Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Arvizu v. City of Pasadena (Cal. Ct. App. - March 23, 2018)

I feel bad for the plaintiff.  He was seriously injured.  That's never a happy event.

But, in a civil lawsuit, anyway, you have to figure out a lot of things.  Whether there's immunity.  Whether there's contributory negligence.  Lots of "law" stuff.  Particularly on appeal.

Moreover, even on a superficial level, you've got to figure out where the "fault" should be placed, if only as a matter of community values.  How reasonable was the conduct of all the relevant parties?

So here are the underlying facts of the case.  With my own editorial comments in brackets:

"On the evening of September 14, 2013, Arvizu [the plaintiff] went to his friend Ben’s house to watch a pay-per-view boxing match on television.  [I believe this was the Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Canelo Alvarez fight.  A long one.  Mayweather wins on a majority decision.]  At about 1:00 a.m. on September 15, 2013, he received a call from his friend Lalo to “hang out,” so he and Ben went to Lalo’s house where they met up with Lalo and three other friends, Frijol, Jerry, and Max.

[Mr. Arvizu was 21 years old.  Just in case you're wondering what age we're talking about when people go over to their friend's house and then "hang out" at 1:00 a.m.]

Sometime around 3:00 a.m., the six friends decided it would be fun to go “ghost hunting” . . .  [Yeah.  I thought that was strange too.  What the heck is 'ghost hunting'?!  Some crazy millennial thing?  But it turns out it's just (allegedly) hunting for ghosts.  If that's in fact what these 21-year olds were in fact doing at 3:00 a.m. instead of a story they made up thereafter.]  . . . at the Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena. Built in 1913, the bridge is known for its distinctive Beaux Arts arches, and is sometimes referred to as “Suicide Bridge.” The young men had heard ghost stories about it. . . .

[Okay.  So they were "ghost hunting".]

Lalo drove the six young men (in his five-passenger car) to the Park. [Crowded!] The Park is closed from dusk to dawn. At the first place the group tried to enter the Park, they found locked gates and fencing too high to jump over.  [Maybe that's a sign about whether you should enter, no?] . . . .

Sometime in the early hours around 3-4:00 a.m. (the exact time is disputed but immaterial), Lalo parked his car in an unmarked paved area at the intersection of Arroyo Boulevard and Arroyo Drive, across the street from the Park. The young men got out of the car, crossed Arroyo Boulevard, and entered the Park. Pasadena Municipal Code section 3.24.110 (A)(23) makes it illegal to be in the Lower Arroyo section of the Park, where the young men entered, and where the accident occurred, from dusk to dawn.  [Law, schmaw, as 21-year old men are apt to say/feel.]

Ben testified that he had been there before and knew about a trailhead that provided access to the portion of the Trail under the bridge, but “didn’t want to walk the whole thing. I just wanted to get to that part of the trail” under the bridge. So they took a shortcut to the Trail.  [You can probably figure out that the word "shortcut" should be in quotes, and is not going to turn out all that well.]

Ben and the others started to walk down a natural slope, into the Arroyo Seco (except Jerry, who remained behind). There was no pathway where they walked down the slope, although the Trail ran below them, roughly parallel to the stream. They were heading toward the Trail, traveling in a direction roughly perpendicular to its path.

It was dark. None of them had a flashlight. There may have been some light from a streetlamp on Arroyo Boulevard. But there was no moonlight.  [Foreboding, no?  If Court of Appeal opinions had soundtracks, you'd start hearing the exciting, creepy music about now.] . . . .

Arvizu headed down the slope. [Bad]  He did not know where they were going; he merely followed his friends. [Worse] He does not recall if he was wearing his prescription glasses. [Even worse] Arvizu, who was wearing 1-2 year-old athletic shoes, [more bad stuff] started to slide in the loose dirt. [Here it comes . . .] He grabbed a pipeline that was above ground, and used it to assist in his descent. [Saved!] But the pipeline ended before he was all the way downslope. [Not saved!]

He could see his friends standing below him, on or near the Trail. Letting go of the pipe, he continued down the slope, which became steeper as he neared the bottom. He tried to slow himself down, but was unable to do so. He lost his footing and tumbled head over heels. Unable to slow down as he reached the Trail, he traveled all the way across it. [I've got a very good mental picture of all this.  Well done, Judge Curry (sitting by designation).  A second career writing screenplays is by no means out of the question.]

The Trail, at that location, is relatively level and proceeds along the top of, and just behind, an approximately 10-foot-high concrete retaining wall or embankment. [That's the 10-foot thing he's going to fly off.]  After crossing the Trail, Arvizu sailed over the retaining wall, hit a tree limb, and landed on the dirt and rocks below. [Ouch.  Totally and completely:  Ouch.]

Ben, who was on the Trail as he watched the accident happen, testified he saw Arvizu coming down the slope, “trying to get his body to adapt to the speed that he was going, but he just couldn’t. He was – once he hit the trail, it was already too late.” Because he had been there before in daylight, Ben knew there was a drop-off at the retaining wall, but didn’t think to mention it to the others because he thought they would see it. Arvizu testified he didn’t see the drop-off that night."

Yep.  All bad stuff.

So there are the particular details of the evening.  Or, as the Court of Appeal aptly summarizes it, the participants "were someplace they weren’t supposed to be, breaking the law, taking a shortcut in the dark, doing something they were unprepared for."

Given that description, you can probably guess where the panel ends up.  The grant of summary judgment in favor of the City of Pasadena is affirmed.  If only because the "trail immunity" statute applies.

With costs on appeal to the City.