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Beers v. Corporation of President of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

Supreme Court of Idaho

November 26, 2013

GREGORY and CARALEE BEERS, individually and on behalf of HEIDI L. BEERS, a minor Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
THE CORPORATION OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS; WARREN and SHAROLYN RIRIE, husband and wife; PHIL and MERLINDA HAUETER, husband and wife; GARRETT HAUETER, an individual; RICHARD and KATHY KARTCHNER, husband and wife; BRENT and BETH RASMUSSEN, husband and wife; MARK and BRENDA KROPF, husband and wife; KIRT and KATIE NIELSEN, husband and wife; BRADLEY J. DAY, an individual, Defendants-Respondents.

2013 Opinion No. 117

Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Michael Wetherell, District Judge.

The decision of the district court is affirmed in part, reversed in part and the case is remanded for entry of judgment dismissing all claims.

Murphy Law Office, PLLC, Meridian, for appellants. Mia Murphy argued.

Moffatt, Thomas, Barrett, Rock & Fields, Chartered, Boise, for respondent The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Larry Hunter argued.

Parsons Behle & Latimer, Boise, for respondents Ririe, Haueter, Rasmussen and Kropf. Joseph Kevin West argued.

Lopez & Kelly, PLLC, Boise, for respondents Kartchner.

HORTON, Justice.

Heidi Beers, a minor, was injured after jumping from a bridge into the Payette River. Heidi had been attending a campout organized by ward members of her church. Her parents, Gregory and Caralee Beers, brought suit individually and on behalf of their daughter against the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the COP) and a number of individual ward members. The Beerses' complaint advanced claims of negligence against all defendants and a claim based upon I.C. § 6-1701 (tort actions in child abuse cases) against the individual defendants. The district court granted the defendants' motions for summary judgment in part, dismissing all negligence claims, but denied the motion for summary judgment as to the statutory claim against four ward members. The Beerses timely appealed and the four ward members have cross-appealed. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for entry of judgment dismissing all claims.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Heidi Beers was thirteen years old when she was injured. She belonged to the Autumn Faire Ward (the Ward) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church)[1] in Meridian, Idaho. The Ward organized a campout to take place in Smiths Ferry, Idaho, during the summer of 2007. Ward members were invited to a campout to be held August 17-18, 2007, at a cabin owned by Frank and Gloria Skinner. A similar campout had been held in 2005 and 2006. In 2007, the campout was planned by Lisa Panek, chair of the Ward Activities Committee. Ward members were notified of the upcoming event through flyers and a sign-up sheet for a Dutch oven dinner. The only formal activities planned for the campout were the Dutch oven dinner, an evening devotional, and a breakfast. There was no RSVP required and no list of attendance taken.

Heidi wanted to attend, however her parents were not interested in going. Heidi originally planned to attend with a friend's family, but they could not go. Heidi then contacted another friend and asked if she could "get a ride" to the campout. This friend spoke to her mother, Kathy Kartchner, and asked if they could give Heidi a ride to the campout. Ms. Kartchner agreed and testified that it was her understanding that she was only providing a ride to Heidi, as Heidi's grandfather would also be attending the campout. Heidi's parents did not speak with any Ward member regarding Heidi's attendance. The record is silent as to whether Heidi's grandfather agreed to look out for her during the campout.

Heidi rode up with the Kartchners on the evening of Friday, August 17. After her arrival, she rode from the Skinners' cabin to the Smiths Ferry Bridge with around twenty other youths in Bradley Day's pickup. Mr. Day told the youths that he would take them to the bridge if they obtained their parents' permission. After confirming that they had received permission, Mr. Day took them down to the bridge. Heidi had not sought or obtained permission from anyone to attend. Upon arriving at the bridge, some of the youths checked under the bridge for rocks or other obstructions. Many then proceeded to jump from the bridge into the river. Heidi did not jump. There were no injuries that evening and the youths then returned to the campsite.

Heidi spent the evening with her friends, and they stayed up late talking. Rather than sleeping in a tent provided by the Kartchners, Heidi and her friends slept in the Skinners' cabin. The next morning, following breakfast, members of the Ward began to separate. Some returned home, others went hiking or fishing, and some returned to the bridge to play in the water and jump into the river. Heidi went to the bridge. Before anyone jumped from the bridge, there was another inspection for rocks or other obstructions. Garrett Haueter, an adult present at the bridge, told everyone to jump in the location that had been checked.

Many of those present then began to jump from the bridge into the river. Heidi spoke briefly to Sharolyn Ririe, another adult present at the bridge. Heidi told her that she was scared to jump. Ms. Ririe said that she would also be afraid to jump, as she had a fear of heights. Eventually, Heidi summoned the courage to jump. She climbed over the railing but was outside the area that had been inspected. Heidi hit the water and felt instant pain and numbness. She does not believe that she hit anything on the way down or that she hit the river bottom. Thus, it appears that she jumped directly over one of the bridge support columns. Regardless of the mechanism of injury, Heidi suffered a compound fracture of her ankle. Several of those present helped Heidi to shore where she was attended to by several Ward members.

Defendant Mark Kropf, a physician and Ward member, was summoned. He arrived and attended to Heidi with the help of paramedics from Cascade, as well as an emergency room team from St. Alphonsus that happened to be floating the river. One of the emergency room team members, Dr. Ho, was a physician with expertise in dealing with trauma. Dr. Ho reduced the fracture and brought the bone back within the skin. Heidi was then transported by Life Flight to the hospital.

Heidi's parents then brought this action, individually and on Heidi's behalf, against the Church and various Ward members, asserting claims of negligence and civil child abuse under I.C. § 6-1701.[2] The COP and the Ward members moved for summary judgment. The district court granted the motions as to the Beerses' negligence claim, holding that neither the COP nor the Ward members owed Heidi a duty of care. The Beerses appeal, arguing that both the COP and the Ward members owed Heidi a duty of care arising out of special relationship and the undertaking of a duty to supervise her.

The district court denied summary judgment as to the child abuse claim as to the four Ward members (Sharolyn Ririe, Garrett Haueter, Breda Kropf and Brent Rasmussen) who were present on the bridge when Heidi was injured. The district court found that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether they should have known that Heidi was likely to be injured. These Ward members cross-appeal, arguing that the district court erred by finding that an affirmative duty to act exists in the absence of a special relationship to the child.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, 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 judgment as a matter of law." I.R.C.P. 56(c); G & M Farms v. Funk Irr. Co., 119 Idaho 514, 516-17, 808 P.2d 851, 853-54 (1991). Furthermore, "[a]ll doubts are to be resolved against the moving party, and the motion must be denied if the evidence is such that conflicting inferences may be drawn therefrom, and if reasonable people might reach different conclusions." Id.

Generally, to state a cause of action for negligence, a plaintiff must establish four elements: "(1) a duty, recognized by law, requiring a defendant to conform to a certain standard of conduct; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a causal connection between the defendant's conduct and the resulting injuries; and (4) actual loss or damage."

Grabicki v. City of Lewiston, 154 Idaho 686, ___, 302 P.3d 26, 31 (2013) (quoting Fragnella v. Petrovich, 153 Idaho 266, 272, 281 P.3d 103, 109 (2012)). "Whether a duty exists is a question of law, 'over which this Court exercises free review.' " Gagnon v. W. Bldg. Maint., Inc., 155 Idaho 112, ___, 306 P.3d 197, 200 (2013) (quoting Turpen v. Granieri, 133 Idaho 244, 247, 985 P.2d 669, 672 (1999)).

III. ANALYSIS

A. The district court properly granted summary judgment as to the Beerses' ...


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