10 September 2021

Court of Appeals: No Case Against School in Taped-Mouth Suit

In a recent unpublished decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the decision of a trial court judge which would have allowed a student’s parents to pursue intentional and negligent tort claims against a school district, its superintendent, and a building principal.  The allegations animating the case were straightforward.  Abdul‑Sattar Dannaoui was a preschool student attending Crestwood School District’s Great Start Readiness Program.  His parents asserted that, in March 2018, two paraprofessionals in Abdul‑Sattar’s classroom taped his mouth shut and threw away his lunch, leaving him with no food for the rest of the day.  Apparently, an investigation into the alleged incident was conducted by the principal, but the parents were not satisfied with its conclusion.  They brought claims of assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, conversion, negligent supervision of a subordinate, and violations of the Revised School Code.

The Court of Appeals outlined the various types of immunity granted by the Government Tort Liability Act.  Under the GTLA, governmental agencies, such as the School District, are absolutely immune from tort liability if they are engaged in the exercise or discharge of a governmental function.  Additionally, the highest appointive executive official at any level of government, such as the School District’s Superintendent, is immune from tort liability if the official is acting within the scope of the official’s executive authority.  And, finally, lower‑level employees are immune from negligent tort liability if they are acting within the scope of their authority for a governmental agency that is engaged in the exercise or discharge of a governmental function.  They are immune from intentional tort liability if their acts were taken in the course of employment and within (or reasonably believed to be within) the scope of their authority, were undertaken in good faith and without malice, and were discretionary rather than ministerial.

Applying these principles, the court observed that both the School District and its superintendent were immune from tort liability and could not be held vicariously liable for the alleged actions of the paraprofessionals.  It also held that the principal could not be held liable for the alleged intentional torts of the paraprofessionals, and that there was no claim the principal herself engaged in an intentional tort.  Thus, the court foreclosed any possibility of success for the plaintiffs and dismissed their case.

The court’s opinion may be accessed here.