Is the Archdiocese responsible for a student’s injury during an offsite community service event? The third district says no
While community service was required for students to graduate, a Catholic high school was not responsible for injuries sustained by a student while volunteering at an offsite location she had chosen, said the Third District Court of Appeals on Wednesday.
The case involves Michelle Neff, then a sophomore at St. Brendan High School, a private Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Miami, who was injured while performing community service at Good Hope Equestrian Training. Center. Good Hope was on a list of “pre-approved service opportunities” and Neff selected the horse training center for his service location, according to the notice from the Third District.
While volunteering, Neff claims she was left unattended and a prancing horse injured her foot, the opinion says.
Neff, along with his parents, Magali and Herbert Neff, sued the archdiocese, the school, and Good Hope. Regarding the allegations against the Archdiocese, the Neffs asserted that he had an indelible obligation to the students who attended one of his schools and was vicariously liable for the negligence of St. Brendan under an apparent agency theory.
Following the discovery, the Archdiocese and St. Brendan jointly sought summary judgment, arguing that they had no obligation to Neff at the time of the incident as they exercised no authority or control over the training facility. , according to court records.
Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Judge Mark Blumstein granted summary judgment in favor of the archdiocese and the high school, finding that Neff’s involvement in community service “was not school-related.” and that the “mere creation of a pre-approved, non-exclusive list of organizations from which students may or may not choose to perform the community service required to graduate cannot give rise to a legal duty of care on the undisputed facts of the case,” the district court records say.
Because one count is still pending against the school, the final judgment was only in favor of the Archdiocese, which was the only party in the Neffs’ appeal to the Court of Appeals. of the third district.
The Neffs argued that the archdiocese owed them a duty of care in compiling a list of service opportunities and a duty of supervision because the community service required was “school-sponsored” or “related at school “.
They compared their case to Nova Southeastern University v. Grossin which the Florida Supreme Court reviewed a decision of the neighboring Fourth District Court of Appeals.
The opinion of the Fourth District in Gross v. Family Services Agency involved a Nova Southeastern University student, Bethany Jill Gross, who was criminally assaulted at an off-campus internship site. The university assigned Gross to the Family Services Agency for his internship.
On leaving the FSA, Gross was removed from the car park, robbed and sexually assaulted and there was evidence before her attack that other criminal incidents had occurred on or near the FSA car park, court records show.
Gross sued the university for breach of a duty of due diligence.
In the opinion of the Third District in the Neffs case, the Fourth District concluded in Raw that the plaintiff “declared a cause of action in negligence against Nova based on her allegations that the university assigned her, without adequate warning, to an internship site which she knew was unreasonably dangerous and presented an unreasonable risk of harm”.
The state Supreme Court approved the opinion of the Fourth District in Rawconcluding that “the extent of a school’s duty to its students should be limited by the degree of control the school has over the conduct of the student”, and because Nova had the final say in the assignment of students at an internship location, he assumed a duty of care because she was monitoring the students’ conduct, according to court documents.
But Third District Judge Norma S. Lindsey wrote on behalf of the panel that Raw differed from the Neffs case.
“The Neffs argue that the circumstances here are analogous. Although there are some similarities, we note a few key distinctions. Most obvious is the undisputed fact that St. Brendan did not exercise nearly the same level of control as Nova,” Lindsey wrote. “Contrary to Rawstudents could choose freely from the 45 organizations on the community service list, and St. Brendan had no final say in assigning students to a particular location.
Additionally, there was no evidence that St. Brendan knew Good Hope was an unreasonably dangerous place, the court noted.
In order to find a legal obligation in the Neffs’ case, the Third District would have to expand Raw to apply in situations where the school does not have the final say in assigning students to a place of community service, Lindsey added.
“But based on the existing case law, we agree with the trial court that, as a matter of law, St. Brendan did not have a duty of due diligence in this situation. We decline to extend this obligation further than the case law allows,” Lindsey wrote.
Judges Thomas Logue and Eric Wm. Hendon agreed, upholding the trial court’s final judgment in favor of the archdiocese.
The district court further rejected the Neffs’ claim that St. Brendan, and therefore the Archdiocese, had a duty of supervision because community service was a “school-sponsored” event.
The Third District Court of Appeals held in Archbishop Coleman F. Carrol High School v. Maynoldi that “a school’s on-site supervision obligation may continue when an off-site activity is ‘school-sponsored’ or ‘school-related’.”
In the Neffs’ case, however, the court said the community service was not “school-sponsored” because there was no evidence that St. Brendan had paid or taken responsibility for Good Hope.
“Here, although community service was required for graduation, there is nothing in the record to indicate that Good Hope had any affiliation with St. Brendan or that St. Brendan reversed all control over Good Hope,” Lindsey wrote. “There is also nothing in the record to indicate that Good Hope has any connection with any club or sports team in St. Brendan.”
Further, the court stated that “if schools are to become liable for every incident during an off-site activity for which community service hours are available, community service will be a thing of the past.”
“I think you will agree that the court’s decision regarding schools’ responsibilities for community service outside of its buildings provides ongoing educational experiences,” archdiocesan spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said in a statement. E-mail. “From these can flow career opportunities and interests as students pursue their exposures at all levels of life.”
A message seeking comment was not immediately returned by Jay M. Levy of Jay M. Levy’s law firm on behalf of the Neffs.