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Harrison v. Hardin County Community Unit School Dist. No. 1

October 18, 2001

CONNIE HARRISON, APPELLEE,
v.
HARDIN COUNTY COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1, APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Garman

UNPUBLISHED

Docket No. 89661-Agenda 20-March 2001.

In December 1995, plaintiff, Connie Harrison, filed a civil action against Hardin County Community Unit School District No. 1 (school district), Joshua Davis and his grandfather, Jimmy Davis, for injuries she sustained in a motor vehicle accident. Claims against Jimmy Davis and Joshua Davis, who was driving his grandfather's car when he lost control and struck plaintiff's vehicle, were settled. Plaintiff's complaint alleged that the school district was liable because its personnel were willful and wanton in refusing Joshua Davis's request to leave school early due to inclement weather and deteriorating road conditions. The school district filed a motion for summary judgment maintaining, inter alia, that it was entitled to immunity under section 2-201 of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (Act) (745 ILCS 10/2-201 (West 1994)). The circuit court of Hardin County granted the school district summary judgment. The appellate court reversed. 313 Ill. App. 3d 702. We granted the school district's petition for leave to appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 315 (177 Ill. 2d R. 315).

BACKGROUND

On December 8, 1995, Joshua Davis, age 16, drove his grandfather's car to school. Joshua was a student at Hardin County High School, which is owned and operated by the school district. During the school day, a mixture of freezing rain, sleet, and snow began falling in Hardin County.

At his evidentiary deposition, Joshua Davis testified that during his lunch period, at approximately 11:40 a.m., he approached his principal, Ron Brumley, and asked if he could leave school early because of the deteriorating weather conditions. Joshua told Brumley that he wanted to leave early before it started snowing heavily because he "didn't want to have a wreck." Brumley told Joshua that all of the students who drove to school would be dismissed early, at a certain time after lunch. After the lunch period ended, Joshua went to his next class and asked his teacher if he could use the phone to call his parents to get permission to leave early. The teacher told Joshua to sit down and that school would be dismissed early.

Joshua further testified that school was dismissed at approximately 12:15 p.m. that day. Accompanied by three other students, including his girlfriend, Michelle Williams, Joshua drove his grandfather's car from school. Joshua passed the driveway to his home and continued toward his girlfriend's house. En route, Joshua lost control of the vehicle, crossed the center line, and struck the front of plaintiff's vehicle. Joshua admitted that if he had wanted to ride the bus, that option would have been available to him. Joshua further acknowledged that the accident would not have occurred had he not been taking his girlfriend home and that there was no reason why he could not have asked his girlfriend to ride home on the bus and driven himself directly home.

Ron Brumley, principal of Hardin County High School, testified that a procedure was in place by which parents could call the school and request that their children be dismissed early. If an individual student asked to leave early due to inclement weather, the school usually required parental permission. The school allowed students to call home to ask their parents if they could leave school early. Brumley stated he may deny a student's request to call home if school was going to be dismissed within a short period of time.

In plaintiff's complaint, she alleged that the accident and her injuries were "directly and proximately caused" by the following willful and wanton acts committed by school district personnel:

"a. Refused to allow Joshua Davis to leave school when it was safe to do so given the deteriorating weather conditions on local roads;

b. Permitted Joshua Davis to leave school property in a motor vehicle after having been advised by the student that he had difficulty driving in inclement weather conditions;

c. Failed to call Joshua Davis' grandparents, parents, and/or adult guardian to have him picked up from school."

The circuit court granted the school district's motion for summary judgment based on the immunity protections of section 2-201 of the Act. The appellate court, with one justice dissenting, held that Brumley's decision not to allow Joshua to leave early was not an exercise of discretion in the determination of policy and, thus, did not fall within the protections of the Act. 313 Ill. App. 3d at 707. The appellate court reversed the judgment of the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of the school district. 313 Ill. ...


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