of the premises liability statute." Id. at 570. Therefore, the court of appeals determined that the trial court properly granted summary judgment because Respondents could not be held liable under the statute. Petitioners sought certiorari on the proper construction of the...

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73 practice notes
  • Vigil v. Franklin, No. 03SC479.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • November 30, 2004
    ...the General Assembly is presumed to be aware of existing case law precedent. 103 P.3d 328 E.g., Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc., 48 P.3d 1215, 1219 B. The Premises Liability Statute Preempts the Common Law Creation of Landowner Duties The express, unambiguous language of subsection......
  • People v. Auman, No. 99CA0016.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • September 26, 2002
    ...purpose, then we may determine its meaning from extrinsic sources. Section 2-4-203, C.R.S.2002; Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc., 48 P.3d 1215 Defendant asserts "an individual's liability under the statute is terminated if the individual is no longer `committing' the [predicate] fel......
  • Han Ye Lee v. Colorado Times, Inc., No. 08CA2233.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • October 29, 2009
    ...issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc., 48 P.3d 1215, 1218 (Colo. 2002). A court must examine the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with any af......
  • Nelson v. United States, Civil Action No. 11–cv–02953–WYD–MEH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Court of Colorado
    • February 6, 2014
    ...injured party to recover is correlated with his status as a trespasser, licensee, or invitee.’ ” Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc., 48 P.3d 1215, 1219 (Colo.2002) (quoting Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13–21–115(1.5)(a) ). 63. The definition of landowner is “expansive” under the statute. Pierso......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
73 cases
  • Vigil v. Franklin, No. 03SC479.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • November 30, 2004
    ...the General Assembly is presumed to be aware of existing case law precedent. 103 P.3d 328 E.g., Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc., 48 P.3d 1215, 1219 B. The Premises Liability Statute Preempts the Common Law Creation of Landowner Duties The express, unambiguous language of subsection......
  • People v. Auman, No. 99CA0016.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • September 26, 2002
    ...purpose, then we may determine its meaning from extrinsic sources. Section 2-4-203, C.R.S.2002; Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc., 48 P.3d 1215 Defendant asserts "an individual's liability under the statute is terminated if the individual is no longer `committing' the [predicate] fel......
  • Han Ye Lee v. Colorado Times, Inc., No. 08CA2233.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • October 29, 2009
    ...issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc., 48 P.3d 1215, 1218 (Colo. 2002). A court must examine the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with any af......
  • Nelson v. United States, Civil Action No. 11–cv–02953–WYD–MEH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Court of Colorado
    • February 6, 2014
    ...injured party to recover is correlated with his status as a trespasser, licensee, or invitee.’ ” Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc., 48 P.3d 1215, 1219 (Colo.2002) (quoting Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13–21–115(1.5)(a) ). 63. The definition of landowner is “expansive” under the statute. Pierso......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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