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Ana Maria Montenegro v. City of Bradbury

April 25, 2013

ANA MARIA MONTENEGRO, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
CITY OF BRADBURY, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles, Jan A. Pluim, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. GC047340)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Manella, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Affirmed.

Appellant Ana Maria Montenegro appeals the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of respondent City of Bradbury. We affirm.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Montenegro allegedly sustained injuries after falling over a protruding tree trunk while walking along a pathway located beside Royal Oaks Drive North in Bradbury. Montenegro brought suit against Bradbury for negligence, willful failure to warn of a dangerous condition, and dangerous condition of public property, claiming that the exposed tree root and inadequate lighting created a dangerous condition.

According to descriptions and depictions provided by the parties, the subject pathway is approximately one-half mile long and is located on a piece of land which runs between Bradbury and the neighboring City of Duarte.*fn1 A white rail fence separates the two cities. The pathway is approximately 7.5 feet wide.

Bradbury moved for summary judgment contending that the pathway was a "recreational trail" within the meaning of Government Code section 831.4, subdivision (a), which provides that public entities are not liable for injuries caused by the condition of trails used for certain recreational purposes, including "hiking" and "riding, including animal and all types of vehicular riding," or for access to such recreation.*fn2 Bradbury presented evidence that the pathway, referred to as the "Bradbury Trail," was part of the "Royal Oaks Recreational Trail and Landscaping Project," the purpose of which was to expand recreational opportunities for bicyclists, walkers, joggers and equestrians. According to the evidence submitted, the area at issue was improved between 1995 and 1996, at which time it was surfaced with decomposed granite and landscaped with trees, rocks and native and drought-tolerant plants. In 1995, the Bradbury City Council approved the project as a park and bicycle trail. In its 1995 grant application for funds to landscape the area, Bradbury described the project as "the realignment and expansion of the existing trail tread, installation of a low-volume irrigation system, the placement of accent fencing and boulders along the recreational trail, and the planting of 130 trees and several species of native and drought tolerant plants." The application further stated: "Currently, Royal Oaks Drive [North] in Bradbury is bordered on the south side by a chain link fence separating a five foot dirt strip from the roadway. This narrow dirt strip is used by pedestrians, equestrians and bicyclists as a link to nearby bicycle and equestrian trails in the City of Duarte. The objectives of the approximately 1.85 acre Royal Oaks Recreational Trail and Landscaping Project are to provide improvements to an existing trail corridor . . . , which is heavily used by the residents of Bradbury, Duarte and neighboring cities. Our intent is to increase the separation between vehicular traffic along Royal Oaks Drive [North] and the recreational trail, thereby improving safety and expanding recreational opportunities to bicyclists, walkers, joggers and equestrians." The application explained the site was selected because "it is located on a trail corridor that is currently used for walking, jogging, biking and horseback riding" and "will provide a useful link between . . . Bradbury and existing bicycle and equestrian trails within . . . Duarte."

As a consequence of the need "[t]o construct a trail wide enough to permit the full recreational use," Bradbury obtained permission from Duarte to place its fence several feet on the Duarte side of the border. The 1996 "Indemnity and Maintenance Agreement" between Bradbury and Duarte provided: "Bradbury intends to develop the multipurpose Royal Oaks Trail (the 'Trail') along the boundary between the two cities. The Trail will be a multipurpose public pathway constructed for purposes of promoting bicycle, equestrian, pedestrian and recreational access for all persons within the surrounding community." In exchange for Duarte's permission to utilize a portion of its land, Bradbury agreed "at its sole cost and expense, to construct the Trail in accordance with the [attached] plans . . . , and after construction to maintain the improvements and landscaping comprising all of the Trail, including the Duarte Property."

Two witnesses stated in declarations and in deposition testimony that the pathway was used for horseback riding and hiking, and as an access route to other recreational trails located nearby, specifically horse trails in Duarte used by Bradbury residents.*fn3 Pictures of the area showed a sign located on the north side of Royal Oaks Drive North depicting a person riding a horse and indicating a horse crossing.*fn4

In her opposition and counterstatement of facts, Montenegro disputed that the pathway on which she fell was a recreational trail. She contended that Bradbury had so denominated the area only to obtain funding for the landscaping project. She submitted photographs of the area and contended that the photographs, as well as certain evidence submitted by Bradbury, established that the area was essentially a sidewalk, built along Royal Oaks Drive North for pedestrian safety.*fn5 She pointed particularly to the facts that it ran alongside a street, was elevated by a curb, provided pedestrians a place to walk out of the street, was in a residential area, was not in a natural condition, and was maintained by a landscaping company on a weekly basis.

The court granted summary judgment. At the hearing, the court noted that the Bradbury City Council had designated the pathway as a trail and that it had been treated as a trail. In its order, the court stated that the undisputed facts established that "the pathway where [Montenegro] fell [was] part of a recreational trail, specifically the Royal Oaks Recreational Trail and Landscaping Project," and that it was "designed and used for horseback riding and hiking and as access to other recreational areas." Judgment was entered and this appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of ...


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