Doe v. Westport Board of Education
Under C.G.S. §52-557n, if a board of education creates a policy or procedure requiring a school employee to act without the use of discretion, a court may conclude that such act or omission constitutes a ministerial duty. Jane Doe filed a complaint against her former teacher Peter Eramo, the Westport Board of Education, Superintendent Elliot Landon and Principal John Brady, alleging that while she was a minor and student of Staples High School, Eramo allegedly sexually abused, assaulted and exploited the plaintiff. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment as to the third, fourth and fifth counts. The third count alleged that the board was vicariously liable pursuant to C.G.S. §52-557n as the principal negligently failed to investigate a complaint as required by the board's staff-student nonfraternization policy that Eramo had inappropriate contact with the plaintiff and that the superintendent negligently failed to provide Eramo with a copy of the board's sexual harassment policy. The count alleged a direct cause of action against the board for negligence under C.G.S. §52-557n and common-law negligence claims against the superintendent and principal. Count four alleged that the board is liable under a vicarious liability theory. For counts three and four, the defendants contended, inter alia, that the doctrine of governmental immunity shielded them from any liability. The court disagreed and denied the motion as to counts three and four but granted it as to count five which inappropriately sought indemnification from the board on behalf of Eramo, the superintendent and principal under C.G.S. §10-235. For count three, the court determined, inter alia, that based upon the language in the nonfraternization policy, the principal was not permitted to exercise discretion to determine whether an investigation should be conducted if a complaint alleged behavior prohibited by the nonfraternization policy; rather, the principal was required to investigate any alleged violations. The plaintiff's evidence demonstrated, as a matter of law, an alleged violation of a ministerial duty not subject to immunity. The failure to distribute the sexual harassment policy also constituted a ministerial act not entitled to immunity. An unresolved factual issue existed of who was required to distribute the policy. Summary judgment was inappropriate.