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Meddock v. County of Yolo

California Court of Appeals, Third District, Yolo

September 10, 2013

DWIGHT MEDDOCK et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
COUNTY OF YOLO, Defendant and Respondent.

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Yolo County No. CVPO10173, Daniel P. Maguire, Judge.

Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood Campora, LLP, Jason Jerard Sigel and James Jeffrey Ison, for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Angelo, Kilday & Kilduff, LLP, Bruce A. Kilday and John A. Whitesides, for Defendant and Respondent.

DUARTE, J.

A Fremont cottonwood tree fell on plaintiff Dwight Meddock while he was in a paved parking lot located in a park along the Sacramento River owned by defendant County of Yolo (County). The trial court granted summary judgment against Meddock and his wife (collectively, Meddock) in their tort suit alleging a dangerous condition of public property, by applying a statutory immunity for injuries “caused by a natural condition of any unimproved public property[.]” (Gov. Code, § 831.2, hereafter § 831.2.) As we will explain, we conclude that Meddock’s injuries were “caused by” a “natural condition” of unimproved property where the tree grew, and the fact the tree fell on the improved portion of the public property does not take this case outside the ambit of the immunity.

Accordingly, we shall affirm the judgment in favor of the County.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The Pleadings

This case involves the Government Claims Act (Gov. Code, § 810, et seq.; see City of Stockton v. Superior Court (2007) 42 Cal.4th 730, 741-742.)

The operative complaint alleged that on March 21, 2009, Meddock was injured when a tree fell on him while he “was lawfully upon an improved portion” of public property, specifically, “the parking lot of Elkhorn Boat Ramp[.]” He alleged “many of the trees on the premises... are leaning away from the river, toward and over the parking lot of the above described premises. Some of these trees are diseased [or] have parasites such as mistletoe, causing them to constitute a dangerous condition of public property. The [accident] occurred as a result of a dead tree, which was visibly dead due to the absence of bark in many places[.]” Meddock alleged that the County failed to maintain the trees properly and failed to warn users of the lot that they were dangerous.

The answer admitted the County owned “Elkhorn Regional Park” and the trees therein, denied the County owned the boat ramp, admitted some of the park’s trees “bear mistletoe[, ]” but otherwise denied the allegations, and alleged as one affirmative defense the section 831.2 immunity for “natural” conditions.[1]

The Motion for Summary Judgment

The County’s separate statement of six undisputed facts established that Meddock had been at the park--along the Sacramento River--to “go boating” in recreational use of the park facilities, which included a parking lot, boat ramp, restroom, and picnic area. While Meddock was on the parking lot, one cottonwood tree fell on another, causing tree limbs to fall, hurting him. The County argued the natural condition immunity barred the action. The County did not argue it should not have known these trees were in danger of falling.

The Opposition

Meddock did not dispute the County’s facts. Meddock proffered the additional fact that “some of the trees adjacent to the area where” his “truck and boat were parked were leaning over the parking lot” and some of these trees were infested with mistletoe. The Hearing, the Trial Court’s Ruling, and the Appeal

At the hearing, Meddock’s counsel disclaimed reliance on the theory that the pavement contributed to the injury, for purposes of summary judgment. And Meddock did not argue that the County poorly pruned the trees, rather than letting them decay, so ...


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