Posts tagged with "Board of Education"

What are the Duties of the Board of Education in Connecticut?

Each Board of Education is required to maintain good public elementary and secondary schools, carry out the educational interests of the state, and provide such other educational activities as in its judgment to best serve the interests of the school district.  The Board is also required to provide an appropriate learning environment for its students.  This includes providing adequate instructional books, supplies, materials, equipment, staffing, and facilities.

The Board is also responsible for the equitable allocation of resources among its schools, maintaining school facilities, and providing a safe school setting for students.  Importantly, the Board is also tasked to maintain records of allegations, investigations, and reports that a child has been abused or neglected by a school employee.

Each year the board of education of each local school district shall prepare a statement of educational goals for the district.  Further, the board of education shall submit to the Commissioner of Education a strategic school profile report for each student under its jurisdiction and for the school district as a whole.

The profile report shall provide information on measures of: student needs; school resources; student and school performance; the number of students enrolled in an adult high school credit diploma program; equitable allocation of resources among its schools; reduction of racial isolation; and special education.


If you have any questions related to education law in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

How to File a Personal Injury Claim Against a School in Connecticut

If you have a personal injury claim against a school, a school employee, or a similar government entity or employee, you probably already know that it’s more complicated than just suing a private homeowner for a slip-and-fall. But what makes it so complicated, and what is the process?

Schools and their employees are often immune from liability for actions they undertake within the course and scope of their duties. That immunity is not unlimited, however, and particularly where a child’s injury is caused by gross negligence, malice, or wantonness, you can be compensated with monetary damages. CGS § 4-141, et seq. But, before you take your case to court, your case must be reviewed by the Commissioner of Claims.

Depending on the value of your case, the Commissioner of Claims will review your case, and may conduct a fact finding investigation, including witness interviews, document inspections, and other types of inquiries. The parties may engage in discovery in some cases, and the Attorney General may also be permitted to file a dispositive motion that asks the Commissioner to decide the issues in the case just on the known facts and law, but without a full hearing or trial. Once the Commissioner of Claims’ investigation (if applicable) is complete, s/he may issue a decision, or if there are unresolved legal issues, they may authorize you to file suit in
court.

Navigating an administrative process with an administrative authority requires expert guidance. Small mistakes such as misunderstanding a statute or missing a deadline can impact or even eliminate your ability to seek relief. If you have a personal injury claim against a school, school employee, or a similar government entity, the attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. can assist you. Managing Partner Joseph C. Maya may be reached directly by telephone at (203) 221-3100, ext. 110 or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

The above is not intended to constitute legal advice, and you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible if you believe you have this, or any other type of claim.

What Happens If Your Child is Denied Free School Accommodations Due to Residency Issues?

Under Connecticut law, school districts must provide free school accommodations, including transportation, to every child from age three to twenty-one (who has not yet graduated from high school) within the district so as to facilitate public school attendance.[1] Typically, the school administration will determine your child’s residency status before he or she first enrolls; this does not always happen, however, because it is not statutorily required. As a result, it is not uncommon for residency issues to arise after your child has already been attending classes at a particular school, and the school district has the right to exclude if it determines that your child really resides in another district.

Denying a Child School Accommodations

If your child is denied school accommodations due to residency issues, the board of education must notify you of your statutory right to a formal hearing, as well as the reasons for concluding ineligibility.[2] If you submit a written request for this hearing, the school board must hold it within ten (10) days after receipt.[3] At this hearing, you will have the opportunity to present any evidence (including that which establishes your child’s residency), cross-examine any witnesses, and present arguments – however, you bear the burden of establishing residency by a preponderance of the evidence.[4] 

A stenographic record or audio recording must be made of this hearing, and the school board must produce its findings within ten (10) days after the hearing takes place. Have the right to request a copy, which must be provided within thirty (30) days.[5] During the duration of the hearing process, your child may still attend school in the district.

Appealing the Board’s Residency Decision 

As a parent, you have the right to appeal to the Connecticut State Board of Education (SBE) the school board’s decision regarding your child’s residency. However, you must do so within twenty (20) days after the school board mails out their finding – failure to do so will make the decision of the initial hearing final.[6] If the SBE elects to consider your appeal, it must return a decision within forty-five (45) days. However, if the SBE determines that your child was not a resident and thus not entitled to free school accommodations your school district may assess and see tuition reimbursement from you.[7] After this avenue of recourse has been exhausted regardless of the outcome, either party may then appeal to the local Superior Court.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Ensuring free school accommodations for your child is important, but even more critical is making sure you do not run afoul of residency requirements. The situations in which confusion may occur are rather commonplace, and will be discussed in an upcoming article. However, should you find your child being denied free school accommodations due to residency issues, it is imperative that you seek the counsel of 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 eligibility and residency 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] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-186(a).

[2] Id.

[3] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-186(b)(1).

[4] Id.

[5] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-186(b)(2).

[6] Id.

[7] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-186(b)(4).

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.

School District Was Not on Notice of Inappropriate Teacher Conduct with Student; Negligence Action Dismissed

Seven years ago yesterday, the Superior Court of Connecticut in the Judicial District of Middletown handed down its decision in a lawsuit filed by a former student (plaintiff) against the Town of Clinton as well as the board of education. In this case, the plaintiff “brought a direct claim against the defendants, alleging failure to supervise and negligent supervision” in violation of state law,[1] leading to his sexual abuse by a teacher while he was in fifth, sixth, and seventh grades.

A municipality’s liability for negligent acts or omissions depends on whether they “require the exercise of judgment or discretion as an official function of the authority expressly or impliedly granted by law.”[2] In other words, acts that must be performed by the dictates of State law, thus prohibiting discretion, may result in liability if negligently performed; if discretion is permitted, liability will not attach unless one of three exceptions applies.

Discretionary Acts

Historically, Connecticut courts have held that “the duty of the defendant [school district] to supervise students is a discretionary, governmental duty.”[3] In addition, employer conduct with respect to failure to screen, hire, train, supervise, control, and discipline constitutes “discretionary acts as a matter of law.”[4]

In this case, the plaintiff contended that under Connecticut law,[5] the defendants “had no discretion not to conduct a continuous teacher evaluation.”[6] Though the defendants agreed with the statutory mandate, it asserted that “the manner in which such an evaluation is conducted is discretionary.”[7] The duty to act claimed by the plaintiff surrounded the use of the phrase “might have crossed the line,” stated by the teacher to a colleague in regards to her relationship with the plaintiff.

However, the Court found that “[t]here was absolutely no other evidence presented… to suggest any other way in which the defendants would be in any way on notice of any inappropriate conduct between [the teacher] and the plaintiff.”[8] After further concluding that no exception to governmental immunity for discretionary acts applied, the Court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions regarding school liability or any other education law matter, the attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable school law practitioners and assist clients in Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, and Westport. If you have any questions or need more information, 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] Connecticut General Statutes § 52-557n.

[2] Id. at (a)(2)(B).

[3] Jane Doe v. Board of Education of the City of New Haven, 76 Conn. App. 296, 300 (2003).

[4] Hughes v. City of Hartford, 96 F. Supp. 2d 114, 119 (D.Conn. 2000).

[5] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-151(b).

[6] Lingos v. Town of Clinton et al., 2005 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2746 at 7.

[7] Id.

[8] Id. at 8.

The Boundaries of a Child’s Constitutional Right to Education in Connecticut

Under the Constitution of Connecticut, “There shall always be free public elementary and secondary schools in the state.”[1] However, to satisfy free appropriate public education, or FAPE, requirements of federal law, this doesn’t mean parents may engage in a sort of free-for-all in dictating the five W’s of their child’s educational opportunities at public expense. Rather, case precedent has established limitations that take into account the interests of the child balanced against governmental concerns of the school district.

The Right to Education in Connecticut

While the Supreme Court of Connecticut has stated that “the right to education is so basic and fundamental that any infringement of that right must be strictly scrutinized,” they did not intend this to extend to any specific sort of education.[2] In other words, just because a student is eligible to participate in specific courses or extracurricular activities does not automatically grant him or her the right to do so.[3] More specifically: “Absent a legislative mandate such as that in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-76a that requires a special education curriculum for children with disabilities, a student has no constitutional right to any particular program of instruction.”[4]

By way of examples, children who are classified as “gifted and talented” are not entitled to special classes.[5] Rather, a school district has the choice to provide special services, but is not required to do so. In a fairly recent case, the Superior Court ruled against plaintiffs who asserted they were denied their constitutional right to FAPE when the Milford Board of Education elected to change their primary vocational agriculture (VOAG) program due to financial considerations. The Court explained that the school district was complying with State mandates surrounding VOAG educational opportunities for its students, and that “plaintiffs have no constitutional right to the education of their choice; they merely have a right to a ‘free public secondary’ education.”[6]

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions about any education law matter, it may prove beneficial to seek the counsel of an experienced school law practitioner. Please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. 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] Constitution of Connecticut, Article Eighth, Section 1.

[2] Horton v. Meskill, 172 Conn. 615, 646 (1977).

[3] Wajnowski v. Connecticut Association of Schools, Superior Court, Judicial District of New Haven, Docket No. CT 00 0432727, 1999 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3448 (December 17, 1999, Pittman, J.)

[4] Id.

[5] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-76d(c). See, e.g., Broadley v. Board of Education, 229 Conn. 1, 9 (1994).

[6] Tomasco PPA et al. v. Milford Board of Education, 2007 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2413 at 13.

Tenured Teacher’s Wrongful Termination Claims Dismissed for Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

This past June, the Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk at Stamford granted a school district’s motion to dismiss a wrongful termination lawsuit by a teacher, who claimed he was fired because of his disability. Rather than reaching the merits of the case, the Court stated it lacked jurisdiction. This case illuminates the importance for teachers and staff to first exhaust all administrative remedies, including enumerated appeals processes, before seeking recourse with the courts.

Case Details

The teacher was a tenured physical education teacher at a public middle school in Norwalk when he allegedly became the target of continuous, inappropriate harassment and threats made by the school principal. The teacher sought therapy and was diagnosed with a chronic traumatic stress disorder, and the licensed therapist suggested that he seek reassignment to another school district. The teacher informed the school district of this recommendation, though he was denied a transfer to a physical education teacher position at another school within the district. Approximately one year later, the teacher was discharged and filed a lawsuit, alleging, in part, wrongful termination on the basis of mental disability discrimination.

The school district filed a motion to dismiss these counts, arguing that the teacher “failed to exhaust his administrative and statutory remedies pursuant to the Teacher Tenure Act, General Statutes § 10-151.”[1] Therefore, the school district argued, the court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the teacher’s claims. The teacher countered that a § 10-151 was not the only remedy he could seek: rather, he could bring his wrongful discharge course of action under the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, or CFEPA. In addition, the teacher asserted that exhaustion was not required because “it would have been futile for him to pursue his claims with the board of education.”[2]

Administrative Remedies Under § 10-151

Connecticut courts have consistently found that “[a] tenured teacher’s challenge of an allegedly wrongful discharge, is governed by and limited to the statutory appeal process provided by § 10-151(e)… Thus, the plaintiff cannot pursue a separate tort claim for wrongful discharge. Instead, she is limited by the available administrative remedies under § 10-151.”[3] Thus, a court will not have jurisdiction unless the tenured teacher exhausted his administrative remedies or an exception to the exhaustion doctrine applies.[4]

The administrative remedies of § 10-151 can be outlined as follows:

  1. Prior to termination: written notice that termination is being considered must be given to the tenured teacher
  2. Within 7 days of receipt of notice in #1: teacher must file written request asking for reasons for termination
  3. Within 7 days of receipt of request in #2: written statement outlining the reasons must be supplied to the tenured teacher
  4. Within 20 days of receipt of statement from #3: teacher must file a written request for a hearing
  5. Within 15 days of receipt of request in #4: the hearing must be held

After the teacher received the written statement with the reasons for termination, he did not file a written request for a hearing. He asserted that he was:

[A]dvised by my attorney that the Norwalk [t]eachers [u]nion [p]resident, who was about to retire, was unsupportive of teachers in the [s]chool [d]istrict and would not assist them in termination hearings, would not bring grievances on their behalf and would not cooperate in terms of designating a teacher representative to the impartial hearing panel. Thus, I was advised by [my attorney] that a hearing pursuant to [s]ection 10-151(d) would be futile.[5]

The Court’s Decision

However, the Court was not persuaded on the teacher’s futility claim, which is a valid exception the exhaustion rule, because he failed to demonstrate that it “would have been futile for him to request a § 10-151(d) hearing.” The purpose of this hearing is “to resolve the question of whether any of the asserted grounds for termination is supported by the evidence adduced at the hearing.”[6] In this case, “if the plaintiff had requested the hearing afforded to him pursuant to § 10-151(d), he could have presented evidence demonstrating that the defendants sought to fire him for an illegal and discriminatory reason.”[7] 

Therefore, his tactical decision amounted to a deliberate decision to not avail himself of the statutory recourse available to him, and “[h]is failure to request a hearing and to pursue his available remedies is thus fatal to his present cause of action.”[8] The Superior Court thus granted the school district’s motion to dismiss the wrongful discharge claims.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

As a teacher, it is imperative that you understand Connecticut’s statutory scheme surrounding hiring, evaluation, and termination processes. Should you have any questions regarding these or other education law matters, you should seek the counsel of an experienced school law practitioner. Please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. 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] Diaco v. Norwalk Public School District, 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1544 at 6.

[2] Id. at 12.

[3] Tomlinson v. Board of Education, 226 Conn. 704, 730 (1993).

[4] Mendillo v. Board of Education, 246 Conn. 456, 464 (1998); Niestemki v. Ramos, Superior Court, Judicial District of Fairfield, Docket No. CV 06-5001386 (November 20, 2008, Bellis, J.)

[5] Id. at 21, n.8.

[6] Mendillo v. Board of Education, supra. 246 Conn. 468-69.

[7] Diaco v. Norwalk Public School District, supra, 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1544 at 22.

[8] LaCroix v. Board of Education, 199 Conn. 70, 83-84 (1986).

Student’s Negligence Action Against School

Student’s Negligence Action Against School, City of Stamford Survives Motion for Summary Judgment
Case Background

Jesse was a twenty-year-old special education student attending high school in Stamford. She repeatedly informed teachers and school officials about the unwanted romantic advances made by her classmate, Jonathan, but no action was ever taken. On February 28, 2005, Jesse asked to use the restroom located in the special education classroom; she was then sexually assaulted by Jonathan. Both students were sent to the office of the special education coordinator, and Jesse explained what occurred. Despite this knowledge, school officials permitted the two to ride on the same school bus home, during which Jesse was teased and called a liar by Jonathan.

Various teachers and staff, the Board of Education, and even the City of Stamford were later sued in a negligence action filed by Jesse. She contended that “the defendants were aware of [Jonathan’s behavior], but they failed to take appropriate measures to protect [her] from the sexual assault.”[1] However, in their motion for summary judgment, the defendants claimed protection through governmental immunity.

Governmental Immunity

Municipal employees are “liable for the misperformance of ministerial acts, but has qualified immunity in the performance of governmental acts…”[2] Basically, governmental acts are supervisory and discretionary, while ministerial acts must “be performed in a prescribed manner without the exercise of judgment or discretion.”[3] However, even if a defendant successfully claims, as they did in this case, that the acts in question were discretionary, thus invoking governmental immunity, a plaintiff may still defeat a motion for summary judgment by asserting one of three exceptions (discussed in greater detail here): in this case, the identifiable person-imminent harm exception.

The identifiable person-imminent harm exception requires a showing of three things: “(1) an imminent harm; (2) an identifiable victim; and (3) a public official to whom it is apparent that his or her conduct is likely to subject that victim to that harm.”[4] A person will be deemed “identifiable… if the harm occurs within a limited temporal and geographical zone, involving a temporary condition;”[5] a harm is imminent if it is “ready to take place within the immediate future.”[6]

The Court’s Decision

In discussing the motion to dismiss, the Court agreed that Jesse was an identifiable victim of the assault, but she failed to meet the imminent harm requirement. There was no evidence on the record as to when the previous sexual advances were made, nor did she show that the defendants should have known the sexual assault would take place on or about February 28, 2005.[7] However, the Court agreed that the exception was satisfied as to the school officials’ conduct in allowing the two to ride home together:

[Two school officials] admit in their affidavits that they knew some sort of sexual conduct had occurred between [Jesse] and [Jonathan]. Despite this fact, they did not stop [Jesse] from taking the bus with [Jonathan]. At that time, [Jesse] was an identifiable victim of harassment by [Jonathan], and the risk was limited in geographic and temporal scope because [Jesse] and [Jonathan] were riding the bus together and the risk only lasted the duration of the bus ride home. Moreover, the risk of harm was arguably imminent because the dismissal bell had just sounded to release the students early because of a snowstorm, and the bus would presumably be leaving soon thereafter.

Thus, the Court denied the motion for summary judgment as to most of the counts in the complaint (it granted the motion as to one negligence per se count). Although the lawsuit was later withdrawn[8] by Jesse, this case nonetheless serves as another example of a student and/or parent surviving a motion for summary judgment in the face of defendants asserting governmental immunity protection.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions about any education law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. 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] Estrada v. Stamford Board of Education et al., Superior Court, judicial district of Stamford, Docket No. CT 06 5002313. 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3022 (November 19, 2010, Tobin, J.).

[2] Bonington v. Westport, 297 Conn. 297, 306, 999 A.2d 700 (2010).

[3] Id.

[4] Cotto v. Board of Education, 294 Conn. 265, 273, 984 A.2d 58 (2009).

[5] Id. at 275-76.

[6] Stavrakis v. Price, Superior Court, judicial district of Litchfield, Docket No. CV 10 6001285, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2257 (September 7, 2010, Roche, J.).

[7] See Footnote 1.

[8] http://civilinquiry.jud.ct.gov/CaseDetail/PublicCaseDetail.aspx?DocketNo=FSTCV065002313S

Another Case Against the School District, Town Jumps Summary Judgment Hurdle

In a negligence action, the Superior Court of Connecticut at Danbury denied a motion for summary judgment filed by the Town of New Milford, the New Milford Board of Education, and several school employees (collectively the defendants). The Court was not persuaded that the defendants enjoyed governmental immunity from suit, or the claim that they did not owe a duty to a student-victim assaulted by another student on school grounds.

Case Details

In this case, the plaintiff was the target of repeated bullying and harassment from a classmate, Kevin, during his freshman and sophomore years in high school. He endured pushing and shoving, being struck by a stack of school books, menacing stares, and even derogatory “gay” remarks from Kevin. The plaintiff constantly complained to various school administrators, though no meaningful action was ever taken. This culminated to a full-blown assault of the plaintiff at Kevin’s hands outside the school cafeteria.

The plaintiff sued the defendants, arguing that they had a duty to protect him from Kevin and failed to do so. “The plaintiff contends that [one individual defendant] had a duty to compel compliance with school rules and to prevent bullying and harassment… [as well as ] a legal duty to be alert to possible situations that might include bullying and to inform the administration immediately of such events.”[1] In addition, he claimed that governmental immunity was inapplicable, because he was an identifiable victim to an imminent harm. Finally, he asserted town liability because the Board of Education was an agent for the town in “mandating control” over the public high school.[2]

Municipal employees are “liable for the misperformance of ministerial acts, but has qualified immunity in the performance of governmental acts…”[3] Basically, governmental acts are supervisory and discretionary, while ministerial acts must “be performed in a prescribed manner without the exercise of judgment or discretion.”[4] However, even if a defendant successfully claims that the acts in question were discretionary, thus invoking governmental immunity, a plaintiff may still defeat a motion for summary judgment by asserting one of three exceptions (discussed in greater detail here): in this case, the identifiable person-imminent harm exception.

Identifiable Person-Imminent Harm Exception

The identifiable person-imminent harm exception requires a showing of three things: “(1) an imminent harm; (2) an identifiable victim; and (3) a public official to whom it is apparent that his or her conduct is likely to subject that victim to that harm.”[5] A person will be deemed “identifiable… if the harm occurs within a limited temporal and geographical zone, involving a temporary condition;”[6] a harm is imminent if it is “ready to take place within the immediate future.”[7]

The Court sided with the plaintiff and denied summary judgment as to all defendants. It noted, “The [board of education’s] duty to supervise students is performed to the benefit of the municipality;”[8] in this case, the plaintiff’s claim didn’t involve his education, but rather “the inability of certain teachers and staff at New Milford High School to supervise and maintain control on its premises for the protection of its students.”[9] 

A duty to supervise students is not confined to just younger children, but also includes high school students because a gathering “in large numbers at lunch time or at sporting events would certainly seem to present a risk of incidents such as the one involved in this case occurring [an assault at school].”[10] Thus, on all grounds asserted by the defendants, the motion for summary judgment was denied.

This case, Straiton v. New Milford Board of Education, et al, appears to be continuing through the courts with a hearing scheduled for October 19, 2012. It may be found on the Judicial Branch website under DBD-CV10-6003255-S.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Bullying in schools has become a serious problem, and increasingly courts are willing to permit the case to proceed beyond a motion for summary judgment, despite claims of governmental immunity or no duty owed to the students. If you are the parent of a child who has been bullied or assaulted, despite repeated unaddressed complaints to administration, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced and knowledgeable school law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding bullying or other education law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. 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] Straiton v. New Milford Board of Education et al., 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 773 at 15.

[2] Id. at 11.

[3] Bonington v. Westport, 297 Conn. 297, 306, 999 A.2d 700 (2010).

[4] Id.

[5] Cotto v. Board of Education, 294 Conn. 265, 273, 984 A.2d 58 (2009).

[6] Id. at 275-76.

[7] Stavrakis v. Price, Superior Court, judicial district of Litchfield, Docket No. CV 10 6001285, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2257 (September 7, 2010, Roche, J.).

[8] Purzycki v. Fairfield, 244 Conn. 101, 112 (1998).

[9] Straiton, supra at 12-13.

[10] Maretz v. Huxley, Superior Court, judicial district of New Haven, Docket. No. CV 07 5011978 (January 12, 2009, Corradino, J.)

Negligence Claims Against School Following Son’s Suicide

Plaintiff’s Negligence Claims Against School Following Son’s Suicide Survive Motion to Strike, Proceeds Further Into Litigation

Michael Girard was a senior at Putnam High School during the 2005-2006 academic year when his guidance counselor learned that he was suicidal and/or had threatened to kill himself. However, the counselor took no action to aid Michael despite a conversation with him about the threat, and simply let him leave for home by himself. Michael also “expressed an intention to harm or kill himself in the presence of employees and agents of the High School, Board of Education, and Town” while on school grounds during school hours. Once again, no official action was taken by any of these individuals. On March 23, 2006, Michael committed suicide by methadone toxicity.

At the time of Michael’s death, Putnam schools had a Suicide Prevention Policy (policy) in effect in the district. It set forth “detailed guidelines” on actions for staff to take when confronted with a scenario such as Michael’s. It required “immediate notification of emergency personnel or school psychologist or social worker,” and stated, “Under no circumstances is a student allowed to go home. The student must be released only to a parent, guardian, or other responsible adult.”

Lawsuit Arguments

In light of this policy, Michael’s parents filed a negligence lawsuit against the Town of Putnam, Board of Education, and various school employees, including the guidance counselor (collectively “defendants”). However, the defendants submitted a motion to strike, challenging the legal sufficiency of the amended complaint’s allegations. They argued on two fronts:

  • “The act of suicide is a deliberate and intentional act” absolving the defendants from liability. In other words, because Michael’s death was an unforeseeable, intentional tort, the defendants were could not be sued for negligence.
  • The defendants also claimed governmental immunity protection, pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes §§ 52-557n and 52-557n(b)(6). “[M]unicipalities and its employees may be exposed to liability for acts of negligence unless the function involved the exercise of discretion,” and there is no immunity for ministerial acts (exercise of judgment and discretion not allowed). In essence, the defendants argued that whether to follow the policy was “a discretionary function.”
The Court’s Decision

The Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Windham at Putnam denied the motion to strike as to these claims. It noted that while “suicide generally is an unforeseeable result that serves to preclude liability,” it does not automatically “break the chain of causation if it was a foreseeable result of the defendant’s tortious act.” In this case, the Court determined that Michael’s suicide “could be a foreseeable result of school staff’s failure to follow the suicide prevention policy.” As further explained:

It is foreseeable that if a person declares an intent to commit suicide, suicide is a foreseeable risk if nothing is done. Indeed, it was the written policy of the Putnam High School to immediately safeguard a student and obtain emergency medical or professional assessment and counseling for such a student in that circumstance. That is a clear cut warning of the need to take action. It creates a foreseeable harm as a consequence of a failure to act. No reasonable staff member could have concluded otherwise…

In addition, the Court was not persuaded by the defendants’ second argument. “[T]he Suicide Prevention Policy, by its terms, resolved that staff members are not qualified to assess whether someone is suicidal and it forbids discretion or delay in sending a student, who threatens suicide, to someone who is qualified to make the assessment.” When a staff member faces a situation like Michael’s, they must “follow their own mandatory procedures after a ministerial duty was triggered.” Therefore, the governmental immunity protection was inapplicable.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Ultimately, the Court granted the motion to strike as to intentional infliction of emotional distress claims (as to the parents), but permitted the negligence claims related to Michael’s death to proceed further into litigation. “The plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to show that the defendants committed negligent acts that increased the risk of accomplishment of a suicide by [Michael], and that their negligence was a substantial factor in causing that harm.”

Jury selection and the start of the trial are scheduled to begin at 9:30am on October 16, 2012. The case is Estate of Michael Girard et al. v. Town of Putnam et al., CV-08-5002754-S.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions about school liability or other education law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. 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.