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Lockner v. Pierce County

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc

April 19, 2018

MARGIE M. LOCKNER, Respondent,
v.
PIERCE COUNTY and BLAIR SMITH, Petitioners.

          Gonzalez, J.

         This case asks us to clarify the scope of Washington's recreational use immunity statute, RCW 4.24.210.[1] Margie Lockner was injured when she fell from her bicycle on a trail maintained by Pierce County (County). Lockner sued the County for negligence. Finding that recreational use immunity precluded her suit because the unintentional injury happened on land open to the public for recreational use without a fee, the trial court dismissed Lockner's claim on summary judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed, mistakenly relying on the dissent in this court's opinion in Camicia v. Howards. Wright Constr. Co., 179 Wn.2d 684, 687, 317 P.3d 987 (2014), to hold that a question of fact remained as to whether the trail was open to the public for "solely" recreational use.

         While more than incidental recreational use may be required, sole recreational use is not required before conferring immunity to landowners. In addition, RCW 4.24.210 immunity is not limited to premises liability claims. It also extends to negligence actions. We therefore reverse the Court of Appeals in part and reinstate summary judgment for the County.

         Background

         On a summer day in 2013, Lockner and her niece went for a bicycle ride on the Foothills Trail. While Lockner rode behind her niece, both cyclists approached a riding lawn mower cutting grass and moving in the same direction beside the trail. As Lockner passed the lawn mower, it allegedly expelled a cloud of dust and debris. Lockner shielded her face and swerved, "clip[ping] her niece's bike." Clerk's Papers (CP) at 3. Lockner fell and injured her knee and elbow.

         The Foothills Trail is a nonmotorized asphalt trail alongside a soft shoulder path for equestrian use. Pierce County's website for the trail describes it as a "popular commuter route and recreational destination for bicyclists." Id. at 62. In its regional plan, the County envisions that its trail system will become a network for recreation, provide "transportation routes, " id. at 69, and connect the County to other regional destinations.

         Pierce County Parks and Recreation officials have stated that the section of the Foothills Trail where Lockner was injured was designed and maintained for recreational use. This section is open for recreation between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM.

         Lockner filed a negligence suit against the County and its employee, the lawn mower operator. The County moved for summary judgment, arguing that recreational immunity precluded the claim. The trial court granted the County's motion.

         Lockner appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment, concluding that pursuant to Camicia, recreational use immunity could not be determined as a matter of law because there was a disputed issue of material fact as to whether the trail was open "solely" for recreational use. Lockner v. Pierce County, 198 Wn.App. 907, 908, 396 P.3d 389 (2017) (citing Camicia, 179 Wn.2d at 687). The County sought review. Lockner, in turn, asked this court to examine whether RCW 4.24.210 extends immunity to negligence actions. We granted review of both issues. Lockner v. Pierce County, 189 Wn.2d 1009, 403 P.3d 45 (2017).

         Analysis

         We review a grant of summary judgment de novo. Campbell v. Ticor Title Ins. Co., 166 Wn.2d 466, 470, 209 P.3d 859 (2009). Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. CR 56(c). When making this determination, we consider all the facts and make all reasonable factual inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Young v. Key Pharm., Inc., 112 Wn.2d 216, 226, 770 P.2d 182 (1989).

         I. Recreational Immunity Applies to Pierce County

         Lockner urges us to affirm the Court of Appeals. She contends that the court properly applied Camicia to require land to be used for "solely" recreational purposes to obtain immunity. See Lockner, 198 Wn.App. at 912-16. The County and amici, on the other hand, argue that the Court of Appeals misconstrued Camicia and relied on language from its dissenting opinion-which the majority did not endorse-that RCW 4.24.210 does not mandate "solely" recreational use. Id. (citing 179 Wn.2d at 703-04 (Madsen, C.J., dissenting)). The County is correct. For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that neither the plain language of RCW 4.24.210 nor our opinion in Camicia preconditions recreational use immunity on land being used solely for recreational purposes.

         This case concerns aspects of the scope of immunity under RCW 4.24.210. Statutory interpretation is a question of law, which we review de novo. State v. J.P., 149 Wn.2d 444, 449, 69 P.3d 318 (2003). Our starting point is the statute's plain language and ordinary meaning. Id. at 450. If the statute's plain language is unambiguous, our review is at an end. Id. In construing ...


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