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Lee v. Department of Parks & Recreation

Court of Appeal of California, First Appellate District, Division Four

July 31, 2019, Opinion Filed



 [**458]  BROWN, J.—Plaintiff Michele Lee injured herself on a stairway in the Bootjack Campground within Mt. Tamalpais State Park and sued respondent Department of Parks and Recreation (State Parks) for premises liability. The trial court awarded summary judgment to State Parks on the basis of trail immunity under Government Code section 831.4, subdivision (b). It also awarded attorney's fees and defense costs to State Parks under Code of Civil Procedure section 1038. Lee appeals both aspects of the judgment.

CA(1)(1) We affirm the trial court's ruling that State Parks is entitled to immunity because the stairway is a “trail,” or at least an “integral part” of a [*209]  trail, within the meaning of Government Code section 831.4, subdivision (b).1 However, we reverse the trial court's award of attorney's fees and costs, as we agree with Lee that the issue of [***2]  immunity was not so clear cut that her lawsuit lacked reasonable cause.


Bootjack Campground is located in Mt. Tamalpais State Park, which is owned and controlled by State Parks. From the nearest parking lot, there are two ways to access Bootjack Campground: a stone stairway, built into a hill, and a longer path compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) (42 U.S.C. § 12111 et seq.). Photographs show the stairway is relatively flat and wide, and winds through a wooded hillside. A sign indicates that the stairway leads to a “Campground and Picnic Area,” “Bootjack Trail,” and “Matt Davis Trail.”

In August 2015, Lee fell and suffered an injury on the stairway. The relevant facts surrounding her injury are undisputed. After camping overnight at Bootjack Campground with her boyfriend, Lee started to descend the stairway from the campground to the parking lot. She slipped on an “uneven portion” of the stairs, fell, and broke her ankle in three places. Both Lee and her boyfriend asserted that the stairway contained uneven and protruding stones and depressions. They also claimed that leaves from a nearby tree shaded and concealed those protrusions and depressions.

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38 Cal. App. 5th 206 *; 250 Cal. Rptr. 3d 456 **; 2019 Cal. App. LEXIS 708 ***; 2019 WL 3492489

MICHELE LEE, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. DEPARTMENT OF PARKS AND RECREATION et al., Defendants and Respondents.

Prior History:  [***1] Superior Court of Marin County, No. CIV1603114, Paul M. Haakenson, Judge.


trail, stairway, immunity, trial court, recreational, reasonable cause, defense costs, Campground, stairs, path, summary judgment, integral part, matter of law, provide access, conditions, lawsuit, costs, statutory immunity, attorney's fees, public entity, good faith, Merriam-Webster, surface, courts, paved, ramp

Civil Procedure, Summary Judgment, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Genuine Disputes, Burdens of Proof, Movant Persuasion & Proof, Legal Entitlement, Appeals, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Summary Judgment Review, Standards of Review, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Torts, Public Entity Liability, Immunities, Appellate Briefs, Record on Appeal, Costs & Attorney Fees, Costs, Costs Recoverable, Remedies, Attorney Fees & Expenses, Basis of Recovery, Statutory Awards, Substantial Evidence, Sufficiency of Evidence, Sanctions, Baseless Filings, Frivolous Lawsuits