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Steffan v. Smyzer

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

January 26, 2018

DONALD STEFFAN, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AS AN EMPLOYEE OF THE JEFFERSON COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION AND THE SECURITY OFFICER AT FARNSLEY MIDDLE SCHOOL APPELLANT
v.
TEVIN SMYZER, BY AND THROUGH HIS NATURAL PARENT AND NEXT FRIEND, TEVIS RANKINS APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM JEFFERSON CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE ANN BAILEY SMITH, JUDGE ACTION NO. 14-CI-004978

          BRIEF FOR APPELLANT: Byron Edward Leet Ekundayo Seton Louisville, KY

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEE: Michael L. Goodwin Brandon Lawrence Louisville, KY

          BEFORE: ACREE, DIXON AND STUMBO, [1] JUDGES.

          OPINION

          DIXON, JUDGE.

         Appellant, Donald Steffan in his individual capacity as an employee of the Jefferson County Board of Education, appeals from an opinion and order of the Jefferson Circuit Court denying his motion for summary judgment based on immunity under the Paul D. Coverdell Teacher Liability Protection Act of 2001, 20 U.S.C.A. §§ 6731-6738. We conclude that the trial court's order was interlocutory in nature and, as such, Appellant's appeal must be dismissed.

         Appellant is an in-school security monitor at Farnsley Middle School, which is a part of the Jefferson County Public School system. On September 26, 2013, Appellant received a call for assistance from one of the school's substitute teachers, Mr. Garrison, who was teaching Appellee, Tevin Smyzer's, sixth-grade class that day. When Appellant entered the classroom, Mr. Garrison handed him a referral slip and asked that he take Appellee out of the classroom. Appellant walked to Appellee's desk and asked him to get up from his seat. Appellee complied and immediately began walking toward the door. Apparently, before Appellee reached the front of the classroom, Appellant asked Mr. Garrison to close the classroom door. Appellee later testified that he did not know why Appellant did so but that it made him mad and he began breathing heavily and clenching his fists. Appellant attempted to place Appellee's arms behind his back, but Appellee resisted and began swinging his arms out. At that point, Appellant asked Mr. Garrison to open the classroom door and, while moving Appellee toward the door, implemented a Safe Crisis Management ("SCM") maneuver designed to bring Appellee to the ground and under control. The procedure required Appellant to bump Appellee forward and then quickly pull him back so that he lost his balance. Both Appellant and Appellee ended up on the floor with Appellant restraining Appellee by holding his hands behind his back. Appellant placed his right knee behind Appellee's knee as he was pressed to the floor. Within minutes of the incident, Farnsley Assistant Principal, Donald Dillard, arrived and escorted Appellee to the office. Appellee subsequently claimed that he suffered injury to his knee as a result of being pressed to the floor during the SCM maneuver.

         On September 26, 2014, Appellee filed an action in the Jefferson Circuit Court claiming that the Jefferson County Board of Education ("Board"), Superintendent Donna Hargens, Farnsley Principal Linda Hudson, and Appellant were liable for the injuries he sustained during the altercation. Specifically, Appellee alleged that the Board, Hargens and Hudson were negligent in failing to prevent his injuries. Further, Appellee alleged claims of negligent hiring, supervision, retention, and training against the same three defendants. With respect to Appellant, Appellee claimed that his actions amounted to an intentional infliction of emotional distress and that Appellant's attempt to restrain him constituted negligence per se because it violated provisions of KRS 161.180, as well as certain Jefferson County Public School's SCM procedures. Appellee's complaint sought compensatory and punitive damages against all defendants.

         On September 10, 2015, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that (1) the Board was entitled to governmental immunity; (2) Hargens and Hudson were entitled to qualified immunity; (3) Appellant was entitled to immunity under the Teacher Protection Act; and (4) Appellee failed to establish the prima facie elements of his negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims. On July 13, 2016, the trial court entered an opinion and order granting in part, and denying in part, the motion for summary judgment. Therein, the trial court found that the Board was entitled to governmental immunity and that Hargens and Hudson were both entitled to qualified immunity for their discretionary acts. The trial court also noted that both Hargens and Hudson were entitled to immunity under the Teacher Protection Act. With regard to Appellant, the trial court dismissed Appellee's claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. However, the court denied summary judgment on the remaining negligence claim against Appellant, finding,

[T]he facts in the record indicate that a genuine issue of material fact exists concerning whether Steffan, without justification to do so, applied harmful force to remove [Smyzer] from the classroom, thereby committing the torts of assault and battery - both of which constitute violations of state and county laws and regulations that constitute ministerial acts not afforded immunity under Kentucky law. As potential violations of state and local laws and beyond the scope of Steffan's duties, the acts would also not be afforded immunity under federal law. See 20 U.S.C.A. § 7946(1) and (2). Likewise, since a genuine issue of material fact exists concerning whether Steffan's acts were appropriate under state and local law and regulations, his motion to dismiss the common law negligence and assault and battery claims against him are DENIED.

         This appeal ensued.

         Our standard of review on appeal of a summary judgment is "whether the trial court correctly found that there were no genuine issues as to any material fact and that the moving party was entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Scifres v. Kraft, 916 S.W.2d 779, 781 (Ky. App. 1996). Summary judgment shall be granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, stipulations, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, 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." CR 56.03. The trial court must view the record "in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion for summary judgment and all doubts are to be resolved in his favor." Steelvest v. Scansteel Service Center, Inc., 807 S.W.2d 476, 480 (Ky. 1991). Summary judgment is proper only "where the movant shows that the adverse party could not prevail under any circumstances." Id.

         In this Court, Appellant claims that the trial court erred in finding that he was not entitled to immunity under the Teacher Protection Act because Appellee neither proved that his actions amounted to a violation of federal, state, or local laws, nor that he was guilty of criminal misconduct, gross negligence, or reckless misconduct. Appellant contends that there is simply no evidence that he acted recklessly or with flagrant indifference to Appellee's safety. Appellant also argues that Appellee's negligence per se claims and punitive damage claims are barred by the Teacher Protection Act.

         As a procedural matter, Appellee contends that this appeal must be dismissed because there has been no final judgment and Appellant is not entitled to an interlocutory ...


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