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Robinson v. The St. John Baptist Parish School Board

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

April 17, 2019

KABRISHA ROBINSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF HER MINOR DAUGHTER, DERI'NIYA HALBERT
v.
THE ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH SCHOOL BOARD

          ON APPEAL FROM THE FORTIETH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 69, 490, DIVISION "A" HONORABLE MADELINE JASMINE, JUDGE PRESIDING.

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, KABRISHA ROBINSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF HER MINOR DAUGHTER, DERI'NIYA HALBERT George B. Recile, Barry W. Sartin, Jr., Walter R. Woodruff, Jr.

          Panel composed of Judges Fredericka Homberg Wicker, Stephen J. Windhorst, and Hans J. Liljeberg.

          FREDERICKA HOMBERG WICKER JUDGE.

         The instant matter, involving a claim of negligent supervision of a kindergartner who fractured her arm during recess on the playground of Fifth Ward Elementary School, is before us on appeal of the June 1, 2018 judgment granting St. John the Baptist Parish School Board's (the School Board) Motion for Involuntary Dismissal against appellant, Kabrisha Robinson, and dismissing appellant's suit with prejudice. Finding that the trial court erred in granting the School Board's motion, we reverse the trial court's June 1, 2018 judgment and remand this matter for further proceedings.

         BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On December 1, 2015, Deri'Niya Halbert, a kindergartner at Fifth Ward Elementary School in Reserve, Louisiana, fractured her left arm during recess after being pushed by a classmate from a slide platform.[1] Deri'Niya was then taken to the school nurse by the teacher on duty during recess, Chasity Henderson.[2]Deri'Niya's mother - Kabrisha Robinson, appellant - arrived at the school and took her daughter to the hospital where Deri'Niya was diagnosed with a closed displaced fracture of the lateral condyle of the left humerus. Deri'Niya's arm was placed in a cast and thereafter she underwent two surgeries.

         On June 17, 2016, appellant individually and on behalf of her minor daughter, Deri'Niya, filed a Petition for Damages against the School Board. In her petition, appellant alleged that the School Board was vicariously liable for Deri'Niya's injuries caused by its inadequate and negligent supervision of Deri'Niya and the other kindergarten students during recess.

         At the May 24, 2018 bench trial, during appellant's case-in-chief, appellant called Kendria Spears, principal of Fifth Ward Elementary at the time of the incident.[3] Ms. Spears testified that on the date of the incident, Chasity Henderson was the teacher on duty and that there were two classes, totaling forty-four students, on the playground during recess.[4] She further testified as to her limited recollection of the incident, as it was relayed to her by the school nurse, Beth Roussell. Ms. Spears also testified as to the school's procedure of having two to three teachers supervising students during recess. However, Ms. Spears was unsure of the exact number of teachers on duty at recess on the date of the incident.

         Appellant also called Drenean Brown who became the principal of Fifth Ward Elementary in the year following the incident. Ms. Brown provided testimony regarding her knowledge of the incident and the procedures she implemented for monitoring the school's playground soon after she became principal.

         Finally, appellant testified regarding the playground incident as relayed to her by her daughter, Deri'Niya, at the time of the incident.[5] Appellant testified that on the date of the incident, she received a call from the school nurse informing her that five-year-old Deri'Niya "had an accident on the playground." Appellant testified that she went to the school to pick up Deri'Niya to take her to the hospital. The hospital physicians told appellant that Deri'Niya's injury would require surgery. Thereafter, Deri'Niya underwent two surgeries. The first surgery occurred in December of 2015, during which surgeons placed a screw in Deri'Niya's arm. The second surgery, occurring in July of the following year, removed the screw.

         Regarding the incident, appellant testified that Deri'Niya was playing a game with another student on top of the "platform on the slide" when the student wanted Deri'Niya to "hurry up and go down the slide, so she pushed her."[6]According to appellant, the platform on which the students played is four feet wide and six feet high. She further testified that while Ms. Henderson was under the breezeway, about fifteen to twenty feet away from the slide, there were more than six students on the slide platform at the time that Deri'Niya fell off of the top, that Ms. Henderson was the only teacher on the playground at the time of the incident, and that Ms. Henderson was using her cellular phone when the accident occurred.[7]

         Appellant also introduced into evidence the written stipulations of the parties, the discovery responses of the School Board, Deri'Niya's medical records, the transcripts of the deposition testimony of Kendria Spears and Drenean Brown, the Student Accident Report dated December 1, 2015, and photos of Deri'Niya's injuries.

         At the close of appellant's case-in-chief, the School Board moved for a directed verdict under La. C.C.P. art. 1672, arguing that appellant failed to meet her burden of proof to establish a prima facie case of negligent supervision as set forth in Carter v. East St. John Elementary, 12-174 (La.App. 5 Cir. 11/13/12), 105 So.3d 856. Specifically, the School Board argued that appellant failed to present evidence demonstrating that the teacher to student ratio and alleged lack of supervision at recess caused the accident. The trial court, finding that appellant failed to meet her burden of proof as set forth in Carter, supra, granted the School Board's Motion for Involuntary Dismissal on June 1, 2018, and dismissed appellant's case with prejudice. It is from this judgment that appellant filed a timely appeal.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In a nonjury case, the defendant may move for a dismissal of the action against him/her after the close of the plaintiff's case. Dileo v. Harry, 17-240 (La.App. 5 Cir. 12/13/17), 238 So.3d 549, 556, citing La. C.C.P. art. 1672(B). The appropriate standard in determining whether an involuntary dismissal should be granted is whether the plaintiff has presented sufficient evidence in his case-in-chief to establish his claim by a preponderance of the evidence. Jackson v. Morton, 17-194 (La.App. 5 Cir. 11/15/17), 232 So.3d 685, 687, citing Machado v. Backer Concrete Constr., 13-273 (La.App. 5 Cir. 10/30/13), 128 So.3d 477, 481 (internal cite omitted). An appellate court may not reserve a ruling on a motion for involuntary dismissal, unless it is manifestly erroneous or clearly wrong. Id.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         In her sole assignment of error on appeal, appellant avers that the trial court committed manifest error in granting the School Board's motion for involuntary dismissal based on the trial court's determination that it was constrained to do so by this Court's ruling in Carter, supra. In support of her assignment, appellant sets forth a two-part argument wherein she first argues that the present matter is materially distinguishable and beyond Carter's limited reach;[8] and second, appellant argues that through the presentation of evidence and material facts, she met her burden of proof under Carter to establish a claim against the School Board for failure to adequately supervise the safety of its students.

         For the following reasons, we find that the trial court committed manifest error in granting the School Board's motion for involuntary dismissal. First, Carter is factually distinguishable from the present case. Second, we find that appellant presented sufficient evidence in her case-in-chief to establish her claim by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) the School Board, its agents, or teachers were negligent in providing supervision; (2) there exists a causal connection between the lack of supervision and the accident; and (3) the risk of unreasonable injury was foreseeable, constructively or actually known, and preventable if a requisite degree of supervision had been exercised.

         Distinguishing the present case from Carter

         In its oral reasons for judgment, the trial court compared the facts presented in Carter with the present case, giving particular focus on this Court's discussion in Carter regarding the student to ...


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