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As detailed in appellate rulings, the case began in 2012 when Willie and Kristy Harris took their daughter Riley and two siblings to a youth football game at the Garden City Stadium. The fee was $2 per adult and $1 for students; children 6 and under got in free. Riley and he sister were both 6, so admission was not charged for them. The children left their upper-bleacher seats during the game to go to the concession stand. Riley slipped through the bleachers and fell nearly 30 feet to the ground, suffering serious injuries on her way back. The Harrises sued Garden City in Chatham County, asserting claims for premises liability, negligence and negligence per se. The city moved for summary judgment arguing, among other things, that it was shielded by the RPA. The 1965 act states that “an owner of land owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for recreational purposes or to give any warning of a dangerous condition” except in cases where “the owner of land charges the person or persons who enter or go one the land for the recreational use thereof.” Chatham County State Court Judge Hermann Coolidge Jr. denied the city’s motion but granted immediate appellate review. In November 2016, the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld Coolidge. An opinion authored by Judge John Ellington with the concurrence of Judges Elizabeth Branch and Amanda Mercier said that “notwithstanding that the city chose not to charge very young children, including Riley, to enter the facility, the stadium was not open to the public without charge.” In reversing the lower courts, Melton wrote that the act’s language shielding “a landowner ‘who either directly or indirectly invites or permits without charge any person’” onto the property “specifically and unambiguously” exempts a landlord from liability anyone admitted without charge. In a footnote, Melton took issue with Hunstein’s claim that the majority overruled prior decisions. In the cases cited in the dissent, “not a single one … involves a scenario where some members of the public were charged to use a landowner’s property for recreational purposes but others were not,” Melton wrote.
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