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Angelo v. USA Triathlon

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 12, 2016

CHERYL ANGELO, Individually and as Personal Representative of the ESTATE OF RICHARD ANGELO, Plaintiff,
v.
USA TRIATHLON, Defendant. CHERYL ANGELO, Individually and as Personal Representative of the ESTATE OF RICHARD ANGELO, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, UNITED STATES COAST GUARD, and UNITED STATES COAST GUARD AUXILIARY, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

ALLISON D. BURROUGHS U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

On August 18, 2012, Richard Angelo (“Mr. Angelo”) died while participating in the swim portion of a triathlon in Lake Champlain, near Burlington, Vermont. Plaintiff Cheryl Angelo (“Plaintiff” or “Ms. Angelo”), Mr. Angelo’s wife, individually and as personal representative of Mr. Angelo’s estate, has brought separate actions against USA Triathlon as the sponsor of the event, and the United States of America, United States Coast Guard, and United States Coast Guard Auxiliary (collectively, the “U.S. Defendants”). Presently before the Court are the U.S. Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment and the Plaintiff’s Motion to Amend the Complaint. For the reasons stated herein, the Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED and the Motion to Amend the Complaint is GRANTED.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

a. Factual Background

The following facts are stated in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the nonmoving party. On February 15, 2012, the Executive Director of “Run Vermont” submitted to the U.S. Coast Guard (“Coast Guard”) an application for a permit to conduct the USA Triathlon National Championships within the harbor area of Burlington Bay on Lake Champlain near Burlington, Vermont. [ECF No. 20-1].[1] On April 18, 2012, the Coast Guard issued a permit for the event. [ECF No. 20-3]. The permit noted that the Coast Guard maintained “the authority to postpone, temporarily stop, or cancel the event due to violation of the permit stipulations, loss of control over participants or spectators, or the development of dangerous conditions, ” but that USA Triathlon, the sponsoring organization, would ultimately be “responsible for conducting [the] event in a safe manner” and that “[b]y approving [the] event, the Coast Guard [did] not assume responsibility for the safety of the participants.” Id.

The swim portion of the competition took place on August 18, 2012. [ECF No. 23 at 3]. During the swim, two Coast Guard personnel on patrol spotted Mr. Angelo swimming outside the designated swim area. Id. Sometime later, they saw Mr. Angelo face down and motionless in the water, and they tried to rescue him. After additional law enforcement and safety personnel came to the scene, Mr. Angelo was extracted from the water, but attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful. He was pronounced dead later that day. Id.

Because little discovery had occurred by the time the U.S. Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment, many facts regarding the events leading up to and during the triathlon remain unclear and in dispute, including the extent of the Coast Guard’s role in ensuring the safety of the event and what actually occurred during the attempted rescue.

b. Procedural History

Ms. Angelo initiated litigation in connection with her husband’s death in July 2013, when she filed a complaint against USA Triathlon in Essex County Superior Court in Massachusetts. Ms. Angelo brought claims for wrongful death, conscious pain and suffering, punitive damages, and negligent infliction of emotional distress against USA Triathlon. USA Triathlon removed the action to the Federal District of Massachusetts, where the case was assigned to Judge Zobel and then subsequently reassigned to Judge Sorokin. In its Notice of Removal, USA Triathlon asserted a counterclaim for indemnification. After limited discovery, USA Triathlon moved for summary judgment on the counterclaim. In a September 2014 opinion, Judge Sorokin granted the motion for summary judgment in part. Angelo v. USA Triathlon, No. CIV.A. 13-12177-LTS, 2014 WL 4716195 (D. Mass. Sept. 19, 2014). He held that by signing the USA Triathlon membership agreement before the triathlon, Mr. Angelo, and by extension his estate, agreed to indemnify USA Triathlon for any losses arising from his participation in the triathlon, including losses associated with lawsuits arising from his participation, even if brought by his estate. The court further held, however, that under Massachusetts law, such indemnity could cover losses caused by USA Triathlon’s ordinary negligence, but not losses caused by its gross negligence.

On August 14, 2014, Ms. Angelo filed a second complaint, this one against the U.S. Defendants, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont. [ECF No. 1]. The complaint, which was amended before a summons was issued [ECF No. 2], alleged that the U.S. Defendants’ negligent rescue efforts caused Mr. Angelo’s death and inflicted emotional distress on Ms. Angelo. In December 2014, the matter was transferred to the District of Massachusetts by stipulation and assigned to Judge Sorokin, who consolidated it with Ms. Angelo’s case against USA Triathlon. [ECF Nos. 7 & 13]. On February 26, 2015, both actions were reassigned to this Court. [ECF No. 18]. On March 2, 2015, the Court entered a joint scheduling order for the two cases. The scheduling order required amendments to the pleadings to be filed by July 1, 2015, fact discovery to be completed by March 1, 2016, and any dispositive motions to be filed by August 1, 2016.

On May 5, 2015, the U.S. Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on all counts, arguing that, as maritime rescuers, they are protected from liability under the Good Samaritan Doctrine, which requires that to prevail on a theory of negligent rescue, a plaintiff show both that the rescuers acted negligently and worsened the victim’s condition. [ECF No. 20 at 4-5]. They maintain that here, “there is no reasonable argument that the Coast Guard worsened Mr. Angelo’s situation in any way.” Id. at 5. Ms. Angelo filed her opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment on June 9, 2015. [ECF No. 23]. Her opposition is two-fold: first, she argues that the Motion for Summary Judgment is premature under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d) and second, that there remain substantial disputes as to material facts concerning the rescue and the events preceding it. Plaintiff attached an attorney affidavit to her opposition brief that explains why the U.S. Defendants’ motion should be denied or deferred under Rule 56(d). [ECF No. 23-1]. The U.S. Defendants filed a reply on June 22, 2015. [ECF No. 25].

Further, on June 19, 2015, Ms. Angelo moved to amend the complaint. [ECF No. 24]. The proposed amended complaint contains additional details regarding the Coast Guard’s involvement in the triathlon, as well as new counts for wrongful death, pain and suffering, punitive damages, and negligent infliction of emotional distress under Massachusetts law.[2] On June 29, 2015, the U.S. Defendants filed an opposition to the Motion to Amend [ECF No. 29], and on July 13, 2015, Ms. Angelo filed a reply, [ECF No. 33].

II. MOTION FOR SUMMARY ...


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