school negligence book

Generally speaking, New York law holds that a school's liability is limited to acts that occurred on school grounds during school hours (if you'd like to see video of my argument before New York State's highest court on this issue, you can see School Negligence Argument Before New York State's Highest Court).

But what about sexual abuse? Is it governed by the same general rule?

Not necessarily - at least not according to some of New York's appellate courts.

Why Schools Can Be Held Liable for Off Premises Acts in Some Sex Abuse Cases

One of the primary reported cases on this issue, Johansmeyer v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Educ., 85 N.Y.S.3d 562, 565 (N.Y. App. Div. 2018), was handed down just a few years ago. In Johansmeyer, the plaintiff sued for sexual molestation and abuse that he suffered as a student at the hands of one of his DOE teachers, with inappropriate contact having started on school premises, and ultimately culminating in more serious acts that occurred at the infant plaintiff's home, off school premises, and not during school hours.

Since, ultimately, the primary actions complained of took place off school grounds, the defendants (predictably) moved to dismiss the case, citing the general rule that a school's liability to its students for any tortious acts is coextensive with, and limited to, the school's premises and regular hours.

In affirming the lower court's denial of the defendants' motions on these particular facts, however, the Appellate Division, Second Department stated as follows:

"Generally, liability may not be imposed upon school authorities where all of the improper acts against a student occurred off school premises and outside school hours (seeTanaysha T. v. City of New York , 130 A.D.3d 91612 N.Y.S.3d 908 ). Here, however, the DOE defendants' submissions demonstrated that, although the sexual abuse ultimately occurred in the infant plaintiff's home, it was preceded by time periods when the infant plaintiff was alone with Denice during school hours on a regular basis. During these times, Denice engaged in inappropriate behavior, including physical touching. Thus, triable issues of fact exist regarding, inter alia, whether the DOE knew or should have known of such behavior and Denice's propensity for sexual abuse (seeDoe v. Whitney , 8 A.D.3d 610779 N.Y.S.2d 570 )."

Johansmeyer v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Educ., 85 N.Y.S.3d 562, 565 (N.Y. App. Div. 2018) (Emphasis supplied).

The Takeaway(s)

In the first instance, the Johansmeyer decision recognizes the reality on the ground that these types of sexual abuse cases typically involve "grooming" that is initiated well before the ultimate act of abuse, and where that grooming starts on school grounds, and during school hours, a school can theoretically be held liable for allowing that process to begin under its proverbial roof.

Of course, this should not be interpreted to mean that a school will automatically be held liable for such acts; aside from proving the sexual abuse itself, the plaintiff will also still be required to demonstrate that the school failed to use due diligence in vetting the offending teacher before hiring him/her, retaining him/her, or maintaining adequate safeguards to assure that such acts could not happen on their premises.

Jonathan Cooper
Connect with me
Non-Compete, Trade Secret and School Negligence Lawyer
Post A Comment