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Donohue v. Copiague Union Free School Dist.

Court of Appeals of New York

May 2, 1979, Argued ; June 14, 1979, Decided

No Number in Original

Opinion

 [*442]  [**1353]  [***376]    OPINION OF THE COURT

This appeal poses the question whether a complaint seeking monetary damages for "educational malpractice" states a cause of action cognizable in the courts.

Appellant entered Copiague Senior High School in September, 1972 and graduated in June, 1976. The thrust of appellant's claim is that notwithstanding his receipt of a certificate of graduation he lacks even the rudimentary ability to comprehend written English on a level sufficient to enable him to complete applications for employment. His complaint attributes this deficiency to the failure of respondent to perform its duties [****6]  and obligations to educate appellant. To be more specific, appellant alleges in his complaint that respondent through its employees "gave to [appellant] passing grades  [***377]  and/or minimal or failing grades in various subjects; failed to evaluate [appellant's] mental ability and capacity to comprehend the subjects being taught to him at said school; failed to take proper means and precautions that they reasonably should have taken under the circumstances; failed to interview, discuss, evaluate and/or psychologically test [appellant] in order to ascertain his ability to comprehend and understand such matter; failed to provide adequate school facilities, teachers, administrators, psychologists, and other personnel trained to take the necessary steps in testing and evaluation processes insofar as [appellant] is concerned in order to ascertain the learning capacity, intelligence and intellectual absorption on the part of [appellant]".

Based upon these acts of commission and omission, appellant frames two causes of action, the first of which sounds in "educational malpractice" and the second of which alleges the negligent breach of a constitutionally imposed duty  [*443]   [****7]  to educate. To redress his injury, appellant seeks the sum of $ 5,000,000. Upon respondent's motion, Special Term dismissed appellant's complaint for failure to state a cause of action. ( CPLR 3211, subd [a], par 7.) The Appellate Division affirmed, with one Justice dissenting. There should be an affirmance.

The second cause of action need not detain us long. ] The State Constitution (art XI, § 1) commands that "[the] legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated." Even a terse reading of this provision reveals that the Constitution places the obligation of maintaining and supporting a system of public schools upon the Legislature. To be sure, this general directive was never intended to impose a duty flowing directly from a local school district to individual pupils to ensure that each pupil receives a minimum level of education, the breach of which duty would entitle a pupil to compensatory damages. (See Steitz v City of Beacon, 295 NY 51, 57; Moch Co. v Rensselaer Water Co., 247 NY 160, 169.)

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47 N.Y.2d 440 *; 391 N.E.2d 1352 **; 418 N.Y.S.2d 375 ***; 1979 N.Y. LEXIS 2089 ****; 1 A.L.R.4th 1133

Edward Donohue, Appellant, v. Copiague Union Free School District, Respondent

Prior History:  [****1]  Appeal from an order of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the Second Judicial Department, entered July 31, 1978, which, by a divided court, affirmed an order of the Supreme Court at Special Term (Paul J. Baisley, J.; opn 95 Misc 2d 1), entered in Suffolk County, granting a motion by defendant to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action.

Plaintiff entered Copiague Senior High School in September, 1972 and graduated in June, 1976. The thrust of his claim against the defendant school district was that notwithstanding his receipt of a diploma he lacked even the rudimentary ability to comprehend written English on a level sufficient to enable him to complete applications for employment. His complaint attributed this deficiency to the failure of the defendant to perform its duties and obligations to educate plaintiff. Two causes of action were framed, the first sounding in educational malpractice, and the second alleging the negligent breach of a constitutionally imposed duty to educate.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the order of the Appellate Division, holding, in an opinion by Judge Jasen, that there is no cognizable cause of action for breach [****2]  of a constitutionally imposed duty to educate since the Constitution merely places the obligation of maintaining and supporting a system of public schools upon the Legislature, and that there is no cognizable cause of action for educational malpractice as a matter of public policy since control and management of educational affairs is vested in the Board of Regents and the Commissioner of Education and courts should not interfere with such affairs.

 Donohue v Copiague Union Free School Dist., 64 AD2d 29. Donohue v Copiague Union Free School Dist., 47 Dist., 47 NY2d  .

Disposition: Order affirmed.

CORE TERMS

cause of action, malpractice, courts, educators, schools

Education Law, Departments of Education, State Departments of Education, Authority of Departments of Education, Administrative Law, Judicial Review, Reviewability, Standing