Baird v. Hosmer, 75-1018

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Citation347 N.E.2d 533,46 Ohio St.2d 273
Docket NumberNo. 75-1018,75-1018
Parties, 75 O.O.2d 323 BAIRD et al., Appellees, v. HOSMER, Appellant.
Decision Date26 May 1976

Syllabus by the Court

Public school teachers are required to exercise reasonable care in the performance of their duties, and a complaint alleging that a student suffered personal injury as a direct and proximate result of a teacher's failure to use such care states a cause of action against the teacher.

On October 4, 1973, appellees Jandi Lyn Baird, a minor, and Barbara J. Baird, her mother, filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Cuyahoga County against appellant Judith A. Hosmer. The complaint, in pertinent part, alleged that:

'2. On or about Wednesday, December 13, 1972, at approximately 12 o'clock noon, plaintiff, Jandi Lyn Baird, was a student attending gym class in a class negligently conducted by defendant, Judith A. Hosmer, at Euclid Shore Junior High School in the city of Euclid, Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Defendant negligently instructed plaintiff to perform a series of exercises, one of which involved plaintiff jumping back and forth over an inappropriate obstacle which was a bench which had a hard seat with sharp corners. Defendant negligently failed to provide an appropriate gym safety floor mat and gum (sic) obstacle apparatus. Plaintiff struck her right knee on a sharp corner of the bench and fell to the bare floor with great force.

'3. As a result of defendant's carelessness and negligence, plaintiff, Jandi Lyn Baird, suffered injuries to her right leg which required surgical repair. She suffered great pain of body and mind and has a permanent scar and contour disfigurement of her right knee which resulted from her injuries and was damaged.'

Appellant denied each allegation of the complaint and filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the cause.

The Court of Appeals found that sovereign immunity does not extend to a teacher who is negligent while acting within the scope of her duties, and that there ware genuine issues as to material facts before the trial court which could not properly be disposed of in a motion for summary judgment. It reversed the judgment and remanded the cause to the Court of Common Pleas for further proceedings.

Because its judgment was in conflict with the judgment of the Court of Appeals for Franklin County in Hall v. Bd. of Edn. (1972), 32 Ohio App.2d 297, 290 N.E.2d 580, the Court of Appeals granted appellant's motion to certify the record to this court for review and final determination.

Duda, Elk & Wohl, William M. Wohl and John E. Duda, Cleveland, for appellees.

Meyers, Stevens & Rea Co., L. P. A., Joseph G. Schneider and Gerald L. Jeppe, Cleveland, for appellant.

HERBERT, Justice.

The central issue presented by this appeal is whether a complaint alleging that a student suffered personal injury as a direct and proximate result of a teacher's failure to exercise reasonable care in the performance of her duties states a valid cause of action against the teacher. Cf. Salyers v. Burkhart (1975), 44 Ohio St.2d 186, 339 N.E.2d 652.

Initially, appellant submits that the degree of tort immunity afforded boards of education 1 should be extended to school teachers. In support of this contention, appellant relies upon Hall v. Bd. of Edn., supra (32 Ohio App.2d 297, 290 N.E.2d 580), in which the court stated that teachers are immune from liability for torts committed within the scope of those duties involving the exercise of judgment and discretion. A close reading of the opinion in Hall reveals that the Court of Appeals addressed itself only to those defendants mentioned in the appellant's assignment of error. (The Columbus Board of Education, an elementary school principal, the superintendent of the Columbus Public School System and the assistant superintendent.) Furthermore, the language in the syllabus regarding the liability of teachers was not necessary to a resolution of the issues before the court.

Decisions from other jurisdictions have rejected such immunity claims on behalf of public school teachers. In Crabbe v. County School Bd. of Northumberland Co. (1968), 209 Va. 356, 164 S.E.2d 639, suit was brought against the school board and a high school teacher whose alleged negligence caused injuries to a pupil. After holding that the school board was immune from liability, the Supreme Court of Virginia addressed itself to the issues of the teacher's responsibility, stating at page 359, 164 S.E.2d at page 641:

'* * * We do not agree with the contention of this defendant that the immunity of the School Board from liability to the plaintiff extends to him. It is true that at the time the plaintiff was injured through the alleged negligence of the defendant Albrite, the latter was employed in and performing his duties as an instructor at the school. But the fact that Albrite was performing a governmental function for his employer, the School Board, does not mean that he was exempt from liability for his own negligence in the performance of such duties.'

Remanding the case for a new trial, the court, at page 360, 164 S.E.2d at page 642 concluded by finding that '* * * the plaintiff has stated a good cause of action against defendant Albrite, even though the School Board involved enjoys the sovereign immunity of the State.'

Similarly, in Duncan v. Koustenis (1970), 260 Md. 98, 271 A.2d 547, the defendant teacher attempted to raise the immunity of the board as a bar to the action. In considering that argument, the court noted that a teacher is not required to take an official oath, receives no commission, is not commonly thought of as an officer or occupant of an office, and does not exercise the sovereign powers of government. Based on those factors, the Duncan court concluded that a teacher is not a public official, 2 but rather is a professional contract employee of the state, and not entitled to the immunity from tort liability vested in school boards. 3

Other courts are in agreement with the holdings in Crabbe and Duncan, and have refused to extend the tort immunity of the board to its teachers or other employees. See Lovitt v. Concord School Dist. (1975), 58 Mich.App. 593, 228 N.W.2d 479; Rose v. Bd. of Edn. (1959), 184 Kan. 486, 337 P.2d 652; Anderson v. Calamus Com. School Dist. (Iowa 1970), 174 N.W.2d 643.

As stated in Leymel v. Johnson, 105 Cal.App. 694, 699, 288 P. 858, 860:

'* * * No matter how highly we regard the profession of teaching, we cannot conclude that the teacher is exercising some of the sovereign powers of the state in performing the arduous duties of his profession. He must be paternal * * * the moralist * * * a disciplinarian * * * an educator * * *. In doing these things he can accomplish them as the man and the citizen, and for success in his endeavors he does not need to be clothed with any of the sovereign functions of the state.'

Appellant contends further that teachers stand in loco parentis to their students and should be accorded the same tort immunity which is given to parents. See Teramano v. Teramano (1966), 6 Ohio St.2d 117, 216 N.E.2d 375. 4 Although we agree that a teacher has the obligation of maintaining supervision and discipline within the areas of his responsibility, it does not follow that the considerations of public policy expressed in Teramano would be served by granting teachers the immunity therein accorded to parents. In Teramano, the court was concerned with the 'parental relationship' and implicitly with the effects on the peace and harmony of the home if tort actions were allowed by a child against his parent. Clearly, the parent-child relationship is unique, and the effect upon classroom environment of a student's suit against a teacher is minimal when compared to the disruptive influence on the home that would result from a tort action by child against parent.

Other courts have considered the in loco parentis argument, and have used the duties arising from the teacher-pupil relationship as a basis for imposing a standard of due care upon the teacher. Speaking of this responsibility, the Supreme Court of Vermont in Eastman v. Williams (1965), 124 Vt. 445, at page 448, 207 A.2d 146 at page 148, stated:

'* * * In a limited sense the teacher stands in the parent's place in his relationship to a pupil under his care and charge, and has such a portion of the powers of the parent over the pupil as is necessary to carry out his employment. In such relationship, he owes his pupils the duty of supervision, and if a failure to use due care in such supervision results in injury to the pupil in his charge, makes him liable to such pupil. Common sense and fairness must call for the exercise of reasonable care in such duty of supervision, not only in the commission of acts that will not injure the pupil, but in a neglect or failure to act, when from such failure to act, injury results. * * * If the teacher is liable for misfeasance, we find no sound reason why he should not also be held liable for nonfeasance, if his acts or neglect are the direct proximate cause of the injury to the pupil.'

Likewise, in Gaincott v. Davis (1937) 281 Mich. 515, 518, 275 N.W. 229, 231:

'At least in a limited sense the relation of a teacher to a pupil is that of one in loco parentis. We are not here concerned with the law applicable to punishment of a pupil by a teacher; but rather with the law applicable to the duties of a teacher in the care and custody of a pupil. In the faithful discharge of such duties the teacher is bound to use reasonable care, tested in the light of the existing relationship. If, through negligence, the teacher is guilty of a breach of such duty and in consequence thereof a pupil suffers injury, liability results. It is not essential to such liability that the teacher's negligence should be so extreme as to be wanton or wilful.' 5

Thus, the distinction noted in Segerman v. Jones, supra (...

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