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Garvine v. State

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 4, 2018

LISA E. GARVINE Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          J. MARK COULSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This suit arises out of injuries sustained by Plaintiff Lisa E. Garvine after falling off her horse on October 11, 2015, during a charity horse ride organized by Defendant The Oxford Grain & Hay Company (“Oxford”) on land owned by Defendant State of Maryland (“Maryland” or the “State”), (collectively, the “Defendants”). The parties consented to proceed before a magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Local Rule 301.4. (ECF Nos. 61, 63, 64). Plaintiff previously filed the Amended Complaint, (ECF No. 35), against Oxford and Maryland alleging negligence. Maryland has also filed a Third Party Complaint, (ECF No. 6), against Oxford for negligence and indemnification and/or contribution. Now pending before the Court is Oxford's Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 49), and Maryland's Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 50). In considering those motions, the Court has also reviewed all relevant responses in opposition and replies in support. (ECF Nos. 52, 53, 55, 56). No. hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow, both motions will be DENIED.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. History and Organization of The Pink Poker Prance

         The Oxford Grain & Hay Company is a Pennsylvania corporation that sells grain and feed, animal supplies, and lumber and hardware. (ECF No. 49-1 at 1). Oxford organizes the Pink Poker Prance, a yearly breast cancer awareness charity horse ride in the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area (“Fair Hill”). (Dep. of Lawrie Drennen, ECF No. 50-9 at 3). Oxford's Lawrie Drennen served as the event director. (ECF No. 49-4 at 1). Fair Hill is a property owned by the State and managed by the Maryland Park Service.[1] (Affidavit of Rachel Temby, Park Ranger, ECF No. 50-12 at ¶ 1). Fair Hill contains over five thousand (5, 000) acres of land and approximately eighty (80) miles of trails. (Dep. of Rachel Temby, ECF No. 50-8 at 3).

         On September 25, 2015, Oxford submitted an Organizational Plan to the State for the Pink Poker Prance event that the State accepted. (ECF No. 49-4 at 1). The Organizational Plan stated that the “Event Director, ” i.e. Ms. Drennen, “has overall responsibility for the safe conduct of the event” and “shall coordinate with the park authorities prior to the ride to ensure that [the] trail is in good shape and course conditions are suitable for safe conduct of the event.” Id. As part of the Organizational Plan approval, Oxford secured one million dollars ($1, 000, 000.00) in insurance and agreed to pay the State a one hundred twenty-five dollar ($125.00) reservation fee. (ECF Nos. 52-11, 52-12).

         B. Plaintiff's Injury at the 2015 Pink Poker Prance

         On October 11, 2015, the date of the event, Oxford provided Pink Poker Prance participants with event instructions when they entered the Fair Hill parking lot. (ECF No. 50-9 at 10-11). Participants were instructed to: (1) stop at the registration tent upon arrival to pick up their first poker card and a goodie bucket; (2) proceed to the photo opportunity area; and then, (3) proceed to the starting gate, where they would receive their second poker card. (ECF No. 50-11; Dep. of Lisa Garvine, ECF No. 50-4 at 24-27). The station for receiving the second poker card was between fifty (50) and seventy (70) feet from the beginning of the Orange Trail. (ECF No. 50-9 at 15). All of the approximately three hundred fifty (350) participants were also required to sign a waiver and release before heading out on the trail. Id. at 8-9, 18.

         Lisa Garvine arrived at the event with her fiancé's adult daughter, LeeAnn Haaf, and her two horses, Ice and Reiner. (ECF 50-4 at 21; 98-99). Before the event began, they were joined by Ms. Garvine's best friend, Sandy Boyer, as well as Ms. Garvine's cousin, Rodney Klair, and his girlfriend. (ECF No. 49-1 at 6). Ms. Garvine did not pay any entrance fee to use the Fair Hill premises on that date, but she did pay a thirty-five dollar ($35.00) fee to Oxford for participation in the event. (ECF No. 53-2 at 7). Ms. Garvine also bought tickets for raffle items, (ECF No. 50-4 at 81-82), and signed the registration form, (ECF No. 50-13). The registration form included a waiver:

Oxford Feed & Lumber is not responsible for any person, horse or your property during the trail ride. Please secure your belongings and trailer. Participate at your own risk. Rider cannot participate unless this form is filled out completely and SIGNED.

ECF No. 50-13 at 2 (emphasis in original). Ms. Garvine testified that she read the waiver to mean that “Oxford Feed is not responsible for [Ms. Garvine] or [her] horse if anything happens to [her] or [her horse] out on that charity ride.” (ECF No. 56 at 4). Although she had been to Fair Hill before, Ms. Garvine testified that she had not been through the area where the accident occurred, although she admitted that it is possible she had been through there on a different charity ride. (ECF No. 50-4 at 100). She did not do anything in particular to prepare her horse, Ice, for the event. Id. at 59-60.

         As it does every year, Oxford selected the “Orange Trail” at Fair Hill as the trail route for the Pink Poker Prance. (ECF No. 50-9 at 4-5). The Orange Trail begins at a gravel trail road and is marked with an orange trail blaze marker. (ECF Nos. 50-8 at 19-20; 50-9 at 17; 50-15). The trail was marked with pink ribbons on the day of the event. (ECF No. 52-10 at 1-2). There are approximately three (3) to five (5) wide grass strips along either side of the trail that are to be mowed weekly. (ECF No. 50-8 at 22). At the start of the Orange Trail on the east side, there is a culvert[2] situated off of the first orange blaze marking on the trail. (ECF Nos. 50-4 at 87; 50-8 at 19; 50-15). The culvert is located next to a stream and is positioned lower than the trail itself, so there is a moderately steep drop off from the edge of the trail. (ECF Nos. 50-8 at 10; 50-4 at 96-97). There is only one break in the fence such that it is the only way to get from the registration field onto the Orange Trail. (ECF No. 50-9 at 14). A Park Hill ranger testified that this route was used in other equestrian events and did not create a dangerous situation for horses or riders. (Dep. of Joann Bashore, ECF No. 49-7 at 3-5).

         After first stopping at the registration tent to check in and purchase raffle tickets, Ms. Garvine mounted Ice at her trailer and proceeded directly to the start of the course with Ms. Boyer, with Ms. Haaf trailing behind them. (Dep. of LeeAnn Haaf, ECF No. 50-5 at 15; Dep. of Lisa Garvine, ECF No. 50-4 at 24). They did not stop at the event photo booth or second card station, heading straight to the road from the trailer. (Dep. of Lisa Garvine, ECF No. 50-4 at 26- 27). Upon reaching the start of the Orange Trail from the registration field, Ms. Boyer and Ms. Garvine observed a group of about five (5) horse-and-rider pairs stopped ahead of them on the trail. (Dep. of Lisa Garvine, ECF 50-4 at 30; Dep. of Sandra Boyer, ECF No. 50-14 at 5). A member of that group ahead yelled for Ms. Boyer and Ms. Garvine to stop because one of the horses ahead was bucking its rider. (ECF No. 50-4 at 32). Ms. Boyer stopped her horse so that she continued to face the direction of the trail and the front group of horses. (ECF No. 50-14 at 6-7). Ms. Garvine rode up next to Ms. Boyer and turned Ice to face her, away from the direction of the trail and other horses, so that the two women could speak while they waited. (ECF No. 50-4 at 32, 35, 86). Ms. Garvine testified that they “weren't very far” from the front group of horses. (ECF No. 50-4 at 41). Ms. Boyer testified they were “very close.” (ECF No. 50-14 at 12). Although Ms. Garvine could not recall exactly where her horse was positioned relative to Ms. Boyer or the edge of the culvert, (ECF No. 50-4 at 93), Ms. Boyer recalled that their horses were about two (2) horse lengths apart. (ECF No. 50-14 at 11).

         Ms. Garvine and Ms. Boyer talked for a few minutes while they waited for the front group to calm the bucking horse. (ECF No. 50-4 at 35-36). When the front group “was getting ready to move on, ” Ms. Garvine directed Ice to turn to the right in order to proceed onto the trail ride because the area to the left was “overgrown.” Id. at 32, 44. According to Ms. Garvine, at that point, Ice “squared” up to turn, took a step, and fell down the edge of the culvert. Id. at 44- 45. Ms. Garvine asserts she did not direct Ice to move backward at any point. Id. at 47. After Ice lost his footing down the edge of the culvert, Ms. Garvine fell into a stream and Ice landed on top of her. Id. at 48. Ice had to roll five (5) or six (6) times in order to get up. Id. Ms. Garvine suffered bruises and abrasions as well as injuries to her shoulder, scapula, and ribs. Id. at 78, 91, 95. Ice made a full recovery. Id. at 92.

         Ms. Garvine testified that the edge of the culvert, the drop off, and the stream were obscured by high weeds and overgrown vegetation so that she could not see the drop off or stream as she sat on her horse. Id. at 34, 71. She described the overgrowth as being the height of a conference table or a little lower, and explained that the vegetation was located off of the trail, in the grass strip between the road and the culvert edge. Id. at 87, 95, 98. Ms. Boyer testified that there was “a lot” of grass off to the right of the trail, estimating that the grass between the trail road and the edge of the culvert was approximately eighteen (18) inches high. (ECF No. 50-14 at 16). She agreed that she would have been able to see the culvert over the grass while seated on her horse, but stated that she was not looking in that direction at the time. Id. at 17-18. Ms. Haaf also stated that there was “all this vegetation” in the area in front of where Ms. Boyer and Ms. Garvine had stopped their horses, and that she saw Ms. Garvine and Ice “disappear[] into vegetation.” (ECF No. 52-14 at 3-4). Mr. Drennen testified that the growth around the culvert that day was between three (3) and four (4) feet tall. (ECF No. 52-9 at 12). Ms. Temby testified that the culvert was not obscured by vegetation and explained that visitors to Fair Hill are to utilize the trails in the designated areas only. (ECF No. 50-8 at 21, 24-26).

         Prior to and in anticipation of the 2015 Pink Poker Prance, Fair Hill's trail crew checked course maps and the corresponding trails for downed trees, low limbs, loose rocks, and other similar conditions. (ECF No. 50-8 at 8-10). Although the trail crew members look for “blatant issues, ” they “don't do an overhaul of the trail as far as sweeping it free of leaves and debris and twigs” because it is a “natural setting.” Id. According to Ms. Temby, Plaintiff was the first person to fail to observe the culvert and fall into it in the six (6) years that the Pink Poker Prance event has been held. (ECF No. 50-8 at 14). Mr. Drennen was also unaware of any injuries from the previous years' Pink Poker Prance events. (ECF No. 50-9 at 5).

         C. Plaintiff's Prior Experiences with Ice and Statements Made After Injury

         Ms. Garvine began riding at the age of eight (8) and acquired her first pony at thirteen (13). (ECF No. 50-4 at 3). At the time of the accident, Ms. Garvine was 56 years old. (ECF No. 52-3 at 2). She testified that she understand horse riding can be a dangerous activity and going out onto somebody else's land can also be dangerous. (ECF No. 50-4 at 66). Ms. Garvine acquired Ice in 2006. Id. at 5. She described him as a “trail horse, ” and a gelding “Quarter Horse” that is fifteen and one-tenth (15.1) hands tall. Id. at 11-12. She does not know if Ice has done trail events in the past. Id.

         Ms. Haaf testified that Ice can be difficult to load into a trailer and can be “stubborn, ” so she was “working with him and retraining him to load” in the time after the accident leading up to her deposition. (ECF No. 50-5 at 5). However, on the date of the Pink Poker Prance, Ice did not have any problems being loaded into the trailer. (ECF No. 50-4 at 20). Ms. Garvine's cousin, Rodney Klair, testified that he did not like Ice because he is a “stubborn” horse and will become “fussy” when separated from other horses. (ECF No. 50-7 at 6-9). Mr. Klair further explained that he has witnessed Ms. Garvine have to dismount Ice, at least two times, when he became agitated from separation anxiety from other horses. Id. at 10. Ms. Garvine also testified that Ice had previously backed up “on his own” without instruction to do so, and that she has fallen from Ice twice. (ECF No. 49-9 at 8-10). At least one time, Ms. Garvine fell because Ice had wanted to “run the fence line” with other horses and “bucked.” Id. Ice has also “thrown” her. Id. at 7. Ms. Garvine has not taken any riding lessons on Ice, but “tr[ies] to go out three to four times a month maybe” to ride Ice. (ECF No. 50-4 at 14, 16).

         After the incident, as Ms. Garvine awaited medical treatment, Mr. Klair approached and asked her, “Now can we get rid of that fucking horse?” (ECF No. 50-7 at 6). His statement was also overheard by a Fair Hill park ranger. (Dep. of Michael Harkins, ECF No. 50-20 at 5). In response, Ms. Garvine allegedly stated: “Yes, I guess we can get rid of the horse now. This is about the third time he's-second or third time that he sat there and threw me.” (Dep. of Darlene Clark-Reedy, ECF No. 50-19 at 3).[3] Ms. Garvine also allegedly stated that Ice was too “green” to come to the event, that she should not have brought him to it, and that the fall had been her fault. Id. at 8-10. Further, Ms. Garvine allegedly explained that when she asked Ice “to go, he got scared, didn't want to go, and backed up into the culvert.” Id. at 11. Ms. Garvine denies making any of these statements. (ECF No. 52-3 at 34-35).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) requires the Court to “grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” The moving party bears the burden “to demonstrate the absence of any genuine dispute of material fact.” Jones v. Hoffberger Moving Servs. LLC, 92 F.Supp.3d 405, 409 (D. Md. 2015) (internal citations omitted). A dispute as to a material fact “is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” J.E. Dunn Const. Co. v. S.R.P. Dev. Ltd. P'ship, 115 F.Supp.35 593, 600 (D. Md. 2015) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

         A nonmoving party “opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment ‘may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings,' but rather must ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003). The court is “required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to” the nonmoving party, Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 230 (4th Cir. 2008) (citing Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 377 (2007)), but must also “abide by the ‘affirmative obligation of the trial judge to prevent factually unsupported claims and ...


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