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Penny Monk v. State of New Jersey

May 6, 2011

PENNY MONK, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, DIVISION OF PARKS & FORESTRY AND DIVISION OF FISH & WILDLIFE, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Sussex County, Docket No. L-593-07.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued April 4, 2011

Before Judges Sabatino and Ostrer.

Plaintiff Penny Monk appeals from a May 13, 2010 order dismissing on summary judgment her complaint against the State of New Jersey for injuries that she suffered after a fall in Wawayanda State Park. We affirm.

I.

The material facts are uncomplicated and substantially undisputed. On September 2, 2005, plaintiff took a walk with her large dog near the Appalachian Trail in Wawayanda State Park, Sussex County. She stopped about a "good thousand feet" into the park, while her dog swam unleashed in a creek near a narrow footbridge. The footbridge rested on a much wider, horizontal concrete abutment that once supported a vehicular bridge.

As the dog swam, plaintiff walked atop the exposed portion of the concrete abutment above the water's edge. A worn path diverged from the trail to the bridge, and led down to the concrete abutment. As she paced back and forth, plaintiff caught her foot under a weathered metal bracket that was bolted to the concrete but obscured by leaves. Shaped like a flattened and elongated letter omega, the bracket was likely a remnant of the old vehicular bridge. Plaintiff fell and suffered serious injuries.

Although she initially brought suit against Vernon Township and the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference as well as the State of New Jersey,*fn1 only the State remained a defendant when it moved for summary judgment. The court granted the State's motion in part based on its view that the State was protected by the Landowner's Liability Act (LLA), N.J.S.A. 2A:42A-1 to -10, which is made applicable to the State by N.J.S.A. 59:2-1, a provision of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act.

II.

We review the trial court's grant of summary judgment de novo applying the standard set forth in Brill v. Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America, 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995). Agurto v. Guhr, 381 N.J. Super. 519, 525 (App. Div. 2005). Having reviewed the record in light of that standard, we agree that summary judgment was appropriate.

The Landowner's Liability Act was intended to shield from liability private owners of rural or semi-rural lands used by the public for sport and recreational activities. Harrison v. Middlesex Water Co., 80 N.J. 391, 399-401 (1979).

An owner . . . of premises . . . whether or not improved or maintained in a natural condition, or used as part of a commercial enterprise, owes no duty to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for sport and recreational activities, or to give warning of any hazardous condition of the land or in connection with the use of any structure or by reason ...


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