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Brown v. Country View Equestrian Center, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

October 2, 2017

ABIGAIL E. BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTRY VIEW EQUESTRIAN CENTER, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          BARBARA B. CRABB DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Abigail Brown has brought a state law negligence claim against defendant Country View Equestrian Center, Inc., alleging that she was injured during a private horseback riding lesson on her own horse when defendant's employee allowed another “high-spirited” horse to enter the arena in which plaintiff was having her lesson. The court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Now before the court are three motions filed by defendant:

         1. A motion to dismiss the complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted on the ground that Wisconsin's equine immunity statute, Wis.Stat. § 895.481, bars plaintiff's claim. Dkt. #8. Plaintiff opposes the motion, citing an exception to the immunity statute involving the provision of an equine that defendant did not manage safely.

         2. A motion to disqualify plaintiff's counsel, David Brown, because he is plaintiff's father, was present at the time of the incident and is likely to be a witness in this case. Dkt. #6.

         3. A motion for sanctions and request for reasonable attorney fees and costs under Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c) on the ground that plaintiff asserted frivolous legal claims that are not supported by existing law in violation of Rule 11(b)(2). Dkt. #12.

         For the reasons discussed below, I conclude that the exception does not apply and defendant cannot be held liable for negligence. Therefore, I am granting defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint. Because I find that plaintiff's reliance on the exception to the equine immunity was not groundless, I am denying defendant's motion for sanctions and fees. Finally, because I am dismissing this case, it is unnecessary to address defendant's motion to disqualify counsel and I will deny that motion as moot.

         For the sole purpose of deciding this motion, I accept as true the following facts alleged in plaintiff's complaint.

         ALLEGATIONS OF FACT

         Plaintiff Abigail Brown is a citizen of Missouri. Defendant Country View Equestrian Center, Inc. is a Wisconsin corporation that owns and operates a horse boarding and riding stable in Monroe, Wisconsin. On March 4, 2016, plaintiff took a private riding lesson from defendant's professional instructor, Crimson Pulver, at defendant's indoor riding facility. During the lesson, plaintiff rode her own horse, a registered Thoroughbred gelding known as Golden Gift.

         Before beginning the lesson, plaintiff informed Pulver that her horse had very little formal training and that she was new to English-style jumping. Pulver told plaintiff to ride on a loose rein with no contact on the horse's mouth and to enter a trot. After plaintiff's lesson commenced, Pulver directed another horse and rider to enter the arena with plaintiff so that Pulver could determine the jumping ability of the other horse for the purpose of valuing it for resale. Pulver had been told that the horse was too high-spirited for its current owner and required a very experienced rider, beyond the abilities of the current owner.

         While plaintiff was riding Golden Gift on a loose rein as instructed, Pulver asked the rider of the other horse to jump a fence in the arena. As the other rider turned the horse toward the fence, the horse stopped suddenly, dropped its head and sped away, bucking and leaping out of control until it collided with Golden Gift. Plaintiff was thrown into the air and fell to the ground, injuring her left leg and ankle.

         OPINION

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the complaint's legal sufficiency. In resolving such a motion, the court takes all well-pled facts in the complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Reger Development, LLC v. National City Bank, 592 F.3d 759, 763 (7th Cir. 2010). A complaint survives a motion to dismiss if it “contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Id. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.

         Defendant contends that plaintiff's negligence claim is not plausible because Wisconsin's equine immunity statute, Wis.Stat. § 895.481, shields defendant and its employees for their acts and omissions related to equine activities. The statute extends broad ...


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