The Michigan Court of Appeals recently released its opinion in Disabatino v Grand Blanc Community Schools (No. 346581), a case involving allegations of false imprisonment, gross negligence, and violations of the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act (PWDCRA). The salient facts are as follows: Theodore Basing, a Grand Blanc teacher, was teaching the plaintiff student (AD) math in a one‑on‑one session. AD, a seventh‑grade special education student with autism‑spectrum disorder and ADHD, had a history of becoming frustrated and leaving the room suddenly, as well as destroying schoolwork and school supplies. On June 6, 2017, Basing pushed a desk in front of the classroom door and sat on it. AD became agitated and aggressive. Basing attempted to restrain AD, who struck Basing in the face. AD was charged with assault; he then filed a legal action against Basing and Grand Blanc Community Schools.
The Court of Appeals concluded, first, that AD’s PWDCRA claim was pre-empted by the MSEA, Michigan’s law implementing the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The court reasoned that AD’s claim was premised on the denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) rather than a violation of the PWDCRA. Consequently, the claim should have been made under the MSEA, and AD’s failure to so make the claim precluded him from prosecuting his MSEA claim.
Next, the court determined that Basing had not been grossly negligent when he pushed a desk in front of his classroom door, and Basing and Grand Blanc were thus shielded by governmental immunity. Gross negligence requires that an individual engage is conduct so reckless that it shows a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury – like AD’s emotional trauma – occurs. The court noted that Basing made numerous overtures in attempting to compromise with AD; for example, Basing cut down on the number of math problems AD had to complete, gave AD a doughnut before the math lesson, and allowed AD to choose which room to use. The court concluded that Basing’s overtures demonstrated that he was not grossly negligent, as they exhibited that he did not have a lack of concern for whether AD was traumatized.
Finally, the court dismissed AD’s intentional tort claims, including false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Again, the court determined that governmental immunity shielded Basing and Grand Blanc. While AD asserted that his claim should not have been dismissed because there was a question as to whether Basing acted in good faith and without malice, the court opined that AD had put forth no evidence that suggested Basing had, subjectively, acted in anything other than good faith. As a result, the court dismissed AD’s claim in its entirety.
The case is accessible here.