September 2, 2011

Summary of August 31, 2011 conference report for civil cases

The following is our summary of the Supreme Court’s actions on petitions for review in civil cases from the Court’s conference on Wednesday, August 31, 2011. The summary includes those civil cases in which (1) review has been granted (not including grant-and-transfers), (2) review has been denied but one or more justices has voted for review, or (3) the Court has ordered depublished an opinion of the Court of Appeal.

Review Granted

Nalwa v. Cedar Fair, S195031—Review Granted—August 31, 2011

This is an action by a injured bumper car passenger against an amusement park operator for common carrier liability, willful misconduct, and negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment for the park operator. The questions presented are: “(1) Does the existence of a state regulatory scheme for amusement parks preclude application of the doctrine of ‘primary assumption of risk’ with respect to the park’s operation of a bumper car ride? (2) Does the doctrine apply to bar recovery by a rider of a bumper car ride against the owner of an amusement park or is the doctrine limited to ‘active sports’? (3) Are owners of amusement parks subject to a special version of the doctrine that imposes upon them a duty to take steps to eliminate or decrease any risks inherent in their rides?”

The Court of Appeal, Sixth District, held in a published decision, Nalwa v. Cedar Fair (2011) 196 Cal. App. 4th 566, that: (1) the doctrine of primary assumption of risk does not apply to regulated amusement parks; (2) the operators of amusement parks owe a duty to protect the public from the dangers of their rides; (3) the doctrine of primary assumption of risk does not apply to the activity of riding as a passenger in a bumper car; (4) the operator owed a duty to take reasonable steps to minimize the risks of allowing head-on collisions between bumper cars; (5) a question of fact existed as to whether the park operator was a common carrier; and (6) a question of fact existed regarding whether the operator engaged in willful misconduct.

Justice Wendy Clark Duffy dissented, explaining she would affirm because the primary assumption of risk doctrine bars the plaintiff’s negligence claim, the park operator was not a common carrier with regard to bumper car rides, and there was “no evidence that [the park operator] either acted with knowledge that injury was likely to result or with a wanton and reckless disregard of the possible consequences.”

Review Denied (with dissenting justices)

Spicer v. City of Camarillo, S194702—Review Denied [Kennard, J., voting for review]—August 31, 2011

This was an action by a disabled vehicle owner against a city for declaratory and injunctive relief after his vehicle was towed for being parked on a non-posted city street for more than 72 hours. The trial court entered judgment for the city. The questions presented for review were: (1) whether Vehicle Code section 22511.5, which permits a disabled vehicle owner to park for unlimited periods “[i]n any parking zone that is restricted as to the length of time parking is permitted as indicated by a sign erected pursuant to a local ordinance,” allows unrestricted parking when the street in question has no posted sign limiting street parking; (2) whether a courtesy notice placed on a vehicle’s windshield by a deputy sheriff constitutes “a sign erected pursuant to a local ordinance” within the meaning of section 22511.5, subdivision (a)(1)(B); and (3) whether the trial court’s interpretation of section 22511.5 denied the disabled vehicle owner equal protection of the law.

The Court of Appeal, Second District, Division Six, held in a published decision, Spicer v. City of Camarillo (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 1423, that: (1) section 22511.5 does not allow a vehicle owner to park for an unlimited period on a city street that lacks a posted sign limiting street parking; (2) courtesy notices placed on windshields by law enforcement do not constitute “a sign erected pursuant to local ordinance” within the meaning of the statute; and (3) the statute, as interpreted, does not violate equal protection because it treats disabled persons no differently from non-disabled persons.



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