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King v. S & S Foods, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division

November 20, 2014

HARRISON KING, Plaintiff,
v.
S & S FOODS, LLC, BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA, NATIONAL CAPITAL AREA COUNCIL BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA, COUNCIL #82, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

NORMAN K. MOON, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Harrison King ("Plaintiff") filed this action on April 24, 2014, alleging a number of tort violations against S&S Foods, LLC ("S&S Foods"). Plaintiff also asserts a single claim of negligence against Defendants Boy Scouts of America ("BSA") and National Capital Area Council, Boy Scouts of America, Local Council # 82 ("NCAC"). Plaintiff's claims arise from a Boy Scout camping trip in which he ate tainted meat produced and distributed by S&S Foods and prepared under the direction of BSA and NCAC. This matter is now before me on a motion for summary judgment filed by BSA and NCAC (collectively, "Defendants").

II. BACKGROUND

Harrison King is a member of Troop 175, a Boy Scout troop sponsored by Defendants. In late July of 2008, King's troop attended the Goshen Boy Scout Summer Camp Facility (the "Goshen Facility") in Rockbridge County, Virginia. The troop arrived at the Goshen Facility in late July and attended the camp for approximately one week. During their trip, King and his troop engaged in a number of activities designed to teach "life skills."

During one such activity, King and his troop prepared a meal consisting of ground beef. King, along with the other members Troop 175, cooked the beef over an open fire under the supervision of Defendants' employees. Shortly after consuming the beef, King began experiencing uncontrollable diarrhea, fatigue, and nausea. On July 28, 2008, King went to the hospital to identify the source of his ailments. The hospital performed a test on King's stool, which tested positive for E. Coli 0157:H7 ("E. Coli"). After King's condition worsened, he returned to INOVA Fairfax Hospital ("INOVA") for more testing. On August 3, 2008, doctors at INOVA diagnosed King with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially fatal complication of E. Coli. As a result of his infection, King continues to suffer from: (1) painful headaches; (2) physical fatigue; (3) brain damage; and (4) neurological complications.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

The court should grant summary judgment if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). If the evidence of a genuine issue of material fact "is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986) (citations omitted). "As to materiality... [o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Id. at 248.

In considering a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, a court must view the record as a whole and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). If the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof, "the burden on the moving party may be discharged by showing' - that is, pointing out to the district court - that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. If the moving party shows such an absence of evidence, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth specific facts illustrating genuine issues for trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. The trial court has an "affirmative obligation" to "prevent factually unsupported claims [or] defenses' from proceeding to trial." Felty v. Graves-Humphreys Co., 818 F.2d 1126, 1128 (4th Cir. 1987) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24)).

IV. DISCUSSION

Defendants claim they are immune from liability with respect to Plaintiff's claim of negligence and are therefore entitled to summary judgment. Defendants' assertion derives from Virginia's charitable immunity doctrine, which provides that "charitable institutions are immune from liability based upon claims of negligence asserted by those who accept their charitable benefits." Thrasher v. Winand, 389 S.E.2d 699, 701 (Va. 1990) (citing Weston's Adm'x v. St. Vincent, etc., 107 S.E. 785, 790 (1921)). Plaintiff makes two arguments in response. First, Plaintiff argues Defendants are not entitled to immunity because they are not "charitable institutions." Second, even if Defendants are charitable institutions, Plaintiff argues Defendants engaged in gross negligence when they allowed King to cook ground meat without proper supervision. Plaintiff therefore argues Defendants are not protected by the charitable immunity doctrine, as "the shield of charitable immunity does not extend to liability for acts of gross negligence...." Cowan v. Hospice Support Care, Inc., 603 S.E.2d 916, 919 (Va. 2004).

A. Charitable Institution Status

In order to determine whether an organization is a "charitable institution, " the Virginia Supreme Court directs lower courts to consider whether "the entity... is organized with a recognized charitable purpose and that it operates in fact in accord with that purpose." Ola v. YMCA of South Hampton Roads, Inc., 621 S.E.2d 70, 72 (Va. 2005). Where an entity has a charter that sets out a charitable purpose, there is a rebuttable presumption it operates in accord with its purpose and therefore qualifies as a charitable institution. Id. at 73. Where no charter is produced, "[t]he character of the organization may [also] be ascertained... from the manner in which ...


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