Brooks v. Logan, 2

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Citation127 Idaho 484,903 P.2d 73
Docket NumberNo. 2,No. 21013,2,21013
Parties, 103 Ed. Law Rep. 1246 James and Diane BROOKS, individually, and as guardians ad litem for their minor daughter, Amber Dianne Brooks, heirs at law, and as the Personal Representatives for the estate of their minor child, Jeffrey M. Brooks, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Laura LOGAN, individually, and as an employee of Joint School District, and Joint School District, an independent political subdivision of the state of Idaho, Defendants-Respondents. 1013. Boise, January 1995 Term
Decision Date30 August 1995

Law Offices of Comstock & Bush, Boise, for appellants. John A. Bush, argued.

Quane, Smith, Howard & Hull, Boise, for respondents. Brian Julian, argued.

TROUT, Justice.

This is a wrongful death action and an action for negligent infliction of emotional distress arising from the suicide of fourteen-year-old Jeffrey Brooks.


In this case, Jeffrey Brooks (Jeff), who was a student at Meridian High School, was asked by his English teacher, respondent Laura Logan (Logan), to make entries into a daily journal as part of an English composition assignment. He did this beginning in September of 1990, and continued on to the end of December, 1990. The following January he committed suicide at his home.

After Jeff's suicide, Logan read through his entries in the journal and then turned it over to a counselor who subsequently delivered it to Jeff's parents, James and Diane Brooks (the Brooks). The Brooks then called Logan, and according to them she indicated that she had "re-read" the journal provisions and decided that the Brooks should have it. When the composition project began, Logan advised the students that she would be reading their journals; however, after a few months Jeff expressed concerns that he could not fully express himself knowing that Logan would read his entries. Thereafter Jeff's journal contains a passage written by Logan in which she indicated that she would not read the journal for content, but would instead check the entries for dates and length. In her affidavit, Logan claims she never read Jeff's journal after advising him that she would not. She, therefore, disputes the Brooks' assertion that she "re-read" Jeff's journal after his death. To the contrary, she maintains that she read the journal entries for the first time only after Jeff's death. Jeff's journal contains some passages in which he alludes to death or depression, but there is no definite statement that he was contemplating suicide.

The Brooks brought suit against Logan and the Meridian School District (the District) and have alleged that the District has a duty regarding the investigation and training Logan and the District filed a motion for summary judgment seeking to dismiss the Brooks' claims on the grounds that there are no facts in dispute; no duty was owed by Logan and the District to Jeff; Jeff's act of committing suicide was not foreseeable; and the District is immune from liability under I.C. § 6-904. The trial court granted Logan and the District's motion, finding that they did not owe a duty of care to Jeff, and that they were immune from liability for failing to implement a suicide prevention program. Because there was at least a factual question about whether Logan had indeed read the entire journal, the judge concluded that for the purposes of the summary judgment motion he would deem that she had read the journal. In spite of that, the court still concluded that Logan had no responsibility to take action. The case is now before us on appeal from the grant of summary judgment.

[127 Idaho 487] of qualified teachers, and a duty to take affirmative action to detect and assist students who suffer from depression or suicidal ideation. In addition the Brooks allege that the District and Logan jointly have a duty to seek help for a student who displays suicidal tendencies at school.


This issue requires an analysis of the Brooks' complaint under two separate sections.

A. Suicide Prevention Program

First, we address the allegations that the District had a duty to:

1) investigate and hire well-trained and qualified teachers;

2) adequately train all faculty members in the means and detection, recognition, and prevention of potentially suicidal behavior exhibited by any student;

3) take affirmative steps to detect and assist its students suffering from disabilities such as severe depression or suicidal ideation.

The District argues that based upon the Idaho Tort Claims Act (ITCA), it is immune from liability stemming from any alleged failure to perform the above duties.

Review of any order granting summary judgment requires us to make two determinations: (1) whether there remains a genuine issue as to any material fact; and (2) whether the non-moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Sharp v. W.H. Moore, Inc., 118 Idaho 297, 299, 796 P.2d 506, 508 (1990) (citing Mitchell v. Siqueiros, 99 Idaho 396, 582 P.2d 1074 (1978)). In making those determinations, the Court will construe the facts and any reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. (citing Anderson v. City of Pocatello, 112 Idaho 176, 731 P.2d 171 (1986); Hirst v. Saint Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 106 Idaho 792, 683 P.2d 440 (Ct.App.1984)).

In Czaplicki v. Gooding Joint Sch. Dist. No. 231, 116 Idaho 326, 775 P.2d 640 (1989), we stated that:

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment based upon an immunity defense under the Idaho Tort Claims Act (ITCA), a trial judge should first determine whether the plaintiffs' allegations and supporting record generally state a cause of action for which "a private person or entity would be liable for money damages under the laws of the state of Idaho." Walker v. Shoshone County, 112 Idaho 991, 995, 739 P.2d 290, 294 (1987). The court must then determine whether an exception to liability under the ITCA shields the alleged misconduct from liability. In consideration of the initial inquiry as to whether a private individual or entity could be held liable under the facts alleged in the complaint, we essentially ask "is there such a tort under the laws of Idaho?" [Id.]

Czaplicki at 330, 775 P.2d at 644. We find that the Brooks' allegations and supporting record generally state a cause of action for which a private person or entity would be liable for money damages under the laws of the state of Idaho: that is, the tort of negligence.

The next stage in the analytical process applicable to such a motion requires us to Exceptions to governmental liability.--A governmental entity and its employees while acting within the course and scope of their employment and without malice or criminal intent shall not be liable for any claim which:

[127 Idaho 488] evaluate the availability of an exception to liability under the ITCA. The ITCA subjects the state and its political subdivisions to liability for its negligent acts or omissions. Ransom v. City of Garden City, 113 Idaho 202, 204, 743 P.2d 70, 72 (1987) (citing I.C. § 6-903). The discretionary function exception upon which the District relies states:

1. Arises out of any act or omission of an employee of the governmental entity exercising ordinary care, in reliance upon or the execution or performance of a statutory or regulatory function, whether or not the statute or regulation be valid, or based upon the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty on the part of a governmental entity or employee thereof, whether or not the discretion be abused.

I.C. § 6-904(1).

The test for determining the applicability of discretionary function immunity looks at the nature of the conduct. Routine matters not requiring evaluation of broad policy factors will likely be "operational," whereas decisions involving a consideration of the financial, political, economic, and social effects of a particular plan are likely "discretionary" and will be accorded immunity. Lawton v. City of Pocatello, 126 Idaho 454, 460, 886 P.2d 330, 336 (1994) (citing Ransom v. City of Garden City, 113 Idaho 202, 205, 743 P.2d 70, 73 (1987)). We then evaluate the challenged conduct in light of the dual policies advanced by the discretionary function exception: to permit those who govern to do so without being unduly inhibited by the threat of liability and to limit judicial second-guessing of basic policy decisions entrusted to other branches of government.

Applying this analysis to this case, it appears clear that the decision to implement a suicide prevention program, including training teachers in the district, is a discretionary function. The decision to implement a suicide prevention program should be left to the decision-making body, in this case the legislature or the District, through public input and discussion. The courts do not have the fact-finding ability of the legislature or executive departments and should not attempt to balance the detailed and competing elements of legislative or executive decisions. See Ransom v. Garden City, 113 Idaho 202, 205, 743 P.2d 70, 73 (1987) (citations omitted). Making a determination that our local schools should be at the forefront of the prevention effort is unquestionably an important public policy issue which must be left to the sound discretion of the District. Thus, we hold that the District is immune from liability based upon the discretionary function exception for any failure to implement a suicide prevention program, or train its staff in such prevention.

B. Failure to Warn

The Brooks also allege that the District and Logan in her capacity as a District employee have a duty to alert and/or warn the parents and family of a student and/or the school authorities of all suicidal tendencies exhibited at school. In essence, the Brooks have alleged that Logan had a duty to seek...

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