Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Miller v. The Sunapee Difference, LLC

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

March 31, 2018

Thomas Jackson Miller
v.
The Sunapee Difference, LLC d/b/a Mount Sunapee Resort

          Arend R. Tensen, Esq. Thomas B. S. Quarles, Jr., Esq. Brendan P. Mitchell, Esq.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          JOSEPH N. LAPLANTE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The plaintiff in this case, a skier at New Hampshire's Mount Sunapee resort, was injured when he struck a support post for snow making equipment. At issue in this case is whether a release attached to his lift ticket excuses the ski area for liability in connection with its alleged negligence in failing to mark the post, warn skiers about it, or otherwise make it visible.

         Invoking the court's diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), plaintiff Thomas Jackson Miller, a New York resident, sued The Sunapee Difference, LLC, operator of the Mount Sunapee Resort ("Mount Sunapee"), a New Hampshire ski area, for injuries he sustained when he struck the unmarked and unpadded post that was concealed by fresh snow. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c), Mount Sunapee moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the liability release printed on Miller’s lift ticket bars his claim. Miller argues that the release is unenforceable under New Hampshire law and inapplicable on its face. As both sides submitted documents outside the pleadings in litigating this motion, the court has, with the parties' consent,[1] converted the motion into one for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d).[2] Having considered the parties' filings and hearing oral argument, the court finds that the release is both applicable and enforceable, and therefore grants summary judgment in favor of Mount Sunapee.[3]

         I. Applicable legal standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record reveals "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court "constru[es] the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolv[es] all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Pierce v. Cotuit Fire Dist., 741 F.3d 295, 301 (1st Cir. 2014). In the summary judgment analysis, "a fact is 'material' if it has the potential of determining the outcome of the litigation." Maymi v. P.R. Ports. Auth., 515 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2008). A factual dispute is genuine "if the evidence about the fact is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the point in the favor of the non-moving party." Sanchez v. Alvarado, 101 F.3d 223, 227 (1st Cir.1996) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Nevertheless, if the nonmoving party's "evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative," no genuine dispute as to a material fact has been proved, and "summary judgment may be granted." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249–50 (1986) (citations omitted).

         II. Background

         Following a large 2015 snowfall, Miller visited Mount Sunapee with his brother and father for a day of skiing. Miller was skiing ahead of his companions through fresh powder on the left side of the Beck Brook trail[4] when he struck an unmarked "snow gun holder" that was concealed by snow. The "holder" – essentially a steel pipe protruding from the ground – is a mounting post for snow-making guns. The post remains embedded in the ground after the guns are removed. There was no snow-making gun in the holder at the time of this accident. Miller suffered serious leg injuries in the collision.

         In order to ski at Mount Sunapee, Miller first purchased a lift ticket. The ticket has a self-adhesive backing, which the skier affixes to his zipper tab or similar visible location. In order to attach it, the skier must first remove it from a peel-off backing. Printed on the back of the peel-off backing of the Mount Sunapee lift ticket was the following:

STOP [a red octagon image similar to a traffic-control "stop sign"]
YOU ARE RELEASING THIS SKI AREA FROM LIABILITY
By removing this peel-off backing and using this ticket, you agree to be legally bound by the LIABILITY RELEASE printed on the other side of this ticket. If you are not willing to be bound by this LIABILITY RELEASE, please return this ticket with the peel-off backing intact to the ticket counter for a full refund.

         The lift ticket itself displayed the following language:

LIABILITY RELEASE
Skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports are inherently dangerous and risky with many hazards that can cause injury or death. As purchaser or user of this ticket, I agree, as a condition of being allowed to use the facilities of the Mount Sunapee resort, to freely accept and voluntarily assume all risks of property damage, personal injury, or death resulting from their inherent or any other risks or dangers. I RELEASE MOUNT SUNAPEE RESORT, its parent companies, subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, directors, employees and agents FROM ANY AND ALL LIABILITY OF ANY KIND INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE which may result from conditions on or about the premises, operation of the ski area or its afacilities [sic] or from my participation in skiing or other winter sports, accepting for myself the full and absolute responsibility for all damages or injury of any kind which may result from any cause. Further I agree that any claim which I bring against Mount Sunapee Resort, its officers, directors, employees or agents shall be brought only in Federal or State courts in the State of New Hampshire. I agree my likeness may be used for promotional purposes.
MOUNT SUNAPEE CARES, SKI RESPONSIBLY AND ALWAYS IN CONTROL.
RECKLESS SKIING WILL RESULT IN LOSS OF TICKET
NON-TRANSFERABLE: Use by a non-purchaser constitutes theft of services.
NON-REFUNDABLE. LOST TICKETS WILL NOT BE REPLACED Mount Sunapee Resort, P.O. Box 2021, Newbury, NH 03255

(Emphasis in original).

         After timely filing this lawsuit,[5] Miller filed an Amended Complaint[6] asserting a single count of negligence. He alleges that Mount Sunapee failed to mark or warn skiers of the pipe, or otherwise mitigate its danger to skiers, by, for example, padding it or making it visible to skiers. In addition, Miller alleges that Mount Sunapee breached its duties to create a safe environment for guests, and to perform in-season trail maintenance work. Finally, Miller claims that Mount Sunapee is liable because it failed to comply with N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:23 (II)(b), which provides, in relevant part, that "[t]he ski area operator shall warn skiers and passengers by use of the trail board, if applicable, that snow grooming or snow making operations are routinely in progress on the slopes and trails serviced by each tramway.”[7]

         III. Analysis

         As noted at the outset, Sunapee argues that the release printed on Miller's lift ticket – in combination with the acceptance of its terms on the backing sheet – bars his claim. "Although New Hampshire law generally prohibits a plaintiff from releasing a defendant from liability for negligent conduct, in limited circumstances a plaintiff can expressly consent by contract to assume the risk of injury caused by a defendant's negligence." Allen v. Dover Co-Recreational Softball League, 148 N.H. 407, 413 (2002). Such an exculpatory contract is enforceable if: 1) it does not violate public policy; 2) the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or a reasonable person in [plaintiff's] position would have understood the import of the agreement; and 3) the plaintiff's claims fall within the contemplation of the parties when they executed the contract. McGrath v. SNH Dev., Inc., 158 N.H. 540, 542 (2009) (citing Dean v. McDonald, 147 N.H. 263, 266-67 (2008)); Lizzol v. Brothers Prop. Mgmt. Corp., 2016 DNH 1999, 7.

         Plaintiff argues that the release satisfies none of these criteria, because: 1) it violates public policy; 2) a reasonable person would have understood the release to exclude only "inherent risks of skiing," as enumerated in New Hampshire's "ski statute," N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:24; 3) the release does not encompass reckless, wanton, or willful conduct; and 4) the release is unsigned.

         A. Public policy

         “A defendant seeking to avoid liability must show that an exculpatory agreement does not contravene public policy; i.e., that no special relationship existed between the parties and that there was no other disparity in bargaining power.” McGrath, 158 N.H. at 543 (quoting Barnes v. N.H. Karting Assoc., 128 N.H. 102, 106 (1986)). The New Hampshire Supreme Court has also found an agreement to be against public policy "if, among other things, it is injurious to the interests of the public, violates some public statute, or tends to interfere with the public welfare or safety." Id. (citing Harper v. Healthsource New Hampshire, 140 N.H. 770, 775 (1996)). Miller does not argue that he had a special relationship with Mount Sunapee or that there was a disparity in bargaining power between the two.[8]Instead, he confines his public policy argument to two points: 1) that the release violates New Hampshire statutory law; and 2) that it is injurious to the interest of the public. Neither argument withstands scrutiny.

         1. New Hampshire statutory law

         Miller argues that the combination of N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 225-A:23, II, and 225-A:24 requires ski area operators to plainly mark or make visible snow-making equipment. Therefore, he concludes, applying the release to the allegedly hidden snow gun holder would allow Mount Sunapee to impermissibly evade this statutory responsibility. As a general proposition, Miller is correct that a release can not excuse a ski area's statutory violation. Harper, 140 N.H. at 775; cf. Nutbrown v. Mount Cranmore, 140 N.H. 675, 683 (1996) (noting, in ski accident case, that ski areas' immunity does not apply to claim based on statutory violation). However, Miller's argument here is built on a faulty premise – that § 225-A:24, denoted "Responsibilities of Skiers and Passengers" – imposes an affirmative duty on ski areas to mark or make visible snow-making equipment. The court rejects this argument for several reasons.

         First, Miller attempts, without legal support, to create an affirmative duty out of the text of § 225-A:24 where none exists. Section 225-A:24 "is an immunity provision for ski area operators." Cecere v. Loon Mountain Recreation Corp., 155 N.H. 289, 291 (2007). It has been "interpreted to mean that ski area operators owe no duty to skiers to protect them from the inherent risks of skiing." Rayeski v. Gunstock Area/Gunstock Area Comm'n, 146 N.H. 495, 497 (2001). One of the inherent "risks, hazards, or dangers which the skier . . . assumes as a matter of law" is "plainly marked or visible snow making equipment." N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:24, I. Miller argues that because unmarked or not visible snow-making equipment is not "an inherent risk" enumerated by the statute, ski areas therefore have a statutory duty to mark them or make them visible.

         This argument is both contrary to the language of the statute and unsupported by any legal authority. While the language of the statutory immunity provision – enumerating a "Skier's Responsibilities" – arguably does not bar Miller's claim[9] that he struck an unmarked and not visible piece of equipment, it likewise creates no affirmative duties for ski areas. Stated differently, while New Hampshire law may allow ski area liability for injuries resulting from collisions with unmarked equipment, it does not logically follow that New Hampshire law requires the marking of such equipment. The statute sets forth no such obligation or legal duty.

         To avoid the plain language of §225-A:24, Miller argues that Rayeski, supra, imposes an affirmative duty on Mount Sunapee when read in conjunction with § 225-A:23. In that case, the New Hampshire Supreme Court, invoking §225-A:24, upheld the dismissal of a skier's claim for injuries sustained in a collision with an unmarked light pole. 146 N.H. at 500. The plaintiff in Rayeski argued that the light pole collision was similar to a collision with unmarked snow-making equipment, which the statute "implies . . . is not an inherent risk of skiing" by not barring such a claim. Id. at 498. In the course of finding that the pole collision was an inherent risk of skiing (despite not being specifically enumerated as such in the statute), the Court distinguished between poles and snow making equipment:

We conclude that the legislature's explicit reference to “plainly marked or visible snow making equipment” was intended to balance the immunity granted to ski area operators under RSA 225–A:24 with their duty under RSA 225–A:23, II(b) (2000) to warn skiers of snow making or grooming activities by denying immunity to ski area operators who breach a statutorily imposed safety responsibility.

Id. (emphasis added).

         Based on the emphasized language, Miller argues that § 225-A:23 required Mount Sunapee to mark or make visible the snow gun holder he struck. This argument ignores the plain language both of Rayeski and the statute. The Rayeski opinion referred only to "snow making or grooming activities," and made no reference to marking equipment. And the statute, captioned "Base Area; Information to Skiers and Passengers," requires that a ski area operator "warn skiers and passengers by use of the trail board, if applicable, that snow grooming or snow making operations are routinely in progress on the slopes and trails serviced by each tramway." (Emphasis added). Thus, contrary to Miller's argument, this section imposes no requirement to "mark or make visible" the snow gun holder at issue in this case. Instead, the statute requires the ski area to post "at the base area" a warning concerning grooming and snowmaking operations, if applicable.[10] See Nardone v. Mt. Cranmore, Civ. No. 91-114-SD, slip op. at 6-7 (holding that § 225-A:23(b)'s warning requirement does not apply where snowmaking was not in progress and where plaintiff collided with fixed, unmarked piece of snowmaking equipment) (emphasis added).[11] Miller does not dispute Mount Sunapee's contention that there was no grooming or snow making "in progress" at the time of or in the vicinity of Miller's accident.[12] An inoperative snow gun holder is neither an "activity" nor an "operation."

         Further undermining Miller's argument that § 255-A:24 creates obligations for ski area operators is the fact that its five sub-sections are explicitly and unambiguously addressed to skiers and passengers (as opposed to ski area operators), as follows: I) "Each person who participates in the sport of skiing . . . accepts . . . the dangers inherent in the sport . . . ."; II) "Each skier and passenger shall have the sole responsibility . . . "; III) "Each skier or passenger shall conduct himself or herself . . ."; IV) "Each passenger shall be the sole judge of his ability . . ."; V) "No skier or passenger or other person shall . . ." N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:24, I-V (emphasis added).

         In addition, under New Hampshire statutory construction law, "[t]he title of a statute is 'significant when considered in connection with . . . ambiguities inherent in its language.'" Appeal of Weaver, 150 N.H. 254, 256 (2003) (quoting State v. Rosario, 148 N.H. 488, 491 (2002); see also, Berninger v. Meadow Green-Wildcat Corp., 945 F.2d 4, 9 (1st Cir. 1991) (interpreting N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:24 and observing that "[i]t is well established that a statute's title may aid in construing any ambiguities in a statute."). As noted, the title of § 225-A:24 is explicitly directed at "skiers and passengers," not ski area operators. While this court discerns no such ambiguity that would justify a foray into ascertaining "legislative intent," our Court of Appeals has stated that "the title indicates the legislative intent to limit the application of [§ 225-A:24] to skiers and passengers and similar classes of individuals, which does not include a ski operator or its employees." Berninger, 945 F.2d at 9 (1st Cir. 1991). This conclusion is buttressed by the fact that the preceding provision, § 225-A:23, is captioned "Responsibilities of Ski Area Operators," further suggesting § 225-A:24's inapplicability here. This statutory structure – clearly distinguishing ski area operator responsibilities from visitor responsibilities – is especially important in light of the New Hampshire Supreme Court's requirement that statutes be construed "as a whole." Petition of Carrier, 165 N.H. 719, 721 (2013); see also, Univ. of Texas Sw. Med. Ctr v. Nassar, 133 S.Ct. 2517, 2529 (2013) ("Just as Congress' choice of words is presumed to be deliberate, so too are its structural choices."); DeVere v. Attorney General, 146 N.H. 762, 766 (2001) (noting that structure of a statute can be an interpretive tool). Accordingly, the court finds that the Mount Sunapee release does not impermissibly seek to avoid statutory liability.[13]

         In addition to his misplaced reliance on Rayeski, Miller also argues that the McGrath Court's allowance of liability releases is "limited to situations where the public statute at issue contains a statutorily imposed enforcement mechanism," which allows state officials to protect the public interest by imposing penalties on violators.[14]

         The holding in McGrath, which involved a snowmobiling accident, is not as broad as plaintiff posits. It is true that the Court in McGrath, in rejecting a claim that a liability waiver violated public policy because it allowed defendants to avoid certain snowmobile safety statutes, noted that the waiver did not affect the State's ability to enforce snowmobiling rules and penalize infractions, and thus did not entirely relieve the defendant property owners of any statutory responsibility. 158 N.H. at 543 (citing N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 215-C:32 and 34). But several factors undercut Miller's reliance on McGrath. First, plaintiff's argument is premised on his assertion that Mount Sunapee is trying to avoid liability for a statutory violation. The court has already rejected plaintiff's premise as an untenable reading of §§ 225-A:23 and 24. Next, the State enforcement criterion was not dispositive in McGrath, as the Court found that the liability waiver did not contravene public policy because, "[i]rrespective of the statute, the plaintiff has voluntarily agreed not to hold the ski area, or its employees, liable for injuries resulting from negligence so that she may obtain a season ski pass." Id. at 543 (emphasis added). In addition, even if the court read McGrath to require a state law enforcement vehicle to protect the public interest, the New Hampshire ski statutes do in fact provide one. Under N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:26, "any person . . . violating this chapter . . . shall be guilty of a violation if a natural person, or guilty of a misdemeanor if any other person." Plaintiff argues that this statutory enforcement provision is limited to tramway operations, and thus does not satisfy McGrath. He supports this argument with a letter from a supervisor at the New Hampshire Division of Fire Safety,[15] which correctly observes, pursuant to N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:3-a, that the authority of the Passenger Tramway Safety Board is limited to ski lift operations and "shall not extend to any other matters relative to the operation of a ski area."[16] The letter also states that the penalty provision of § 225-A:26 "specifically relates to operating a tramway without it first being registered."[17] The letter also specifically mentions §§ 225-A:23 and 24, as being outside the tramway board's authority.[18]

         There are several reasons why the letter does not advance plaintiff's statutory argument. First, the letter is not properly part of the summary judgment record. According to its terms, it was sent in response to plaintiff's counsel's request for documents concerning the enforcement of § 225-A:26. However, "[i]n opposing a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff must proffer admissible evidence that could be accepted by a rational trier of fact as sufficient to establish the necessary proposition." Gomez–Gonzalez v. Rural Opportunities, Inc., 626 F.3d 654, 662 n. 3 (1st Cir. 2010) (emphasis added). The letter itself is inadmissible hearsay, as it is being offered to prove the truth of the matters asserted with respect to enforcement of § 225-A:23 and 24. See Fed.R.Evid. 801(c)(2); see also Hannon v. Beard, 645 F.3d 45, 49 (1st Cir. 2011) ("It is black-letter law that hearsay evidence cannot be considered on summary judgment for the truth of the matter asserted."). Moreover, although apparently issued by a government office (the plaintiff made no effort to lay such a foundation), the letter is not admissible under the Public Records hearsay exception. See Fed.R.Evid. 803(8) (requiring, for admissibility, the evidence in question to, inter alia, set out the public office's activities and involve a matter observed while under a legal duty to report). It is true that some forms of evidence, such as affidavits and declarations, may be considered on summary judgment, even if they would not be admissible at trial, so long as they "set out facts that would be admissible in evidence" if the affiant or declarant testified to them at trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). The letter in question, however, is neither an affidavit nor a declaration. In addition to being an unsworn letter, it fails to show how the letter writer is expressing "personal knowledge," and fails to show that she is "competent to testify on the matters stated," as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 602 (personal knowledge requirement).

         Next, even if the letter was properly before the court, it lacks any legal force, either as a pronouncement of New Hampshire law, or an interpretation thereof. N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:8 empowers the Tramway Safety Board to make rules regarding tramways. "Rules and Regulations promulgated by administrative agencies, pursuant to a valid delegation of authority, have the full force and effect of laws." State v. Elementis Chem., 152 N.H. 794, 803 (2005). Under New Hampshire administrative law, however, as set forth under its Administrative Procedure Act, the letter in question is not a rule, and thus lacks such force. It is simply a letter answering a question posed by the plaintiff’s lawyer. See N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 541-A:1, XV (explicitly excluding, under definition of "Rule," "informational pamphlets, letters or other explanatory materials which refer to a statute or rule without affecting its substance or interpretation"). Notably, the plaintiff cites no provision of New Hampshire's administrative law involving the Passenger Tramway Safety Board or Rules which support his theory. See N.H. Code. Admin. R. Ann. (PAS 301.1 et. seq. (2016)).

         Finally, even if the letter was a properly admissible part of the summary judgment record in support of the proposition that the enforcement of § 225-A:26 is limited to tramway operations, and even if it were a duly-promulgated article of New Hampshire administrative law, it still fails to advance the plaintiff's argument (to the extent it even addresses the issue before the court), because it incorrectly contradicts the governing statute, § 225-A:26.

         As noted, the letter states that the authority of the Tramway Safety Board is limited to ski lift operations and "shall not extend to any other matters relative to the operation of a ski area."[19] This is undoubtedly true as far as it goes, as it tracks the language of § 225-A:3-a. That observation misses the point, however, as § 225-A:26 does not limit enforcement of § 225-A to the Tramway Board. To the contrary, the statute holds "any person" "guilty" of a violation or misdemeanor for violations of "this chapter," i.e., the entirety of N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A, a chapter which addresses a wider variety of ski-related activities than ski lifts and tramways. Thus, the letter contradicts the plain language of the statute by inaccurately portraying the applicability of § 225-A:26 as limited to "operating a tramway without it first being registered."[20] Under New Hampshire law, "[r]ules adopted by administrative agencies may not add to, detract from, or in any way modify statutory law," Elementis Chem., 152 N.H. at 803, and the letter's pronouncement, even it were a duly adopted Rule, would be invalid. See Appeal of Gallant, 125 N.H. 832, 834 (1984) (noting that agency regulations that contradict the terms of a governing statute exceed the agency's authority and are void). The statute penalizes not only failing to register, but also "violating this chapter or rules of the [Tramway Safety] board." (emphasis added). In effect, the plaintiff is asking the court to ignore the plain language of the statute in favor of a letter which is neither properly before the court nor is a valid administrative rule and which fails to address the issue before the court – the scope of § 225-A:26. The court is not free to ignore the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, New Hampshire's Administrative Procedure Act,[21] or the plain language of New Hampshire's ski-related statutes.

         Accordingly, the court finds that New Hampshire statutory law provides no support to plaintiff's public policy argument.

         2. Injurious to the public interest

         Plaintiff next argues that the Mount Sunapee release violates public policy as injurious to the public interest because Mount Sunapee is located on state-owned land that was, at least in part, developed with federal funding. Plaintiff cites no authority for this argument, but instead relies on various provisions in the lease between Mount Sunapee and the State of New Hampshire. None of these provisions establish or support the proposition that public policy prohibits the enforcement of the release.

         For example, the lease requires the property to be used for "public outdoor recreational uses," "for the mutual benefit of the public and the Operator," and "as a public ski area . . .for the general public."[22] In addition, the ski area operator is required to "allow public access," "maintain the Leased Premises in first class condition," and "undertake trail maintenance."[23] Even assuming, arguendo, that the lease theoretically establishes public policy, the plaintiff makes no coherent argument how the release in question runs afoul of any of its provisions. Instead, plaintiff argues, strenuously but without authority, that condoning Mount Sunapee's requirement that a skier agree to the release as a condition of skiing there "effectively sanctions the conversion of public land by Mount Sunapee."[24] He also argues, again without authority, that:

"[p]rivate operators of public lands, to which the public must be allowed access, cannot be allowed to limit access to such lands to those individuals who are willing to forego their statutory rights by exculpating the private operators from the consequences of their own negligence. To hold otherwise, would mark the first step toward eliminating public access to public lands at the expense of the general public."

(Emphasis added). Initially, the court reiterates its finding, supra, Part III.A.1, that the language at issue in this case does not implicate plaintiff's statutory rights. Moreover, whatever persuasive force his policy-based arguments hold, plaintiff cites no authority – in the form of cases, statutes or regulations – upon which the court can rely to accept them.[25]

         As a final public-interest related matter, the parties dispute the import of liability releases used at Cannon Mountain, a state-owned and operated ski area. In its motion, Mount Sunapee cited those releases to demonstrate that New Hampshire's public policy does not generally disfavor liability releases.[26] Plaintiff, however, points out that because the Cannon release does not use the word "negligence," it may, in fact, not release Cannon from its own negligence. See Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107 (noting that "the [exculpatory] contract must clearly state that the defendant is not responsible for the consequences of his negligence."). Therefore, plaintiff suggests, Sunapee's release may have exceeded what public policy (as articulated in the Cannon release) permits. Regardless of the Cannon release's enforceability – a matter on which the court offers no opinion – the court finds that Mount Sunapee has the better of this argument. New Hampshire's public policy is likely best expressed by its legislative enactments, particularly N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 225-A:24,I, under which "ski area operators owe no duty to protect patrons from the inherent risks of skiing and thus are immunized from liability for any negligence related to these risks." Cecere v. Loon Mountain Recreation Corp., 115 N.H. 289, 295 (2007). Such legislatively-enacted immunity from negligence undercuts Miller's argument that the Cannon release demarcates the outer boundary of New Hampshire public policy. Ultimately, the court is skeptical that, as both parties implicitly argue, the state's risk management decisions and devices, as embodied in certain ski area releases, constitute articulations of public policy.

         Having failed to demonstrate any statutory transgressions or injury to the public interest, plaintiff has failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the Mount Sunapee release violates public policy.

         B. Import of the agreement

         The next factor the court must consider in assessing the enforceability of the Mount Sunapee release is whether the plaintiff or a reasonable person in his position would have understood its import. Dean, 147 N.H. at 266-67. Miller argues that a factual dispute exists as to this criterion because there was no "meeting of the minds" sufficient to form an enforceable binding agreement.[27] He bases this proposition, in turn, on two assertions: 1) that the release is unsigned; and 2) that he did not read it. The court finds that New Hampshire law does not require a signature to effectuate the terms of a release and that the plaintiff had – but chose not to take advantage of – an opportunity to read the release.

         1. Signature

         As an initial matter, the court notes that a "meeting of the minds" is not an explicit requirement of enforceability under New Hampshire law. The Court in Dean required only that "the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or a reasonable person in his position would have understood the import of the agreement." 147 N.H. at 266-67. While a signature might be evidence of such understanding, it has never been held to be a prerequisite. Indeed, in Gannett v. Merchants Mut. Ins. Co., 131 N.H. 266 (1988), the Court enforced an unsigned and unread release of an insurance claim.

         Plaintiff asserts that the New Hampshire Supreme Court has never explicitly upheld the enforcement of an unsigned liability release. See, e.g., McGrath, 158 N.H. at 545 ("[t]he ski pass application signed by the plaintiff"); Dean, 147 N.H. at 266 ("Mr. Dean signed the Release before entering the infield pit area"); Audley, 138 N.H. at 417 ("two releases signed by the plaintiff"); Barnes, 128 N.H. at 106 ("release and waiver of liability and indemnity agreement he signed"). Even if one were to accept this proposition despite the holding in Gannett, which is arguably distinguishable from the line of New Hampshire cases just cited, it ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.