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Fugle v. Sublette County School District #9

Supreme Court of Wyoming

July 31, 2015

JACOB FUGLE, Appellant (Plaintiff),
v.
SUBLETTE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT #9 and STEPHEN NELSON, Appellees (Defendants)

Appeal from the District Court of Sublette County. The Honorable Marvin L. Tyler, Judge.

Representing Appellant: Travis J. Bing and Elizabeth Greenwood, Greenwood Law, LLC, Pinedale, Wyoming; Frank R. Chapman, Chapman Valdez & Lansing Attorneys and Counselors at Law, Casper, Wyoming; Inga L. Parsons, Attorney at Law, Marblehead, Massachusetts. Argument by Ms. Parsons.

Representing Appellees: Tracy J. Copenhaver, Copenhaver, Kath, Kitchen & Kolpitcke, LLC, Powell, Wyoming.

Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, KITE, DAVIS, and FOX, JJ.

OPINION

Page 733

BURKE, Chief Justice.

[¶1] Appellant, Jacob Fugle, brought suit against Appellees, Sublette County School District #9 and his teacher, Stephen Nelson, for injuries he sustained during a science demonstration conducted in the school gymnasium. Appellees sought summary judgment claiming immunity under the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act (Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-39-101 et seq. ). The district court granted the motion, and Mr. Fugle challenges that decision in this appeal. We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶2] Mr. Fugle presents the following two issues:

1. Whether the alleged negligence of Appellees falls within the waiver of immunity from liability for negligent operation or maintenance of a building under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-39-106.
2. Whether the alleged negligence of Appellees falls within the waiver of immunity from liability for negligent operation or maintenance of a recreation area under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-39-106.

FACTS

[¶3] In November 2010, Mr. Fugle was a student at Big Piney High School in Big Piney, Wyoming. As part of a science class, his teacher, Stephen Nelson, conducted a demonstration of centripetal force in the high school gymnasium using a wheeled cart and a 20-foot rope. In the demonstration, Mr. Nelson stood in the center of the gym and held on to one end of the rope while a student, sitting in the cart, held on to the other end. The students took turns sitting in the cart and pushing on the cart to initiate motion. During Mr. Fugle's turn, he was unable to hang onto the rope due to the forces acting upon him, and when he let go of the rope, the cart travelled across the gym floor and into a door frame. Mr. Fugle experienced extensive injuries, including a dislocated hip and a fractured femur, as a result of the collision.

[¶4] Mr. Fugle filed suit against the School District and Mr. Nelson. Following discovery, Appellees moved for summary judgment under the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act. The district court granted Appellees' motion after concluding that Mr. Fugle's injury did not fall within the exceptions to governmental immunity for negligence in the " operation and maintenance" of any building, or in the " operation and maintenance" of any recreation area. Mr. Fugle appealed.

Page 734

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶5] We apply the following standard of review to a district court's summary judgment decision:

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. W.R.C.P. 56(c); Metz Beverage Co. v. Wyoming Beverages, Inc., 2002 WY 21, ¶ 9, 39 P.3d 1051, 1055 (Wyo. 2002). " A genuine issue of material fact exists when a disputed fact, if it were proven, would establish or refute an essential element of a cause of action or a defense that the parties have asserted." Id. Because summary judgment involves a purely legal determination, we undertake de novo review of a trial court's summary judgment decision. Glenn v. Union Pacific R.R. Co., 2008 WY 16, ¶ 6, 176 P.3d 640, 642 (Wyo. 2008).

Singer v. Lajaunie, 2014 WY 159, ¶ 19, 339 P.3d 277, 283 (Wyo. 2014) (quoting Jacobs Ranch Coal Co. v. Thunder Basin Coal Co., LLC, 2008 WY 101, ¶ 8, 191 P.3d 125, 128-29 (Wyo. 2008)). We consider the record from a viewpoint most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, giving to him all favorable inferences that can be drawn reasonably from the facts set forth in the affidavits, ...


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