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Groves v. Woods

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

January 26, 2018



          BRIEFS FOR APPELLANTS: Elaina L. Holmes Flatwoods, Kentucky

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEES: J. Stan Lee Lexington, Kentucky



          CLAYTON, JUDGE.

         Sarah Jane Groves and George Hibert Groves, Jr. appeal the Boyd Circuit Court's grant of summary judgment in favor of landowners, John Woods, Sr. and Hazel J. Woods, and horse owners, Terry Harris and Tammy L. Harris (hereinafter collectively the "Appellees"). This action arises from an injury incurred by Sarah that was allegedly caused by a horse on the Woods' property. Hank, the horse, is owned by the Harrises who boarded the horse part-time on the Woods' property. The Groves also appeal the trial court's denial of their motion to alter, amend, or vacate the order of summary judgment.

         After careful consideration, we affirm.


         Sarah Groves and her husband, George Groves, entered a verbal lease with John and Hazel Woods to rent a home with an abutting yard in Catlettsburg, Kentucky. However, the parties disagree about whether the Groves rented the house and yard or the whole property. The Appellees maintain that they only rented the house and yard, but the Groves claim to have rented the entire property. It was not until after the Appellees' motion for summary judgment that the Groves insisted that they had rented the entire property.

         The Groves and their three children moved into the home on December 30, 2013. Adjacent to the home and yard, the Woods had a fenced pasture with a barn. On this portion of the Woods' property, the Harrises boarded Hank, a Tennessee Walking Horse, part-time. He spent time on the pasture and in the barn.

         The Harrises described Hank as a gentle, trained horse that enjoyed being ridden. He was taken to church picnics, fall festivals, and birthday parties to perform tricks and give rides. The Harrises knew of no occasion where he kicked another horse or person. The horse was used to being around other people and exposed to loud noises and multiple stimuli.

         According to the Woods, contrary to the Groves' assertions, they specifically discussed the horses, barn, and pasture with the Groves. Hazel Woods claimed to have informed them that they were only renting the house and the yard. Further, because Hazel did not want them going near the horses, she told them to keep the children away from the barn and out of the pasture. John Woods also said that he told George about the horses and not to go into the pasture. George agreed that the family would stay off the pasture. It was a verbal lease and an informal arrangement since the Woods' son was married to Sarah's sister. Sarah, in her deposition, said that they were helping the Woods out by renting the home.

         Nonetheless, the Groves disagree that they were told to stay off the pasture and away from the horses. Yet, in their depositions, both Sarah and George admitted knowing horses were on the pasture. They both saw a horse, Hank, on the property the day after they moved into the house.

         On January 9, 2014, nine days after moving in, Sarah and the children went for a walk to see an old graveyard. They cut through the pasture to get to the site. It is disputed whether Sarah and the children crossed a fence into the pasture where the horses spend time. The Appellees believe that Sarah and the children crossed onto the pasture, but Sarah claimed that they never crossed onto the pasture or traversed the fence. Sarah maintained that Hank was running loose, chased her, and stomped her thigh after she fell. Countering her assertion, the Appellees highlight that in her description of the accident, she stated she walked up a hill to get to the graveyard. The hill is on the pasture side of the fence, not the yard. Therefore, they maintain that the injury occurred on the pasture. In fact, Sarah and the children in their depositions talked about the injury occurring on a hill.

         On October 10, 2014, Sarah filed the complaint against the Woods and the Harrises alleging negligence on their part. George filed a separate suit seeking damages for a loss of consortium. His suit was consolidated with the negligence action.

         At the close of discovery and after the depositions, the Appellees made a motion for summary judgment. Sarah objected to the summary judgment motion. In her written objection, she averred that they had rented the entire property from the Woods, and thus, was in possession of the whole property. This claim, sometime into the litigation, changed the status of Sarah from a trespasser to a tenant. A week later, Sarah also supplemented the summary judgment response outside the time permitted by the trial court. In the supplement, Sarah argued that the Appellees also violated the cattle-at-large statute (Kentucky Revised Statute (KRS) 259.210).

         A hearing was held where the Appellees argued, based on Sarah's new assertion that she was a tenant not trespasser, the previous issues before the trial court were moot since the matter now involved landlord-tenant law. The Appellees asserted that under landlord-tenant law, they owed no duty to Sarah because they had informed her about the horse prior to the alleged injury.

         In its order granting summary judgment, the trial court noted that the Groves attempted to argue one theory under the complaint and then pivoted with new facts after the summary judgment motion. The trial court believed that changing the theory of the case and the underlying facts ran afoul of Kentucky jurisprudence. Additionally, the trial court held that Sarah's argument that KRS 259.210 was applicable was ...

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