Plaintiffs have the right judicially, to assert a legal action against a defendant that consists of operative facts giving rise to the plaintiff’s complaint. The issue for the court may become whether the plaintiff does in fact, have a cause of action. If the law does not support the facts alleged, the defendant may have the opportunity to file a peremptory exception of no cause of action. This exception questions the basis of the plaintiff’s complaint, does the plaintiff allege an injury, harm, or sustained damage that is able to be remedied under the law? Or, does the plaintiff’s complaint lack the vital element of legal support in order to become “whole again” under the law? These questions were explored recently by the Second Circuit Court of Appeal in Louisiana. The Court reviewed the trial court’s judgment finding that the plaintiff’s had no cause of action against the defendants as a result of an apparent absence of legal support. However, the appellate court found differently, explaining in detail the reasons for which they reversed the trial court’s decision and allowed the plaintiff’s case to move forward against the defendants.
The plaintiffs in this case experienced every parent’s worst nightmare, the death of their daughter. The question for the court was who should be ultimately responsible for the death considering the tragic circumstances. The facts include the victim and two class mates who allegedly bullied her severely, to the point the young girl transferred to a different high school in order to avoid the emotional distress. One day, while exiting the bus after school, the young girl was approached by the two former class mates she had tried so hard to avoid. A heated altercation ensued, in which the young girl was pushed in front of an oncoming school bus where she was quickly run over and died as a result of her injuries. The young girl’s mother brought the suit against the school board, State Farm Mutual Insurance, the superintendent of the school board, the principal of her daughter’s former high school, the bus driver that struck her daughter, the mothers of both of the involved former classmates, and three “on duty” teachers. The plaintiff argued that the defendants were negligent in numerous ways, including the failure to supervise, failure to timely respond to the fight and failure to adequately staff the bus are with teachers or school personnel. Further, the complaint alleged that the bus driver saw or should have seen the fight and failed to stop his vehicle, disregarding the safety of the children aboard the bus and the children in the school bus zone. However, the defendants asserted the plaintiff had no cause of action against the school board employees in their individual capacities under Louisiana Revised Statute 17:439 which reads,
“Except as otherwise provided in this Section, no person shall have a cause of action against any school employee based on any statement made or action taken by the school employee provided that the action or statement was within the course and scope of the school employees’ duties as defined by the school board in which the school employee is employed and was within the specific guidelines for school employee behavior as established by that school board.”
The trial court granted the exception of no cause of action as to the school board superintendant, the principal, and the “on duty” teachers, dismissing those parties at the cost of the plaintiff based upon the Louisiana statute. However, on appeal, the “no cause of action” judgment was carefully reviewed and reversed, the appellate court found that there was in fact an issue presented and the issue would be triable.
A petition should not be dismissed for failure to state a cause of action unless it appears beyound a reasonable doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of any claim which entitles him to relief. In fact, the allegations set forth i a plaintiff’s petition are accepted as true. The burden of demonstrating that a petition fails to state a cause of action is upon the mover. Here, the question is, did the defendants prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the complaint lacked any legal support or basis? The answer is no. The statute provided at the trial level stated “no person shall have a cause of action against any school employee based on any statement made or action taken…” This fails to state that an employee may not be liable for any omission to act. In fact, the plaintiffs support their complaint with Louisiana revised Statute 17:416.4 that declares “If school board employees are sued for damages based upon any action or statement or the omission of any action or statement, the school board has the duty to defend and indemnify the employee.” The plaintiffs claim that they allege at least 25 instances of failures or omissions on the part of school board employees which are clearly outside the specific guidelines for school employees behavior established by the school board. Thus, the legislature did not intend to limit or restrict causes of action against the school board employees for omissions of any action or statement by enacting the subsequent statute that protects school employees from liability from any actions or statements thereby made. If the legislature had intended that result, it would have included the omissions language in the subsequent statute in order to protect school employees from further liability. Yet, the newer statute lacks any such language, thus, the appellate court found that the teachers omissions to act under numerous circumstances prevented affirming the trial court’s “no cause of action” ruling.
This case illustrates the oftentimes complicated legal issues that may arise even at the onset of a lawsuit. A skilled and knowledgeable attorney is necessary to help a client create the complaint against the defendant(s) and support the allegations with strong legal arguments.
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