Desmarais v. Wachusett Regional School Dist.

Citation276 N.E.2d 691,360 Mass. 591
Decision Date09 December 1971
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

Gerald F. Madaus, Worcester, for plaintiffs.

T. Philip Leader, Worcester, for defendants.


TAURO, Chief Justice.

This is an action of tort brought by Bruce R. Desmarais, a minor, for personal injuries, and by his father Robert R. Desmarais for consequential damages against the defendant Wachusett Regional School District and the defendant David H. Byron, the teacher in the classroom where the minor Desmarais sustained his injuries. The plaintiffs are here on their appeals from orders sustaining the defendants' demurrers to the plaintiffs' amended declaration.

In essence, the amended declaration alleged: (1) that contrary to the provisions of G.L. c. 71, § 55C, the defendant Byron 'engaged in a continuing course of misfeasant conduct in that he led his pupils to believe that he would not discipline or punish them in any way if they failed to wear safety glasses during the conduct of dangerous experiments' and (2) that the defendant Byron 'negligently and carelessly failed to use due care in his supervision of the (minor) plaintiff . . . in that he . . . allowed the (minor) plaintiff to conduct an experiment at his direction which involved the use of volatile and explosive chemicals without wearing safety glasses.' The defendant school district was alleged to be responsible for the actions of Byron whom it employed. It is further alleged that as a result the plaintiff Bruce R. Desmarais was not wearing safety glasses when an explosion occurred causing the permanent loss sight in one eye.

The defendants' demurrers are based on the following grounds: (1) the plaintiffs fail to state a cause of action; (2) the defendant Byron, a schoolteacher, was a public officer with limited duties and powers and was not liable for the failure to perform the duties of his office; (3) the defendant school district was protected from liability under the doctrine of governmental immunity.

The plaintiffs argue that Byron is not entitled to the status of a public officer, and that, even if this contention is rejected, his conduct constituted misfeasance which made him liable to the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs further argue that governmental immunity is not a defence by a reason of G.L. c. 41, § 100C, as appearing in St.1964, c. 513, which provided for the indemnification of teachers.

The pertinent part of G.L. c. 71, § 55C, as appearing in St.1966, c. 21, is as follows: 'Each teacher and pupil of any school * * * shall, while attending school classes in * * * laboratories in which caustic or explosive chemicals * * * are used * * * exposure to which may be a source of danger to the eyes, wear an industrial quality eye protecive device.' Prior to its amendment, the statute provided as follows: 'The school committee of each city or town shall require each pupil and teacher in a public school to wear * * * eye protective devices * * *.' The amendment thus removed from the school committee the responsibility of enforcing compliance with the statute and did not place a similar responsibility on anyone else except those who might be exposed to possible harm.

The general rule is that 'public officers engaged wholly in the performance of public duties are liable only for their own acts of misfeasance in connection with ministerial matters.' Fulgoni v. Johnston, 302 Mass. 421, 423, 19 N.E.2d 542, 543. Moynihan v. Todd, 188 Mass. 301, 303, 74 N.E. 367. The defendant Byron as a teacher in a public school is governed by the same standard of tort liability as a public officer. Fulgoni v. Johnston, supra, 302 Mass. at 423, 19 N.E.2d 542. Even assuming that Byron was bound to require the wearing of safety glasses, he cannot be held guilty of misfeasance for mere inaction. '(N)egligence which amounts to nothing more than an omission or nonfeasance creates no liability. * * * (N)onfeasance is the omission of an act which a person ought...

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16 cases
  • Gildea v. Ellershaw
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • 9 Julio 1973
    ...301, 303, 304, 74 N.E. 367.' See Trum v. Paxton, 329 Mass. 434, 438--439, 109 N.E.2d 116; Desmarais v. Wachusett Regional Sch. Dist., Mass. (Mass.Adv.Sh. (1971) 1763, 1764--1765), 276 N.E.2d 691.12 Chief Judge Hand cited a number of cases, including the following, on this point. Standard Nu......
  • Whitney v. City of Worcester
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • 16 Agosto 1977 not liable for negligent or otherwise tortious acts in the conduct of its schools. See, e. g., Desmarais v. Wachusett Regional School Dist., 360 Mass. 591, 594, 276 N.E.2d 691 (1971); Molinari v. Boston, 333 Mass. 394, 395-396, 130 N.E.2d 925 (1955); Reitano v. Haverhill, 309 Mass. 118, ......
  • Breault v. Chairman of Bd. of Fire Com'rs of Springfield
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • 13 Octubre 1987
    ...were ministerial in nature, so long as nonfeasance was alleged rather than misfeasance, see, e.g., Desmarais v. Wachusett Regional School Dist., 360 Mass. 591, 593, 276 N.E.2d 691 (1971), mentioned in Gildea, supra 363 Mass. at 812, n. 11, 289 N.E.2d 847; and see Fulgoni v. Johnston, 302 Ma......
  • Cormier v. City of Lynn
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • 27 Febrero 2018
    ...Public employees were always immune from liability for negligent omissions, or "nonfeasance." See Desmarais v. Wachusett Regional Sch. Dist., 360 Mass. 591, 593, 276 N.E.2d 691 (1971) ; Trum v. Paxton, 329 Mass. 434, 438, 109 N.E.2d 116 (1952).In Morash & Sons, Inc. v. Commonwealth, 363 Mas......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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