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Zylstra v. State

Supreme Court of Idaho

October 29, 2014

SAMUEL J. ZYLSTRA, Plaintiff-Appellant-Cross Respondent,
STATE OF IDAHO and BOISE STATE UNIVERSITY, Defendants-Respondents-Cross Appellants

2014 Opinion No. 112.

Page 617

Appeal from the district court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Cheri C. Copsey, District Judge.

The judgment of the district court is affirmed. Costs on appeal are awarded to respondents.

Geoffrey D. Swindler Spokane, WA and James F. Whitehead, Seattle, WA, attorneys for appellant. James F. Whitehead argued.

Anderson, Julian & Hull, Boise, attorneys for respondents. Phillip J. Collaer argued.

WALTERS, J. pro tem. Chief Justice BURDICK, Justices EISMANN, J. JONES and HORTON CONCUR.


Page 618

[157 Idaho 459] WALTERS, J. pro tem

This is an action for recovery of damages against the State of Idaho. The district court dismissed the action on motion of the State for summary judgment. We affirm.

I. Nature of the Case

This case was brought under the Idaho Tort Claims Act asserting negligence by a public university in allowing a student-athlete to return to competition after sustaining a head injury. Plaintiff, Samuel Zylstra (Zylstra), was a student and wrestler at Boise State University (BSU). Zylstra brought suit against BSU and the State of Idaho (hereinafter referred to collectively as BSU) alleging that BSU employees negligently allowed him to continue wrestling after he was injured during the first day of a two-day tournament. On motion by BSU, the district court granted summary judgment on the issue of causation, but denied summary judgment as to BSU's statute of limitations arguments. Notwithstanding the denial in part, the partial grant of summary judgment provided adequate grounds to dismiss Zylstra's action. Before this Court, Zylstra appeals the district court's decision to strike two expert affidavits offered in opposition to BSU's summary judgment motion and also alleges judicial bias. BSU cross-appeals the district court's denial of summary judgment on the statute of limitations issue.

II. Factual and Procedural Background

Zylstra enrolled as a student at BSU in 2007. Shortly after enrolling, he successfully tried out for BSU's wrestling team. He attended BSU and competed as a wrestler from 2007 to 2010. For each year that he was an active member of the wrestling team, Zylstra signed liability waivers releasing BSU from any claims for damages or injuries sustained while participating in athletics. On February 26-27, 2010, Zylstra and the BSU wrestling team competed at the Pac-10 wrestling championships in Davis, California. During his first match on February 26, 2010, Zylstra suffered what would later be diagnosed as a concussion when his head was slammed to the mat by his opponent. In response to the possible head trauma, BSU coaches called a timeout so that athletic trainer, Andy Chorn (" Chorn" ), could assess the presence and severity of any injuries and determine whether it was safe for Zylstra to continue the match. The parties disagree about whether Zylstra briefly lost consciousness during the event. Upon being approached by Chorn, Zylstra complained that his head hurt. During the 90-second injury timeout, Chorn conducted neurological testing checking for eye motility, double vision, ringing in the ears, and sensitivity to light. According to Chorn, all testing was negative, a concussion was not detected, Zylstra's dizziness cleared immediately, and Zylstra indicated that he was fine and wished to continue. Based on these findings, Zylstra was permitted to return to competition, completing two matches that first day, as well as two more the following day.[1] Zylstra ultimately placed fifth in the tournament, qualifying him for the NCAA Championships.

On March 10, 2010, still suffering from persistent headaches and other concussive symptoms, Zylstra was examined by team physician, Scot Scheffel, M.D. in Boise, Idaho. Dr. Scheffel opined that Zylstra suffered a " significant concussion" at the Pac-10 tournament and indicated that he would not medically clear Zylstra to wrestle in the NCAA Championships. The parties disagree about the degree to which these concussion-related symptoms impacted Zylstra's daily life and ability to function in the weeks and months following the tournament.

Page 619

[157 Idaho 460] On October 22, 2010, Zylstra filed a notice of claim with the Idaho Secretary of State's office, and he filed an initial complaint initiating this lawsuit in district court on February 21, 2012. On April 12, 2013, BSU filed a motion to compel challenging the sufficiency of Zylstra's expert disclosures and answers to expert-related written discovery. On May 9, 2013, the district court held a hearing on the motion to compel. While the court refrained from formally granting BSU's motion to compel, the district judge found that BSU was entitled to full and complete discovery responses.

On June 4, 2014, BSU filed a motion for summary judgment on two issues, statute of limitations and causation. On July 1, 2013, Zylstra filed his opposition to BSU's motion for summary judgment, supported by various affidavits. On July 15, 2013, BSU filed a motion to strike the affidavits of expert witnesses Dr. Epperson and Dr. Brzusek, as well as certain lay witnesses. On August 8, 2013, the district court held a hearing addressing both BSU's motion to strike and motion for summary judgment. Regarding the motion to strike, the court granted BSU's motion as to the expert witnesses and granted in part and denied in part as to the lay witnesses. As to BSU's summary judgment motion, judgment was entered against Zylstra on the element of causation, but was denied as to the statute of limitations issue.

On August 12, 2013, prior to a final judgment being entered against him, Zylstra filed a motion for continuance and reconsideration. In this motion, Zylstra sought reconsideration of the decision striking his expert affidavits, as well as an order re-instating his case and setting a new trial date. BSU formally opposed this motion on August 14, 2013, and the motion was heard and denied on October 10, 2013.

Final judgment was entered against Zylstra on August 15, 2013. Zylstra timely filed his notice of appeal on September 13, 2013, and BSU timely filed its notice of cross-appeal on September 17, 2013.

III. Issues on Appeal

1. Whether the district court abused its discretion in granting BSU's motion to strike two expert affidavits offered by Zylstra in opposition to BSU's summary judgment motion.

2. Whether the presiding district court judge was impartial and disinterested in the outcome of the case and, if not, whether this alleged bias warrants reversal.

3. Whether the district court erred in finding a disputed issue of material fact regarding Zylstra's competency and sanity for statute ...

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