Horvitz & Levy obtained the complete affirmance of a favorable summary judgment in favor of defendant golf course proprietor, defeating arguments by plaintiff and co-defendant seeking to impose vicarious liability under theories of joint venture and respondeat superior.
Plaintiff Tressa Blas, who was seven years old at the time, was struck with a golf club by another seven-year-old while practicing chip shots during a youth summer camp under the supervision of a volunteer golf instructor, Brian Gonzales. Gonzales had been recruited to work at the golf camp by its director, Joey Cerulle, the head coach of the golf teams at CSU Long Beach. Blas sued U.S. Sports Camps (USSC) and American Golf, claiming the defendants had formed a joint venture under a master agreement to operate and profit from golf camps at American Golf courses, and the defendants were therefore vicariously liable for Cerulle’s and Gonzales’s negligence as joint venturers and under the respondeat superior doctrine. The trial court granted summary judgment for both defendants, concluding the undisputed evidence negated plaintiff’s claim that either defendant had sufficient control over the camp to impose vicarious liability. Plaintiff appealed and Horvitz & Levy was retained to represent American Golf on appeal.
Plaintiff argued on appeal that the master agreement obligated American Golf to select, compensate, and supervise the camp director and staff and thus, even if American Golf delegated its control to USSC or Cerulle, there was still sufficient evidence of joint control to survive summary judgment on a joint venture theory. USSC also argued that the master agreement applied and required American Golf (rather than USSC) to provide staff to run the camp. Horvitz & Levy demonstrated why undisputed evidence proved that the master agreement did not apply: it was Cerulle who organized the camp and recruited its staff, pursuant to an agreement whereby Cerulle was granted a license to use the golf course for the camp in order to pay for the university’s teams’ use of the golf course during the school year, and Cerulle and his staff members (including Gonzales) signed employment agreements with USSC—not with American Golf. The Court of Appeal agreed with Horvitz & Levy, holding that the trial court was correct with respect to the joint venture, but also finding that USSC’s employment agreements raised a triable issue of fact as to whether USSC could be vicariously liable under the respondeat superior doctrine. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal reversed the summary judgment for USSC and affirmed the summary judgment in favor of American Golf.