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K.G.R. v. Union City School District

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

December 14, 2016


          Session November 17, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Obion County No. CC-13-CV-20 Jeff Parham, Judge

         This is a negligence case involving the alleged sexual assault of a 13-year-old special education student by another 13-year-old special education student in a school bathroom. The trial court determined that the Appellant school district was not entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law because there was a question of fact as to whether the incident was foreseeable. We conclude that there is no dispute of material fact and that summary judgment in favor of the school district should be granted. Reversed and remanded.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 9 Interlocutory Appeal; Judgment of the Circuit Court Reversed and Remanded.

          Jennifer C. Craig, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellant, Union City School District.

          W. Lewis Jenkins, Jr. and Dean P. Dedmon, Dyersburg, Tennessee, for the appellees, Rachel Ballog-Riffe, and Jeffrey Riffe.

          Kenny Armstrong, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Arnold B. Goldin, J., and David R. Farmer, Sp. J., joined.



         I. Background

         During the 2011-2012 school year, K.G.R., age 13, [1] was enrolled in the sixth grade as a special education student at Union City Middle School, which is operated by Union City School District ("UCSD" or "Appellant"). J.R is K.G.R's father, and R.R (together with J.R., "Parents" or "Appellees") is K.G.R's mother. The case arises from allegations that K.G.R was sexually assaulted multiple times during the school year by another sixth grader, Q.B., also a special education student. On May 15, 2012, a student told Robyn D., K.G.R. and Q.B.'s teacher, that the boys were in the bathroom stall together. After asking another teacher to watch her class, Ms. D. went to the bathroom. On her arrival, Q.B. was exiting the bathroom. She called out to K.G.R., and he came out of the bathroom. Ms. D. then took both boys to the principal's office.

         The parents first learned of the incident when Michael M., the school principal, called R.R. to come to the school. When the parents arrived, Mr. M. informed them that K.G.R. may have been sexually assaulted by Q.B. In the presence of K.G.R.'s parents, Raphe W., the school's resource officer, assisted K.G.R. in providing a written statement. According to K.G.R., Q.B. came into the stall while K.G.R. was using the restroom. K.G.R. further stated that "[Q.B.] took his private part and stuck it in my butt."

         It is undisputed that, on April 25, 2012, three weeks prior to the alleged sexual assault on K.G.R., R.R. wrote a letter to the school principal informing him that K.G.R was being bullied at school. Specifically R.R. alleged that two named students were bullying K.G.R "almost everyday" and that K.G.R. was being punched by these students. R.R. did not name Q.B. as one of the bullies. The majority of the letter addressed the detention that K.G.R. had received for calling a girl names. Although not discussed expressly in the letter, R.R. testified that she wrote the letter because other students were stealing K.G.R.'s pencils, picking on him, and calling him names.

         On April 23, 2013, Appellees filed a complaint for personal injuries against UCSD.[2] According to the complaint, "beginning . . . on or about [April 27], 2012 K.G.R. was repeatedly sexually victimized by another student in the bathroom at Union City Middle School." The parents alleged that Appellant breached a duty to protect K.G.R. from harm. On May 17, 2013, Appellant filed an answer, denying the material allegations in the complaint. As an affirmative defense, Appellant raised "all immunities and defenses" under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act ("TGTLA").

         On August 24, 2015, Appellant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing, inter alia, that it owed no duty to K.G.R. because the acts against him were not foreseeable. Appellees filed a response in opposition to the motion for summary judgment. During the discovery process, UCSD presented testimony from Raphe W., the school resource officer; Michael M., the principal; Brittany K., the special education supervisor; and Robyn D., the teacher. Both Mr. W. and Mr. M. testified that the alleged sexual assault against K.G.R. was an isolated incident, and that nothing like it had ever occurred at Union City Middle School, either between these two students, or any other students. Mr. W. further testified that, when he interviewed K.G.R., he specifically asked K.G.R. if this had ever happened before, and K.G.R. said no. K.G.R.'s mother, who was present for the interview with Mr. W., indicated that perhaps it had happened before. Mr. W. asked K.G.R. a second time whether anything like this had ever happened before, to which K.G.R. again responded that it had not happened before. Brittany K., who had previously taught both K.G.R. and Q.B, testified ...

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