Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court of the State of Washington considered two questions certified by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit regarding a university's duty of care towards its students. The plaintiff, a student, alleged that the defendant university was negligent in failing to protect her from being raped by a fellow student, who had prior complaints of sexual misconduct, at an off-campus party. The first question asked whether under Washington law a university has a special relationship with its students that gives rise to a duty to use reasonable care to protect them from foreseeable harm caused by other students. The Court answered yes, indicating that such a relationship exists as defined by the common law principles laid out in the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 344. This duty applies when a student is on campus or participating in university-sponsored activities. The second question asked about the scope of this duty. The Court determined that the duty applies within the confines of the university campus or at university-controlled events, and is based on a student's enrollment and presence on campus. The Court did not extend this duty to off-campus situations or situations not under the university's control. Therefore, the Court concluded that the university was not liable for the plaintiff's off-campus assault. View "Barlow v. State" on Justia Law

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In this action, the Wahkiakum School District (WSD) alleged the State of Washington “fail[ed] to amply fund the [WSD]’s needed facilities [and] infrastructure.” WSD argued that this failure violated the Washington Constitution, article IX, section 1. The complaint explained the impact of this lack of ample funding for facilities and infrastructure: “The [WSD] is a poor, rural school district located along the banks of the Columbia River. It has less than 500 students. Approximately 57% of its students are low income. It has less than 3500 registered voters. And the per capita income of its voters is approximately $29,000.” Specifically, the WSD requested that the State pay the cost of rebuilding its elementary, middle, and high schools; it estimated more than $50 million in construction costs. The State moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim (CR 12(b)(6)) and for lack of jurisdiction (CR 12(b)(1)). In support of its motion, the State argued, “[F]unding for school construction and other capital expenditures is governed by entirely different constitutional and statutory provisions that primarily look to local school districts themselves, with the State providing funding assistance. As such, WSD fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted . . . .” It also argued that the court could not award monetary damages because the legislature has not created a private right of action and monetary damages would violate separation of powers principles. The WSD conceded that it failed to file a tort claim form and thus that its claim for monetary damages was barred. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss with prejudice. After review, the Washington Supreme Court concluded the constitution did not include capital construction costs within the category of “education” costs for which the State alone must make “ample provision.” The Court thus affirmed the trial court's decision to grant the motion to dismiss. View "Wahkiakum Sch. Dist. No. 200 v. Washington" on Justia Law

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Gabriel Anderson, a student of the Ferndale School District (Ferndale), was killed by a vehicle while on an off campus walk with his physical education (PE) class. Anderson’s estate alleged negligence by Ferndale. The trial court dismissed the claim, granting Ferndale summary judgment based on a lack of duty. The Court of Appeals reversed, determining that there were sufficient factual issues on duty and proximate causation. Ferndale challenged the Court of Appeals’ analysis of proximate cause. The issue presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether Ferndale was entitled to summary judgment dismissal based on proximate causation. While the Court of Appeals erred in analyzing legal causation, the Supreme Court found it properly concluded that material issues of fact existed concerning proximate causation. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision to reverse summary judgment dismissal of the negligence claim against Ferndale. View "Meyers v. Ferndale Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington certified two questions to the Washington Supreme Court in connection with the meaning of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), chapter 49.60 RCW. The federal trial court asked: (1) whether a school district was subject to strict liability for discrimination by its employees in violation of the WLAD; and (2) if yes, then did "discrimination," for the purposes of this cause of action, encompass intentional sexual misconduct, including physical abuse and assault? Gary Shafer was hired by the Olympia School District in 2005 as a school bus driver. It was undisputed that Shafer, during his employment, abused passengers on school buses, including P.H. and S.A., the minor plaintiffs in this case. Plaintiffs sued the school district in federal court, naming multiple defendants, and claiming both state and federal causes of action. Defendants moved for summary judgment, which was granted in part and denied in part. In response to the Washington Supreme Court's decision in Floeting v. Group Health Cooperative, 434 P.3d 39 (2019), plaintiffs successfully moved to amend their complaint to include a claim under the WLAD. The amended complaint alleges that the minor plaintiffs’ treatment constituted sex discrimination in a place of public accommodation. The Supreme Court answered "yes" to both certified questions: a school district may be subject to strict liability for discrimination in places of public accommodation by its employees in violation of the WLAD; and under the WLAD, discrimination can encompass intentional sexual misconduct, including physical abuse and assault. View "W.H. v. Olympia School Dist." on Justia Law

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In 1998, petitioner Christal Fields pled guilty to attempted second degree robbery for trying to snatch a woman's purse. As a result, Fields was permanently disqualified from working at any licensed childcare facility in Washington pursuant to Department of Early Learning (DEL) regulations. At issue in this case was the extent to which a criminal record could preclude a person from supporting herself through lawful employment in her chosen field. The Washington Supreme Court held DEL's regulations prohibiting any individualized consideration of Fields' qualifications at the administrative level violated her federal right to due process as applied. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded for further administrative proceedings. View "Fields v. Dep't of Early Learning" on Justia Law

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Heidi Hendrickson filed suit against the Moses Lake School District to recover for injuries she suffered while operating a table saw in a woodshop class at Moses Lake High School. The jury found the District was negligent, but that its negligence was not a proximate cause of Hendrickson's injuries. Hendrickson appealed, arguing the trial court erred in instructing the jury that the District owed a her a duty of ordinary care instead of a heightened duty. The Court of Appeals agreed with Hendrickson and reversed, remanding for a new trial. The Washington Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate court, however, finding school districts were subject to an ordinary duty of care. As a result, the Supreme Court reinstated the jury's verdict. View "Hendrickson v. Moses Lake Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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In 2012, Washington voters approved I-1240, codified at chapter 28A.710 RCW, which created a public charter school system.In League of Women Voters v. Washington, 184 Wn.2d 393 (2015), the Washington Supreme Court held that I-1240 violated article IX, section 2 of the Washington Constitution, finding I-1240 incorrectly designated charter schools as common schools and then impermissibly supported them with money allocated for common schools. Because the unconstitutional provisions of I-1240 were not severable, the Court did not reach the other challenges raised by the plaintiffs. In 2016, the Washington legislature enacted the Charter School Act with amendments designed to cure its constitutional defects. Plaintiffs brought suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the new Act was facially unconstitutional. A number of charter schools joined the suit as intervenor-respondents. On cross motions for summary judgment, the trial court concluded that the Act did not on its face violate the Washington Constitution. Plaintiffs then sought direct review from the Washington Supreme Court. "While each side of the discussion may have legitimate points of view, it is not the province of this court to express favor or disfavor of the legislature's policy decision to create charter schools. . . . We conclude that its only unconstitutional provision is severable, and thus we affirm the trial court in part and hold that the remainder of the Charter School Act is constitutional on its face." View "El Centro de la Raza v. Washington" on Justia Law

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The issue presented by this case was whether Washington's Zackery Lystedt Law (Lystedt law), RCW 28A.600.190, gave rise to an implied cause of action. The Lystedt law's purpose was to reduce the risk of further injury or death to youth athletes who suffered concussions in the state of Washington. Andrew Swank (Drew) died from complications after contact with another player during a high school football game. Drew reported having neck pain and headaches. Drew would play again, but the quality of his play "sharply declined." During the game, Coach Jim Puryear called Drew over to the sidelines, where he grabbed Drew's face mask and, according to Drew's father, "began to jerk it up and down hard while he screamed at [Drew], 'What are you doing out there, what are you doing out there?"' Drew returned to the game, where he was hit by an opposing player. He suffered head injuries and staggered to the sideline, where he collapsed. Drew died two days later. Drew's parents sued Drew's school, the football coach, and Drew's doctor on behalf of his estate and individually. The trial court granted summary judgment against the Swanks on all claims, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court held that an implied cause of action does arise from the Lystedt law. As a result, the Swanks' claims that Valley Christian School (VCS) and Coach Puryear violated the Lystedt law could proceed. The Court also held that the evidence against the coach was sufficient to permit a jury to find liability against the coach, despite the limited volunteer immunity protecting him. Consequently, the Court reinstated the Swanks' common law negligence claims against the coach. Finally, the Court held the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over Drew's doctor. View "Swank v. Valley Christian School" on Justia Law

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N.L. met Nicholas Clark at school track practice. She was 14, and he was 18. Both were students in the Bethel School District. Neither N.L. nor any responsible adult on the field knew that Clark was a registered sex offender who had previously sexually assaulted a younger girl who had been about N.L. 'sage at the time. The Pierce County Sheriff's Department had informed Clark's school principal of his sex offender status, but the principal took no action in response. Clark persuaded N.L. to leave campus with him and raped her. N.L. sued the district, alleging negligence. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the School District’s duty to N.L. ended when she left campus and whether its alleged negligence, as a matter of law, was not a proximate cause of her injury. The Court answered both questions “no,” affirming the Court of Appeals’ judgment reversing the trial court’s dismissal of this case on summary judgment. View "N.L. v. Bethel Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court was the overall adequacy of state funding for K-12 education under the Washington State Constitution. "The legislature must develop a basic education program geared toward delivering the constitutionally required education, and it must fully fund that program through regular and dependable tax sources." The Court found that the State failed to meet its duty under the constitution by consistently providing school districts with a level of resources that fell short of the actual costs of the basic education program. The legislature enacted reforms to remedy the deficiencies in the funding system, and the Court deferred to the legislature's chosen means of discharging its duty. However, the Court retained jurisdiction over the case to help ensure progress in the State's plan to fully implement education reforms by 2018. The Court directed the parties to provide further briefing to the Court addressing the preferred method for retaining jurisdiction. View "McCleary v. Washington" on Justia Law