The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Loveland v. St. Vrain Valley School District RE-1J on July 5, 2012.
Governmental Immunity—Subject Matter Jurisdiction—Injuries on School Playground.
During lunch recess on November 21, 2008, a 9-year-old minor child (the minor) suffered a compound fracture of her left arm when she fell from a playground apparatus. The minor, through her parents and next friends, sued defendants St. Vrain Valley School District RE-1J (school district) and Cathy O’Donnell, alleging claims of premises liability and negligent supervision. The trial court dismissed all claims against defendants. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded with directions.
The common law doctrine of sovereign immunity was abrogated by the Colorado Supreme Court in a 1971 trilogy of cases. The General Assembly responded by enacting the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (Act), which includes an immunity waiver for a “dangerous condition of any public hospital, jail, public facility located in any park or recreation area maintained by a public entity. . . .” Defendants filed a CRCP 12(b)(1) motion, arguing lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The trial court granted the motion, holding that the playground apparatus did not constitute a “public facility” under the Act.
On appeal, plaintiffs argued it was error to conclude the apparatus is not a “public facility” under the Act, and the Court agreed. The Court found the phrase “public facility” ambiguous and therefore looked to rules of statutory construction and legislative history to ascertain intent. The Court found that the apparatus clearly was “public,” given its availability to all, and that it was a “facility,” because it was a man-made, mechanical device installed on a playground for the purpose of providing recreation. The legislative history supported this conclusion. The trial court decision was reversed and remanded on this issue.
Plaintiffs also argued that it was error to conclude that the tort of negligent supervision is not a recognized exception to sovereign immunity under the Act. The Court disagreed and affirmed on this issue. The Court noted that all parties agreed that injuries resulting from negligent supervision were not among the tortious injuries for which sovereign immunity has been expressly waived. Plaintiffs’ arguments for an implied waiver are of no avail because the case law is clear that, absent specific language unambiguously waiving sovereign immunity, implied waiver is disallowed by the Act.
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