Friday, May 18, 2018

Court ruling upholds school district protections from liability

In a major case upholding school district protection from liability, the Illinois First District Appellate Court recently ruled that Chicago District 299 is immune under Section 2-201 of the state’s so-called Tort Immunity Act from a lawsuit.

The lawsuit involved a high school student allegedly attacked by another student off campus. Student Elizabeth Castillo and her family had charged the district with failing to discipline the alleged attacker in compliance with the School Code’s bullying prevention statute, and failing to prevent an attack through “supervisory” actions.

According to the decision filed on April 24, however, Section 2-201 of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (Tort Immunity Act, 745 ILCS 10-2-201) shields school districts from such a lawsuit. The law applies to public employees, including school employees, performing discretionary functions.

The court noted that Castillo’s “failure to discipline” claim involving Section 2-201 of the Tort Immunity Act (Tort Immunity Act, 745 ILCS 10-2-201) “only mandates that every school district create a policy on bullying; it does not mandate that a school respond to a particular instance of bullying in a particular way.” But because implementation of the district’s anti-bullying policy required both discretion and decision making by school officials, the Court found that the district was immune under Section 2-201 of the Tort Immunity Act.

Castillo’s “failure to prevent" claim involved Section 4-201 of the Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/4-201), which provides that neither a public entity nor its employees are liable for failure to provide police protection service. Illinois courts have repeatedly held that school officials are immune from suit when a student is harmed off-campus, even if school officials knew that violence was likely. Castillo attempted to distinguish her case by arguing she did not allege the district should have acted in the role of police to prevent Martinez’s the off campus attack, but that it should have protected her through “supervisory” actions. The Court did not buy this argument, stating there is no case distinguishing Castillo’s suggested actions as “supervisory” instead of “police,” and that the “supervisory” actions Castillo suggested could “inevitably slide into the area of school discipline,” which is covered by Section 2-201 immunity.