Allen v. Town of Prescott Valley – 3/13/2018

April 3, 2018

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that a sports team’s $270 fee is a “nominal” fee, not an “admission” fee under A.R.S. § 33-1551, which provides property owners with qualified immunity against claims by recreational users who do not pay an admission fee.

The Town of Prescott Valley charged softball teams $270 each to play in an eight-game league at a park.  The fee partially offset the costs of running the league, including field maintenance, lighting, and umpires.  Allen, whose team paid to play in the league, sustained serious injuries while playing in a game.  The superior court entered summary judgment for the Town under the recreational-use immunity statute, A.R.S. § 33-1551.

The Court of Appeals held that the fee the Town charged Allen’s team to play in the league was a “nominal fee” within the meaning of the recreational-use statute, which offers qualified immunity to a property owner sued by a “recreational user,” defined as a person permitted to use the property for outdoor recreation without paying an admission fee.  The statute specifies that a nominal fee charged by a public entity to offset costs does not constitute an admission fee.  The statute does not define “nominal,” and the term lacks an objective meaning, but the statute’s history shows that the legislature added the “nominal fee” language to ensure that a property owner will not lose the statute’s protection by charging a fee in the range of the $270 fee charged by the Town.  Moreover, the “recreational user” in the case was Allen, not his team, and the $270 team fee amounted to a $2.81 fee per player per game.

Although the statutory immunity applies to Allen’s claims, the recreational-use immunity statute affords only a qualified immunity against simple negligence claims.  The statute does not bar claims for gross negligence.  The Court of Appeals held that Allen offered sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment on the issue of whether the Town was grossly negligent and therefore his lawsuit survives summary judgment on that basis.

Presiding Judge Johnsen delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Judge Cattani and Judge Perkins joined.