JOHN GRIFFIN, individually, and as next friend and parent of PATRICK GRIFFIN, a minor, and DEVDRA GRIFFIN, individually, and as next friend and parent of PATRICK GRIFFIN, a minor, Plaintiffs
CHEVERUS HIGH SCHOOL OF PORTLAND, and SU-ANNE HAMMOND, individually and as next friend and parent of JAKOB HAMMOND, a minor, and ANDREW HAMMOND, individually, and as next friend and parent of JAKOB HAMMOND, a minor, and JOHN/JANE DOES 1-5, Defendants.
ORDER ON HAMMOND DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL
E. Walker, Justice Maine Superior Court
the Court is Defendants Andrew, Su-Anne, and Jakob
Hammond's motion for partial summary judgment. Plaintiffs
have opposed this motion. The Court has considered the
parties' filings, and for the following reasons, the
motion is granted.
following facts are not in dispute except where otherwise
noted. In May 2016, Plaintiff Patrick Griffin
("Patrick") was enrolled in the 10th
grade, and Defendant Jakob Hammond ("Jakob") was
enrolled in the 11th grade at Cheverus High
School. (Defs.' S.M.F. ¶ 1.) Around 4:00 p.m. on May
18, 2016, Patrick and Jakob were on Cheverus's campus
watching a javelin event with Meaghan Collins, Terryn
MacDonald, and Matthew Thornton. (Id. ¶¶
2-3.) The five teenagers left the athletic field and headed
toward the school, at which point Patrick and Jakob became
engaged in a physical activity. (Id. ¶ 5.)
Although the exact nature of that activity remains in
dispute, it is uncontested that when Jakob let go of Patrick,
Patrick fell to the ground and struck his head. (See
id. ¶ 7.)
Andrew Hammond ("Andrew") and Su-Anne Hammond
("Su-Anne") are Jakob's parents. (Id.
¶ 14.) Neither Andrew nor Su-Anne were present at
Cheverus before or during the May 18, 2017 incident between
Jakob and Patrick, nor did they have prior knowledge that
Jakob would be engaged in physical horseplay with Patrick
that day. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) Prior to that
date, Andrew and Su-Anne had no knowledge of any violent
tendencies belonging to Jakob.(Id. ¶ 17.) At the
time of the incident, Jakob was taking a medication called
Fluoxetine and seeing a counselor for depression. (Pis.'
A.S.M.F. ¶¶ 44-45, 48-50.)
filed their Complaint on December 15, 2016, bringing counts
for, inter alia, negligence and negligent infliction
of emotional distress against Andrew, Su-Anne, and Jakob.
With this motion, the Hammond defendants request summary
judgment on Counts III, IV, and VIII of Plaintiffs'
Complaint to the extent they state a cause of action against
Andrew and Su-Anne for negligent infliction of emotional
distress. Defendants further request summary judgment on
Counts I and VIII to the extent they state a cause of action
against Jakob for negligent infliction of emotional distress
upon John and Devdra Griffin. Finally, Defendants request
summary judgment on Counts III, IV, and VIII to the extent
they state a cause of action against Andrew and Su-Anne for
Standard of Review
judgment is appropriate if, based on the parties'
statements of material facts and the cited record, there is
no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. M.R. Civ. P. 56(c);
Dyer v. Dep't of Tramp., 2008 ME 106, ¶ 14,
951 A.2d 821. "A material fact is one that can affect
the outcome of the case. A genuine issue of material fact
exists when the factfinder must choose between competing
versions of the truth." Dyer, 2008 ME 106,
¶ 14, 951 A.2d 821 (internal citation and quotation
marks omitted). When deciding a motion for summary judgment,
the court reviews the evidence in the light most favorable to
the non-moving party. Id.
moving party's motion for summary judgment is properly
supported, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to
respond with specific facts indicating a genuine issue for
trial in order to avoid summary judgment. M.R. Civ. P. 56(e).
When a defendant moves for summary judgment, the plaintiff
must respond with evidence establishing a prima
facie case. Watt v. UniFirst Corp., 2009 ME 47,
¶ 21, 969 A.2d 897. The evidence proffered by the
plaintiff "need not be persuasive at that stage, but the
evidence must be sufficient to allow a fact-finder to make a
factual determination without speculating." Estate
of Smith v. Cumberland Cnty., 2013 ME 13, ¶ 19, 60
A.3d 759. If a plaintiff fails to present sufficient
evidence, then the defendant is entitled to summary judgment.
Watt, 2009 ME 47, ¶ 21, 969 A.2d 897.
Counts I, III, IV, and VIII: Negligent infliction of
claim for general negligence, a claim for negligent
infliction of emotional distress requires a plaintiff to set
forth facts showing that the defendant owed a duty to the
plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty, the plaintiff
was harmed, and the breach caused the plaintiffs harm.
Curtis v. Porter, 2001 ME 158, ¶ 18, 784 A.2d
18. However, duty is particularly limited in negligent
infliction claims because "[a]lthough each person has a
duty to act reasonably to avoid causing physical harm to
others, there is no analogous general duty to avoid
negligently causing emotional harm to others." Id.
A duty to act reasonably to avoid emotional harm to
others has only been recognized in bystander liability
actions; when there is a special relationship between the
defendant and the plaintiff; or, in limited instances, when
the defendant has committed another tort that allows for the
recovery of emotional distress damages. See id.
Hammond defendants argue they are not liable to John Griffin
("John") and Devdra Griffin ("Devdra")
for negligent infliction of emotional distress because John
and Devdra have not alleged bystander liability, the
existence of a special relationship between the parties, or
an independent tort that provides a proper basis for
recovery. Plaintiffs concede they have not brought a claim
based on bystander liability, and they do not argue that any
of the Hammonds have a special relationship with any of the
Griffins giving rise to a duty to avoid emotionally harming
Andrew and Su-Anne, Plaintiffs argue their negligence claims
in Counts III and IV are independent torts upon which their
claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress are
premised. The Law Court has stated that a tort is not
independent of a negligent infliction claim when damages for
emotional suffering are available under the tort, as the
negligent infliction claim is usually subsumed under any
award entered on the separate tort.See id. Such is the
case here. Because damages for emotional suffering are
available in a negligence action, this tort is not
independent of a claim for negligent infliction of emotional
distress; thus, the negligence claims against Andrew and
Su-Anne do not provide a basis for claims ...