Friday, October 19, 2012

Christensen v. Royal School District case brief

Christensen v. Royal School Dist. (2005)
156 Wn.2d 62

Procedural History
•    Plaintiff child and plaintiff parents brought suit, in federal district court, against defendant school district, defendant principal, and defendant teacher, alleging that teacher had sexually abused the child and the district and the principal were negligent in hiring and supervising the teacher. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington certified a question for clarification.

Facts
•    The child, a 13 year old, had engaged in sexual activity with the teacher in his classroom. Defendants alleged that the child had consented to have sex with the teacher. The district court asked whether a 13-year-old victim of sexual abuse, who brought a negligence action, could have contributory fault assessed against her under the Washington Tort Reform Act. In responding with a “no,” the supreme court concluded that, as a matter of law, a child under the age of 16 could not have contributory fault assessed against her for her participation in this type of relationship. She lacked the capacity to consent, and she was under no legal duty to protect herself from the sexual abuse. Societal interests embodied in the criminal laws protecting children from sexual abuse had to apply equally in the civil arena when harm was caused to the child by an adult perpetrator of sexual abuse or a third party in a position to control that person’s conduct. Second, the idea that a student had a duty to protect herself from sexual abuse at school by her teacher conflicted with the well-established law that a school district had an enhanced and solemn duty to protect minor students in its care.

Rule
•    Children do not have a duty to protect themselves from sexual abuse by their teachers. Moreover, the supreme court concludes that contributory fault may not be assessed against a 13-year-old child based on the failure to protect herself from being sexually abused when the defendant or defendants stand in a special relationship to the child and have a duty to protect the child.

Application
•    The legislature has rejected the notion, in the criminal arena, that a 13 year old is capable of consenting to sexual relations by adopting statutes that provide that an adult is guilty of a felony if he or she engages in sexual activity with a minor, even if the child victim “consented” to engage in the sexual conduct.
•    The notion that minors are incapable of meaningful consent in a criminal law context should apply in the civil arena and command a consistent result.
•    A defense of contributory fault should not be available to a perpetrator of sexual abuse or to a third party that is in a position to control the perpetrator.
•    A school has a special relationship with the students in its custody and a duty to protect them from reasonably anticipated dangers.
•    Contributory fault may not be assessed against a 13-year-old child when that child brings a civil action against a school district and a school principal for sexual abuse by a teacher.

Holding
•    The court holds that a child under the age of 16 years may not be assessed with contributory fault for participating in a sexual relationship with a teacher in an action against a school district and/or school principal for negligent hiring or negligent supervision of the teacher.


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