Sallee v. Stewart

Citation827 N.W.2d 128
Decision Date15 February 2013
Docket NumberNo. 11–0892.,11–0892.
PartiesKimberly Ann SALLEE, Individually and as Next Friend of Lucas Gregory Durkop and Maria Christina Rivera, Matthew James Sallee, and James Allan Sallee, Appellants, v. Matthew R. STEWART and Diana Stewart d/b/a Stewartland Holsteins, Appellees.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

827 N.W.2d 128

Kimberly Ann SALLEE, Individually and as Next Friend of Lucas Gregory Durkop and Maria Christina Rivera, Matthew James Sallee, and James Allan Sallee, Appellants,
Matthew R. STEWART and Diana Stewart d/b/a Stewartland Holsteins, Appellees.

No. 11–0892.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

Feb. 15, 2013.

[827 N.W.2d 130]

D. Raymond Walton of Beecher Law Offices, Waterloo, for appellants.

Karla J. Shea of McCoy, Riley, Shea & Bevel, P.L.C., Waterloo, for appellees.

Michael L. Mock of Parker, Simons & McNeill, P.L.C., West Des Moines, for amicus curiae Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

APPEL, Justice.

While accompanying kindergarten students on a field trip to a dairy farm, a chaperone was injured when she fell through a hole in the floor of a hayloft. The chaperone filed a negligence suit against the dairy farm's owners. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the owners on the basis that Iowa's recreational use statute barred the chaperone's claims. The court of appeals affirmed on the issue of whether recreational use immunity extended to the defendants as landowners, but determined

[827 N.W.2d 131]

the chaperone could still maintain a suit against the defendants as tour guides.

For the reasons that follow, we conclude the landowners may not avail themselves of the limited protections of the recreational use statute because the chaperone was not engaged in a recreational purpose within the scope of the statute. We further conclude, however, that the plaintiff has not raised a material issue of triable fact as to whether the landowners willfully or maliciously failed to guard or warn against the presence of the hole. Accordingly, we vacate the decision of the court of appeals, reverse the judgment of the district court, and remand the case for further proceedings.

I. Factual and Procedural Background.

A reasonable fact finder viewing the summary judgment record in the light most favorable to Kimberly Ann Sallee, the nonmoving party, could find the following facts. Matthew and Diana Stewart own a dairy farm in Fayette County. Although the Stewarts do not routinely open their farm to the public, classes or individuals wishing to view the farm can schedule a visit. These groups are always accompanied by a member of the Stewart family. If visitors arrive at the farm without a scheduled appointment, they are only permitted to tour the farm if accompanied by the Stewarts.1

The kindergarteners from the Sacred Heart School have been annual visitors for a number of years. During their visit, the students learn about the typical day on a farm. The students are usually chaperoned by their teacher, a few parents, and at least one member of the Stewart family. The Stewarts do not permit the students to go into cattle pens or other places where the Stewarts believe the students might be in danger.

On May 18, 2010, Sallee accompanied her daughter's Sacred Heart kindergarten class on a tour of the Stewarts' farm. As with other visits to the farm, the field trip was scheduled in advance. The Stewarts accompanied the students during their visit and set up three stations for the students. At one station, the students rode a horse in a round pen. At another, the students could feed a calf with a bottle of milk. At the third station, the students could view a tractor. Matthew supervised the entire process, and adults were positioned at each station. Once they had rotated through each station, the students saw several cows and a bull. The Stewarts then guided the group to the barn to allow the students to play in the hayloft.

Matthew asked Sallee and another chaperone to climb into the hayloft ahead of the students so that they could assist the students at the top of the ladder. After Sallee looked at the ladder, Matthew reassured her it was stable enough to support her weight. Sallee followed the other chaperone up the ladder and into the hayloft. The children, another chaperone, the teacher, and Matthew followed. Matthew advised Sallee to keep the students away from the hole in the floor where the ladder was located and warned the students not to climb too high on the bales of hay piled to one side of the loft. While in the hayloft, the children ran around and climbed on the hay bales.

The Stewarts never advised Sallee as to the presence of several hay drops, rectangular holes in the floor of the hayloft through which hay can be thrown to the animals below. Ordinarily, the Stewarts stack bales of hay across the holes when they are not in use to insulate the lower

[827 N.W.2d 132]

part of the barn. Prior to the class's arrival, Matthew inspected the hayloft and stood on the bales of hay covering the holes to make sure they would support his weight. However, while Sallee was standing on top of a bale covering one of the holes, the bale gave way. Sallee fell through the hole, breaking her wrist and leg.

Sallee filed suit against the Stewarts, alleging their negligence caused her injuries. The Stewarts asserted as an affirmative defense that Iowa Code chapter 461C (2009), Iowa's recreational use statute, shielded them from liability. The Stewarts later moved for summary judgment based on the recreational use statute. In resistance to the Stewarts' motion, Sallee argued the recreational use statute does not apply as a matter of law because the dairy farm, barn, and hayloft did not fall under the definition of “land” in the statute, the farm was not available to the public, the tour of the farm was not a “recreational purpose” within the meaning of the statute, and Sallee, as a chaperone, was not engaged in a recreational purpose. In the alternative, Sallee argued that the Stewarts willfully failed to guard or warn against the presence of the hay drop and that the Stewarts were liable not as owners of the property, but rather as tour guides.

The district court concluded the recreational use statute barred Sallee's claim. The court reasoned that the Stewarts farm was land within the meaning of the statute. It also found that, while on the farm, the students engaged in horseback riding and nature study, defining terms of “recreational purpose.” Thus, it concluded that Sallee was a recreational user because she was “a chaperone of children's activities, which included horseback riding, nature study, and play in the Stewarts' hayloft.” Finally, the court found that the Stewarts had not willfully failed to guard or warn against the hay drop and that they had not acted recklessly.

Sallee appealed, and we transferred the case to the court of appeals. A majority agreed with the district court that the Stewarts' property was covered by the recreational use statute. It also found that Sallee was engaged in a recreational purpose. It reasoned that, based on the language of the statute, the legislature intended an expansive definition of “recreational purpose” which encompassed Sallee's role as a chaperone because the students had engaged in horseback riding, nature study, and play during their visit to the farm. It also determined the Stewarts had not willfully or maliciously failed to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity. However, the majority found that recreational use immunity did not extend to the Stewarts “once they undertook responsibility for guiding the field trip attendees.” One judge on the panel dissented from the majority's holding on the premises liability issue on the grounds that Sallee was not engaged in any recreational purpose under the statute because she was present to ensure the proper behavior of the students as a chaperone, not to engage in any recreational activity.

We granted the Stewarts' application for further review.

II. Standard of Review.

We review the district court's grant of summary judgment for correction of errors at law. Ranes v. Adams Labs., Inc., 778 N.W.2d 677, 685 (Iowa 2010). Summary judgment is only appropriate when the record demonstrates “that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.981(3). “An issue is ‘material’

[827 N.W.2d 133]

only when the dispute is over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit, given the applicable governing law.” Junkins v. Branstad, 421 N.W.2d 130, 132 (Iowa 1988). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Clinkscales v. Nelson Sec., Inc., 697 N.W.2d 836, 841 (Iowa 2005). We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id.

III. Background of Recreational Use Statutes.A. Development of Recreational Use Statutes.

1. Conflicting interests of public safety and increased access to the Great Outdoors. At common law, the extent of a landlord's duty to an individual injured after entering the land typically depended upon the injured party's status as a trespasser, licensee, or invitee. Koenig v. Koenig, 766 N.W.2d 635, 638 (Iowa 2009). The duty owed to a trespasser was generally limited to avoiding willfully or wantonly careless conduct; the duty owed to a licensee generally included refraining from willful or wanton conduct as well as a duty to warn of hazardous conditions; and the duty owed to an invitee generally included the duties owed to a licensee as well as duties to make the premises safe, to inspect the property for dangerous conditions, and to either repair or warn the invitee of such conditions. See W.L. Church, Private Lands and Public Recreation: A Report and Proposed New Model Act on Access, Liability and Trespass 7–8 (1979) [hereinafter Church]. We have recognized these distinctions in our cases. See Koenig, 766 N.W.2d at 638;Sheets v. Ritt, Ritt & Ritt, Inc., 581 N.W.2d 602, 604 (Iowa 1998), abrogated on other grounds by Koenig, 766 N.W.2d at 643–45. Potential liability was a disincentive for landowners to make their lands available to the public for recreational purposes.

Following World War II, the demand for access to land...

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