Posts tagged with "Identifiable Person"

Student’s Negligence Action Against School

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.”[1] 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…”[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]

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

Connecticut Supreme Court Addresses the Identifiable Person-Imminent Harm Exception to Governmental Immunity

In a decision released just last week, the Supreme Court of Connecticut had an opportunity to address municipal immunity, and specifically, the “identifiable victim-imminent harm” exception to discretionary act immunity.

In Haynes v. City of Middletown, the plaintiff, acting on behalf of her plaintiff son, sought to recover damages for negligence from the City of Middletown after her son was pushed into a broken locker by a fellow high school student. He sustained personal injuries. In response to plaintiff’s complaint, the defendant city invoked a defense of governmental immunity.  In their response, the plaintiffs failed to plead any exceptions to the defendant’s claim of immunity. A jury found for the victim, however the trial court granted the defendant’s motion to set aside the verdict on the ground of governmental immunity.  The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision to set aside the verdict, holding that the plaintiffs never made the identifiable victim-imminent harm argument to the defendant’s claim of municipal immunity.  The identifiable victim-imminent harm exception is one of three exceptions to discretionary act immunity that Connecticut courts have carved out.  Where defendants’ acts are discretionary, they may invoke governmental immunity, barring a plaintiff’s claim against the governmental entity.  However, the identifiable victim-imminent harm exception applies when the circumstances make it apparent to the public officer charged with the exercise of discretion that his or her failure to act would be likely to subject an identifiable person to imminent harm.

In the instant case, the Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s decision and remanded the case to the appellate court for consideration of the sole issue of the plaintiff’s failure to plead the identifiable victim-imminent harm exception.  The Supreme Court found that, because the Appellate Court didn’t hear full arguments on that specific issue, it was not in a position to decide the case on that issue.  Thus, the Supreme Court remanded the case on that one, sole ground.

Decisions like this serve as reminders that it is imperative to consult with attorneys who are well-versed in education law and able to effectively litigate this type of claim.  The identifiable victim-imminent harm exception is invoked in bullying and cyberbullying cases, when victims of bullying seek action against the school district.  If you have questions about bullying, cyberbullying, or education law, do not hesitate to contact Joseph Maya, Esq. in our Westport office, at either 203-221-3100, or at JMaya@mayalaw.com.