This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).






Val Carlson, as Trustee for the

next of kin of Mark Carlson,





State of Minnesota,

Department of Natural Resources,



City of Detroit Lakes,

Appellant (C6-01-1099),

Defendant (C7-01-1130).


Filed January 15, 2002


Klaphake, Judge


Becker County District Court

File No. C500000696


Amy J. Doll, Fluegel, Helseth, McLaughlin, Anderson & Brutlag, Chtd., 215 Atlantic Avenue, P.O. Box 527, Morris, MN 56267; and


Wilbur Fluegel, Fluegel Law Office, 701 Fourth Avenue South, #1260, Minneapolis, MN  55415-1815 (for respondent)


Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Margie E. Hendriksen, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103 (for respondent Department of Natural Resources);

John E. Hennen, Carla J. Heyl, League of Minnesota Cities, 145 University Avenue West, St. Paul, MN 55103 (for appellant Detroit Lakes)


            Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Harten, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            This wrongful death action arises out of respondent Mark Carlson’s January 16, 1999, fatal snowmobile accident which occurred after he drove into a fishing pier seasonally stored in the outlet of the Pelican River.  Appellants, City of Detroit Lakes (city), which owns and structurally repairs the pier, and State of Minnesota, Department of Natural Resources (state), which annually maintains the pier, challenge the district court’s denial of their summary judgment and dismissal motions.  Appellants claim that they are entitled to recreational use immunity under Minn. Stat. §§ 3.736, subd. 3(i), and 466.03, subd. 15 (2000).  The city also claims it is entitled to statutory immunity under Minn. Stat. § 466.03, subd. 6 (2000), and the state claims it is entitled to vicarious official immunity and statutory immunity under Minn. Stat. § 3.736, subd. 3(b) (2000).  Because we conclude that appellants are entitled to recreational use immunity, we reverse.


            Neither the state nor its employees are liable for “a loss incurred by a user arising from the construction, operation, or maintenance of the outdoor recreation system.”  Minn. Stat. § 3.76, subd. 3(i) (2000); see Minn. Stat § 466.03, subd. 15 (2000) (extending recreational use immunity to municipalities).  This case turns on whether respondent, at the time of his accident, fell within the statutory definition of a “user” of the state’s recreation system.

            The district court concluded that recreational use immunity did not apply because respondent was not a user of the pier when his accident occurred.  We disagree with the district court’s construction of the word “user” as it applies to the facts of this case.  The purpose of the recreational use immunity statute is to protect the government from suit for its decisions regarding recreational areas, such as piers, to effectuate the larger purpose of “preserv[ing] * * * Minnesota’s outdoor recreational resources,” and “the state’s freedom to manage [these] areas in the best interests of the state and its citizenry.”  Green Glo Turf Farms, Inc. v. State, 347 N.W.2d 491, 495 (Minn. 1984) (quotation omitted).[1] 

            A construction of the word “user” that requires a person to be located on the pier or fishing from the pier is too narrow to fulfill the larger purpose of the statute—to protect the government from suit for its construction, operation, and maintenance of numerous outdoor recreation areas in this state.[2]  Rather, we construe the word “user” more broadly, to encompass a snowmobiler who traverses a public lake at night, enters open water in a river, and collides with a recreational pier stored there during the winter.  See id.

            Our decision here is in accord with other cases in which the state or a municipality has been given immunity from suit for injuries occurring within the state’s recreation system.  See, e.g., Steinke v. City of Andover, 525 N.W.2d 173, 176-77 (Minn. 1994) (plaintiff injured after driving into drainage ditch in city park); Sirek, by Beaumaster v. State, Dep’t of Natural Res., 496 N.W.2d 807, 812 (Minn. 1993) (pedestrian on state park trail injured by car while crossing highway); Schaffer v. Spirit Mountain Recreation Area Auth., 541 N.W.2d 357, 360 (Minn. App. 1995) (plaintiff injured by skiing into barrel while using city ski hill); Johnson v. State, 478 N.W.2d 769, 773-74 (Minn. App. 1991) (plaintiff injured by falling over raised sidewalk joint at information center located in state rest area), review denied (Minn. Feb. 27, 1992).  While this accident did not occur on park land, it did occur on state land generally maintained for public recreation, and we see no reason to distinguish this case merely because the pier was temporarily placed in public water.  See In re County Ditch No. 34, 142 Minn. 37, 41, 170 N.W. 883, 884-85 (1919) (navigable meandering waters belong to state, in trust for public, and must be preserved for recreational use and enjoyment of public); see also Green Glo, 347 N.W.2d at 494 (as used in recreational use immunity statute, loss “arising from” construction of outdoor recreation system includes “all reasonably foreseeable consequences of the state’s actions, whether those consequences occur on the state’s land or outside it”).

            Thus, we conclude that the district court erred in denying appellants’ motion for summary judgment.  See Christopherson v. City of Albert Lea, 623 N.W.2d 272, 275 (Minn. App. 2001) (district court’s decision on whether to apply immunity is legal question subject to de novo review).  Because we conclude that recreational use immunity applies to appellants, we decline to reach the other immunity defenses they have raised.



[1] Although the recreational use statute was amended in 1985 to require that the injured party be a “user” of the recreation system, we do not construe this amendment as a change in the statute’s fundamental purpose.  See 1985 Minn. Laws First Spec. Sess. ch. 16, art. 1 § 1. 

[2] The pier at issue was constructed in response to a donation that has funded the construction of about 200 fishing piers throughout the state since 1984.