SHREE HOLMAN parent and natural guardian/next friend to DAVANTE FERNANDEZ, a minor, DAVANTE FERNANDEZ, individually, Plaintiffs,
CHRISTINA SCHOOL DISTRICT, JERRY DAVIS, DAN FREEL, JERRY SCHUSTER, and/or JASON SHUSTER, MARK OSMAN, NOREEN LASORSA, and DARWIN MANGES Defendants.
Submitted: November 4, 2013.
David J. Lyons, Esquire, THE LYONS LAW FIRM, attorney for Plaintiffs.
Mary E. Sherlock, Esquire, of WEBER, GALLAGHER, SIMPSON, STAPLETON, FIRES & NEWBY, LLP, attorney for Defendants.
Honorable Andrea L. Rocanelli J.
On January 29, 2010, a group of students who were members of the Christina High School wrestling team gathered in the school gym. It is undisputed that the student-athletes were not supervised and that they were not engaged in an organized school activity. Davante Fernandez was injured in the school gym while playing a wrestling game with other student-athletes.
Plaintiffs claim that Defendants, the school district and a number of school officials and/or coaches, are responsible for Fernandez's injury. Defendants contend that the Tort Claims Act bars any liability under the circumstances presented here. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment.
Summary judgment may be granted only where the moving party can "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." The moving party bears the initial burden of proof, and once that is met, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to show that a material issue of fact exists. In connection with a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts "in the light most favorable to the non-moving party."
According to Plaintiffs, the record evidence establishes that Defendant Mark Osman, the wrestling coach, saw the student-athletes engaged in horse-play in the gym. It is disputed what steps Coach Osman took when he saw the student-athletes in the gym. Fernandez was injured after Coach Osman left the school.
For the purpose of considering the issues presented in the motion for summary judgment, the Court must address whether Coach Osman had any discretion or whether he was required to act. For example, did Coach Osman have an affirmative obligation to instruct the student-athletes to cease their unsupervised play in the gym and require that they leave school premises? Or did Coach Osman have discretion regarding his interaction with the unsupervised student-athletes?
This distinction is critical to whether Defendants have immunity under the Tort Claims Act. Defendants, here the moving party, have the burden to demonstrate that, even considering the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, here the non-moving party, Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
The Tort Claims Act governs this dispute. No liability can be established or damages awarded where the following elements are present:
(1) The act or omission complained of arose out of and in connection with the performance of an official duty requiring a determination of policy, the interpretation or enforcement of statutes, rules or regulations, the granting or withholding of publicly created or regulated entitlement or privilege or any other official duty involving the exercise of discretion on the part of the public officer, employee or member, or anyone over whom the public officer, employee or member shall have supervisory authority;
(2) The act or omission complained of was done in good faith and in the belief that the public interest would ...