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Ramsay v. Dube

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

February 16, 2018

SHARON RAMSAY, Plaintiff
v.
SCOTT DUBE pro ami MADDISON DUBE, a minor child, SCOTT DUBE, SHEILA DUBE, and ALYSSIA BRYANT, Defendants

          ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          NANCY MILLS JUSTICE

         Before the court are two motions for summary judgment filed by defendants Scott Dube, Maddison Dube, Sheila Dube, and Alyssia Bryant. For the following reasons, the motions are denied.

         Facts

         Plaintiff, Sharon Ramsay, has owned and ridden horses since she was four years old and has boarded horses at the Timber Ridge Farm (the farm) for nearly 20 years. (Pl.'s First Add. S.M.F. ¶¶ 1-2.) On January 1, 2016, plaintiff was boarding her horse, Maggie, at the farm. (Pl.'s First Add. S.M.F. ¶ 2.) On that date, plaintiff went to the farm to tend to and ride Maggie. (Defs. Dubes' Supp'g S.M.F. ¶ 2.) While at the farm, a horse named Ren bit plaintiff. (Defs. Dubes' Supp'g S.M.F. ¶ 3.) Ren was not up to date on his rabies vaccine. (Defs. Dubes' Supp'g S.M.F. ¶ 6, 8; Pl.'s Add. S.M.F. ¶¶ 11, 16.) On January 4th, 2016, plaintiff began the rabies vaccination protocol, which lasted two weeks. (Pl.'s First Add. S.M.F. ¶ 22-23.)

         When Ren bit plaintiff, the horse was being leased to defendant Sheila Dube by defendant Alyssia Bryant. (Defs. Dubes' Supp'g S.M.F. ¶ 5.) The lease had a three-month trial period after which defendant Sheila Dube had the option to purchase or return Ren to defendant Bryant. (Defs. Dubes' Supp'g S.M.F. ¶ 5; Pl.'s Reply to Defs. Dubes' Supp'g S.M.F. ¶¶ 8, 10; Def. Bryant's Reply. S.M.F. ¶ 10.) On December 3, 2015, defendant Bryant informed defendant Maddison Dube that Ren was not up to date on his rabies vaccine. (Defs. Dubes' Supp'g S.M.F. ¶ 6.) Ren's rabies vaccination expired three months before the defendants Dubes' lease began. (Pi's First Add. S.M.F. ¶ 11.) On December 29, 2015, defendant Maddison Dube scheduled Ren a rabies vaccination for January 4, 2016. (Defs. Dubes' Supp'g S.M.F. ¶ 8.) Defendants assert that no one had ever known Ren to be aggressive. (Defs. Dubes' Supp'g S.M.F. ¶ 10; Def. Bryant's Supp'g S.M.F. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff contends that one of the defendants told a Center for Disease Control investigator that Ren was aggressive. (Pl.'s Add. S.M.F. (Dube) ¶¶ 20-21.)

         Doreen Metcalf owns and operates the farm. (Pi's Add. S.M.F. (Dube) ¶ 4.) Ms. Metcalf has run a boarding facility for over thirty years and boards between sixteen and eighteen horses at a given time. (Pl.'s Add. S.M.F. (Dube) ¶ 5.) In Ms. Metcalf's experience, horse-owners generally administer rabies vaccinations once a year. (Pl.'s Add. S.M.F. (Dube) ¶ 6.) Defendant Bryant also runs a boarding facility and trains horses. (Pl.'s Add. S.M.F. (Bryant) ¶ 15.) Defendant Bryant's horses receive rabies vaccinations once a year in accordance with common practice and veterinary recommendations. (Pl.'s Add. (Bryant) S.M.F. ¶ 16.)

         On March 23, 2017, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants. Plaintiff alleges three causes of action: count I, common law strict liability;[1] count II, negligence; and count III, statutory liability pursuant to 7 M.R.S. § 3961. On March 23, 2017, defendant Bryant filed an answer. On April 18, 2017, defendants Dubes filed an answer. On June 26, 2017, defendant Bryant filed a cross-claim against defendants Dubes. In her cross claim, defendant Bryant alleges two causes of action: count I, breach of contract; and count II, negligence. On July 10, 2017, defendants Dubes filed an answer to the cross-claim.

         On November 3, 2017, defendants Dubes filed a motion for summary judgment. On November 29, 2017, plaintiff filed an opposition. On December 4, 2017, defendant Alyssia Bryant filed a motion for summary judgment. On December 13, 2017, plaintiff filed an opposition to defendant Bryant's motion. On December 15, 2017, defendants Dubes filed a reply to plaintiff's opposition. On December 21, 2017, defendant Bryant filed a reply to plaintiff's opposition.

         Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the record reflects that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. M.R. Civ. P. 56(c). "A material fact is one that can affect the outcome of the case, and there is a genuine issue when there is sufficient evidence for a fact-finder to choose between competing versions of the fact." Lougee Conservancy v. CitvMortgage. Inc.. 2012 ME 103, ¶ 11, 48 A.3d 774 (quotation omitted). Summary judgment may be entered for defendant if the facts are not in dispute or the evidence is insufficient to support a verdict for plaintiff as a matter of law. Curtis v. Porter. 2001 ME l58 ¶ 7, 784A.2d 18.

         Analysis

         Defendants argue in both motions for summary judgment that (1) Maine's Equine Activities Act confers to them immunity from liability for damages resulting from the horse bite; (2) that plaintiff has failed to set forth a prima facie claim of negligence; and (3) that defendants did not owe plaintiff a duty of care. 7 M.R.S. § 4103-A (2016).

         Plaintiff argues that defendants are not immune from suit because the risk of contracting rabies is not an inherent risk of participating in equine activities and because defendants acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others when they failed to timely vaccinate Ren. Plaintiff also argues that she has set forth a prima facie claim of negligence and that all defendants owed her a duty to exercise reasonable care.

         1. Immunity Under the ...


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