Law School Case Brief
Reardon v. State - 430 Mich. 398, 424 N.W.2d 248 (1988)
The legislature's use of the phrase "dangerous or defective condition of a public building" indicates that the legislature intended that the public building exception to governmental immunity apply in cases where the physical condition of the building causes the injury.
In two consolidated cases under which defendants, The State of Michigan and the Michigan Mental Health Department, appealed the judgment of Michigan appellate court in order to determine whether the public building exception, Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1406 (Mich. Stat. Ann. § 3.996(106)), to governmental immunity was applicable to both cases. The first case (Reardon v. Mental Health Department) involved plaintiff Claudette Marie Reardon, a nursing student who was residing at the Newberry Regional Mental Health Center (MHC) in Newberry, Michigan. Reardon's room in the employee home was secured by two locks: the first was key operated and locked automatically when the door was closed; the second was a chain lock. The outside doors of the building were not locked. On April 17, 1980, before going to bed, Reardon had engaged the chain lock and awoke to find Arthur Green, an employee of MHC, in her room. Green, who had been one of Reardon's instructors, was lying on the floor touching Reardon's leg. Green climbed into Reardon's bed and for approximately one-half hour proceeded to touch Reardon's breasts and genital region. Green attempted, but failed to achieve, sexual intercourse. Reardon filed a suit against the defendants alleging that her room was unsafe because of the number of master keys in circulation among MHC employees which could open her door. The State filed a motion for summary disposition pursuant to GCR 1963, 117.2(1), now MCR 2.116(C), arguing that Reardon's claim was barred by governmental immunity. The trial court denied that motion. The trial court reasoned that the lack of a device to secure a room where someone would be sleeping renders that room dangerous or defective. Similarly, the second case (Schafer v. Ethridge) involved the rape of a mentally handicapped patient, Linda Schafer, who was residing in Oakdale Regional Center for Developmental Disabilities ("Center"). Following her stay in a ward which provided acute medical care, Linda became pregnant; thereafter, her mother brought an action against defendants, as well as the Center, alleging that Linda became pregnant due to the dangerous and defective condition of the ward. The trial court ruled in the mother's favor.
Was the public building exception, Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1406 (Mich. Stat. Ann. § 3.996(106)), to governmental immunity applicable to both cases?
No for the first case; yes for the second case.
With respect to the Reardon's case, the state supreme court reversed the judgment against defendants. According to the court, the public building exception was not applicable because there was no evidence that the building itself contributed to the Reardon's assault.
With respect to the Schafers' case, the court affirmed the judgment in favor of the mother. The court held that while the ward may not have been configured with in the most modern design at the time of the assault, the public building exception was not applicable because there was no evidence that the physical condition of the ward posed a danger to the daughter.
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