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Kastner v. Star Trails Association

April 08, 2003

ANDREW SCOTT KASTNER, RESPONDENT (C5-01-1157), ERIC NELSON, RESPONDENT (C4-01-1165),
v.
STAR TRAILS ASSOCIATION, A MINNESOTA NOT FOR PROFIT ASSOCIATION, PETITIONER, APPELLANT.



Washington County District Court File No. C6003582

Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Huspeni, Judge.*fn1

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. A trail-user organization that contracts with a local government to acquire, construct, and maintain a snowmobile trail under the Minnesota Trails Assistance Program is immune from tort claims by users of the trail under the Municipal Tort Liability Act, Minn. Stat. § 466.03, subd. 6e (2002).

2. A trail-user organization that contracts with a local government to acquire, construct, and maintain a snowmobile trail under the Minnesota Trails Assistance Program is an "owner" that is entitled to immunity from claims by the trail's users under the Recreational Use Immunity Statute, Minn. Stat. § 604A.20-25 (2002).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Toussaint, Chief Judge

Reversed

OPINION

These consolidated cases arise out of two snowmobile accidents on a trail created, maintained, and groomed by the not-for-profit appellant Star Trails Association. Appellant moved for summary judgment based on immunity, and the district court denied the motion. Because appellant is entitled to immunity under (a) the exception to municipal liability for recreation areas, Minn. Stat. §§ 466.03, subd. 6e, 84.83, subd. 4 (2002), and (b) the recreational-use-immunity statute, Minn. Stat. § 604A.25 (2002), we reverse.

FACTS

On January 6, 1996, and January 24, 1999, respectively, respondents Eric Nelson and Andrew Kastner were paralyzed after they lost control of their snowmobiles at approximately the same place on the Star Trail in Washington County. Their lawsuits against appellant Star Trails Association, the not-for-profit association that constructed and maintained the trail, were joined for the purpose of pretrial proceedings.

The association moved for summary judgment, arguing that it was immune from suit under the municipal-immunity and recreational-use-immunity statutes. The district court denied both the summary-judgment motion and the association's motion to certify the immunity question as important and doubtful. This court dismissed the association's interlocutory appeal. On review, the Minnesota Supreme Court formally adopted the collateral-order doctrine and remanded to this court. Kastner v. Star Trails Ass'n, 646 N.W.2d 235 (Minn. 2002). Deciding that the order denying summary judgment based on immunity was immediately appealable, this court reinstated the appeals by its order of August 6, 2002.

Appellant Star Trails Association is composed of various snowmobile clubs in Washington County and was formed to build a countywide snowmobile trail. It has an agreement with Washington County to acquire, construct, and maintain a public trail, with the understanding that it will be reimbursed by the State of Minnesota upon the county's application, and its work includes obtaining permits from landowners, clearing and grooming trails, building shelters, mending fences, erecting signs, and then, at the end of the season, cleaning and reseeding trails and fixing and storing signs.

Respondents' accidents took place on the Association's Star Trail, which has run through the land owned by Artie Schaefer since 1976. Schaefer signed a permit giving the county the "right to enter upon said right-of-way for any purpose necessary to the performance of lawful powers and duties."

In the association's motion for summary judgment, it sought dismissal of the respondents' claims based on immunity under both the municipal-immunity and recreational-use-immunity statutes. The district court denied the motion on the ground that the association was ...


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