NANCY J. McCANDLESS
JOHN RAMSEY et al.
Argued: October 11, 2018
J. Greif, Esq. (orally), Gilbert & Greif, P.A., Bangor,
for appellant Nancy J. McCandless
Gregory S. Clayton, Esq. (orally), Primmer Piper Eggleston
& Cramer PC, Camden, for appellees John Ramsey et al.
SAUFLEY, C.J., and, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, HUMPHREY, and
Twenty years ago, responding to concerns about the costs of
providing places for people to board and ride horses, the
Legislature established immunity from liability for certain
injuries suffered through the risks inherent in equine
activities. See P.L. 1999, ch. 498, §§ 2-6
(effective Sept. 18, 1999) (codified at 7 M.R.S.
§§4101, 4103-A (2018)); L.D. 2108, Summary (119th
Legis. 1999). We are asked for the first time to address the
scope of that immunity.
Nancy J. McCandless appeals from a summary judgment entered
by the Superior Court (Washington County, Mallonee,
J.) concluding that John and Tracy Ramsey's daughter
is immune from liability on McCandless's complaint
alleging that the child negligently rode a horse in an arena,
causing injury to McCandless. We affirm the Superior
Court's judgment holding that the immunity statute
precludes the liability that could otherwise arise from the
equine activities at issue here.
The basic facts are these: McCandless was standing on a track
inside a riding arena when a horse ridden by the Ramseys'
ten-year-old daughter, after passing directly by McCandless
three times, made contact with her during a fourth circuit.
McCandless fell and injured her wrist, and she has now sued
the child through her parents, seeking damages for her
The following details of the event are taken from the
parties' statements of material facts and reflect the
record as viewed in the light most favorable to McCandless as
the nonprevailing party. See Avis Rent A Car Sys., LLC v.
Burrill, 2018 ME 81, ¶ 2, 187 A.3d 583. On July 7,
2010, McCandless went to a horse arena to watch children ride
horses. In the arena, a circular track one to two inches deep
had been worn into the dirt and was visible to onlookers.
Horses were not restricted to this track, however, and they
rode throughout the arena and near the doors to the barn in
which the arena was situated.
Spectators were accommodated in the interior of the barn,
which included an observation room with a plexiglass window
where people could observe the activities inside the
structure. McCandless had been sitting outside of the
observation room in one of a set of folding chairs that were
arranged along the side of the indoor arena away from the
McCandless got up from her seat and began walking from the
folding chairs toward what she considered to be the most
convenient barn exit. On her way, McCandless walked around
some hay bales, which McCandless admits caused her to walk in
the area where people rode horses.
The Ramseys' daughter, then ten years old, was riding a
horse she had not ridden before in the indoor arena area. The
girl completed three circuits in the arena, passing
McCandless and others each time. At some point during her
fourth circuit in the arena, the horse was slow to respond to
the child rider's directions, and the horse made contact
with McCandless when she was between five and fifteen feet
from the barn door. McCandless fell and injured her wrist.
[¶8] On July 6, 2016, McCandless filed a complaint
against the Ramseys "as parents" of their daughter
seeking damages for medical bills, pain and suffering, lost
enjoyment of life, and permanent impairment allegedly
incurred due to the Ramseys' daughter's negligence.
See M.R. Civ. P. 17(b); Miller v. Miller,
677 A.2d 64, 67 (Me. 1996); see also 19-A M.R.S.
§ 1651 (2018). The Ramseys moved for summary judgment on
the ground that McCandless's negligence action was barred
due to the statutory immunity provisions of 7 M.R.S.
§§ 4101 and 4103-A.
The court granted the Ramseys' motion for summary
judgment, holding that section 4103-A(1) provides a broad
immunity from liability for injuries arising out of equine
activities under routine conditions. The court concluded that
none of the statutory exceptions to immunity applied. See
id. §4103-A(2)-(4). McCandless filed a timely
notice of appeal. See 14 M.R.S. § 1851 (2018);
M.R. App. P. 2A, 2B(c)(1).
For purposes of summary judgment, we accept as true that the
horse came in contact with McCandless and that McCandless was
injured as a result of that contact. McCandless's appeal
concerns only whether the court properly interpreted and
applied the immunity statutes to preclude her suit against
the Ramseys' daughter.
We review this decision granting a summary judgment "de
novo, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party, to determine whether the parties'
statements of material facts reveal a genuine issue of
material fact." Hilderbrand v. Wash. Cty.
Comm'rs, 2011 ME 132, ¶ 7, 33 A.3d 425. "A
genuine issue of material fact exists when the evidence
requires a fact-finder to choose between competing versions
of the truth." Farrington's Owners'
Ass'n v. Conway Lake Resorts, Inc., 2005 ME 93,
¶ 9, 878 A.2d 504.
Because the person asserting the affirmative defense of
immunity bears the burden of proof, see Hilderbrand,
2011 ME 132, ¶ 7, 33 A.3d 425, we review the summary
judgment record to determine whether there is no genuine
issue of material fact and the Ramseys have established the
applicability of the immunity provision as a matter of law,
see M.R. Civ. P. 56(c); Stanley v. Hancock Cty.
Comm'rs, 2004 ME 157, ¶ 13, 864 A.2d 169.
We review de novo the trial court's interpretation and
application of the relevant statutes governing immunity.
See Perry v. Dean,2017 ME 35, ¶ 11, 156 A.3d
742; Bank of Am., N.A. v. Camire,2017 ME 20,
¶¶ 12, 13, 155 A.3d 416. "If the statute is
unambiguous, we interpret the statute according to its
unambiguous language, unless the result is illogical or
absurd." Wawenock, LLC v. Dep't of Transp.,2018 ME 83, ¶ 7, 187 A.3d 609 (quotation marks omitted).
To the extent that there is any ambiguity in the statute,
meaning that it could reasonably be interpreted in more than
one way, we ...