Sweeney v. City of Bettendorf, No. 07-0127.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtAppel
Citation762 N.W.2d 873
PartiesTara SWEENEY, Individually, and by Cynthia Sweeney, Her Mother and Next Friend, Appellants, v. CITY OF BETTENDORF and Bettendorf Parks and Recreation, Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 07-0127.
Decision Date13 March 2009
762 N.W.2d 873
Tara SWEENEY, Individually, and by Cynthia Sweeney, Her Mother and Next Friend, Appellants,
v.
CITY OF BETTENDORF and Bettendorf Parks and Recreation, Appellees.
No. 07-0127.
Supreme Court of Iowa.
March 13, 2009.

[762 N.W.2d 874]

Joseph C. Creen of Bush, Motto, Creen, Koury & Halligan, P.L.C., Davenport, for appellants.

Martha L. Shaff and Edward J. Rose of Betty, Neuman & McMahon, P.L.C., Davenport, for appellees.

[762 N.W.2d 875]

APPEL, Justice.


This case involves an appeal from a district court order granting the City of Bettendorf summary judgment in a negligent supervision case. Here, an eight-year-old girl was injured by a flying baseball bat at a minor league game while on a field trip sponsored by the Bettendorf Parks and Recreation Department. The district court found that a permission slip signed by the parent of the injured girl amounted to an enforceable anticipatory release of future claims against the City. The district court in the alternative ruled that the plaintiffs failed to introduce sufficient evidence to show that the City violated a duty of care owed to the plaintiffs. For the reasons expressed below, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand the case to the district court.

I. Background Facts and Prior Proceedings.

Eight-year-old Tara Sweeney enjoyed baseball games. She participated in field trips to Davenport, Iowa, sponsored by the Bettendorf Parks and Recreation Department to see minor league baseball games. In the past, according to Tara, the children sat in "comfy seats" behind home plate that were protected by screening.

In 2003, Tara wanted to go to another ball game. Prior to the field trip, Tara's mother, Cynthia Sweeney, was asked to sign what was entitled a "Permission Slip," which the Department required of all participants. The text of the "Permission Slip" was as follows:

I hereby give permission for my child Tara M. Sweeney to attend the Bettendorf Park Board field trip to John O'Donnell Stadium with the Playgrounds Program on Monday, June 30, 2003. I realize that the Bettendorf Park Board is not responsible or liable for any accidents or injuries that may occur while on this special occasion. Failure to sign this release as is without amendment or alteration is grounds for denial of participation.

Prior to signing the "Permission Slip," Cynthia talked with a supervisor about the trip. She was told the times of the field trip and who would be supervising Tara's group. She then executed and returned the permission slip to the Department.

At the game, the children did not sit in the "comfy seats" behind screening as they had in the past. Instead, Tara was required by the Department to sit on bleachers or the adjacent grassy area along the third base line that was unprotected by screening or netting. Tara chose a seat in the third or fourth row of bleachers. The Department supervisors did not allow the children to move to another location in the stadium.

At a midpoint in the game, a player lost his grip on a bat. The record indicated that the bat flew a distance of about 120 feet along the third base line at a height of approximately six feet. The bat was airborne for two or three seconds before it struck Tara on the right side of her head. Prior to being struck by the bat, Tara had turned to talk to a friend.

At the time of the incident, no supervisors from the Department were in Tara's immediate vicinity. One supervisor who viewed the incident from a distance testified that an adult in the area could possibly have done something, either trying to knock down the bat or yelling for the kids to duck. Cynthia, at her deposition, however, testified that the incident could not have been avoided had an adult been in Tara's place.

Plaintiffs sued the City and a number of other defendants, including the baseball player involved and the teams playing the

762 N.W.2d 876

game. The plaintiffs' claims against the City sounded in negligence.

The City filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that the permission slip constituted a waiver of the plaintiffs' claims and that, in any event, the plaintiffs could not show a breach of any duty of care owed by the City. With respect to the permission slip, the City noted that the language specifically states that a parent realizes that the "Bettendorf Park Board is not responsible or liable for any accidents or injuries that may occur while on this special occasion" and that "[f]ailure to sign this release" is "grounds for denial of participation." On the issue of breach of duty, the City argued that there was nothing that the City should have done to avoid the accident.

Plaintiffs resisted and filed a cross motion for summary judgment. On the issue of waiver, the plaintiffs contended that the permission slip did not amount to a valid anticipatory release of future claims based upon the City's negligent acts or omissions. The plaintiffs further argued that even if the permission slip amounted to a valid release, it was fatally flawed because it purported to release only the Department and not the City. Finally, plaintiffs asserted even if the permission slip amounted to an anticipatory release of future claims based on acts or omissions of negligence, statutory and common law public policy prevents a parent from waiving such claims on behalf of a minor child.

In resisting the City's motion for summary judgment based upon the lack of a breach of duty, the plaintiffs, in addition to testimony of lay witnesses, offered a report from Susan Hudson, a professor at the University of Northern Iowa and an expert on playground and park safety. Based on her review, Hudson found that the Department breached its duty of care toward the plaintiffs in several ways. Hudson opined that the Department breached its duty of care by: (1) not informing the Sweeneys about the nature of possible harm even though Cynthia personally inquired about the nature of the activity; (2) not anticipating the known and foreseeable harm that could occur by not paying attention to the selection of seating; (3) not providing direct instructions to the children about paying attention to the possibility of bats and balls flying into the bleacher area; and (4) not providing direct supervision for children under their care.

The district court granted the City's motion for summary judgment. The district court found that the permission slip constituted a valid waiver of plaintiffs' claims. In the alternative, the district court found that the plaintiffs did not present sufficient evidence to establish a breach of duty owed to them. Plaintiffs appealed.

II. Direct vs. Interlocutory Appeal.

At the outset, there is a question of whether this case presents a direct appeal or is interlocutory in nature. A direct appeal is heard as a matter of right, while this court has broad discretion to consider whether to hear an interlocutory appeal. Iowa R.App. P. 6.1(c). The central issue is whether an appeal of a district court order which dismisses all claims against one party in a negligence action involving multiple defendants is direct or interlocutory.

In Buechel v. Five Star Quality Care, Inc., 745 N.W.2d 732 (Iowa 2008), we considered this question. In Buechel, we noted that under our comparative fault statute, fault sharing cannot occur with a defendant who is no longer a party to the litigation through grant of summary judgment. Id. at 735; Spaur v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 510 N.W.2d 854, 863 (Iowa 1994). As a result, the issues in the

762 N.W.2d 877

motion for summary judgment had impact on the issues of liability against the remaining defendants, are not severable, and are therefore interlocutory in nature. Buechel, 745 N.W.2d at 735. Nonetheless, as in Buechel, we exercise our discretion to treat the notice of appeal here as an application for interlocutory appeal, grant the application, and consider the underlying merits. Id. at 736.

III. Standard of Review.

We review a district court's order on a motion for summary judgment for correction of errors at law. Ratcliff v. Graether, 697 N.W.2d 119, 123 (Iowa 2005). Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party shows there is no genuine issue of material fact. Berte v. Bode, 692 N.W.2d 368, 370 (Iowa 2005). Summary judgment should not be granted if reasonable minds can differ on how a material factual issue should be resolved. Walker v. Gribble, 689 N.W.2d 104, 108 (Iowa 2004).

IV. Discussion.

A. Permission Slip as Anticipatory Release of Claims of Negligence. This case involves an exculpatory provision contained in a permission slip signed by the parent of a minor child in connection with recreational activities sponsored by a municipality.1 The validity of exculpatory provisions which release future claims in connection with recreational activities is a topic that has been thoroughly explored in the academic literature. See, e.g., Mary Ann Connell & Frederick G. Savage, Releases: Is There Still a Place for Their Use by Colleges & Universities?, 29 J.C. & U.L. 579 (2003); Mark Seiberling, "Icing" on the Cake: Allowing Amateur Athletic Promoters to Escape Liability in Mohney v. USA Hockey, Inc., 9 Vill. Sports & Ent. L.J. 417 (2002). The academic commentators note courts considering such exculpatory provisions deal with the inherent tensions between the law of torts, which generally requires parties to be responsible for their acts of negligence, and the law of contracts, which allows a competent party to make his or her own agreements. Connell & Savage, 29 J.C. & U.L. at 580; Seiberling, 9 Vill. Sports & Ent. L.J. at 428.

The early Iowa cases dealing with exculpatory provisions involve real estate contracts. As early as 1921, we considered the effect of a provision in a real estate lease that provided that in no case should the lessor be liable for damage to the property. Oscar Ruff Drug Co. v. W. Iowa Co., 191 Iowa 1035, 181 N.W. 408 (1921). Among other things,...

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29 practice notes
  • Benjamin Feld v. Borkowski, No. 07-1333.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • October 22, 2010
    ...We review a district court's ruling on a motion for summary judgment for correction of errors at law. Sweeney v. City of Bettendorf, 762 N.W.2d 873, 877 (Iowa 2009). Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party proves no genuine issue of material fact exists on the record. Berte v.......
  • Sallee v. Stewart, No. 11–0892.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • February 15, 2013
    ...the City was liable for negligently supervising a child who was injured by a flying bat at a city-sponsored trip to a baseball game. 762 N.W.2d 873, 875–76 (Iowa 2009). We recognized that under the applicable precedent, the plaintiffs had no premises liability claim against the baseball sta......
  • Alcala v. Marriott Int'l, Inc., No. 14–1058.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 10, 2016
    ...of fact for the jury. See, e.g., Van Fossen v. MidAmerican Energy Co., 777 N.W.2d 689, 693 (Iowa 2009) ; Sweeney v. City of Bettendorf, 762 N.W.2d 873, 880 (Iowa 2009) ; see also 1 Restatement (Third) of Torts: Liab. for Physical & Emotional Harm § 6 cmt. b, at 67 (2010) [hereinafter Restat......
  • Sanislo v. Give Kids the World, Inc., No. SC12–2409.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • February 12, 2015
    ...Other jurisdictions, however, require express use of the terms “negligence” or “negligent acts.” See Sweeney v. City of Bettendorf, 762 N.W.2d 873, 878–79 (Iowa 2009) (requiring specific reference to exculpee's own negligence); McCune v. Myrtle Beach Indoor Shooting Range, Inc., 364 S.C. 24......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
28 cases
  • Sallee v. Stewart, No. 11–0892.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • February 15, 2013
    ...the City was liable for negligently supervising a child who was injured by a flying bat at a city-sponsored trip to a baseball game. 762 N.W.2d 873, 875–76 (Iowa 2009). We recognized that under the applicable precedent, the plaintiffs had no premises liability claim against the baseball sta......
  • Alcala v. Marriott Int'l, Inc., No. 14–1058.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 10, 2016
    ...of fact for the jury. See, e.g., Van Fossen v. MidAmerican Energy Co., 777 N.W.2d 689, 693 (Iowa 2009) ; Sweeney v. City of Bettendorf, 762 N.W.2d 873, 880 (Iowa 2009) ; see also 1 Restatement (Third) of Torts: Liab. for Physical & Emotional Harm § 6 cmt. b, at 67 (2010) [hereinafter Restat......
  • Sanislo v. Give Kids the World, Inc., No. SC12–2409.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • February 12, 2015
    ...Other jurisdictions, however, require express use of the terms “negligence” or “negligent acts.” See Sweeney v. City of Bettendorf, 762 N.W.2d 873, 878–79 (Iowa 2009) (requiring specific reference to exculpee's own negligence); McCune v. Myrtle Beach Indoor Shooting Range, Inc., 364 S.C. 24......
  • Benjamin Feld v. Borkowski, No. 07-1333.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • October 22, 2010
    ...We review a district court's ruling on a motion for summary judgment for correction of errors at law. Sweeney v. City of Bettendorf, 762 N.W.2d 873, 877 (Iowa 2009). Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party proves no genuine issue of material fact exists on the record. Berte v.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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