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

Supreme Court of Idaho

May 31, 2017

BRYAN N. HENRIE, Plaintiff-Appellant,

         2017 Opinion No. 56

         Appeal from the District Court of the Sixth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Bannock County. Hon. Stephen S. Dunn, District Judge.

         Judgment is affirmed. No attorney's fees are awarded on appeal. Costs on appeal are awarded to Respondent.

          Cooper & Larsen, Chartered, Pocatello, attorneys for appellant. Javier Gabiola argued.

          Moffatt Thomas, Pocatello, attorneys for respondent. Bradley J. Williams argued.

          JONES, Justice

         I. Nature of the Case

         This case arises out of injuries suffered by Bryan N. Henrie ("Henrie") while he was participating in a community service event organized by the Mormon Helping Hands ("Helping Hands"), a priesthood-directed program run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the "Church"). Henrie asserts on appeal that the district court erred when it dismissed his tort claim on summary judgment. We affirm the judgment.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         In June of 2012, a fire broke out in the Charlotte Creek area of Pocatello. Once the fire had been put out, Helping Hands conducted a wide-scale effort to clean up the burned area. Henrie was a member of the Paradise Ward of the Church, where he was the president of the Elder's Quorum. In late June of 2012, Henrie was contacted by Bishop Fred Zundel and instructed to mobilize the members of the Quorum to aid in the cleanup effort. Henrie characterizes the Bishop's instruction as "an order, " which he felt "compelled" to follow due to his status in the Church.

         On July 14, 2012, Henrie traveled to Century High School, where Helping Hands had set up a staging area for volunteers to sign in to participate in the cleanup. When he arrived at the high school a person[1], whom Henrie took to be a representative of the Church, handed him a smock with the Helping Hands logo on it. Henrie testified as follows:

Q: Okay. And did she say anything about it?
A: Whoever it was-I remember getting it. It was handed to me and I remember saying this is really big. And they said, well it's all we've got left, because apparently, they'd been picked clean-well, not-I don't know how clean because, you know, I can't vouch for how many were left. But at that point they said this is all we've got left.
Q: Okay. And it looked big to you, too big for you, is that what you're saying?
A: It looked really big. And, I mean, I don't know what their standard was, but, I mean, to me it seemed-it could have been a lot tighter fit-like a lot tighter fitting.
. . .
Q: And was there any discussion about whether you had to wear it or should wear it or-
A: Yes, there was.
Q: What was that discussion?
A: I was told that I had to wear it to participate in the cleanup. It was required.

         Henrie was assigned to work with a crew on a property off Gibson Jack road. He spent the day felling burned trees and rolling or throwing the wood down an embankment on the property to be hauled away later. Later that day, Henrie was attempting to throw a tree stump down the embankment when it caught on his smock. He was pulled down the embankment by the stump, severely injuring his right knee in the process.

         On July 11, 2014, Henrie filed a complaint against the Church. Therein, Henrie asserted that "[a]t the very least, Defendant had a duty not to supply Plaintiff with gear or clothing that would put him or his bodily safety in danger or ultimately harm him . . . Defendant breached this duty of care." He further asserted that "Defendant owed a duty to Plaintiff to use reasonable care in nominating, training, and supervising any and all of the clean-up organizers and volunteers, including those who spoke with and directed Plaintiff."

         On December 16, 2015, the Church filed a motion in limine to exclude evidence. Therein, the Church requested that the district court exclude any testimony given by Henrie with respect to statements made by the volunteer who gave him his smock. The Church argued that such statements were offered "to prove that the Church 'mandated' that everyone wear a smock in order to participate." Accordingly, the Church concluded, such statements were offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted and therefore were inadmissible hearsay. The Church preemptively argued that those statements do not qualify as an admission of a party opponent because "[w]hen the declarant is unknown or unidentifiable a plaintiff cannot show that the declarant was an agent of the principal."

         Concurrently with its motion in limine, the Church filed a motion for summary judgment on all of Henrie's claims. Therein, the Church asserted that: (1) "the Church had no duty to foresee or predict the accident . . . because [it was] a 'freak' accident[] that [was] not 'reasonably' foreseeable and [didn't] impose unreasonable risks of harm"; and (2) "Henrie cannot adduce admissible evidence to support his proximate cause elements of his claims . . . Henrie cannot adduce any admissible evidence that the Church forced him to wear the smock."

         On March 16, 2016, the district court entered a memorandum decision and order, in which it found that: (1) "[t]here is no question the alleged statements made by the unknown and unidentifiable volunteer are hearsay . . . [and] the record is utterly devoid of any evidence of an agency relationship between the unidentifiable person handing out the smocks and the Church [so the statements do not qualify as admissions of a party opponent]"; (2) "[u]nder the facts presented here, there is nothing to indicate the Church could foresee or reasonably be expected to anticipate the type of harm that occurred here . . . [s]o this Court cannot find a basis for imposing a duty on Defendant in this instance"; (3) "there is no special duty between the Church and Mr. Henrie"; and (4) "the Plaintiff cannot ...

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