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Board of Education Immune From Alleged Intentional Infliction Of Emotional Distress By School Principal Pursuant to General Statues § 52-557n(a)(2)

In Crosby v. Woodbridge Board of Education, the Superior Court confirmed that a public employer is immune from liability for intentional tort allegedly committed by an employee pursuant to General Statutes § 52-557n(a)(2) and therefore is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

In this case, a parent brought a claim on behalf of a minor student against a board of education that contended that the school principal knowingly tolerated an atmosphere of chaos, disruptiveness and violence against the student, as a result of which he was exposed on a daily basis to so much physical and verbal violence in the classroom and play areas that school became a place of fear and learning could not take place in any meaningful manner. In addition, the plaintiff contended that the principal’s acts and omissions were extreme and outrageous and were carried out with knowledge that the student would suffer, and in fact did suffer, emotional distress as a result. The school principal was not named as a defendant.

The court held that the board of education was entitled to summary judgment because the plaintiff’s complaint alleged a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, a claim for which the board of education is immune from pursuant to General Statutes § 52-557n(a)(2). This statute provides that except as otherwise provided by the law, a political subdivision of the state is not liable for damages to persons or property caused by acts or omissions of any employee, officer or agent that constitutes criminal conduct, fraud, actual malice or willful misconduct. Stating that the term “willful” is synonymous with “intentional,” the court dismissed the student’s claim against the board of education.

In addition, the court rejected the plaintiff’s contention that his pleadings blended claims of both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. To prevail on a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, a plaintiff must plead and prove that (1) a defendant’s conduct created an unreasonable risk of causing emotional distress; (2) the distress was foreseeable; (3) the distress was severe enough that it might result in illness or bodily harm; and (4) the defendant’s conduct was the cause of the distress.   See Carrol v. Allstate Ins. Co., 262 Conn. 433, 444 (2003). The court determined that plaintiff’s complaint alleged only in a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress because it did not allege that it was foreseeable to the principal that the student would suffer emotional distress as a result of the toleration of the atmosphere described in the pleadings or that the emotional distress that the student suffered was severe enough that it might result in illness or bodily harm.