Thursday, July 5, 2012
Youngstown appeals court sides with private school in bullying, breach of contract case
The Seventh District Court of Appeals of Ohio has affirmed a trial court decision on summary motion in a case brought by a former student against a Catholic school. In that case, a student at a private school alleged that she was being bullied and harassed for two school years as a member of the varsity tennis team. As a result of the allegations, the parents withdrew the student from the private school. Subsequently, the parents filed a complaint asserting causes of action causes of for breach of contract, implied duty of good faith and fair dealings, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent supervision, and civil conspiracy. Furthermore, the complaint alleged that the student was intimidated, harassed, isolated, treated unfairly and bullied by the Girls Tennis Team, the Coach Ketchem and the administration of the private high school. They contended that the high school handbook and policies, which allegedly set forth a no harassment/bullying policy, created a contract between the high school and the student. The plaintiffs asserted that the high school breached that contract by allowing the student to be harassed and bullied. The trial court, in adopting the decision of the magistrate below, found that the school did not engage in any type of conduct that could be considered a breach of contract. Specifically, the conduct complained of did not support the claims of harassment and/or intimidation as alleged by the plaintiffs and that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate the existence of a fiduciary relationship between the student and the school. As to the negligence, negligent supervision, emotional distress and civil conspiracy claims, the magistrate held that even when construing the evidence most strongly in favor of the plaintiffs, the record was devoid of evidence which could cause a reasonable person to believe that the school was negligent in their conduct concerning the student and her parents. The parents timely appealed the decision. The court of appeals affirmed. Notabely, the appeals court starts off by recognizing that some Ohio courts have found that a private school handbook may create a contract between the student and the private school. However, the appeals court declined to answer whether or not this particular handbook constituted a contract.