Public School Has Statutory Immunity From Liability For Student’s Suicide

CATEGORY: Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education
DATE: Dec 22, 2021

Kennedy Leroy attended Ayala High School in Chino Valley Unified School District. Kennedy suffered from Tourette’s Syndrome, sensory integration disorder, and borderline Asperger’s Syndrome. Kennedy attended a virtual school program partly because of his health issues but physically attended a cooking class during his sophomore year. Several students bullied Kennedy during every cooking class, including a student named M.D.

Kennedy reported M.D.’s bullying to school administrators, telling them that M.D. called him a faggot, harassed him, and that “he couldn’t take it anymore.” At the request of Carlos A. Purther, the school’s assistant principal, M.D. signed a No Contact Contract. The contract stated M.D. could not contact Kennedy in any way. Purther talked to Christopher Leroy, Kennedy’s father, who thought the solution was reasonable. Kennedy also signed a No Contact Contract. Kennedy did not tell his father who was bullying him or what M.D. had done or said to him, and never mentioned the situation again to his father.

A few weeks after signing the No Contact Contract, Kennedy complained that M.D. was causing Kennedy to suffer painful Tourette’s ticks. However, Kennedy later signed an incident report, which stated that M.D. had not spoken to him. M.D. also denied speaking to Kennedy after signing the No Contact Contract.

Kennedy committed suicide two days after his last day of the school year. The LeRoys sued the school district, Purther, and the school’s principal for Kennedy’s death. The LeRoys alleged that Kennedy committed suicide because he was bullied, which the defendants failed to address and prevent.

The defendants filed a motion of summary judgment, and the trial court granted the motion in their favor. The trial court held that the negligence claims failed because the defendants did not breach any duty they owed to Kennedy and were immune from liability under Education Code section 44808. The LeRoys appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the defendants’ argument that they are immune from liability under Education Code section 44808. Section 44808 provides:

Notwithstanding any other provision of this code, no school district, city or county board of education, county superintendent of schools, or any officer or employee of such district or board shall be responsible or in any way liable for the conduct or safety of any pupil of the public schools at any time when such pupil is not on school property, unless such district, board, or person has undertaken to provide transportation for such pupil to and from the school premises, has undertaken a school-sponsored activity off the premises of such school, has otherwise specifically assumed such responsibility or liability or has failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. In the event of such a specific undertaking, the district, board, or person shall be liable or responsible for the conduct or safety of any pupil only while such pupil is or should be under the immediate and direct supervision of an employee of such district or board.

In order for the LeRoys to prevail on their negligence claim, they must show that the defendants owed Kennedy a duty of care, they breached that duty, and their breach was the proximate cause of Kennedy’s injuries. The LeRoys argued that the defendants are not immune under section 44808 because they “failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances.” The defendants argued that section 44808 imposes liability for a student’s off-campus activities when a student is involved in activities supervised or undertaken by the school.

The Court of Appeal reasoned that Kennedy committed suicide off-campus during summer break in his parents’ home. The school district and its employees were not and should not have been supervising Kennedy at the time. Additionally, no one assumed responsibility for Kennedy at the time of his suicide. Therefore, the Court of Appeal held the defendants are immune from liability for Kennedy’s death under section 44808.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment in favor of the defendants.

LeRoy v. Yarboi (2021) 71 Cal.App.5th 737.

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