In Jane Doe v. McLean County Unit District No. 5 Board of Directors the Illinois Supreme Court decided an interesting case concerning the transfer of a school administrator. The case came up based on the Motion to Dismiss a Complaint. Accordingly, only the allegations are considered. Plaintiffs alleged that McLean administrators learned of a teacher (White) engaging in student on student sexual harassment, abuse, and grooming of minor female students. Grooming means cultivating a trust with a minor for the purpose of sexual abuse. The Plaintiffs alleged that McLean administrators then disciplined White for these acts between October of 2004 and again in April or May of 2005. They alleged he was kept out of the classroom because of his teacher on student sexual harassment, abuse, and grooming of minor. The Plaintiffs also alleged that Defendant’s created a “falsely positive letter of reference for White” which concealed known sexual abuse of female students. They also alleged that the Defendant’s “passed” White from the McLean County school district to the Urbana school district. McLean County falsified employment information about White on an Urbana school district “employment form” by stating that White had worked the entire school year. This statement concealed the fact that White had been disciplined during the 2004-2005 school year.
The victims in the case were students at Urbana. Both Plaintiffs claimed to be victims of sexual abuse by White while has employed in Urbana.
The trial court dismissed with prejudice all counts against Defendant finding there is no duty owed to the Plaintiffs. The Appellate Court reversed the Trial Court judgment finding the Plaintiffs had alleged a duty on part of the Defendants. The Appellate Court believed that the act of “creating and sending” a letter of recommendation supported a duty on a theory of either negligent misrepresentation involing a risk of physical harm or of voluntary undertaking.
The Supreme Court did not agree with the decision or either the Trial Court or the Appellate Court. However, it reversed the case and found that the Plaintiffs had alleged a sufficient duty. The court held that there is normally no duty to warn in this situation. The duty to warn is only if there is a relationship between two entities, or people, created for the benefit of the Plaintiff. “Relationship” need not be a direct relationship between people. However, in order to determine whether a relationship exists a court must focus on four factors:
1.The reasonable foreseeability of an injury.
2.The likelihood of an injury.
3.The magnitude of the burden of guarding against the injury.
4.The consequence of placing the burden on the defendants.
Historically, courts have recognized only four special relationships that would allow liability for failure to warn:
4.Voluntary custodian protectee
As the plaintiffs fit in none of these categories there was no general duty to warn. The Supreme Court found that the complaints only plead that the letter of recommendation was created, not sent, from McLean County to Urbana. However, the court found that the Defendants alleged act of misstating White’s employment history on the employment verification form falsely stated that he worked the entire school year in 2004-2005, which was not true. He was subject to discipline twice during the school year. Accordingly, the Supreme Court held there was a duty to fail to falsely misstate the employment history. The court concluded that there was no tort immunity as there was sufficient allegations of willful and wanton misconduct.
Interestingly, Justice Karmeier dissented. He said that the legislature has passed an act which would give rise to liability in this situation. The act also provided immunity. He did not think that the misstatements were sufficiently egregious to confer liability upon the McLean school district. He would have found no duty to the children.