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Sumsion v. J. Lyne Roberts and Sons, Inc.

Supreme Court of Utah

April 26, 2019

Becky Sumsion, Appellant,
J. Lyne Roberts And Sons, Inc. and H&H Steel Fabricators, Inc., Appellees.

         On Direct Appeal

          Fourth District, Utah County The Honorable Lynn W. Davis No. 160400033

          Allen K. Young, Tyler S. Young, Provo, for appellant

          Vincent J. Velardo, Thomas J. Rollins, Salt Lake City, for appellee J. Lyne Roberts and Sons, Inc.

          S. Spencer Brown, Jack D. Smart, Salt Lake City, for appellee H&H Steel Fabricators, Inc. Associate Chief Justice Lee authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Durrant, Justice Himonas, Justice Pearce, and Justice Petersen joined.


         ¶1 In this case we are asked to decide whether a contractor who created an artificial condition on the land of another owes a duty of reasonable care to the employees of the land owner. Becky Sumsion, the plaintiff-appellant in this case, contends that we answered this question in the affirmative in Tallman v. City of Hurricane, 1999 UT 55, 985 P.2d 892. She argues that Tallman announced a categorical rule establishing a duty of all contractors who create artificial conditions on the land of another, which extends to all foreseeable users of such conditions. The defendants-appellees see the matter differently. They insist that the existence of a duty in this circumstance depends on an analysis of the factors set forth in AMS Salt Industries, Inc. v. Magnesium Corp. of America, 942 P.2d 315 (Utah 1997).

         ¶2 The district court agreed with the defendants. It granted their motion to dismiss the plaintiff's claims on the ground that she had failed to carry the burden of presenting grounds for the establishment of a duty under AMS Salt and its progeny. We reverse and remand. We hold that the Restatement (Second) of Torts framework endorsed in Tallman, and not the factors set forth in AMS Salt, controls in a case like this one. And we thus reverse the district court's decision, which was premised on a contrary conclusion. In so doing, however, we do not conclusively resolve the extent of a contractor's duty in a case like this one. We stop short of resolving that question because the parties failed to brief a few dimensions of the relevant duty inquiry under the Restatement (Second) of Torts framework adopted in Tallman. Instead we offer some points of clarification under the Tallman framework in a manner that we hope will be useful to the parties and the district court on remand.


         ¶3 In 2012, the City of Springville decided to construct a "splash pad" recreation area in a public park. The City retained MGB as the lead architect. MGB hired JRCA Architects, Inc. ("JRCA") to help design a pump house that would host the pumps supplying water to the splash pad. The city contracted with J. Lyne Roberts and Sons, Inc. ("JLR") to construct the splash pad and pump house. JLR was instructed to install a ladder in the pump house to access the pump pit, which housed some of the controls. JLR subcontracted with H&H Steel Fabricators, Inc. ("H&H") to manufacture the ladder. The entire splash pad project was completed in April 2013.

         ¶4 Becky Sumsion began working for the City in May 2014. Her duties required her to make regular adjustments to the pumps located in the pump pit. On June 2, 2015, Sumsion fell off the pump house ladder as she was climbing down into the pump pit and broke her ankle. That injury gave rise to this suit.

         ¶5 Sumsion first sued JLR alleging negligence related to the design and manufacture of the ladder in question. Four months later, she amended her complaint to include MGB, JRCA, and H&H. The claim against each party was substantially the same-failure to properly design and construct the access ladder leading to the pump pit resulted in her injury. MGB and JRCA settled claims against them, leaving JLR and H&H as the only named defendants.

         ¶6 In September 2017, H&H and JLR filed motions for summary judgment. They both contended that summary judgment was appropriate because they owed Sumsion no duty of care. They further argued that Sumsion could not prove that her fall was directly and proximately caused by a defect in the ladder.

         ¶7 The district court granted JLR and H&H's motions for summary judgment on the ground that they did not owe Sumsion a legal duty. In framing its decision, the court first cited what it believed to be the relevant duty standard-a standard requiring consideration of four factors: "(1) the extent that the [defendant] could foresee that its actions would cause harm; (2) the likelihood of injury; (3) the magnitude of the burden of guarding against it; and (4) the consequences of placing the burden on the defendant." Niemela v. Imperial Mfg., Inc., 2011 UT App 333, ¶ 19, 263 P.3d 1191 (quoting Slisze v. Stanley-Bostitch, 1999 UT 20, ¶ 12, 979 P.2d 317). Sumsion offered no substantial analysis on the last three of these factors. She instead argued that as an employee of the City she was a foreseeable user of the ladder. And she insisted that JLR and H&H thus owed her a duty to provide a reasonably safe ladder for her authorized use.

         ¶8 Sumsion cited Tallman v. City of Hurricane, 1999 UT 55, 985 P.2d 892, in support of her position. In Tallman we held that "Utah follows the foreseeability rule set forth in the Restatement (Second) of Torts and followed by a majority of states" in assessing whether a manufacturer of an artificial condition owes another a duty of care. Id. ¶ 8. The Restatement rule first states:

One who on behalf of the possessor of land erects a structure or creates any other condition thereon is subject to liability to others upon or outside of the land for physical harm caused to them by the dangerous character of the structure or condition after his work has been accepted by the possessor, under the same rules as those determining the liability ...

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