In Negligence Suit, Superior Court Finds in Favor of Defendant School District, Citing Qualified Immunity

In a recent negligence action, the Superior Court of Connecticut in Litchfield granted a motion to strike filed by school officials and a town board of education (collectively the defendants) because no exception to qualified immunity for discretionary acts applied to the case.

Case Details

One day during recess, a parent’s daughter was kicked and injured by a classmate (defendant student). The defendants were aware that the daughter was frequently bullied and harassed by the defendant student. Therefore, the parent filed suit, alleging that the defendant “failed in its duty to protect [his daughter] against any future bullying.”  However, the defendants asserted that they were not subject to liability because of governmental immunity.

Generally, municipal employees enjoy “qualified immunity in the performance of a governmental duty,”[1] which involves the exercise of discretion. However, even this immunity may be surmounted by a plaintiff if he or she can establish the applicability of one of three exceptions.

Identifiable Person-Imminent Harm

One of these exceptions is the “identifiable person-imminent harm” exception, which requires: “(1) an identifiable victim; (2) an imminent harm; and (3) a public official to whom it is apparent that his or her conduct is likely to subject that victim to that harm.”[2] This is a narrowly applied exception, however, because the harm itself must be “limited both in duration and in geography to make it apparent to the defendants that schoolchildren were subject to imminent harm.”[3] In other words:

Imminent harm excludes risks which might occur, if at all, at some unspecified time in the future. In order to meet the imminent harm prong of this exception… the risk must be temporary and of short duration.[4]

In this case, the Court found that although the plaintiff satisfied the first prong, he failed to do so with the second two. He failed to “allege a temporary condition which placed [his daughter] in imminent harm;” rather, it could have happened anytime, anywhere during the school day.[5] The defendants’ knowledge of the previous bullying and harassment, without more, was insufficient to satisfy the remainder of the test. Therefore, the Court ruled that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity and granted the motion to strike.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

If you are the parent of a child who has been bullied or harassed at school, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced and knowledgeable school law practitioner. The attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C., assist clients in Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, and Westport. If you have any questions regarding school liability or any other education law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

 


[1] Burns v. Board of Education, 228 Conn. 640, 645 (1994).

[2] Violano v. Fernandez, 280 Conn. 310, 319-20 (2006).

[3] Doe v. Board of Education, 76 Conn. App. 296, 302-03 (2003).

[4] Cady v. Tolland, 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3526.

[5] Antalik et al. v. Thomaston Board of Education, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2082.