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Fraser v. Universities Research Association

December 02, 1999

DONALD FRASER, APPELLANT, V. UNIVERSITIES RESEARCH ASSOCIATION, INC., APPELLEE.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Harrison

Agenda 34-September 1999.

Plaintiff, Donald Fraser, filed a complaint in the circuit court of Du Page County, alleging that defendant, Universities Research Association, Inc., negligently allowed a defective condition to exist on a bicycle path on its property and, as a result of that condition, plaintiff suffered injuries while riding his bike on the path. The circuit court found the immunity of the Recreational Use of Land and Water Areas Act (Recreational Use Act) (745 ILCS 65/1 et seq. (West 1994)) applicable and granted summary judgment in favor of defendant. The plaintiff appealed. The appellate court affirmed (301 Ill. App. 3d 511), and this court granted leave to appeal (177 Ill. 2d R. 315). For the reasons expressed below, we affirm the judgment of the appellate court.

In his complaint, plaintiff alleged that the defendant corporation occupied, maintained, possessed and operated the property commonly known as Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. On May 20, 1995, the date of plaintiff's alleged injury, defendant maintained, and made available for use by the general public, certain bicycle paths on the property. According to plaintiff, he was riding his bicycle on one of those paths when he encountered a series of depressions in the pavement. He rode over the depressions, fell, and was injured. Plaintiff alleged that defendant owed him a duty of "ordinary care *** pursuant to the Premises Liability Act, 740 ILCS 130/1." He claimed defendant's "negligent acts or omissions" were the cause of his injuries. Specifically, plaintiff alleged that the defendant was negligent in: (1) allowing the depressions to exist; (2) failing to warn of their severity; (3) failing to repair the depressions; (4) failing to inspect so as to locate such defects; and (5) failing to employ a reasonable system of inspection.

Defendant filed, inter alia, a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the Recreational Use Act applied to the facts alleged, and defendant therefore owed no duty of care to plaintiff with respect to plaintiff's use of the bicycle paths. The motion was accompanied by the affidavit of an attorney for defendant, which stated:

"The primary purpose of the land and facilities that comprise Fermilab is the furtherance of the work performed under the auspices of [the] U.S. Department of Energy by the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. There are bicycle paths present upon the land that comprises Fermilab that are available for use by the general public. [Defendant] permits these bicycle paths to be used recreationally by members of the general public on a casual basis. The land is not open twenty-four hours a day for these purposes. No charge is made for the use of the bicycle paths."

Defendant also attached to its motion a transcript of plaintiff's deposition testimony wherein plaintiff admitted, at the time of the accident, he had been on defendant's bicycle paths solely for recreational purposes.

Plaintiff filed a response, arguing the applicability of the Campground Licensing and Recreational Area Act (Campground Licensing Act) (210 ILCS 95/2 et seq. (West 1994)), which plaintiff contended precluded defendant from relying on the immunity of the Recreational Use Act. Plaintiff attached to his response the aforementioned affidavit of defendant's attorney, his own affidavit, describing the character of the bike paths on the defendant's property and the entrance signs indicating the general public was welcome to use the paths, and photographic exhibits depicting the bike paths and signs.

At the hearing on the motion, plaintiff argued that the legislature had established two mutually exclusive statutory classes of property when it enacted the Recreational Use Act and the Campground Licensing Act: one in which an owner of land allows others to use it for recreational purposes, but only on a "casual basis," and another for areas specifically set aside by the owner for recreational purposes. Citing the "casual basis test," formulated in Miller v. United States, 442 F. Supp. 555 (N.D. Ill. 1976), aff'd, 597 F.2d 614 (7th Cir. 1979), and thereafter applied, more or less, uniformly for several years in both federal and Illinois appellate cases, the plaintiff argued that Fermilab's bicycle paths were used primarily as "recreational areas," as defined in the Campground Licensing Act, and the immunity of the Recreational Use Act was therefore inapplicable to them. Defendant argued that the terms and immunity of the Recreational Use Act did apply to the facts as stated, in that defendant had permitted persons, such as plaintiff, to use its property for recreational purposes without charge. Defendant's counsel cited language of the Campground Licensing Act (210 ILCS 95/25 (West 1994)) which he argued refers to the Recreational Use Act and specifically states that the Campground Licensing Act imposes no "additional duty of care" on landowners otherwise subject to the terms of the Recreational Use Act. The circuit court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

In the ensuing appeal, the appellate court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. The appellate court opinion extensively cited Hoye v. Illinois Power Co., 269 Ill. App. 3d 597 (1995), and like Hoye, rejected the casual basis test, finding that "the [Campground Licensing and ] Recreational Area Act does not restrict the applicability of the Recreational Use Act." 301 Ill. App. 3d at 518.

We agree. The facts before the circuit court engender no conflict in the application of the Recreational Use Act and the Campground Licensing Act. We begin our analysis by examining the relevant provisions of the two acts, past and present.

Enacted in 1965, the stated purpose of the Recreational Use Act was, and is, "to encourage owners of land to make land and water areas available to the public for recreational or conservation purposes by limiting their liability toward persons entering thereon for such purposes." 745 ILCS 65/1 (West 1994). To that end, the legislature has provided:

"Except as specifically recognized by or provided in Section 6 of this Act, an owner of land owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by any person for recreational or conservation purposes, or to give any warning of a natural or artificial dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity on such premises to persons entering for such purposes." 745 ILCS 65/3 (West 1994).

Section 4 of the Recreational Use Act (745 ILCS 65/4 (West 1994)) spells out the immunity in greater detail:

"Except as specifically recognized by or provided in Section 6 of this Act, an owner of land who either directly or indirectly invites or permits without charge any person to use such property for ...


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