This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Michael Lee Staack,
Independent School District No. 118,
Filed November 22, 2005
Cass County District Court
File No. C4-03-1299
Jason D. Pederson, Fuller,
Wallner, Cayko & Pederson, Ltd.,
Larry C. Minton, Kimberly J.
Stimac, Law Offices of Larry C. Minton, Ltd.,
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Shumaker, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Independent School District No. 118 appeals the district court’s denial of its summary-judgment motion asserting statutory immunity from liability for a former student’s claim of negligent supervision. Because the alleged negligent supervision arises from operational conduct rather than a decision that balances policy objectives, the school district is not statutorily immune from liability. The school district also seeks review of the denial of its summary-judgment motion for failure to present adequate evidence to establish foreseeability and proximate cause. Although the record does not contain a petition for discretionary review or a clear basis for concluding that the parallel issues are inextricably intertwined, it does establish that the district court properly denied summary judgment on this alternative ground because material-fact issues remain on both proximate cause and foreseeability. We therefore affirm.
F A C T S
Michael Staack, Larry Rice, and Ryan Pound were students in Joseph Akre’s first-hour welding class in the spring of 1997. On the morning of April 29, 1997, the students watched Channel 1, an academic television news program, for the first ten to fifteen minutes of class. While the students were watching this program, Akre worked on administrative tasks in his glass-enclosed office, which permitted him to view about ninety percent of the room.
During the program, while Akre was still in his office, Pound made a disparaging remark to Staack about his truck, and Staack responded by throwing a twelve-inch strip of wood at Pound. The wood missed Pound and instead hit Rice. Rice left the classroom and returned about a half-hour later with a Band-Aid on his face. Akre did not see Staack throw the wood or see Rice leave the classroom. When Rice returned to class, he told Akre that he left to get a Band-Aid for a cut on his face, but he did not say how he received the cut. Neither Rice nor Staack said anything to each other or Akre about the incident.
At the end of class, the students walked from the classroom into the adjoining hallway. As Staack walked down the hallway, Rice came up behind him and said, “Hey, Mike.” Staack turned around, and Rice immediately punched him in the face and then walked away. Staack checked the condition of his eye in a mirror, observed face injuries, and went home. When he arrived home, his father called an ambulance that transported Staack to the hospital.
The school district’s teacher handbook requires teachers to stand outside their classrooms when students move to and from classes. Akre, as a shop teacher, is responsible for standing at the end of the hallway to observe the students. According to his deposition, Akre usually stands outside his classroom at the intersection of two perpendicular hallways, where he could observe three different directions. He could not recall whether he was standing in that spot on the exact date, but he did not see Rice strike Staack. The teacher handbook states that a teacher may not allow students to use classrooms without supervision and that a teacher should physically restrain a student who is hurting another. The student handbook provides that discipline for fighting may range from detention to out-of-school suspension. Akre acknowledges that he would have disciplined Staack if he had seen him throw the strip of wood.
About six years after the incident, Staack sued the school district for negligent supervision. The school district moved for summary judgment on the ground that it was immune from liability and, alternatively, that Staack had not established that Rice’s act was foreseeable or that any breach of the school district’s supervisory duty caused Staack’s injuries. The district court denied the motion for summary judgment on each ground, and the school district appeals.
D E C I S I O N
including a school district, is generally subject to liability for the torts of
its officers and employees.
To review a claim of statutory
immunity, we first identify the precise governmental conduct that is being
challenged. Conlin v. City of
Staack alleges two instances in which Akre’s conduct amounted to negligent supervision of the students: Akre’s failure to supervise Staack in the classroom and Akre’s failure to prevent the physical confrontation in the hallway. The school district argues that these circumstances involve safety and security considerations that are inherently discretionary and thus protected by statutory immunity. The district court rejected this argument and instead accepted Staack’s analysis that these allegations are aimed at operational decisions rather than policy-balancing decisions.
We agree with the district court’s evaluation of the challenged governmental conduct. Both situations involve operational decisions related to the day-to-day functions of the school—not planning-level decisions that balance political, social, and economic factors. See Zank, 552 N.W.2d at 721 (distinguishing between components of policy-making decisions and policy-implementing decisions). Although the formulation of a school district’s policy on issues of safety and supervision may be discretionary, the implementation of an established policy is more properly categorized as operational. See Angell, 578 N.W.2d at 346 (contrasting implementation of policy with formulation of policy). In supervising the students, Akre was applying his skills and complying with his responsibilities as a teacher, he was not balancing competing social or economic policies. Akre’s conduct therefore represents the day-to-day implementation of the school district’s policies, not policy formulation.
The school district argues that Staack’s decision to sue
the school district instead of the individual teacher demonstrates that the
conduct at issue is a policy decision by an entity rather than policy implementation
by a teacher. For purposes of analyzing
whether immunity applies, we do not attach significance to whether the employer
or the employee is named as a defendant.
See Wiederholt v. City of
school district, in its motion for summary judgment, set forth two grounds for
dismissal: immunity and failure to
present adequate evidence to establish foreseeability and probable cause. The district court denied summary judgment on
both grounds. Absent a district court certification
that the question is important and doubtful, an immunity defense, or a
jurisdictional issue, the denial of summary judgment is generally not
Review of the denial of a summary judgment not
otherwise appealable is appropriate if it is inextricably intertwined with an
issue that is reviewable. Swint
if the school district could establish that the immunity and negligence issues are
inextricably intertwined, it has not established that the district court erred by
denying summary judgment on the lack of evidence to establish the elements of
foreseeability or proximate cause.
Summary judgment is not appropriate on disputed material issues “if reasonable persons might draw different
conclusions from the evidence presented.”
Ill. Farmers Ins. Co. v. Tapemark Co., 273 N.W.2d 630, 633 (
question of whether additional supervision either in the classroom or the
hallway could have prevented Staack’s injuries is a question of fact. See