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Cohen v. The Chicago Park District

Supreme Court of Illinois

December 29, 2017

ISAAC COHEN, Appellee,

          JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Karmeier and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.


          BURKE, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The plaintiff, Isaac Cohen, was riding his bicycle on the Lakefront Trail, a shared-use path that runs along the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago, when his front wheel got caught in a crack in the pavement and he fell. Plaintiff filed a one-count complaint against the defendant, the Chicago park district, alleging it had acted willfully and wantonly in failing to maintain the path and was therefore responsible for the injuries that resulted from his fall.

         ¶ 2 The circuit court of Cook County granted defendant's motion for summary judgment, concluding that defendant was immune from suit under section 3-107(a) of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (Act) (745 ILCS 10/3-107(a) (West 2012)). That provision grants absolute immunity to local public entities for injuries caused by a condition of a "road which provides access to fishing, hunting, or primitive camping, recreational, or scenic areas." Id. The circuit court also concluded, in the alternative, that even if section 3-107(a) did not apply to the Lakefront Trail, defendant was immune from suit under section 3-106 of the Act (745 ILCS 10/3-106 (West 2012)). That provision immunizes local public entities for injuries occurring on recreational property, except when the local public entity engages in willful and wanton conduct proximately causing the injuries.

         ¶ 3 On appeal, the appellate court rejected both the conclusions reached by the circuit court and reversed the entry of summary judgment in favor of defendant. 2016 IL App (1st) 152889. We granted defendant's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. Mar. 15, 2016).

         ¶ 4 Like the appellate court, we agree that section 3-107(a) of the Act is inapplicable in this case, although we reach this result for different reasons. However, we agree with the circuit court that defendant is immune from suit under section 3-106. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the appellate court and affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

         ¶ 5 Background

         ¶ 6 The following facts are taken from the pleadings, depositions, and other materials before the circuit court. On the morning of July 7, 2013, plaintiff was riding his bicycle in the right lane of the Lakefront Trail in Chicago, Illinois, heading south near the Shedd Aquarium. As he rode, he approached from behind a pedestrian who was walking in the same lane. Plaintiff slowed down, rang his bicycle bell, and began to pass on the pedestrian's left.

         ¶ 7 To pass the pedestrian, plaintiff moved his bicycle to the middle of the path. As he did so, the front tire of his bicycle became caught in a crack in the concrete. The crack was about three to four inches wide at its widest, was two to three inches deep, and ran in the direction of travel along the path for about three or four feet. After his wheel became caught, plaintiff fell to the ground and sustained injuries to his shoulder. He then got back on his bicycle and rode home.

         ¶ 8 Plaintiff did not notify defendant of his accident at the time it happened. The following week, plaintiff rode his bicycle along the same stretch of the path and noticed that the crack had been repaired.

         ¶ 9 The Lakefront Trail is what is known as a shared-use path (see Corbett v. County of Lake, 2017 IL 121536, ¶ 21), used by bicyclists, pedestrians, joggers and others. The path is either concrete or asphalt and runs for approximately 18.5l miles along the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago. The path is in a developed area and is surrounded by numerous commercial and public attractions such as beaches, softball fields, museums, and harbors. Although emergency vehicles such as ambulances may use the path when necessary, public, motorized traffic is not permitted on the path.

         ¶ 10 Defendant owns and maintains the Lakefront Trail. Every spring the path is inspected in order to identify any defects in need of repair. After the annual inspection is completed, a list of repairs is compiled, and requests for bids to perform the repair work are sent to contractors under a "rapid response" procurement program. This program is an expedited procurement process for defendant, through which most repairs for the Lakefront Trail are conducted.

         ¶ 11 As early as May 2013, an employee of defendant, Robert Arlow, received a call from a user of the Lakefront Trail informing him about the crack at issue in this case. Arlow inspected the crack and concluded it needed to be repaired. However, Arlow did not take steps to immediately perform the repair through the use of in-house employees. He also did not barricade the path or otherwise mark the crack in the pavement with spray paint or similar material.

         ¶ 12 On June 10, 2013, defendant sent out its annual request for repair bids under the rapid response program. The crack was included in the scope of work for which bids were sought. On June 12, 2013, a repair contractor submitted a proposal to defendant for repairs to the path. On June 19, 2013, defendant told the contractor to proceed with the work. On July 10, 2013, the crack in the pavement was repaired.

         ¶ 13 Defendant moved for summary judgment alleging, in part, that it was afforded immunity from plaintiff's suit under sections 3-107(a) and 3-106 of the Act. The ...

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