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Costa v. Plainville Board of Education

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

August 15, 2017

RICKY E. COSTA ET AL.
v.
PLAINVILLE BOARD OF EDUCATION ET AL.

          Argued May 18, 2017

         Procedural History

         Action to recover damages for personal injuries sustained by the named plaintiff as a result of the defendants' alleged negligence, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Britain, where the court, Hon. Joseph M. Shortall, judge trial referee, granted in part the defendants' motion to strike; thereafter, the complaint was withdrawn as to the defendant Jeffrey C. Kitching; subsequently, the court granted the motion for summary judgment filed by the named defendant et al. and rendered judgment thereon; thereafter, the court denied the plaintiffs' motion to reargue, and the plaintiffs appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Harold J. Geragosian, for the appellants (plaintiffs).

          Beatrice S. Jordan, for the appellees (named defendant et al.).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Prescott and Flynn, Js.

         Syllabus

         The plaintiffs, M and her son R, sought to recover damages for negligence from the defendants, the town of Plainville, its board of education, and the town's high school principal. R, who was a high school student, sustained injuries during a basketball game at a school sponsored picnic, which was held during regular school hours at a facility off campus. The plaintiffs alleged that at the time of R's injury, no school personnel were present at or supervising the basketball court where the injury occurred. The trial court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on all counts of the plaintiffs' amended complaint on the ground of governmental immunity, concluding that the alleged conduct of the defendants involved a discretionary duty pursuant to statute (§ 52-557n [a] [2] [B]). The plaintiffs appealed to this court claiming that summary judgment was improper because issues of material fact existed as to whether the defendants were entitled to immunity because their alleged acts and omissions were ministerial in nature and as to whether the identifiable person-imminent harm exception to governmental immunity applied. Held that the trial court properly rendered summary judgment in favor of the defendants as there was no genuine issue of material fact that the defendants were entitled to governmental immunity: although the plaintiffs suggested that the defendants' duty to supervise students during school sanctioned events such as the picnic was ministerial, the general safety guidelines and school board policies on which the plaintiffs relied did not constitute a clear directive that negated the need for the defendants to exercise judgment and discretion in providing adequate supervision; furthermore, the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that R was an identifiable person for the purposes of the identifiable person-imminent harm exception to discretionary act immunity, as although schoolchildren who are on school property during school hours constitute a narrow, identifiable class of foreseeable victims, schoolchildren who voluntarily participate in nonmandatory school sponsored activities donot fall within that identifiable class, and here, Rwas neither required to attend the picnic nor to participate in the basketball game during which he was injured.

          OPINION

          PRESCOTT, J.

         The plaintiffs, Ricky E. Costa, who suffered serious injury to his right eye during a pickup basketball game at a Plainville High School senior class picnic, and his mother, Maria Costa, appeal from the summary judgment rendered on all counts in favor of the defendants, the town of Plainville (town), the town's Board of Education (board), and Steven LePage, Plainville High School's principal.[1] The plaintiffs claim that the court improperly rendered summary judgment on the basis of governmental immunity. The plaintiffs contend that the evidence presented raised a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether discretionary act immunity applied and whether Ricky Costa was an identifiable person for purposes of the identifiable person-imminent harm exception to governmental immunity. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following undisputed material facts, as set forth by the trial court or gleaned from the summary judgment record, and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of the plaintiffs' claims. Plainville High School conducted its annual senior class picnic on June 17, 2011. The picnic occurred during regular school hours, but was held off campus at a YMCA campground facility in Burlington that includes a softball field, basketball court, and swimming pool. Students were not obligated to go to the picnic, but Ricky Costa voluntarily attended it and elected to participate in a pick-up basketball game in which he was injured. His injury occurred when another player poked him in the eye while they were attempting to get the ball.

         LePage generally supervised the picnic along with several teachers and a school nurse, none of whom, however, was stationed near or monitoring the basketball court. Accordingly, no school personnel were present at or supervising the basketball court at the time the injury occurred. Prior to Ricky Costa's injury, no one had been injured at the picnic nor had any issue arisen regarding student behavior. Moreover, no behavioral issues or basketball related injuries had occurred at senior class picnics in prior years.

         At the time of the picnic, the school board had in place a supervision policy that provided, inter alia, that school sponsored activities ‘‘must be well-planned and organized and must provide for the adequate supervision and welfare of participating students at all times.'' Guidelines for School Sponsored Activities and Organizations, Policy No. 6145.5 (2005).

         The plaintiffs commenced the underlying action on June 13, 2013. The operative amended complaint was filed on July 14, 2015, and contained five counts. Counts one through three sounded in negligence and were brought by Ricky Costa against the board, the town, and LePage. Count four asserts a claim for damages against the board premised upon LePage's right to indemnification pursuant to General Statutes § 10-235.[2]Count five was brought by Maria Costa against the board and was derivative of the negligence claims of her son. She sought reimbursement for expenditures she ...


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