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.
Plaintiff Claudette Marie Reardon attended Sault College of Applied Arts and Technology in Canada. At that time, Reardon was residing at the Newberry Regional Mental Health Center (MHC) in Newberry, Michigan. Through an agreement between her school and MHC, Reardon was in the process of completing a four-month practical training program. MHC provided a dormitory-like residence where the students lived while they were in the program. The residence was operated by MHC. In April 1980, Reardon was assaulted by one of her former instructors in her room in the residence. The assailant managed to enter her room despite the two locks that had been provided for added safety in the residence. She reported the incident to an instructor and the police; the assailant was apprehended and convicted of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. Reardon later filed suit in the Michigan Court of Claims, naming the State of Michigan and Michigan Department of Mental Health ("Department"), which operated MHC, as defendants. At trial, evidence revealed that the school had issued to its staff eighteen master keys, any of which could unlock Reardon's door. The court found that the absence of a secure locking system on Reardon's room or a warning to her rendered the room dangerous, and awarded her $ 500,000 in damages, over the State's claim to governmental immunity. The State appealed, and an appellate court affirmed.
In another case, Linda Kay Schafer, mentally disabled resident at a disability center, was found to have been impregnanted during her stay at the center. The center was also run by the Department. Linda's mother, plaintiff Deloris G. Schafer, filed suit on Linda's behalf in the Michigan Court of Claims naming the State, Department and the disability center as defendants. Plaintiff sought damages for the sexual assault on Linda, her pain and suffering during pregnancy, and the past and future cost of raising Linda's child. Plaintiff claimed Linda became pregnant due to the dangerous and defective condition of the room in which she stated at the disability center. Again the State claimed governmental immunity. The trial court agreed with plaintiff, concluding that a combination of factors created a dangerous or defective condition. The court awarded $ 282,000 in damages. The State appealed, and an appellate court reversed.
The cases were consolidated on the appeals by the State and the Schafers.
Did the public building exception to governmental immunity apply in these cases?
The state supreme court reversed the judgment in favor of Reardon. The court found that, even assuming that the existence of eighteen master keys was an excessive number, such a circumstance did not constitute a dangerous or defective condition of a building. There was no evidence that a condition of the building itself contributed to Reardon's assault. While the court of appeals may have been correct that Reardon was in danger in the room, that danger did not arise from a dangerous or defective condition of the building.
The court affirmed the appellate court's judgment against Deloris and Linda Schafer. The court agreed with the appellate court that the layout of the area of the disability center where Linda stayed did not constitute a defect or dangerous condition. While area may not have been configured in the most modern design possible at the time of the assault, there was no evidence that the physical condition of the area posed a danger to Linda.
The public building exception to governmental immunity was not intended to apply to the facts of these cases.
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