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Under Texas law, the elements of a negligence claim are (1) a legal duty on the part of the defendant; (2) breach of that duty; and (3) damages proximately resulting from that breach. Regarding one's duty to take action to prevent harm to another, Texas law generally imposes no such duty absent certain special relationships or circumstances. To establish a negligent-undertaking claim under Texas law, a plaintiff must show: 1) the defendant undertook to perform services that it knew or should have known were necessary for the plaintiffs' protection, 2) the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care in performing those services, and either 3) the plaintiff relied upon the defendant's performance, or 4) the defendant's performance increased the plaintiffs' risk of harm.
This case stemmed from the tragedy of a college student's suicide. The student, Chandler Williams, attended defendant school Abilene Christian University at that time. Plaintiffs Kimberly Kelley and Kurt Williams, was his parents who now seek to hold defendant responsible. Defendant’s residential director believed that decedent needed counselling, and told the latter about it but refused to do so. He, nevertheless, did not notify anyone about the decedent’s mental health problems. When defendant’s residential director called the resident advisors, who confirmed that decedent had been intoxicated, he checked on him in his room and saw that decedent had committed suicide. Defendant school had a Counseling Care Center that provided mental-health services to students. Plaintiffs claimed that defendant did not direct its Resident Advisors to refer students to the Counseling Care Center or provide an emergency protocol to address the risks to students who make threats of suicide or attempted suicide. Plaintiffs filed a complaint against defendant and asserted claims of wrongful death caused by defendant’s negligence, negligent training, negligent supervision, and negligent voluntary undertaking. Defendant moved to dismiss plaintiff’s claims against it under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
Should the plaintiff’s claim of wrongful death caused by defendant’s negligence, negligent training, negligent supervision, and negligent voluntary undertaking be dismissed?
The court held that plaintiffs asked the court to render an Erie guess that the Texas Supreme Court would recognize the existence of a special relationship between universities and their adult students and a corresponding duty to take steps to prevent students from dying by suicide. However, the court ruled that the applicable factors and relevant case law do not favor finding such a special relationship or duty. Therefore, the Court dismissed plaintiffs wrongful-death claim against defendant. In contrast, the court did not dismiss the negligent-undertaking claim since the plaintiffs was able to alleged sufficient facts to support their claim that defendant negligently undertook providing mental-health services and increased the risk of harm to decedent. Additionally, since the claim for negligent training and supervision rests on the adequacy of the other negligence claims, and because the Court did not dismiss the negligent-undertaking claim, the court, likewise, did not dismiss the negligent training and supervision claim. Lastly, the Court also did not dismiss the gross-negligence claim because plaintiffs have made sufficient factual allegations to survive dismissal. In conclusion, the court granted plaintiffs to amend their complaint.