Dinsmoor v. City of Phoenix (8/6/2021)

September 16, 2021

Arizona Supreme Court holds that, in some circumstances, a school does not owe its students a duty of care after the students leave the school’s custody and control.

Two high school students began dating.  After a personal dispute arose between the two, the boyfriend shot and killed the girlfriend, and then killed himself.  The girlfriend’s mother filed a lawsuit alleging negligence-based claims against individual school officials, the school district, and the City.  The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants, concluding that none of them owed a duty to protect the girlfriend.  The Court of Appeals reversed in part, holding that the school officials and school district owed the girlfriend a duty of care, based on the special relationship between a school and its students. 

The Supreme Court vacated the relevant portions of the Court of Appeals’ opinion.  It explained that the test for when a duty arises is “whether a known and tangible risk of harm arose that endangered the student while under the school’s custody and control.”  Applying that test to the facts here, the Court concluded that the boyfriend did not pose a known and tangible risk to the girlfriend before she left the school’s supervision and control the day of the shooting.  Indeed, on the day of the shooting, the girlfriend told the school officials that the boyfriend did not pose any risk of harm to her.  The school district and school officials, therefore, did not owe a duty of care to the student. 

Vice Chief Justice Timmer authored the opinion for the Court.

Disclosure: Osborn Maledon attorneys participated in this case.