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NY High School not Liable for Nearby Gang Assault of Student

July 22, 2016

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A New York court recently deal with the issue of a school's duty to control gang violence in <em><a href="http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2016/2016_05485.htm">Diaz v Brentwood Union Free Sch. District. </a> </em>In this case, a 16 year old high school student was assaulted by gang members after exiting Brentwood High School property. The plaintiff filed suit in Suffolk County Supreme Court against the school alleging inadequate supervision.
The plaintiff testified that before leaving the school grounds, he noticed a group of six people that he thought were gang members walking down the street toward the school, yelling "[w]here's the Bloods around here?" The plaintiff left the school grounds, and was assaulted 10 feet away from the school by the group.  He also claimed that before he was assaulted, he had attempted to return to the school campus, but the security guards prevented him from re-entering.
The defendant high school moved for summary judgment arguing it could not be liable because the assault occurred when the plaintiff was not on school property and was no longer in the defendant's custody or under its control. Suffolk County Supreme Court granted its motion, and dismissed the complaint.
On appeal, the Second Department affirmed the Supreme Court’s decision, finding that the key was the fact that the assault occurred outside of the school’s property. The Court held that “a school is not an insurer of the safety of its students, and the duty owed to its students is co-extensive with the school's physical custody and control over them” and that a school “generally cannot be held liable for injuries that occur off school property and beyond the orbit of its authority.  Here, "once the plaintiff left school premises, the defendant had no duty to supervise him off school premises after dismissal from school.”
The dissent opinion argued that the fact that an assault occurs outside the school does not relieve the school of its duty to provide adequate supervision to students as they are leaving the school premises, nor is it a license for school personnel to knowingly direct students off the school premises in the face of an immediate risk of harm.  This certainly seems like it was a close call and it will be interesting to see if it is pursued to the Court of Appeals.
Thanks to George Parpas for his contribution to this post and please write to <a href="mailto: mbono@wcmlaw.com">Mike Bono</a> for more information.

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