St. Vrain Valley Sch. Dist. RE-1J v. Loveland, Supreme Court Case No. 15SC933

Docket NºSupreme Court Case No. 15SC933
Citation395 P.3d 751
Case DateMay 22, 2017
CourtSupreme Court of Colorado

395 P.3d 751

ST. VRAIN VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT RE-1J, Petitioner,
v.
Alexa Rae LOVELAND, a minor, BY AND THROUGH her parents and next friends, Randy LOVELAND and Mary Nicole Loveland; and Randy Loveland and Mary Nicole Loveland, individually, Respondents.

Supreme Court Case No. 15SC933

Supreme Court of Colorado.

May 22, 2017


Attorneys for Petitioner: Senter Goldfarb & Rice, LLC, Thomas S. Rice, Courtney B. Kramer, Denver, Colorado

Attorneys for Respondents: Purvis Gray Thomson, LLP, Michael J. Thomson, Boulder, Colorado

395 P.3d 753

En Banc

JUSTICE HOOD delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 This is the latest chapter in the legal saga of a young girl who was seriously injured on her elementary school playground in late 2008. Alexa Rae Loveland, then nine years old, fell while using the playground's zip line apparatus and severely fractured her wrist and forearm. Alexa and her parents filed a tort action against the school district, seeking damages for Alexa's injuries. Because the Colorado legislature has limited when public entities such as the school district may be sued, we are asked to determine whether the Lovelands' lawsuit falls within one of the limited exceptions to sovereign immunity under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act ("CGIA," or "the Act"), §§ 24-10-101 to -120, C.R.S. (2016). Specifically, Alexa and her parents invoke the recreation-area waiver, which deprives a public entity of immunity in an action for injuries resulting from a dangerous condition of a public facility located in a recreation area.

¶2 We hold that a non-negligently constructed and maintained piece of playground equipment cannot be a "dangerous condition" under the CGIA's recreation-area waiver. Because the facts the Lovelands allege cannot satisfy the dangerous-condition requirement, the recreation-area waiver does not apply, and the District's immunity under the CGIA remains intact. The trial court was correct to conclude that it lacked jurisdiction over the Lovelands' tort action and to grant the District's motion to dismiss. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals, and we remand to that court to reinstate the trial court's order dismissing the complaint in this case.

I. Facts and Procedural History

¶3 In 2008, then-nine-year-old Alexa Rae Loveland fell while using the zip line apparatus on her school playground and fractured her wrist and right forearm. The zip line was a piece of inclined pipe that ran between two sets of vertical poles secured in the ground. The inclined pipe had a handle attached to an interior track, and to use the zip line, a child would climb up a short ladder, stand on an elevated platform to grab the handle, and propel him- or herself forward down the zip line track, releasing the handle and jumping to the ground at the end of the track. There was also a sign that warned "Adult Supervision Required."

¶4 This is not the first time we have considered issues related to this case. After Alexa's injury, she and her parents ("the Lovelands") filed a tort action against the St. Vrain Valley School District ("the District"). The District moved to dismiss the action, arguing the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because public school districts are immune from tort liability under the CGIA. The District acknowledged that section 24-10-106(1)(e), referred to as the recreation-area waiver, deprives a government entity of immunity if an injury results from a "dangerous condition of any ... public facility located in any park or recreation area maintained by a public entity." But the District argued that the Lovelands could not establish the elements of the recreation-area waiver in this case for a number of reasons, one of which was that the zip line was not a public facility. The Lovelands countered that the zip line was in fact a public facility and a dangerous condition of a public facility. The trial court agreed with the District. It found that the zip line was not a public facility, and therefore that the recreation-area waiver did not apply. The court granted the District's motion to dismiss.

¶5 The Lovelands filed an interlocutory appeal. The court of appeals reversed the trial court's ruling and held that the zip line was a public facility. See Loveland ex rel. Loveland v. St. Vrain Valley Sch. Dist. RE-1J , 2012 COA 112, ¶¶ 19, 22, 27, 328 P.3d 228, 232–33.

¶6 The District sought this court's review of the court of appeals' decision. We granted certiorari and affirmed on different grounds. St. Vrain Valley Sch. Dist. RE-1J v. A.R.L. ex rel. Loveland ("St. Vrain I "), 2014 CO 33, ¶ 26, 325 P.3d 1014, 1023. We held that "an individual zip line apparatus on a public playground does not qualify as a ‘public facility.’ " Id. at ¶ 18, 325 P.3d at 1020. Rather, the entire playground, considered as a whole, can

395 P.3d 754

qualify as a public facility. Id. We also concluded that the public facility (the playground) was located in a recreation area, as required for the waiver to apply. Id. at ¶ 34, 325 P.3d at 1024. We remanded to the trial court for additional fact-finding on the remaining requirements of the recreation-area waiver, including whether there was a dangerous condition. Id. at ¶ 37 ; see also id. at ¶ 18 n.8, 325 P.3d at 1020 n.8 ("Because the trial court made no findings of fact regarding the dangerous condition requirement, this Court cannot determine whether a dangerous condition existed.").

¶7 On remand, the District again moved to dismiss, arguing that the recreation-area waiver did not apply because the Lovelands failed to establish a dangerous condition on the zip line. Applying the CGIA's definition of "dangerous condition," the trial court granted the District's motion. The court explained that the Lovelands failed to assert what specific physical or structural condition made the zip line a "dangerous condition" as that term is defined in the statute and as distinguished from their general assertion that a zip line is inherently dangerous. The trial court concluded that the Lovelands failed to state a claim sufficient to overcome the District's sovereign immunity.

¶8 The Lovelands appealed, and the court of appeals again reversed. The court of appeals concluded that an individual playground apparatus, such as the zip line in this case, is a physical condition for purposes of the dangerous-condition test. Loveland v. St. Vrain Valley Sch. Dist. RE-1J ("Loveland II "), 2015 COA 138, ¶ 17, ––– P.3d ––––. The court of appeals remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. Id. at ¶ 29.

¶9 We granted the District's petition for certiorari review.1

II. Standard of Review and Rules of Statutory Interpretation

¶10 Questions of governmental immunity implicate subject matter jurisdiction and are determined in accordance with C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1). St. Vrain I , ¶ 9, 325 P.3d at 1018. Where the facts are undisputed and the only issue is one of statutory interpretation, as is the case here, we review the trial court's ruling de novo. Id.

¶11 Because the CGIA derogates the common law, we must strictly construe its immunity provisions, but broadly construe its provisions waiving that immunity. Springer v. City & Cty. of Denver , 13...

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10 practice notes
  • Sandstead-Corona v. Sandstead, Supreme Court Case No. 16SC386
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • April 9, 2018
    ...Id. Our ultimate goal is to effectuate the legislature's intent. See St. Vrain Valley Sch. Dist. RE–1J v. Loveland, 2017 CO 54, ¶ 11, 395 P.3d 751, 754.B. Jurisdiction to Impose Implied Trust ¶ 40 Before addressing whether the trial court's conclusion that the farm proceeds in the Citizens ......
  • Jones v. Williams, Supreme Court Case No. 18SA189
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • June 24, 2019
    ...requirement, we review the district court's dismissal order de novo. St. Vrain Valley Sch. Dist. RE-1J v. Loveland , 2017 CO 54, ¶ 10, 395 P.3d 751, 754 ; Nowak, ¶ 17, 320 P.3d at 344. In interpreting a statutory requirement, we must give effect to the General Assembly's intent. Colorow Hea......
  • Smokebrush Found. v. City of Colo. Springs, Supreme Court Case No. 15SC627
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • February 5, 2018
    ...jurisdiction and are determined in accordance with C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1). St. Vrain Valley Sch. Dist. RE-1J v. Loveland, 2017 CO 54, ¶ 10, 395 P.3d 751, 754. When the facts are undisputed and the only issue is one of statutory interpretation, we review the district court's ruling de novo. Id. ¶......
  • Armstrong v. People, Supreme Court Case No. 13SC945
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • May 22, 2017
    ...2011, the State has given Armstrong "some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation."395 P.3d 751¶10 For these reasons, like the majority, I would affirm Armstrong's sentence, albeit on grounds different from those on which the majority relie......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
10 cases
  • Sandstead-Corona v. Sandstead, Supreme Court Case No. 16SC386
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • April 9, 2018
    ...Id. Our ultimate goal is to effectuate the legislature's intent. See St. Vrain Valley Sch. Dist. RE–1J v. Loveland, 2017 CO 54, ¶ 11, 395 P.3d 751, 754.B. Jurisdiction to Impose Implied Trust ¶ 40 Before addressing whether the trial court's conclusion that the farm proceeds in the Citizens ......
  • Jones v. Williams, Supreme Court Case No. 18SA189
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • June 24, 2019
    ...requirement, we review the district court's dismissal order de novo. St. Vrain Valley Sch. Dist. RE-1J v. Loveland , 2017 CO 54, ¶ 10, 395 P.3d 751, 754 ; Nowak, ¶ 17, 320 P.3d at 344. In interpreting a statutory requirement, we must give effect to the General Assembly's intent. Colorow Hea......
  • Smokebrush Found. v. City of Colo. Springs, Supreme Court Case No. 15SC627
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • February 5, 2018
    ...jurisdiction and are determined in accordance with C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1). St. Vrain Valley Sch. Dist. RE-1J v. Loveland, 2017 CO 54, ¶ 10, 395 P.3d 751, 754. When the facts are undisputed and the only issue is one of statutory interpretation, we review the district court's ruling de novo. Id. ¶......
  • Armstrong v. People, Supreme Court Case No. 13SC945
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • May 22, 2017
    ...2011, the State has given Armstrong "some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation."395 P.3d 751¶10 For these reasons, like the majority, I would affirm Armstrong's sentence, albeit on grounds different from those on which the majority relie......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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