Monday, April 5, 2010

Public school may be liable if employees were reckless, says appeals court

A school district may be liable if its public employees acted recklessly, the 9th district appeals court ruled last week in E.F. v. Oberlin City School District. At the same time, the court ruled that, as to the facts of that particular case, the school district was not liable under other theories of liability.

In that case, E.F., a child with Down syndrome, filed a complaint against the school district, the board of education, and certain employees of the school district after she was purportedly sexually assaulted on school grounds by two boys. The amended
complaint contained counts alleging negligence and recklessness; violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Act; violations of R.C. Chapter 3323; as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress. It also stated that the sexual assault occurred as the result of "extreme lack of teacher oversight."

The defendants sought judgment on the pleadings, requesting that the court find in their favor without a trial. After the plaintiffs answered, the trial court granted the defendants' motion, finding no liability on any of the defendants. The plaintiffs then appealled.

The appeals court agreed with the trial court's findings, except that the Court believed that E.F's cause of action alleging employee recklessness should be able to go forward. Indeed, the amended complaint stated (1) that E.F. was sexually assaulted under circumstances where there was a “recklessness and an extreme
lack of teacher oversight relating to the facts of these incidents," (2) that a substitute teacher was responsible for monitoring the classroom at the time of multiple incidents where E.F. was assaulted (3) that the school was aware that one of the students who attacked E.F. had “a history of *** psychological issues relating to abuse and assault," (4) that “Oberlin Schools recklessly placed these students into a class with mentally handicapped students, such as E.F, with full knowledge of such student’s (sic) propensity to abuse the disabled students in the classroom," (5) that “Defendants also acted recklessly in the monitoring of classrooms which E.F was in” and further that “[a]ll regular teachers and substitute teachers acted recklessly in monitoring the children of his/her classroom by failing to even notice when students disappeared from the classroom.” The complaint also states that the recklessness of teachers “resulted in E.F. being sexually assaulted by the [s]tudents.”

The reversal by the appeals court does not mean that the school district is in fact liable, but rather that the Plaintiffs should have an opportunity to attempt to prove that the school district is liable because its employees acted recklessly.