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Capps v. Belleville School District No. 201

May 10, 2000

PHYLLIS CAPPS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
BELLEVILLE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 201, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 96-L-26 Honorable Michael J. O'Malley, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Chapman

On June 2, 1995, Phyllis Capps (plaintiff) attended a graduation ceremony at a school gymnasium in Belleville School District No. 201 (the School District). As she left the gymnasium after the ceremony, plaintiff fell off the side of an accessibility ramp and was injured. Plaintiff filed a two-count complaint for damages for her injuries. The first count sounds in negligence, and the second alleges willful and wanton conduct. Both counts allege that the School District failed to place a railing on the ramp, failed to warn of a drop-off, failed to light the area, and failed to supervise patrons as they left the graduation ceremony. The School District denies liability and also claims that it is immune from liability based on the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (Tort Immunity Act) (745 ILCS 10/1-101 et seq. (West 1998)). The trial court denied the School District's motion for summary judgment but found that there are issues of law presented upon which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion, and that an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation. The School District appeals under Supreme Court Rule 308 (155 Ill. 2d R. 308). We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

The trial court identified the following four issues of law for our review:

1. Whether an accessibility ramp leading into a school recreational facility is an integral part of said facility, thereby affording the School District the immunity of section 3-106 of the Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/3-106 (West 1998)).

2. Whether the School District's conduct did rise to the level of willful and wanton as a matter of law.

3. Whether the School District is afforded the immunity of section 2-201 of the Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/2-201 (West 1998)) where, according to the allegations of the complaint, plaintiff stepped off the side of an accessibility ramp while exiting a school gymnasium.

4. Whether the School District is afforded the immunity of section 3-108(a) of the Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/3-108(a) (West 1996)) where, according to the allegations of the complaint, plaintiff allegedly stepped off the side of an accessibility ramp while exiting a school gymnasium. The review of summary judgment rulings is de novo. See Berlin v. Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center, 179 Ill. 2d 1, 7, 688 N.E.2d 106, 108 (1997).

A motion for summary judgment can only succeed if the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. See 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 1998); Gatlin v. Ruder, 137 Ill. 2d 284, 293, 560 N.E.2d 586, 589 (1990).

According to the record, the accessibility ramp was designed under the supervision of Robert Ganschinietz, who was then with WHGK Architects, Inc. Currently, Ganschinietz is the director of health, life, and safety for St. Clair County. Before its construction, the ramp was also approved by the School District's business manager, Eugene Sawalich. The ramp was constructed in 1980, apparently in accordance with the design approved by both Ganschinietz and Sawalich.

The ramp attaches to a series of gymnasium doors. There are four sets of doors, each with two doors divided by an immovable glass partition. The ramp is located on the left set of doors as they are viewed from the outside. The ramp is 9 feet wide and 5 feet 6 inches long and rises approximately 4½ inches from the sidewalk to a 5-foot- deep and 9-foot-wide landing area that is flush with the interior of the gymnasium. The other three sets of doors share a stairway that rises approximately 4½ inches from the sidewalk to the top of the stairs. The gymnasium is used for a variety of noncompulsory, school-sponsored, extracurricular sports including, but not limited to, basketball, volleyball, baseball, track, wrestling, and football. The gymnasium is also used for nonsporting, noncompulsory events, such as choral and band concerts, assemblies, holiday programs, and graduation ceremonies. We turn to the issue of whether the School District is immune from liability pursuant to section 3-106 of the Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/3-106 (West 1998)), which provides:

"Neither a local public entity nor a public employee is liable for an injury where the liability is based on the existence of a condition of any public property intended or permitted to be used for recreational purposes, including but not limited to parks, playgrounds, open areas, buildings[,] or other enclosed recreational facilities, unless such local entity or public employee is guilty of willful and wanton conduct proximately causing such injury." 745 ILCS 10/3-106 (West 1998).

A 1986 amendment expanded the scope of this section from parks, playgrounds, and open areas to include enclosed facilities and virtually all public property used for recreational purposes. Pub. Act 84-1431, art. 1, §2, eff. Nov. 25, 1986.

The issue before us is whether the accessibility ramp is public property intended or permitted to be used for recreational purposes within the meaning of this statute. Section 3-106 is to be applied on a case-by-case basis by evaluating the subject property's character. See Bubb v. Springfield School District 186, 167 Ill. 2d 372, 384, 657 N.E.2d 887, 893-94 (1995).

In Sylvester v. Chicago Park District, 179 Ill. 2d 500, 689 N.E.2d 1119 (1997), a woman was walking through a Chicago Park District parking lot on her way to Soldier Field and a Bears game. She tripped over an improperly placed concrete car stop. The supreme court held that the district was immune for any negligence, on the ground that the parking lot ...


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