School Not Liable for Unanticipated Acts of Student (NY)

The Appellate Division, Third Department, has recently reaffirmed the Court of Appeals 2010 decision in Brandy B. v Eden Cent. School Dist., which itself “reaffirmed the principle that a school will generally not be held liable for the unanticipated acts of a third party toward a student” even when those acts may have been planned by the third party.

In Geywits v Charlotte Val. Cent. Sch. Dist., the plaintiffs commenced separate actions against the Charlotte Valley Central School District, alleging that they were sexually abused as a result of the school’s negligent supervision.  The plaintiffs were first-grade students attending the school, which housed students from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade.   Plaintiffs alleged that the school negligently supervised the students, allowing them to walk unattended from the cafeteria to the bathroom. James Quigley, a high school sophomore, allegedly abused the plaintiffs on multiple occasions in bathroom stalls while the plaintiffs walked unattended.

While recognizing the unfortunate nature of the case, the court ruled that the school was entitled to summary judgment because it had no prior notice of similar conduct on the part of Quigley or any other third party.  There was no prior notice or indication that Quigley would commit this type of act.  It was demonstrated that Quigley “was a good student, had no significant or recent disciplinary history, and had no prior instances of sexually inappropriate or physical contact.”  The Court also noted that the school was not on notice simply because the plaintiffs returned late to class on a few occasions, “especially when they explained their lateness by saying that the group of them stopped at the bathroom.”

Finally, the court held that the general rule that schools are not liable for unanticipated acts of a third party toward a student was not limited to “circumstances where the injury-producing conduct was impulsive, such as fellow students knocking into one another or throwing objects.”  The court found that even planned conduct could be unanticipated from the viewpoint of a school.

Thanks to Steve Kaye for his contribution to this post.  If you would like more information, please write to mbono@wcmlaw.com.