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Dinsmoor v. City of Phoenix - 6/30/2020

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that a school district has a duty to protect a student who was shot off campus based on preexisting school-student relationship.

A female student was shot after school, off campus, by a male student with whom she had a personal conflict.  The school district was aware of the conflict and potentially aware of the shooter’s access to firearms and threats of violence toward a different student.

The mother of the deceased student brought a negligence claim against the school district, the city, and the city police officer who had been the school safety officer involved in the conflict.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding none had a duty to protect the victim.  The Court of Appeals agreed that the city owed no duty but found that disputed issues of fact precluded summary judgment as to the district and the officer.

The Court of Appeals addressed whether the district owed a duty to protect the victim where the injury happened after school, off campus. 

The Court clarified that post-Gibson v. Kasey, 214 Ariz. 141 (2007), a duty arises from either a pre-existing special relationship (stemming from contract, common law, or defendant’s conduct) or from a relationship created by public policy considerations (common law or statute)—without regard to foreseeability. 

The Court found that because the school-student relationship is a special relationship recognized at common law, “[a] school unquestionably has a duty to address situations of which school officials become aware in dealing with students on campus.”  The facts and circumstances of the injury bear not on the duty analysis, but rather on the analysis of breach and causation. 

The Court also found that the record was unclear as to whether the officer’s involvement was as a law enforcement officer of the city (in which case he had no duty) or rather as an agent of the district (in which case he may have a duty).

Accordingly, the Court found that summary judgment as to the district and the officer was in error and remanded to the trial court.

Judge Cattani authored the opinion, in which Judge McMurdie and Judge Campbell joined.

Posted by: Payslie M. Bowman

Posted On: 7/13/2020