Adams Stirling PLC


Private Trails. The Orange Park Community Association (OPCA) had a common area trail system that was accessible to residents and non-residents alike. For safety reasons, the association installed barriers at the trail's entry points to prevent vehicle access. A non-resident disabled person wanted to use a horse drawn carriage on the trails and sued the association under the Disabled Persons Act, Unruh Civil Rights Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Stated with precision, the question presented is whether recreational common areas within a common interest development are public accommodations under the following circumstances, which are undisputed in the record before us: (1) the recreational area at issue is a fenced trail with various entry points spread over OPCA's common area; (2) the entry points include architectural barriers to access by vehicles; (3) the trails are linked to a larger web of privately owned and publicly owned trails in Orange County; (4) the OPCA trails are accessible to the general public, in that OPCA follows a custom of not precluding members of the general public from utilizing the OPCA trails; and (5) OPCA does not charge fees to members of the general public for utilizing its trails or otherwise attempt to commercially exploit the trails. (Carolyn v. Orange Park Community Association (2009) 177 Cal.App.4th 1090, 1099.)

To be brought within the ambit of section 19955 a facility must be public. . . . [T]he recreation building just does not have the characteristics and incidents of being public that section 19955 not only contemplates but specifically requires. Undoubtedly [a recreation building] is open to a more general class than the residents of the park, for surely it is available to their families and invited guests. Use by that expanded group of persons in our view, however, does not reach the use 'by the general public' spoken of in section 19955. There are still meaningful restrictions on who may use the facilities, which considerably narrows their [availability] to the general public... (Id. at 1103.)

...we conclude OPCA's trails are not public accommodations under either the ADA or California law. We agree with the premise that recreational common areas within common interest developments can be classified as public accommodations in appropriate circumstances. But we think it clear OPCA's trails would not be a public accommodation if OPCA actively excluded the general public from using the trails. Moreover, we do not think OPCA's private trails transform into public accommodations merely because OPCA does not actively exclude members of the public from using the trails. (Id. at 1104.)

There is no evidence in the record suggesting OPCA's trails were built for anyone other than its own members. There is no evidence in the record suggesting OPCA encourages public use of its trails, through advertising or otherwise. Nor is there evidence in the record suggesting OPCA charges fees to members of the public for using the trails or benefits in other ways from the public's use of the trails. The OPCA trails are an "amenity" provided to OPCA's members in exchange for their membership and association dues, not a public accommodation. OPCA "neither contemplates nor needs accessibility or continuous use [of the trails] by the general public for its sustenance." (Id. at 1105.)

The court concluded the association's trails were not public trails just because the association did not actively exclude members of the public.

Liability for Injuries. See related topic "Injuries on Easements & Trails."

ASSISTANCE: Associations needing legal assistance can contact us. To stay current with issues affecting community associations, subscribe to the Davis-Stirling Newsletter.

Adams Stirling PLC