Monroe Supreme Court Denies Motion to Dismiss Holding That A Plaintiff Can Bring a Child Victims Act Cause of Action Under a Theory of Premises Liability

Written by: Eve Soldatos, Esq.

Edited by: Nicole A. Callahan, Esq.

Plaintiff brought an action against Churchville-Chili Central School District (“CCCSD”) claiming that an employed teacher and coach of CCCSD engaged in sexual contact with the plaintiff from 1997 to 1999, while the plaintiff was a minor. The plaintiff was not a student at CCCSD but the allegations state that the sexual contact occurred on CCCSD property.

Initially, plaintiff brought an action against CCCSD and Wheatland-Chili Central School District on the same set of facts. The defendants successfully moved to dismiss based on plaintiff’s failure to state a claim for premises liability in the complaint.  The Court also denied plaintiff’s cross-motion to amend the complaint to add a cause of action against both defendants for failure to report the alleged abuse pursuant to Social Services Law section 413.

Subsequently, plaintiff filed a complaint against CCCSD only, asserting two causes of action: premises liability and failure to report abuse under Social Services Law section 413. CCCSD then moved to have the complaint dismissed on the grounds that the causes of action were barred by res judicata based on the previous dismissal pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(5), and that the complaint failed to state a cause of action for premises liability under CPLR 3211(a)(7).

Under the doctrine of res judicata, once a claim is brought to a final conclusion, all other claims arising out of the same transaction or series of transactions are barred. On this issue, the Court denied CCCSD’s motion, holding that the previous dismissal did not pertain to a judgment on the merits as to either causes of action and, therefore the doctrine of res judicata did not apply.

As to the issue of dismissal under the theory that the complaint failed to state a cause of action for premises liability, CCCSD argued that plaintiff is seeking to impermissibly expand the scope of premises liability by holding it accountable for allowing sexual abuse to occur on school property with an employed teacher and a minor who was not a student of the district.  In its decision, the Court noted that in making its determination it must: accept the facts as alleged in the complaint as true; accord plaintiff the benefit of every possible favorable inference; and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory.  Applying this principle, the Court denied CCCSD’s motion.

The Court highlighted that under a theory of premises liability, a property owner has a duty to protect a plaintiff from foreseeable harm caused by third parties on the premises of the property owner. This includes scenarios where the assailant is a stranger to the defendant and, like here, where the assailant is employed by the defendant. As such, the Court held that CCCSD had a duty to protect the plaintiff as a property owner.

We expect that this holding will allows survivors of childhood sexual abuse the ability to further ensure that all appropriate parties are held accountable and that the path to justice is met.