Meyers v. Ferndale Sch. Dist.

Decision Date10 February 2020
Docket NumberNo. 79655-1-I,79655-1-I
Citation457 P.3d 483
Parties Bonnie I. MEYERS, as personal representative of the estate of Gabriel Lewis Anderson, a deceased minor, age 15, and on behalf of the beneficiaries of the estate; and Brandi K. Sestrom and Joshua Anderson, individually, Appellants, v. FERNDALE SCHOOL DISTRICT, a political subdivision of the State of Washington, Respondent, and William Klein and Jane Doe Klein and the Marital Community Comprised thereof, Defendants.
CourtWashington Court of Appeals

Philip Albert Talmadge, Talmadge/Fitzpatrick, 2775 Harbor Ave. Sw, Third Floor Ste. C, Seattle, WA, 98126-2138, John Robert Connelly Jr., Marta Lynn O'Brien, Connelly Law Offices, Jackson Robert Pahlke, Attorney at Law, 2301 N 30th St., Tacoma, WA, 98403-3322, Aaron Paul Orheim, Talmadge/Fitzpatrick, 2775 Harbor Ave. Sw Unit C, Seattle, WA, 98126-2168, for Appellant.

Mark Dietzler, Law Offices of Mark Dietzler, 1001 4th Ave. Ste. 3300, Seattle, WA, 98154-1125, Bret S. Simmons, Simmons Sweeney Smith PS, 1223 Commercial St., Bellingham, WA, 98225-4306, for Respondent.


Dwyer, J. ¶1 Following the death of high school student Gabriel Anderson, Bonnie Meyers, as personal representative of Anderson’s estate, filed suit against the Ferndale School District (Ferndale) and William Klein. Meyers asserted that Anderson’s death was the result of Ferndale negligently removing Anderson from the safety of his high school campus. Ferndale’s actions, Meyers asserted, exposed Anderson to the negligent driving of Klein, who fell asleep behind the wheel and drove his motor vehicle up onto a sidewalk, killing Anderson.

¶2 The trial court granted Ferndale’s subsequent motion for summary judgment and dismissed Meyers’ claims against Ferndale, concluding–as a matter of law–that the collision was not reasonably foreseeable and that Ferndale therefore had no duty to take steps to prevent its occurrence. In its order, the trial court improperly based its determination of foreseeability on the specific harm that occurred, rather than on the general field of danger created when Ferndale staff took Anderson off campus for a walk along a public roadway. Because evidence in the record establishes a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether it was foreseeable that Anderson could be struck by a motor vehicle while walking along a public roadway, we reverse.


¶3 Gabriel Anderson was a student at the Ferndale School District’s Windward High School during the 2014-2015 school year. At Windward High School, he was in teacher Evan Ritchie’s physical education class. On June 10, 2015, Ritchie decided to take Anderson’s class for a walk off the school’s campus grounds.

¶4 Windward High School was ostensibly a modified closed campus school and Ferndale had specific policies in place during the 2014-2015 school year regarding taking students off campus on field trips or excursions. Ferndale required teachers to obtain the permission of a student’s parent or guardian before taking them off campus for a field trip or excursion. All parties agree that Ritchie did not follow these policies prior to taking Anderson’s class off campus.1 Instead, Ritchie asserted that only minutes prior to the outing he sought and obtained the approval of Windward High School’s then principal, Tim Kiegley, to take his class for a walk off campus.2

¶5 Without securing any additional adult supervision, Ritchie then proceeded to take his students off campus, walking west on the sidewalk along the north side of West Smith Road past the school safety zone to a section of the road where motor vehicles were permitted to travel at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. At times during the walk, some students were up to 200 meters away from Ritchie. To return to the school, the students were explicitly granted permission to cross West Smith Road to reach the south side of the road at locations other than at designated crosswalks, and they did so.

¶6 To return to the school, the students crossed the street and walked along the sidewalk on the south side of West Smith Road, with their backs to oncoming traffic. At a point outside of the school safety speed zone, just before the intersection of Graveline Road and West Smith Road, Anderson and several other students were struck by William Klein’s sport utility vehicle. Klein had fallen asleep at the wheel and driven off the road and onto the sidewalk. Anderson and one other student were killed. Two other students were grievously injured.

¶7 Meyers subsequently sued both Klein and Ferndale, alleging that they had acted negligently and that their negligence had resulted in Anderson’s untimely death. Ferndale then moved for summary judgment dismissal of Meyers’ claims against it on the grounds that (1) the collision that killed Anderson was not foreseeable—thus Ferndale had no duty to take steps to prevent it—and (2) even if Ferndale breached a duty, such breach was not the proximate cause of Anderson’s death. The trial court agreed with Ferndale that the collision was not foreseeable and issued an order granting summary judgment and dismissing Meyers’ claims against Ferndale on that basis.

¶8 Meyers appeals.


¶9 Meyers contends that the trial court erred by concluding that the collision resulting in Anderson’s death was not foreseeable. This is so, Meyers asserts, because the trial court improperly based its determination of foreseeability on the specific harm that occurred, rather than on the general field of danger created when Ritchie took Anderson off campus for a walk along a public roadway. In response, Ferndale asserts that the trial court’s ruling did not actually dismiss Meyers’ claims against it on the ground that injury to Anderson was unforeseeable but, rather, because Ferndale’s actions were neither the cause in fact nor the legal cause of Anderson’s death. Meyers has the better argument.


¶10 We review de novo a trial court’s order granting summary judgment. Greensun Grp., LLC v. City of Bellevue, 7 Wash. App. 2d 754, 767, 436 P.3d 397, review denied, 193 Wash.2d 1023, 448 P.3d 64 (2019). We will affirm such an order only "if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Woods View II, LLC v. Kitsap County, 188 Wash. App. 1, 18, 352 P.3d 807 (2015). On review, we must "conduct the same inquiry as the trial court and view all facts and their reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Greensun Grp., LLC, 7 Wash. App. 2d at 767, 436 P.3d 397 (citing Pac. Nw. Shooting Park Ass’n v. City of Sequim, 158 Wash.2d 342, 350, 144 P.3d 276 (2006) ).

¶11 To prevail in this negligence suit, Meyers must show " (1) the existence of a duty to [Anderson], (2) a breach of that duty, (3) a resulting injury, and (4) the breach as the proximate cause of the injury.’ " N.L. v. Bethel Sch. Dist., 186 Wash.2d 422, 429, 378 P.3d 162 (2016) (quoting Crowe v. Gaston, 134 Wash.2d 509, 514, 951 P.2d 1118 (1998) ). In this appeal, the parties contest only the issues of duty and proximate cause.


¶12 Meyers primarily contends that the trial court erred by concluding that Ferndale had no duty to protect Anderson against the collision that resulted in his death. This is so, Meyers asserts, because the court applied the wrong legal standard of foreseeability by requiring the specific collision to be foreseeable in order for Ferndale to have a duty to protect Anderson. According to Meyers, Ferndale had a duty so long as the specific injury-causing event was within the general field of danger created when Ritchie took Anderson off campus to walk along a sidewalk next to a public roadway.3 We agree.

¶13 "Whether a duty exists is a question of law for the court." N.L., 186 Wash.2d at 429, 378 P.3d 162 (citing Aba Sheikh v. Choe, 156 Wash.2d 441, 448, 128 P.3d 574 (2006) ). "School districts have the duty ‘to exercise such care as an ordinarily responsible and prudent person would exercise under the same or similar circumstances.’ " N.L., 186 Wash.2d at 430, 378 P.3d 162 (quoting Briscoe v. Sch. Dist. No. 123, 32 Wash.2d 353, 362, 201 P.2d 697 (1949) ). While common law generally imposes no duty to prevent a third person from causing physical injury to another, such a duty arises when " ‘a special relationship exists between the defendant and either the third party or the foreseeable victim of the third party’s conduct.’ " Niece v. Elmview Grp. Home, 131 Wash.2d 39, 43, 929 P.2d 420 (1997) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Hutchins v. 1001 Fourth Ave. Assocs., 116 Wash.2d 217, 227, 802 P.2d 1360 (1991) ). Pertinently, "[s]chool districts have a custodial relationship with their students—[i]t is not a voluntary relationship.’ As a result, the school district must ‘take certain precautions to protect the pupils in its custody from dangers reasonably to be anticipated.’ " Hendrickson v. Moses Lake Sch. Dist., 192 Wash.2d 269, 276, 428 P.3d 1197 (2018) (second alteration in original) (citation omitted) (quoting McLeod v. Grant County Sch. Dist. No. 128, 42 Wash.2d 316, 319-20, 255 P.2d 360 (1953) ). "As long as the harm is ‘reasonably foreseeable,’ a school district may be liable if it failed to take reasonable steps to prevent that harm." Hendrickson, 192 Wash.2d at 276, 428 P.3d 1197 (citing McLeod, 42 Wash.2d at 320, 255 P.2d 360 ).

¶14 When foreseeability is a question of whether a duty exists, it is a question of law, but when foreseeability is a question of whether the harm is within the scope of the duty owed, it is a question of fact for the jury. McKown v. Simon Prop. Grp., Inc., 182 Wash.2d 752, 764, 344 P.3d 661 (2015). Foreseeability is not measured against the specific sequence of events leading to harm or against the exact harm suffered. " [T]he question is whether the actual harm fell within a general field of danger which should have been anticipated.’ " Hendrickson, 192 Wash.2d at 276, 428 P.3d 1197 (alteration in original) (quoting...

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  • Davis v. Regency Lane, LLC
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • January 28, 2021
    ...2d 19, 26 (S.D. 2008) (quoting Kuehl v. Horner (J.W.) Lumber Co. , 678 N.W.2d 809, 812 (S.D. 2004) ). Accord Meyers v. Ferndale Sch. Dist. , 12 Wash.App.2d 254, 457 P.3d 483, 488 ("When foreseeability is a question of whether a duty exists, it is a question of law."), review granted , 195 W......
  • Meyers v. Ferndale Sch. Dist.
    • United States
    • Washington Supreme Court
    • March 4, 2021
    ...the Court of Appeals’ decision to reverse summary judgment dismissal of the negligence claim against Ferndale. Meyers v. Ferndale Sch. Dist ., 12 Wash. App. 2d 254, 457 P.3d 483, review granted , 195 Wash.2d 1023, 466 P.3d 769 (2020).FACTS¶ 2 Anderson was a student at Windward High School, ......

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