2006 WL 2244124
Aug. 4, 2006
Summary of the Opinion
This is a diversity action in which Plaintiff, a
Text of the Opinion
This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt.41). On December 27, 2005, the parties consented to proceed in this Court for all further proceedings, including trial and an order of final judgment. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). By Order of Reference, the Honorable Richard Alan Enslen referred this case to the undersigned. (Dkt.# 28). For the reasons articulated below, Defendant's motion is denied.
On September 3, 2004, Plaintiff was seriously
injured while riding "Nick," a horse owned by Defendant. (Dkt.# 1).
On July 12, 2005, Plaintiff initiated the present action, asserting that
Defendant "breached her duty of care owing to Plaintiff ... and was
negligent in failing to warn him about the dangerous and viscous propensities
of the horse, "Nick," and of the fact that "Nick" had
previously thrown 3 other riders." Plaintiff alleges that he has suffered
damages in excess of $75,000.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
In reviewing a motion for summary judgment,
the Court must confine itself to the narrow questions of whether there exist
"no genuine issue[s] as to any material fact and [whether] the moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). On
a Rule 56 motion, the Court cannot try issues of fact, but is empowered to
determine only whether there exist issues in
dispute to be decided in a trial on the merits. See Perez v. Aetna Insurance
Co., 96 F.3d 813, 819 (6th Cir.1996); Aiken v. The City of
A motion for summary judgment requires the
Court to view "inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts ... in the
light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Matsushita
Electric Ind. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting United
States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); see also, Terry Barr
Sales Agency, 96 F.3d at 819; Schaffer v. A.O. Smith Harvestore Products,
Inc., 74 F.3d 722, 727 (6th Cir.1996). The opponent, however, has the
burden to show that a "rational trier of fact [could] find for the
non-moving party [or] that there is a 'genuine issue for trial.' " Historic
Preservation Guild of Bay View v. Burnley, 896 F.2d 985, 993 (6th Cir.1989)
(quoting Matsushita Electric Ind. Co., 475
As the Sixth Circuit has recognized, the
Supreme Court has encouraged the granting of
summary judgments, as such may be "an appropriate avenue for the 'just,
speedy and inexpensive determination' of a matter." Kutrom v. City of
The Court has jurisdiction over the subject matter of the present dispute pursuant to diversity jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. When presiding over a diversity action, federal courts must apply the substantive law of the state in which the court sits, including that state's choice of law rules. See Mill's Pride, Inc. v. Continental Ins. Co., 300 F.3d 701, 704 (6th Cir.2002).
In tort cases where the laws of more than one
state may be implicated,
Applying this analysis, the Court concludes
Defendant asserts that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the Michigan Equine Activity Liability Act (EALA). See Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1661, et seq. Specifically, Defendant relies on section 3 of the EALA which provides as follows:
Except as otherwise provided in section 5, an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, or another person is not liable for an injury to or the death of a participant or property damage resulting from an inherent risk of an equine activity. Except as otherwise provided in section 5, a participant or participant's representative shall not make a claim for, or recover, civil damages from an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, or another person for injury to or the death of the participant or property damage resulting from an inherent risk of an equine activity.
Defendant asserts that she is entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff's injuries resulted "from an inherent risk of an equine activity," which the EALA defines as:
a danger or condition that is an integral part of an equine activity, including, but not limited to, any of the following:
(i) An equine's propensity to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to a person on or around it.
(ii) The unpredictability of an equine's reaction to things such as sounds, sudden movement, and people, other animals, or unfamiliar objects.
(iii) A hazard such as a surface or subsurface condition.
(iv) Colliding with another equine or object.
As the Michigan Court of Appeals has held, the definition of "inherent risk" encompasses more than simply "normal and anticipated equine behavior." Amburgey v. Sauder, 605 N.W.2d 84, 89 (Mich.Ct.App.1999). As the court stated:
It is clear that the risks immunized by the EALA include more than those flowing from an equine's normal or anticipated behavior. Thus, whether [the horse] was acting normally when plaintiff was injured is not determinative of whether the risk leading to plaintiff's injury is included within the scope of the EALA. The statute recognizes that an equine may behave in a way that will result in injury and that equines may have unpredictable reactions to diverse circumstances-precisely one of the guiding motivations for limiting the liability of equine professionals.
Plaintiff testified that after being mounted,
Nick "got a little antsy" and started to "raise up on the front
end a little bit." (
Plaintiff counters that Defendant cannot look
to the EALA (and section 3 in particular) for protection because she is neither
an equine professional nor an equine activity sponsor. This argument ignores
the fact that section 3 of the EALA expressly applies to equine activity
sponsors, equine professionals, as well as "another person." As
Defendant clearly fits within the definition of "another person" she
may properly invoke section 3 of the EALA. Moreover, Plaintiff is properly characterized
as an equine participant as that term is defined in the EALA. See
As the language quoted above reveals, however, the bar to liability articulated in section 3 of the EALA is subject to the provisions of "section 5" (Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1665). Section 5 provides (in pertinent part) as follows:
Section 3 does not prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor, equine professional, or another person if the equine activity sponsor, equine professional, or other person does any of the following:
(d) Commits a negligent act or omission that constitutes a proximate cause of the injury, death, or damage.
As noted above, Plaintiff asserts that
Defendant "was negligent in failing to warn [Plaintiff] about [Nick's]
dangerous and viscous propensities." To establish a negligence claim under
Whether Defendant owed a duty to Plaintiff is a legal question for the Court to determine. See Brown, 716 N.W.2d at 629 (citing Murdock v. Higgins, 559 N.W.2d 639 (Mich.1997)). As the Michigan Court of Appeals has stated:
In determining whether a duty exists in a negligence action involving domestic animals, trial courts must consider "the normal characteristics of the animal that caused the injury, as well as any abnormally dangerous characteristics of which the defendant has knowledge. Thus, if the possessor of such an animal, including one in temporary possession, has knowledge of some dangerous propensity unique to the particular animal, or is aware that the animal is in such a situation that a danger of foreseeable harm might arise, the possessor has a legally recognized duty to control the animal to an extent reasonable to guard against the foreseeable danger.
Mounts v. Van Beeste, 2004 N.W.2d 1737676 at *1 (Mich.Ct.App., Aug. 3, 2004) (quoting Trager v. Thor, 516 N.W.2d 69 (Mich.1994)).
In the Court's estimation, Plaintiff has
submitted facts which, if viewed in a light most favorable to him, could
entitle him to relief in this matter. Alisha Simon testified that as of the
date of Plaintiff's accident, Nick was "green broke." (Simon
Deposition at 18). According to Simon, a "green broke" horse is
"rideable," but still requires further training.
Malissa Goalen testified that she
"came off" Nick twice in one day as a result of Nick's refusal to
"go over" a log. (Goalen deposition at 14-15). These incidents
occurred prior to Plaintiff's accident.
Plaintiff testified that Defendant was aware
of these incidents involving Nick. (
The facts submitted thus far, when viewed in a
light most favorable to Plaintiff, establish that Defendant owed a duty to
Plaintiff. As for the remaining elements of Plaintiff's negligence claim, the
Court likewise finds that Plaintiff has submitted evidence which, when viewed
in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, could entitle him to relief. The Court
recognizes that Defendant has submitted evidence which, if believed, could
result in a denial of relief to Plaintiff.
Such simply underscores, however, that there presently exist legitimate factual
disputes precluding the granting of summary judgment. This conclusion is