Coomer v Kansas City Royals (2014) H&FLR 2014-41

John Coomer v Kansas City Royals Baseball Corporation (2014) H&FLR 2014-41

Supreme Court of Missouri

24 June 2014

Coram: Court en banc (Judgment by Wilson J)

Appearing for the Appellant: Robert Tormohlen (of Lewis, Rice & Fingersh)
Appearing for the Respondent: Scott D. Hofer (of Foland, Wickens, Eisfelder, Roper & Hofer, PC )

Catchwords: Missouri – baseball – mascot – hotdog toss – baseball rule – injury – negligence – assumption of risk – inherent risk

Facts: On 8 September 2009 the plaintiff attended a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium between the Kansas City Royals and the Detroit Tigers. Since 2000 a feature of Royals’ home games has been the practice of their mascott (“Sluggerrr“)* tossing hotdogs to members of the crowd. The plaintiff saw Sluggerrr commence throwing hotdogs. He turned to look at the scoreboard and at that moment was hit in the face by a hotdog, causing injury to his left eye.

He commenced proceedings against the defendant alleging negligence and battery. A jury in the trial court returned a finding of no negligence: Coomer v Kansas City Royals Baseball Corporation (2011), The Pitch Blog, 9 March 2011. The plaintiff appealed.

Held: Allowing the appeal –

1. An implied primary assumption of risk by a plaintiff can be identified from their conduct and the surrounding circumstances, including whether a risk is inherent to the activity. Where this has occurred, a plaintiff who knowingly and voluntarily encounters that risk is barred from seeking compensation for resulting injuries. This defence is not affected by the acceptance in law of the principle of comparative fault

Krause v US Truck Co Inc, 787 SW.2d 708 (Mo. 1990), followed.
Gustafson v Benda, 661 SW.2d 11 (Mo. 1983), considered.

2. The “baseball rule”, whereby a ballpark owner is not considered negligent for failing to protect all seats in the park with wire netting and failing to warn a plaintiff about obvious hazards incidental to baseball, is an example of the principle of applied primary assumption of risk.**

Hudson v Kansas City Baseball Club, 164 SW.2d 318 (Mo. 1942); Anderson v Kansas City Baseball Club, 231 SW.2d 170 (Mo. 1950), considered.

3. Where a plaintiff’s injury results from a risk that is not an inherent part of watching baseball, or if the defendant’s negligence has increased the inherent risks and caused the injury, negligence may be found.

Lowe v California League of Professional Baseball, 56 Cal.App.4th 112 (1997), followed.

4. Whether a risk is ‘inherent’ for the purposes of implied primary assumption of risk is a question of law and not of fact. A risk is inherent if it is so intertwined with the relevant activity that it cannot be controlled or limited without abandoning the activity altogether. In this case the risk if injury from the ‘hotdog toss’ was not an inherent part of watching the Royals play baseball, and a risk which the plaintiff assumed by attending the game.

Loughran v The Phillies, 888 A.2d 872 (Pa. 2005); Cohen v Stirling Mets LP, 17 Misc.3d 218 (NY Sup. Ct. 2007), distinguished.

Judgment

The Court’s judgment is available here.

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* Properly, one John Byron Shores.
** South Shore Baseball LLC v DeJesus (2014) H&FLR 2014-39.

Brandt v United States (2014) H&FLR 2014-40

Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v United States (2014) H&FLR 2014-40

Supreme Court of the United States

10 March 2014

Coram: Roberts CJ, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor and Kagan JJ

Appearing for the Appellant: Steven J. Lechner (of Mountain States Legal Foundation)
Appearing for the Respondent: Donald B. Verrilli Jr (Solicitor General) and Anthony Alan Yang (of the Office of the Solicitor General)

Numerous parties appeared as amici curiae.

Catchwords: United States – property law – fee simple – railway – easement – rail trail – abandonment

Facts: In 1976 a grant of land in fee simple was made by the respondent to Marvin and Lulu Brandt. The land was granted subject to the rights which had been granted to the operator of the Laramie, Hahn’s Peak & Pacific Railway (railway). The rights in question consisted of a right of way granted to the railway in 1908 under the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act 1875 (43 U.S. Code §934) (Act). In 2004 the railway operator formally abandoned the right of way and removed the railway tracks.

In 2006 the respondent sought a judicial declaration of the abandonment and an order quieting title to the Right of Way in the defendant. It was inteded to convert the right of way to a recreational rail-trail. The trust which by then owned the land granted to the Brandts disputed the respondent’s claim on the grounds that the right of way was a mere easement which was extinguished by abandonment, leaving it with full title to the land. The respondent’s position was that it had retained a reversionary interest in the right of way which would restore it to the respondent if the railway’s interest were abandoned.

The government’s claim was upheld at first instance: United States v Brandt, 2008 WL 7185272 (D. Wyo., 8 April 2008) (the decision is incorporated into the Petition for Certiorari at pp.62 et seq). An appeal was dismissed: United States v Brandt, 496 Fed. Appx 822 (10th Cir, 2012). The defendant appealed.

Held: Per Roberts CJ, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito and Kagan JJ, allowing the appeal, that –

1. A grant to a railway operator under the Act grants only an easement and not a fee interest.

Great Northern Railway Co v United States, 315 US 262 (1942), followed.
Stalker v Oregon Short Line Railway Co, 225 US 142 (1912) and Great Northern Railway Co v Steinke, 261 US 119 (1923), doubted.

2. If the beneficiary of an easement abandons it, the easement disappears. The landowner then resumes a full and unencumbered interest in the land. Hence, when the railway operator abandoned the right of way, the easement terminated and Brandt’s landed ceased to be burdened by it.

Smith v Townsend, 148 US 490 (1893), followed.

Per Sotomayor J, dissenting, that the key issue in this case is defeasibility of title, which was not raised by Great Northern Railway v US. Railroad rights of way are a sui generis form of property rights, made on an implied condition of reverter.

Great Northern Railway Co v United States, 315 US 262 (1942), distinguished.
Rio Grande Western Railway Co v Stringham, 239 US 44 (1915), followed.

Judgment

The court’s judgment is available here.

South Shore Baseball LLC v DeJesus (2014) H&FLR 2014-39

South Shore Baseball LLC and Anor v Juanita DeJesus (2014) H&FLR 2014-39

Supreme Court of Indiana

27 June 2014

Coram: Dickson CJ, Massa, Rucker, David and Rush JJ

Appearing for the Appellant (Defendant): James R Branit, Mitchell H Frazen, and Nicholas J Parolisi (of Litchfield Cavo LLP)
Appearing for the Appellee (Plaintiff): Walter J Alvarez, Duke T Escue, and David A Wilson (of Alvarez Law Office)
Appearing for an Amicus Curiae (Indianapolis Indians): Andrew B. Janutolo and RD Zink (of Goodin Abernathy)

Catchwords: Indiana – baseball – spectator – foul ball – injury – baseball rule – negligence – premises liability

Facts: On 23 May 2009 the plaintiff attended a minor-league baseball game in support of the South Shore RailCats. Warnings of the danger of foul balls leaving the field were printed on the plaintiff’s ticket, posted on a sign near her seat, and announced over a loudspeaker prior to the start of play. However, the plaintiff sat in a part of the stadium just outside of the are protected by the netting behind home plate. Early in the game the baseball left the playing field, striking the plaintiff and causing serious injuries.

The plaintiff brought proceedings against the operators of the RailCats on the basis that, by failing to extend the protective netting further, they had negligently failed to make the premises (US Steel Yard) reasonably safe for her as a business invitee.

The defendants applied for summary dismissal of the plaintiff’s claim. The trial court declined same: DeJesus v South Shore Baseball LLC (Lake Superior Court, Hawkins J, 16 March 2012, unreported). The defendants’ appeal was allowed: South Shore Baseball LLC v DeJesus, 982 NE.2d 1076 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013). The matter was then transferred to the Supreme Court of Indiana.

Held: Allowing the appeal and granting summary judgment for the defendants, that –

1. The ‘Baseball Rule’, whereby a ballpark operator is protected from liability for injuries from an object leaving the playing field if they have provided screening behind home plate sufficient to meet ordinary demand for protected seating, is not part of the common law of Indiana.

Emhardt v Perry Stadium, 46 NE.2d 704, 113 Ind. App. 197 (1943), doubted.

2. The applicable principle of premises liability law in this case is that a possessor of land is liable for harm to invitees caused by a condition of the land if the possessor should reasonably know of the condition and realise it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to the invitees, and should expect that the invitees will not identify the danger or protect themselves against it, and fails to take reasonable care to protect the invitees from the danger. There was no reason for the defendants to consider that the plaintiff would not realise the danger or protect herself against it.

Pfenning v Lineman, 947 NE.2d 392 (Ind. 2011), applied.

Judgment

The Court’s judgment is available here.