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LEBETER v. UNITED STATES

August 27, 1990

KEVIN DEAN LEBETER, a minor by his Next Friend, RICHARD DEAN LEBETER, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant


John A. Nordberg, United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: NORDBERG

JOHN A. NORDBERG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 INTRODUCTION

 On July 22, 1986, Kevin Dean Lebeter, then fourteen, fell from a rope swing attached to a tree overhanging the White River at Sischo Landing, in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, State of Michigan. Lebeter severely injured his foot after striking a sharp submerged object, never identified, in the White River. Lebeter, by his Next Friend and father, Richard Dean Lebeter, brought this suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Count I alleges that the United States negligently failed to remove the rope swing or to warn invitees of the potential danger in swinging from the rope. Count II charges the United States with willful and wanton conduct in failing to have the rope swing removed.

 Before the court is defendant's motion for summary judgment and Lebeter's motion to strike defendant's affirmative defenses. The United States argues that Michigan's recreational use statute, M.C.L.A. § 300.201, bars Lebeter's claim for negligence under Count I, and that defendant's failure to remove the rope swing does not as a matter of law rise to the level of willful or wanton misconduct, as alleged in Count II. For the reasons stated below, the court grants defendant's motion for summary judgment with respect to both counts of the complaint. Lebeter's motion to strike is mooted.

 FACTS

 The relevant facts are not in dispute. Kevin Lebeter was on a camping trip with his Boy Scout troop in the Huron-Manistee National Forest when, on July 22, 1986, he embarked on a canoe trip down the White River, which runs through the Forest. The Forest, which is owned by the United States, encompasses 950,000 acres and is administered by the United States Forest Service. After canoeing some 35 miles, Lebeter's troop stopped at a sandbar along the White River known as Sischo Landing. Sischo Landing, on Sischo Bayou, is classified by the National Forest Service as a "Level One Outdoor Recreation Experience." Plaintiff's Exhibit F.

 Under Title 2300, Recreation Management, the Forest Service maintains a Level One Primitive Recreational Area with" no environmental modification unless absolutely necessary for resources protection. Unmodified natural environment and an absence of man-made development for comfort or convenience dominates." Id. Further, a Level One Primitive Recreational Area contains "no man-made furtherance of activity opportunities except indirectly through public safety and resource protection (i.e. trails, trail bridges, signing, and/or the development of primitive type campground). No contemporary activity opportunities." Id.

 Sometime prior to the date of Lebeter's accident, Assistant Forest Service Ranger Phil Barker observed a rope swing attached to a tree limb overhanging the White River at Sischo Landing on Sischo Bayou. Defendant's Exhibit E at 31. The Forest Service did not attach the rope swing to the tree, and Barker does not know who did. Id. at 19. Barker did not report the rope swing to anyone and did not have it taken down. Id. at 16. Barker said he left the rope swing in place because he saw some recreational value in it, having swung on rope swings himself. Id. at 22.

 After the Boy Scout troop arrived at the Sischo Landing sandbar, the scouts began swinging on the rope swing. After some fifteen scouts had swung on the rope, Lebeter took his turn. As he was swinging, he slipped off the rope. He landed about five or six feet short of where he had intended to land, falling into the water only two or three feet away from the river bank. Plaintiff's Exhibit D at 107-108. Upon landing, plaintiff seriously injured his left foot as a result of contact with some sharp object apparently present in the riverbed but which no one could locate. Id. at 111-12. Lebeter presented written notice of a tort claim to defendant pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b) on May 28, 1988, and having received no response from the United States, filed this amended complaint on November 9, 1989.

 DISCUSSION

 A. Negligence

 The United States offers two arguments in support of its motion for summary judgment on Count I. In its first affirmative defense, the United States argues that Lebeter's negligence "is a bar to any recovery from the United States." In 1979, however, Michigan abandoned contributory negligence as a complete bar to recovery and adopted a pure comparative fault doctrine. Placek v. City of Sterling Heights, 405 Mich. 638, 275 N.W.2d 511 (1979); Rand v. Fibreboard Corporation, 429 Mich. 540, 418 N.W.2d 650 (1988); Lowe v. Estate Motors, 428 Mich. 439, 410 N.W.2d 706 (1987). Under current Michigan law, fault assigned to contributory parties must be decided by the fact finder. Defendant next argues that because Lebeter paid no fee for use of defendant's land, his claim is barred under the Michigan recreational use statute, M.C.L. § 300.201; M.S.A. § 13.1485. This legislation precludes liability for mere negligence unless the injured party paid a user or admission fee for his enjoyment of the recreation area. The statute provides, in relevant part, that

 
No cause of action shall arise for injuries to any person who is on the lands of another without paying to such other person a valuable consideration for the purpose of fishing, hunting, trapping, camping, sightseeing, motorcycling, snowmobiling, or any other outdoor use, with or without permission, against the owner, tenant, or lessee of said premises unless the injuries ...

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