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Rexroad v. City of Springfield

August 21, 2003

MATTHEW REXROAD ET AL., APPELLANTS,
v.
THE CITY OF SPRINGFIELD ET AL., APPELLEES.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Thomas

UNPUBLISHED

Docket No. 94374-Agenda 13-March 2003.

Plaintiffs, Matthew Rexroad and Harold Rexroad, filed a negligence complaint against defendants, the City of Springfield and the Board of Education of Springfield School District No. 186. Plaintiffs sought to recover damages for injuries Matthew suffered when he fell in an area under excavation in a parking lot located adjacent to a high school football field. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the City and the school board, finding that the immunity of section 3-106 of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (Tort Immunity Act) (745 ILCS 10/3-106 (West 1994)) precluded liability. The appellate court affirmed, with one justice dissenting. 331 Ill. App. 3d 545. We subsequently allowed plaintiffs' petition for leave to appeal (177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)). We have also allowed the Illinois Association of School Boards, the Illinois Governmental Association of Pools, the Park District Risk Management Agency, and the Board of Education of the City of Chicago, to file an amicus curiae brief in support of defendants.

BACKGROUND

On August 12, 1995, Matthew was working as a manager for the Springfield Lanphier High School football team during its preseason summer practice sessions. At some point during practice, a coach told Matthew to leave the practice field to get a helmet from the locker room for one of the players. The locker room was in the gymnasium to the north of the practice field. Matthew exited the practice field using the north gate, "gate B." This was the most direct route to the locker room and did not lead near to the vicinity of the hole.. After retrieving the helmet, however, Matthew found that "gate B" had been locked, so he headed through the parking lot toward the west gate, "gate A." He was focusing his attention on the player who needed the helmet, when he stepped into a hole in the parking lot between gates A and B and broke his ankle. Matthew had noticed the hole in the parking lot earlier that day. The parking lot was located north and west of the practice field, between the gym and practice field. The parking lot served the entire school complex, with the freshman-sophomore doors located west of the lot.

The hole Matthew fell in was about 64 square feet in size, 4 inches deep, and was filled with sand. It was created by the removal of a fire hydrant. City workers placed barricades and an orange ribbon around the hole following the excavation, and the barricades were to remain in place until the City filled the hole and paved it to make it level with the parking lot. However, the barricades were not in place at the time of Matthew's fall; instead, they were lined up against a fence behind the hole.

Shirley Laurik testified in her deposition that she went to all of the Springfield Lanphier High School football practices in 1995 because her son, Russell Laurik, was a manager for the team. Matthew testified in his deposition that Shirley always watched the team practice and that when he fell on the day in question, she was seated in a chair near the hole in the parking lot, but did not see him fall.

Plaintiffs filed a negligence suit against the City and the school board. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that the site of Matthew's injury was "intended or permitted to be used for recreational purposes" under section 3-106 of the Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/3-106 (West 1994)) and defendants were therefore immune from an ordinary negligence claim. Defendants' summary judgment motion further alleged that they owed no duty to Matthew because the hole was an open and obvious condition on the premises. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendants, finding that they were immune from suit under section 3-106 of the Act. The trial court did not address the question of whether the hole was open and obvious.

The appellate court affirmed, relying primarily on this court's decision in Sylvester v. Chicago Park District, 179 Ill. 2d 500 (1997) (section 3-106 immunity applied where plaintiff was injured in a public parking lot across the street from Soldier Field). 331 Ill. App. 3d at 549-53. The appellate court noted that the locker room and the practice field are recreational facilities. It then found that, "[l]ooking at the property as a whole, the parking lot is integral to the football recreational facility because it connects the locker room and football practice field. Accordingly, the parking lot increases the usefulness of the football practice field that is permitted to be used for recreational purposes ***." 331 Ill. App. 3d at 552.

ANALYSIS

Summary judgment is proper when the pleadings, affidavits, depositions, admissions, and exhibits on file, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 2000); Sollami v. Eaton, 201 Ill. 2d 1, 6 (2002). The purpose of summary judgment is not to try a question of fact, but is instead to determine whether one exists. Golla v. General Motors Corp., 167 Ill. 2d 353, 358 (1995). We review de novo an order granting summary judgment. Harrison v. Hardin County Community Unit School District No. 1, 197 Ill. 2d 466, 470-71 (2001).

The first issue presented on appeal is whether section 3-106 of the Tort Immunity Act is applicable to the school parking lot where plaintiff was injured, thereby immunizing defendants from liability. Section 3-106 of the Act provides as follows:

"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." (Emphasis added.) 745 ILCS 10/3-106 (West 1994).

Section 3-106 provides a public entity with an affirmative defense, which, if properly raised and proved, bars a plaintiff's right to recovery. Bubb v. Springfield School District 186, 167 Ill. 2d 372, 378 (1995). By providing immunity in section 3-106, the legislature sought to prevent the diversion of public funds from their intended purpose to the payment of damage claims. Bubb, 167 Ill. 2d at 378. In 1986, the legislature expanded the scope of immunity because local public entities began facing difficulty in affording liability insurance. Sylvester, 179 Ill. 2d at 509. Prior to its amendment in 1986, section 3-106 applied only to public property "intended or permitted to be used as a park, playground or open area for recreational purposes." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 85, par. 3-106. The General Assembly amended the statute to its current language, applying to "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." Pub. Act 84-1431, art. 1, ...


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