J.T. v. Monster Mountain, LLC et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER; that the 94 MOTION for Summary Judgment is due to be and is hereby ORDERED DENIED. Signed by Honorable Judge W. Harold Albritton, III on 12/14/2011. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Appeals Checklist)(jg, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
J.T., Jr., a minor who sues by and through
SUSAN THODE, his mother and next of
MONSTER MOUNTAIN, LLC, D/B/A
MONSTER MOUNTAIN MX PARK;
DOUBLE AA ENTERPRISES, LLC;
PRECISION CYCLES, LLC, D/B/A
TRACK SIDE PERFORMANCE PRO
SHOP; WILLIAM ANDERSON, III;
and MILAN HARRIS,
) CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:09cv643-WHA-TFM
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This cause is before the court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Monster
Mountain, LLC (“Monster Mountain”); Double AA Enterprises, LLC (“Double AA”); and
William Anderson, III (“Anderson”) (collectively, the “Monster Mountain Defendants”) (Doc.
#94). The Plaintiff, J.T., Jr. (“J.T.”) filed a Complaint in this case alleging that the Monster
Mountain Defendants; Precision Cycles, LLC; and Milan Harris are liable to him on the basis of
premises liability, negligence, and wantonness. J.T. brings claims through his mother and next
friend Susan Thode. The Monster Mountain Defendants moved for summary judgment on the
negligence cause of action, asserting that a contractual exculpatory clause bars J.T.’s claim. In a
previous Memorandum Opinion and Order, this court denied that motion for summary judgment.
Doc. #54. The case was set for trial, but then stayed upon a suggestion of bankruptcy filing by
Anderson. The Plaintiff filed a motion for relief from the automatic stay, which was granted by
the bankruptcy judge. This court then lifted the stay in this case.
The Defendants sought additional discovery in the case, stating that they had to file a
dispositive motion addressing the Plaintiff’s wantonness claims, to protect the Defendants’
interests beyond bankruptcy. Doc. #91. This court declined to allow for additional discovery,
but did extend the time for filing summary judgment motions so as to allow for a motion for
summary judgment on the wantonness claim. Doc. #93.
The Motion for Summary Judgment as to the wantonness claims was filed on October 7,
2011. The Plaintiff was given an opportunity to respond to the motion and the Monster
Mountain Defendants were given an opportunity to reply. The case is now before the court on
the Monster Mountain Defendants’ motion and brief, and the Plaintiff’s response, no reply
having been filed by the Monster Mountain Defendants.
For reasons to be discussed, the Motion for Summary Judgment is due to be DENIED.
II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper
“if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with
the affidavits, if any, show 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.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 322 (1986).
The party asking for summary judgment “always bears the initial responsibility of
informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the
‘pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the
affidavits, if any,’ which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.”
Id. at 323. The movant can meet this burden by presenting evidence showing there is no dispute
of material fact, or by showing, or pointing out to, the district court that the nonmoving party has
failed to present evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate
burden of proof. Id. at 322-324.
Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(e) “requires the nonmoving party to
go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file,’ designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine
issue for trial.’” Id. at 324. To avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party “must do more
than show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). On the other hand, the evidence of
the nonmovant must be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in its favor. See
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).
After the nonmoving party has responded to the motion for summary judgment, the court
must grant summary judgment if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).
The submissions of the parties establish the following facts, viewed in a light most
favorable to the non-movant:
J.T. is a minor from the state of Indiana and a competitive motocross rider. On January
29, 2009, J.T. traveled to Monster Mountain MX Park in Alabama (“Monster Mountain”), a
motocross park owned by Double AA. He was accompanied by several friends and his coach,
James Tyler Thompson (“Thompson”).
On the morning of February 1, 2009, J.T., Thompson, and the other riders who traveled
with them arrived at Monster Mountain for a day of riding. Defendant Anderson, the track
owner, and Milan Harris (“Harris”) groom the track. Although not an employee, Harris worked
on the track “for the most part” under the direction and control of Anderson. Harris Dep. at p.
That February morning, Anderson had partially completed grooming work on the track
and knew Harris was going to complete the grooming when he arrived. Anderson saw Harris
arrive shortly after Anderson got to the Monster Mountain parking lot to collect riders’ fees.
Anderson Dep. at p. 114: 11-114. Anderson did not tell anyone that grooming of the track had
not been completed when he took up the fees and signatures that morning.
J.T. and Thompson signed a release and paid J.T.’s entry fee. Thompson was asked in
his deposition whether he asked Anderson if the track was open and Thompson testified in his
deposition that “I looked at him and, you know, when we signed– every time we signed I didn’t
really per se say it, but we knew, once we signed and paid, the track was open.” Thompson Dep.
at p. 50: 3-9. The gate to the track was open. J.T. entered the track and began riding around the
track. Thompson and rider Chris Bach walked on to the track, following behind J.T. Harris saw
Thompson and Bach on the track and continued to drive his tractor on the track. When asked in
his deposition if while he was grooming the track Harris found it unusual that there were people
with a motorcycle in the starting gate, Harris answered, “It was unusual that they were on the
bikes, but people usually, you know, jump over the fence and walk around the track in the
morning to look at it.” Harris Dep. at p. 80: 17-23. Harris also agreed in his deposition that if
riders are allowed on the track when there is equipment there, it is foreseeable that someone
could get injured. Id. at p. 93: 10-14. Anderson also stated in his deposition that there have
been accidents where riders crashed with tractors at other parks in the past. Anderson Dep. at p.
146: 21-147: 12.
J.T. did not drive slowly on the first lap to test the track, but instead drove aggressively.
J.T. rode over a blind jump, became airborne, and crashed into the tractor driven by Harris,
resulting in injuries to J.T.
The Monster Mountain Defendants have moved for summary judgment as to the
wantonness claims asserted by the Plaintiff.
“Wantonness” is statutorily defined as “[c]onduct which is carried on with a
reckless or conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.” Ala. Code 1975,
§ 6–11–20(b)(3). ‘Wantonness” has been defined by this Court as the conscious
doing of some act or the omission of some duty, while knowing of the existing
conditions and being conscious that, from doing or omitting to do an act, injury
will likely or probably result. Bozeman v. Central Bank of the South, 646 So.2d
601 (Ala.1994). To prove wantonness, it is not essential to prove that the
defendant entertained a specific design or intent to injure the plaintiff. Joseph v.
Staggs, 519 So.2d 952 (Ala.1988).
Alfa Mutual Insurance Co. v. Roush, 723 So. 2d 1250, 1256 (Ala. 1998). The Alabama Supreme
Court has explained that, “[w]antonness is not merely a higher degree of culpability than
negligence. Negligence and wantonness, plainly and simply, are qualitatively different tort
concepts of actionable culpability.” Tolbert v. Tolbert, 903 So. 2d 103, 114 (Ala. 2004)
(quotation marks and citations omitted). Alabama courts will allow a jury to determine whether
conduct was wanton if there is evidence that would allow that determination. Cash v. Caldwell,
603 So. 2d 1001, 1003 (Ala.1992) (“Wantonness is a question of fact for the jury, unless there is
a total lack of evidence from which the jury could reasonably infer wantonness.”).
The Monster Mountain Defendants contend that they are entitled to summary judgment
on the wantonness claims because the Plaintiff cannot demonstrate that Anderson had a
conscious understanding that he was creating a dangerous condition by leaving the gate open or
failing to tell J.T. that the course was closed. The Monster Mountain Defendants state that
Anderson told Thompson that the track was not yet open,1 J.T. was supposed to be monitored by
a legal guardian, the tractor driven by Harris was obvious, riders could observe the track before
riding, J.T. was an experienced rider, and Anderson was available to answer questions.
Therefore, the Monster Mountain Defendants argue, there is no wantonness as a matter of law.
The Plaintiff responds that Anderson knew Harris would be grooming the track, but did
not warn the riders not to enter the track. Anderson instead collected fees and waivers which,
according to Thompson’s testimony, in the past had signaled that the track was open. The gate
to the track also was open. The Plaintiff also points out that Harris knew there were people on
the track as well as a motorcycle while he was grooming the track.2 Therefore, the Plaintiff
argues Anderson and Harris had knowledge from existing circumstances and conditions that
their conduct would likely result in injury.
Although in their brief in support of summary judgment the Defendants state that
Anderson informed Thompson that the track was not yet open, there is no citation to the
evidence in support of this proposition. Furthermore, the court must accept Thompson’s
evidence to the contrary as true in ruling on the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
The Monster Mountain Defendants did not file a reply brief, and, therefore, have not
responded to the evidence regarding Harris’s knowledge of the unusual presence of motorcycles
on the track.
Alabama courts have concluded in the context of motor vehicle accident cases that a jury
question is presented as to wantonness where drivers are aware of dangerous road conditions,
their own conduct while driving, and a likelihood of injury. See, e.g., Hornady Truck Line, Inc.
v. Meadows, 847 So. 2d 908, 916 (Ala. 2002).
In this case, the evidence viewed in a light most favorable to the non-movant is that
Anderson signaled that the track was open by taking fees and releases, Anderson knew that
Harris had track grooming to complete, the gate was open, and J.T. was not told the track was
not open. There is also evidence that Harris saw people and motorcycles on the track, but
continued to operate machinery on the track. Also, Harris and Anderson testified in their
depositions that they were aware that injury could result if riders were on the track along with
equipment. The court cannot conclude that this is a case in which “there is a total lack of
evidence from which the jury could reasonably infer wantonness.” Cash, 603 So. 2d at 1003.
Accordingly, the Motion for Summary Judgment is due to be DENIED.
For the foregoing reasons, the Motion for Summary Judgment is due to be and is hereby
Done this 14th day of December, 2011.
/s/ W. Harold Albritton
W. HAROLD ALBRITTON
SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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