The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge
This matter comes before the Court on the motion for summary judgment filed by defendants Jean L. Ramsay, William G. Ramsay and Tim L. Jackson (Doc. 37). Plaintiff Donald Gilley has responded to the motion (Doc. 39), and Jean Ramsay, William Ramsay and Jackson have replied to that response (Doc. 40).
I. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosed materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000). The reviewing court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Chelios v. Heavener, 520 F.3d 678, 685 (7th Cir. 2008); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396.Where the moving party fails to meet its strict burden of proof, a court cannot enter summary judgment for the moving party even if the opposing party fails to present relevant evidence in response to the motion. Cooper v. Lane, 969 F.2d 368, 371 (7th Cir. 1992). In responding to a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party may not simply rest upon the allegations contained in the pleadings but must present specific facts to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-26; Johnson v. City of Fort Wayne, 91 F.3d 922, 931 (7th Cir. 1996).
Viewed in the light most favorable to Gilley, the evidence establishes the following facts. On May 7, 2006, Gilley rode his all-terrain vehicle ("ATV") at a commercial off-road motor vehicle sport facility known Lincoln Trail Motosports ("Lincoln Trail"). Lincoln Trail was operated by defendant LTMX Enterprises, Inc. ("LTMX") and consisted of more than 200 acres of outdoor trails, land and grounds where ATV riders could pay a fee and ride their own ATVs. While riding at Lincoln Trail, Gilley was seriously injured in a collision with another ATV as he came over the top of a steep hill. In this lawsuit, he attributes his accident to the failure to have instructions, warnings, traffic controls and supervision for ATV riders at Lincoln Trail that would have prevented him from colliding with the other ATV. He has sued LTMX, Jean Ramsay, William Ramsay and Jackson for negligence and for willful and wanton misconduct.
At the time of the accident, defendant Jean Ramsey was the sole shareholder and president of LTMX. Ramsey claims to be an employee of LTMX, but states that his compensation was solely through shareholder dividends. He also owned the land on which Lincoln Trail was located and leased it to LTMX for that purpose. The lease provided that LTMX would maintain the land and use it solely for the purpose of conducting off-road recreational activities but reserved to Jean Ramsay the right to farm and harvest timber on the land. Jean Ramsay signed for both parties to the lease, on one side for himself and on the other as president of LTMX.
Defendant William Ramsay, Jean Ramsay's brother, had at one point jointly owned with Jean Ramsay the land on which Lincoln Trail was situated and had been an LTMX shareholder, but he sold the land and his interest in the business to Jean Ramsey in the early 1980s. On January 17, 2008, he further executed a quitclaim deed to Jean Ramsay for 60 of the more than 200 acres of property on which Lincoln Trail operated.
At the time of the accident, defendant Jackson also had no interest in LTMX or the land on which Lincoln Trail was situated. However, on January 18, 2008, he purchased the land and a majority of LTMX's assets, although Lincoln Trail continues to be operated by LTMX on the land.
Defendants Jean Ramsay, William Ramsay and Jackson ask the Court for summary judgment on the grounds that they do not possess, maintain or control the land on which Gilley's accident occurred and therefore owed no duty to Gilley, as a business invitee, to provide him a reasonably safe environment. They assert LTMX, the corporation that now has virtually no valuable assets, is the only proper defendant in this case.
To prevail in a cause of action for negligence based on premises liability, the plaintiff must show a defendant owed him a duty of care, the defendant breached that duty and the breach proximately caused injury. See Marshall v. Burger King Corp., 856 N.E.2d 1048, 1053 (Ill. 2006). Whether a duty exists is a legal question. Id. at 1053-54. The touchstone of the Court's inquiry is "whether a plaintiff and a defendant stood in such a relationship to one another that the law imposed upon the defendant an obligation of reasonable conduct for the benefit of the plaintiff." Id. at 1057.
A special relationship exists between the possessor of property and those who enter upon his property at his invitation. Under the Illinois Premises Liability Act, an owner or occupier of land owes entrants onto the land a duty "of reasonable care under the circumstances regarding the state of the premises or acts done or omitted on them." 740 ILCS 130/2. In addition, common law also imposes a duty on a possessor of land to those he invites to his property. That duty is summarized in § 343 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts:
A possessor of land is subject to liability for physical harm caused to his invitees by a condition on ...