Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed August 9, 2012

 

 

Doe-3 v. McLean County Unit District No. 5 Board of Directors, 2012 IL 112479

Appellate citation: 409 Ill. App. 3d 1087.

 

      JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

      Chief Justice Kilbride and Justice Thomas concurred in the judgment and opinion.

      Justice Freeman specially concurred, with opinion.

      Justice Garman concurred in part and dissented in part, with opinion.

      Justice Karmeier dissented, with opinion, joined by Justice Theis.

 

      This Champaign County civil lawsuit seeking damages comes before the supreme court on an appeal from the granting of a motion to dismiss. No trial has occurred.

      At the Thomas Paine Elementary School in Urbana School District No. 116, two different second-grade girls who are the minor plaintiffs here were molested by their teacher, Jon White, one during the 2005-06 school year and the other during the 2006-07 school year. It came to light that White, who started in Urbana in August of 2005, had previously engaged in similar misconduct when he taught in adjacent McLean County at Brigham Elementary School in Bloomington and Colene Hoose Elementary School in Normal. Both of the latter schools are in McLean County Unit District No. 5. White has since been convicted of molesting students in both school districts, and this is not the only civil action arising from his misconduct. White, both school districts, and administrators in each of them were named as defendants here, but only the McLean district and its employees are involved in this appeal. It was complained that the McLean district and its administrators knew about White’s offenses but “passed” him on, allowing him to take employment in Urbana. The defendants argued that no cause of action had been stated because school administrators in McLean County Unit District No. 5 owed no duty to students in Urbana. The circuit court of Champaign County dismissed the suit for lack of duty, but the appellate court reversed. In this decision, the supreme court agreed with the appellate court, but for different reasons, that a duty had been alleged.

      Insofar as the Tort Immunity Act provides immunity from negligence, that immunity is not applicable here because the plaintiffs did not allege mere negligence, but willful and wanton conduct. During the 2004-05 school year in McLean County, White had twice been removed from his classroom for disciplinary reasons and he did not complete the academic year before he departed. When McLean administrators filled out an employment “verification” form for the Urbana school district, this information was omitted even though it would have been easy to accurately fill out the form. This misstatement of White’s employment history implied that his severance was routine, rather than due to his misconduct. A truthful disclosure could well have been a “red flag” to Urbana to investigate the circumstances of White’s departure. Had Urbana been aware of this discrepancy, it is certainly possible that it would have investigated further and either not hired White or fired him before he offended again. Because of the risk of recidivism associated with sex offenders, the injuries which did occur here were reasonably likely and foreseeable, and it cannot be said as a matter of law that what occurred was so remote or unlikely as to preclude a duty owed by the defendants. The plaintiffs sufficiently alleged facts supporting a finding that the defendants, having undertaken the affirmative act of filling out the employment verification form, owed the plaintiffs a duty to use reasonable care in ensuring that the information was accurate.

      Noting the public policy in Illinois favoring the protection of children, the supreme court held that the circuit court should not have dismissed for lack of a duty of care, and the cause was remanded there for further proceedings.

      The remaining issues to be decided are the factual ones of whether a duty was breached, whether there was willful and wanton conduct, and whether it proximately caused plaintiffs’ injuries. These are for the jury.