The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has distinguished between the responsibility of a college or university to safeguard its female students from physical harm resulting from criminals who intrude into unlocked or inadequately locked dormitories, on the one hand, and the responsibility of students and parents to take responsibility for the moral well-being of the students. A university cannot prevent drug abuse from occurring.
Plaintiff, Daniel Ms. Bash ("Plaintiff"), brought a wrongful death action against Clark University ("Clark") and its administrators for the death of his daughter, Michele Claudia Bash. Ms. Bash died on campus after using heroin while she was a freshman at Clark in Worcester, Massachusetts. Defendant Matthew Book was a freshman at the time of Bash's death and allegedly supplied Ms. Bash with heroin. The administrators of the university are alleged to have been negligent in taking preventative steps necessary to protect Ms. Bash and for misrepresenting to Plaintiff that Ms. Bash would be provided with a safe and healthy environment while at Clark. All the administrators moved under Mass. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss the misrepresentation claim; some of them moved to dismiss all claims; and some of them moved for leave to file a third-party complaint under Mass. R. Civ. P. 14(a) against plaintiff and his wife.
Can the defendants be held liable for the death of the plaintiff’s daughter after the latter died on campus of a heroin overdose?
The Court held that imposing a duty on the university and administrators to protect students from voluntary drug use would be an unreasonable burden. According to the Court, the risk of death or injury from an overdose was not so plainly foreseeable that a special relationship existed between the decedent and the university. A fraudulent misrepresentation claim failed under Mass. R. Civ. P. 9(b) because the complaint did not state that defendants knew their representations were false, that they were made to induce plaintiff to send the decedent to the university, or that he relied on them when sent her there. A claim for negligent misrepresentation could not be supported by generalized statements in the university's promotional materials and by an administrator's statement to the decedent's mother that she would get rid of heroin on the campus.