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Hunter v. Board of Education

Court of Appeals of Maryland

January 7, 1982, Decided

No. 32, September Term, 1981

Opinion

 [*483]   [**583]  This case primarily presents the troubling but nevertheless important question, which has not been previously addressed by this Court, of whether an action can be successfully asserted against a school board and various individual employees for improperly evaluating, placing or teaching a student. The Circuit Court for Montgomery County (Shearin, J.) and the Court of Special Appeals 1 concluded that an educational negligence action could not be maintained. We agree with this determination and will affirm that portion of the judgment, but will reverse with respect to petitioners' allegations concerning the commission of an intentional tort by certain individual employees of the board.

 [***5]  As this case is before us on appeal from an order sustaining a demurrer without leave to amend, in accord with familiar principles, we take as true all well pleaded material facts as well as all inferences reasonably based upon them. 2 The Hunters filed this six count declaration on behalf of their child, Ross, naming as defendants the Montgomery County School Board as a corporate body, the principal of Hungerford Elementary School where young Hunter received his primary education, a board employee who engaged in diagnostic testing of the student in second grade, and the boy's sixth grade teacher at Hungerford. The action was instituted in October, 1977, shortly after Ross' sixteenth birthday. As best we can gather from the declaration, the parents (petitioners here) complain that the school system negligently evaluated the child's learning abilities and caused him to repeat first grade materials while being physically placed in the second grade. It is  [*484]  alleged that this misplacement, which continued at least through grade school, generally caused the student to feel "embarrassment," to develop "learning deficiencies," and to experience "depletion of ego strength."  [***6]  The petitioners further claim that the individual educators, acting intentionally and maliciously, furnished false information to them concerning the student's learning disability, altered school records to cover up their actions, and demeaned the child.

It is clear, however, that the gravamen of petitioners' claim in this case sounds in negligence, asserting damages for the alleged failure of the school system to properly educate young Hunter, and we first focus our attention on this aspect of it. In so doing, we note that these so-called "educational malpractice" claims have been unanimously rejected by those few jurisdictions considering the topic.  See D.S.W. v. Fairbanks No. Star Bor. Sch. Dist., 628 P.2d 554 (Alaska 1981); Smith v. Alameda Cty. Soc. Serv. Agency, 90 Cal.App.3d 929, 153 Cal. Rptr. 712 (1979); Peter W. v. San Francisco Unified School  [***7]   District, 60 Cal.App.3d 814, 131 Cal. Rptr. 854 (1976); Hoffman v. Board of Ed. of City of N.Y., 49 N.Y.2d 121, 424 N.Y.S.2d 376, 400 N.E.2d 317  [**584]  (1979); Donohue v. Copiague Union Free School Dist., 47 N.Y.2d 440, 418 N.Y.S.2d 375, 391 N.E.2d 1352 (1979). These decisions generally hold that ] a cause of action seeking damages for acts of negligence in the educational process is precluded by considerations of public policy, among them being the absence of a workable rule of care against which the defendant's conduct may be measured, the inherent uncertainty in determining the cause and nature of any damages, and the extreme burden which would be imposed on the already strained resources of the public school system to say nothing of those of the judiciary.  Thus, in Peter W., supra, where a high school graduate sought recovery in tort for a claimed inadequate education, the California court, viewing the problem as whether an actionable duty of care existed, noted that the "wrongful conduct and injuries allegedly involved in educational malfeasance" were neither  [*485]  comprehensible nor assessable within the judicial framework and explained as follows:  [***8]  

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292 Md. 481 *; 439 A.2d 582 **; 1982 Md. LEXIS 196 ***

ROSS J. HUNTER et al. v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY et al.

Prior History:  [***1]  Certiorari to the Court of Special Appeals. Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Shearin, J.

Disposition: Judgment of the Court of Special Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part and case remanded to that Court for the entry of a judgment in accordance with this opinion. Costs to be divided equally between the parties.

CORE TERMS

skill, cause of action, declaration, malpractice, educators, courts, allegations, cases, grade, educational process, intentional torts, public policy, circumstances, maliciously, Appeals, damages, school system, profession, educational system, standard of care, negligent act, duty of care, school board, petitioners', diligence, entrusted, injuries

Torts, Negligence, General Overview, Education Law, Departments of Education, State Departments of Education, Authority of Departments of Education, Administration & Operation, Elementary & Secondary School Boards, Authority of School Boards, Intentional Torts