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Keith Allendorf v. Clifford Redfearn and Carol Redfearn

July 25, 2011

KEITH ALLENDORF,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
CLIFFORD REDFEARN AND CAROL REDFEARN,
DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jo Daviess County. No. 10-L-10 Honorable William A. Kelly, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Schostok

2011 IL App (2d) 110130

JUSTICE SCHOSTOK delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Zenoff and Hudson concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 This case concerns the viability of the claims brought by the plaintiff, Keith Allendorf, a farm employee of the defendants, Clifford and Carol Redfearn. After the plaintiff was injured attempting to assist the defendants in recapturing a bull that had escaped confinement, he sued the defendants, asserting a common-law negligence claim and a claim under the Illinois Domestic Animals Running at Large Act (Running at Large Act) (510 ILCS 55/1 et seq. (West 2010)). The trial court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss these claims. We agreed to decide two certified questions relating to whether the trial court properly denied the motion and now answer those questions and remand for further proceedings.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 The following facts are taken from the allegations of the plaintiff's first amended complaint*fn1 which, at this point in the proceedings, must be taken as true. Kehoe v. Saltarelli, 337 Ill. App. 3d 669, 675 (2003). The defendants owned a farm located along both sides of North Miner Road in Jo Daviess County. The plaintiff and the defendants lived on the farm. The plaintiff worked as a farm employee of the defendants.

¶ 4 On August 15, 2008, Carol Redfearn came to the plaintiff's door and told him that a bull owned by the defendants had gotten out of its confinement and was running loose in the area. The plaintiff alleged that the bull running loose created an ongoing emergency situation for anyone who happened to be in the area, including the plaintiff. He also alleged that the defendants knew that the bull had escaped from the same confinement area in the recent past. Carol Redfearn enlisted the plaintiff's assistance in attempting to retrieve the bull. For use in these efforts, the defendants provided the plaintiff with an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) they owned. The plaintiff pursued the bull, which eventually ran to a pasture owned by the defendants. The plaintiff was not familiar with this particular pasture and, unbeknownst to him, there were several stumps in the pasture that were obscured from view by long grass. The defendants did not warn him about the presence of the stumps. When the plaintiff drove into the pasture to try to round up the bull, the ATV hit one of the stumps. The plaintiff suffered broken ribs and twice had to have his lungs drained, and he alleged that he incurred medical expenses, lost income from employment, and suffered pain and permanent injury.

¶ 5 The plaintiff asserted two causes of action against the defendants. Count I alleged that the defendants violated the Running at Large Act in that their bull got loose and this situation was a proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries. This count also alleged that the defendants failed to use reasonable care to provide adequate restraints to prevent the bull from getting out. Count II was a common-law negligence claim. The plaintiff asserted that the stumps created a hazardous condition on the defendants' land, that the defendants knew or should have known of the presence of the stumps, and that they had sufficient time to remedy or protect against the condition prior to the accident. The plaintiff alleged that the defendants had the following duties: to exercise reasonable care to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition, to restrain their animals in a safe manner, and to provide the plaintiff with a reasonably safe place to work. The plaintiff alleged that the defendants breached their duties by: failing to maintain the bull's confinement area, including not repairing defects as needed; continuing to keep the bull on the premises despite the lack of an adequate containment area; permitting the hazardous condition (stumps) to exist on their land; and failing to warn the plaintiff about this condition. Finally, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants' negligence was the proximate cause of his injuries.

¶ 6 The defendants attacked the complaint with a combined motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2-619.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-619.1 (West 2010)). The defendants asserted that count I of the complaint was insufficient under section 2-615 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2010)) because it did not properly allege that the bull was "running at large" at the time of the occurrence. Their primary attack, however, was brought under section 2-619 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 2010)), under which a complaint may be dismissed on the basis of any affirmative matter that completely negates the cause of action or prevents recovery. The defendants argued that the plaintiff's injuries, which they characterized as arising from an ATV accident, were not within the scope of the harm addressed by the Running at Large Act and that no valid claim could be brought under that statute. They also argued that they could not be liable under a negligence theory, because a different statute, section 11-1427(g) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (ATV Statute) (625 ILCS 5/11-1427(g) (West 2010)) generally immunizes property owners from liability for ATV accidents on their property. The defendants lastly argued that they owed no common-law duty to the plaintiff in connection with his operation of the ATV on their farm.

¶ 7 The trial court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss, finding that the accident was sufficiently within the type of danger foreseeable from a violation of the Running at Large Act, and that the legislature did not intend the ATV Statute to apply where the plaintiff was an employee of the defendants who was operating the ATV at the defendants' behest and within the scope of his employment. However, at the defendants' request, the trial court certified the following questions, answers to which it found would materially advance the litigation:

"Whether the Court properly denied the Defendants['] *** Motion to Dismiss *** on the grounds that common law and 625 ILCS 5/11-1427(g) do not bar recovery when the Plaintiff was a farm employee who was injured while operating an ATV on the Defendant[s'] property in attempting to rescue a bull which had escaped from its confinement area but which was still located upon property owned by the Defendant[s].

Whether the trial court properly denied the Defendants['] *** Motion to Dismiss *** on the grounds that 510 ILCS 55/1 [the Running at Large Act] is applicable when the Plaintiff was a farm employee who was injured while operating an ATV on the Defendant[s'] property in attempting to rescue a bull which had escaped from its confinement area but which was still located upon property owned by the Defendant[s]."

We granted the defendants' application for leave to appeal and now address the certified questions.

¶ 8 ANALYSIS

ΒΆ 9 Both certified questions arose in the context of the defendants' motion to dismiss, and involve purely legal issues of statutory construction. We therefore consider the questions de ...


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