Athletic Association Is Not Liable for Fracas in Parking Lot

Dec 18, 2009

An Ohio state appeals court has affirmed a lower court’s finding that an athletic association did not breach a duty to protect a cheerleading coach, who got into a fight with a parent after a banquet.
Specifically, the panel of judges found that the plaintiff “has not pointed to any evidence in the record that creates a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the (association) breached its duty to her.”
In November 2006, the South Rangers Athletic Association held its annual banquet to honor the peewee football players, cheerleaders, and volunteer coaches who participated in the program. The South Rangers hosted the event at a banquet facility it rented from the Radisson hotel in downtown Akron. Following the event, two of the cheerleading coaches, both of whom were also parents of young girls participating in the cheerleading program, engaged in a fight in the Cascade parking garage attached to the Radisson.
Plaintiff Keisha Howze had been a cheerleading coach for the South Rangers for several years “when she began having problems” with fellow cheerleading coach Trina Carter, according to the court.
Part of the tension was related to the fact that “Carter was coaching Howze’s daughter, K.H. When Carter disciplined K.H. by prohibiting her from cheering at a certain football game, Howze confronted Carter. During the football game, the two women began screaming at one another and had to be separated.
“Later in the season, Carter abruptly resigned from her coaching position. According to Howze, Carter quit due to a second disagreement over discipline involving K.H. At that time, Howze stepped into Carter’s role and helped Carter’s former team prepare for the annual cheerleading tournament.”
Fast forward to the season-ending banquet, which Carter did not attend, but her daughter and many of her friends did. At the banquet, Howze took to the stage to announce that Carter’s former team had won second place. Howze testified at deposition that she told the assembled crowd at the banquet that, ‘unfortunately, earlier this year, a team’s coach quit, which was a good thing because I got to step in … and take them to competition and win second place.’”
Frankie Walker, the director of the South Rangers, testified that, near the end of the event, he noticed Carter standing around outside the entrance to the banquet hall. Although he testified that, before that evening, he was not aware of any problem between the two women, he had heard what Howze told the crowd that evening and expected that Carter might be upset. According to Walker, he told Howze that Carter was outside in the hallway and asked Howze to wait a few minutes inside the banquet room, while he went out to speak with Carter.
Howze eventually left the banquet and proceeded to her car. But Carter was waiting for her. Carter struck Howze in the face with a trophy she was carrying in her hands. The two women fought for approximately ten minutes before being separated.
Howze sued Carter, the Radisson and the South Rangers. The court granted summary judgment to the defendants. Howze appealed the trial court’s decision granting the South Rangers summary judgment on her negligence claim.
The trial court determined that Howze had failed “to establish that the South Rangers had breached a duty owed to her because Carter’s criminal actions were not foreseeable and the South Rangers’ duty did not extend to the parking garage where the incident occurred.”
The location of the fight was central to the court’s decision. “There is no dispute that the assault and battery occurred on property owned by the City of Akron that was not in any way being controlled by the South Rangers on the night of the incident,” wrote the court. “According to Howze’s own testimony, South Rangers officials not only warned her of the danger, but also worked to keep Carter busy while Howze exited the banquet facility. Howze testified that, despite the warning, she did not believe she was in any danger. The evidence indicated that Howze had plenty of time to leave the building and the parking garage before Carter could have caught up to her, but Howze did not feel the need to hurry. In fact, she admitted that she felt comfortable talking with parents for an additional ten to fifteen minutes after Carter verbally attacked her in the hallway. Howze has failed to point to evidence in the record tending to show that the South Rangers breached its duty to her.”
Howze et al. v. Carter; Court of Appeals of Ohio, 9th Dist., Summit Co.; No. 24688; 10/14/09
Attorneys of Record: (for appellants) Cedric B. Colvin. (for appellee) Paul Adamson and Cornelius O’Sullivan.


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