Student’s Negligence Action Against School, City of Stamford Survives Motion for Summary Judgment
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.” However, in their motion for summary judgment, the defendants claimed protection through governmental immunity.
Municipal employees are “liable for the misperformance of ministerial acts, but has qualified immunity in the performance of governmental acts…” Basically, governmental acts are supervisory and discretionary, while ministerial acts must “be performed in a prescribed manner without the exercise of judgment or discretion.” 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.” A person will be deemed “identifiable… if the harm occurs within a limited temporal and geographical zone, involving a temporary condition;” a harm is imminent if it is “ready to take place within the immediate future.”
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. 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 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.
 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.).
 Bonington v. Westport, 297 Conn. 297, 306, 999 A.2d 700 (2010).
 Cotto v. Board of Education, 294 Conn. 265, 273, 984 A.2d 58 (2009).
 Stavrakis v. Price, Superior Court, judicial district of Litchfield, Docket No. CV 10 6001285, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2257 (September 7, 2010, Roche, J.).