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Binkowski v. Board of Education of City of New Haven

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

March 27, 2018

AMY BINKOWSKI
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF NEW HAVEN ET AL.

          Submitted on briefs November 29, 2017

         Procedural History

         Action to recover damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Haven, where the action was withdrawn as against the defendant Board of Education of the City of New Haven; thereafter, the court, Nazzaro, J., granted the motion to strike filed by the defendant Yolanda Jones-Generette et al.; subsequently, the court, Blue, J., granted the motion for judgment filed by the defendant Yolanda Jones-Generette et al. and rendered judgment thereon, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          John R. Williams filed a brief for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Audrey C. Kramer, assistant corporation counsel, filed a brief for the appellees (defendant Yolanda Jones-Generette et al.).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Bright and Bishop, Js.

          OPINION

          BRIGHT, J.

         The plaintiff, Amy Binkowski, appeals from the judgment of the trial court rendered in favor of the defendants Yolanda Jones-Generette and Linda O'Brien[1] following the granting of their motion to strike her third revised complaint. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court improperly concluded that her complaint failed, as a matter of law, to allege facts that would bring it within the intentional tort exception to the exclusivity provision of the Workers' Compensation Act (act), General Statutes § 31-275 et seq., as set forth in General Statutes § 31-293a. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The plaintiff's third revised complaint[2] contains two counts, one against each defendant, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress. Both counts allege identical facts. The plaintiff's claims arise out of a work related incident that occurred on February 26, 2014. At that time, the plaintiff was a tenured teacher in the New Haven public school system at Lincoln-Bassett Elementary School (school) in New Haven. Jones-Generette was the principal, and O'Brien was the assistant principal, for the school during the 2013-2014 school year.

         In the summer of 2013, the defendants instituted a policy for the school regarding student discipline. The policy established that the administrators of the school would not be involved in any issues related to student discipline. In accordance with the policy, the defendants ‘‘refused to allow classroom teachers to send disruptive students out of the classroom to a different environment, refused to intervene in any disrupted classroom, refused to discipline disruptive or violent students or to permit classroom teachers to discipline disruptive or violent students, refused to allow help to be summoned from outside of the school under any circumstances, and refused to provide any protection whatsoever to teachers confronted with disruptive or violent students.''

         During the 2013-2014 school year, violence at the school escalated. On February 26, 2014, two students assaulted the plaintiff in her classroom, knocking her to the floor. As a result of the assault, the plaintiff severely sprained her left ankle and knee. The plaintiff was unable to stand, so she called out for help. Adrianna Petrucci, the teacher in the classroom across the hall, responded to the plaintiff's call for help. The plaintiff was in pain, lying on the floor, and Petrucci immediately called the school's main office for assistance. Petrucci ‘‘also sent a text message to . . . O'Brien, stating: ‘[The plaintiff] is on the floor in her room from being shoved out of the way.' '' After receiving the text message, O'Brien told Petrucci to send a student to the office. Petrucci repeated that the plaintiff ‘‘is on the floor'' in her classroom, and O'Brien responded that she did not know what that meant.

         Although O'Brien did not send security to assist the plaintiff or go to the classroom herself, she sent the school nurse to help the plaintiff. While the nurse and another teacher helped place the plaintiff in a wheelchair, some students began fighting in the classroom; the defendants still had not gone to the plaintiff's classroom. The plaintiff alleged that ‘‘Jones-Generette was standing down at the end of the hallway doing nothing. At no point was 911 called, and at no point was any outside assistance summoned.''

         The plaintiff alleged that the defendants' conduct was ‘‘wilful and malicious. It was carried out for the conscious purpose of causing physical and emotional injury to the plaintiff and other teachers and to cause conditions in the school to deteriorate so badly that the state of Connecticut would offer special financial assistance to the school, which otherwise would not have been available. The said conduct was carried out in conscious disregard of the injuries it would cause to the plaintiff, to other teachers, and to the students in the school.'' The plaintiff further alleged that the defendants' conduct ‘‘was extreme and outrageous and was carried out with the knowledge that it would cause the plaintiff to suffer severe emotional distress.'' The plaintiff sought compensatory and punitive damages, claiming that she suffered physical injuries and emotional distress as the result of the defendants' conduct.

         The defendants filed a motion to strike the plaintiff's third revised complaint. They argued that the plaintiff's claims are barred by the exclusivity provision of the act because the complaint failed to allege sufficient facts to support the claim that the defendants' conduct was wilful or malicious. Following a hearing on June 22, 2015, the trial court, Nazzaro, J., issued a memorandum of decision granting the defendants' motion to strike. The court concluded that there was ‘‘nothing in the complaint to suggest that there was intent on the part of the defendants to cause the plaintiff's particular injuries.'' Specifically, the court held that ‘‘the defendants' failure to take action does not demonstrate that they intended to cause the harmful situation under which the plaintiff suffered injury, and therefore their actions do not fall within an exception [to] the exclusivity provision of the [a]ct. Accordingly, the plaintiff has not set forth a legally ...


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