Court Affirms Judgment Allowing Boarders to Move Horses Due to Stable Employee's Smoking in Barn

On July 18, 2013, the Austin Court of Appeals issued a memorandum opinion affirming in part a trial court judgment which held that a stable employees’ smoking while working in the barn was a material breach of the boarding agreement, allowing several boarders to move out without notice.

After a boarder saw and photographed a stable employee smoking while working in the barn, several boarders removed their horses from the stable. They did not give 30 days notice before leaving, and did not pay for the month after removing their horses as prescribed by their boarding contract with the stable.

The court of appeals upheld the trial court’s decision that the employee’s smoking in the barn was a material breach of the agreement that excused the boarders from further compliance with the boarding contract. In its materiality analysis, the court pointed out that the stable owner agreed when testifying that her “sole job in taking in other’s animals for boarding is to give those animals a safe place to live,” and agreed that “fire is a danger to the care and safety of horses.” Further, the stable's barn rules, which were incorporated into the boarding contract by reference, included the statement, “No smoking in the barns”.  The smoking ban was included in a rule entitled “Safety”. The court found that this general prohibition banned everyone in the barn from smoking, not just the horse owners.

The court reversed and remanded the remainder of the suit, which had to do with the stable owner's riding instructor agreement with Amber Ross. Ross had given riding lessons at the stables for the boarders involved in the suit who had left the barn with their horses. Ross’s lessons were covered by a written riding instructor agreement that required Ross to pay a fee when she taught a lesson at the stables. Ross did not pay the stable owner any fees for lessons conducted during March 2009, though there was evidence that Ross gave lessons during that month. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s decision that Ross did not breach the riding instructor agreement, and remanded that portion of the case to the trial court to determine the amount of fees Ross owed to the stable owner.

Take Aways:  Owners of boarding stables should take care to ensure that all stable employees, as well as friends and guests of the stable ower, comply with all written rules and regulations prescribed by the stable.  If a stable employee or a guest or friend of the stable owner violates barn rules, boarders may be legally entitled to terminate their boarding contracts immediately under certain circumstances.  This may be true even if the stable's rules do not mention whether or not the stable owners are subject to the rules.

Case InformationRamaker v. Abbe, 2013 WL 3791491 (Tex. App.—Austin, Jul. 18, 2013)(mem. op.)