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Abrams v. Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division

March 21, 2014

JULIE ABRAMS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
OAK LAWN-HOMETOWN MIDDLE SCHOOL, OAK LOAN HOMETOWN MIDDLE SCHOOL DISTRICT 123, and SCHOOL DISTRICT 123, Defendant-Appellants

Page 43

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. 13 L 01276. Honorable William E. Gomolinski, Judge Presiding.

Certified question answered; cause remanded.

SYLLABUS

In an action arising from the injuries plaintiff student suffered when she fell in defendant school's combined cafeteria and auditorium, or " Cafetorium," the question certified by the trial court for interlocutory appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308(a) as to whether the immunity provided by section 3-106 of the Tort Immunity Act applies when the area in which an injury occurs is located within a public school where the primary character of the area and overall facility is educational and nonrecreational was answered in the negative and the cause was remanded for further proceedings, since there was no indication that the area where plaintiff was injured was used for recreation, it was not in the scope of the immunity provided by section 3-106, plaintiff's action was not barred, and applying section 3-106 to plaintiff's claim would unreasonably extend a law designed to encourage the development and maintenance of recreational areas.

For Plaintiff-Appellee: William F. Gleason, Christopher I. Petrarca, Sraga Hauser, LLC, Flossmoor.

For Defendants-Appellants: Scott Pyles, Mario Carlasare, Ratherbun, Cservenyak & Kozol, LLC, Joliet.

JUSTICE McBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Gordon and Justice Taylor concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

McBRIDE, JUSTICE

Page 44

[¶1] The issue on appeal is whether an Illinois public school district is shielded from negligence liability when a student is injured in a fall in her school's combined cafeteria and auditorium or " Cafetorium." The school district filed a motion to dismiss the student's tort suit, arguing that the Cafetorium was " public property intended or permitted to be used for recreational purposes" and thus came within the tort liability exemption in section 3-106 of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act. 745 ILCS 10/3-106 (West 1994) (Tort Immunity Act). The trial judge denied the school district's motion and then certified a question for interlocutory appeal. Here, the school district contends the statute plainly applies and that the student cannot maintain her suit, and she counters that her action can go forward because the overall and regular use of the Cafetorium is for educational purposes.

[¶2] The plaintiff, student Julie Abrams, was at the Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School at 5345 West 99th Street, Oak Lawn, Illinois at about 6:40 p.m. on April 19, 2012, to take part in an after-school event. Julie was one of the middle school students being inducted that evening into the National Junior Honor Society. Julie allegedly fell and was injured as students and their family members were filing into the school's Cafetorium for the 7 p.m. induction ceremony. In the complaint Julie filed against the school (count I), the school district (count II), and what appears to be a variation of the school district's name (count III), she attributed her accident to " a dark, non-illuminated, elevated, unmarked, [and] uneven surface." Julie did not specify where she was in the room or what she was doing, nor did she give any indication of the nature or extent of her injury. The record indicates, however, that Julie was treated for a broken bone, underwent shoulder surgery, and incurred $35,800 in medical bills. Julie seeks in excess of $50,000 from each defendant.

[¶3] Photographs and the deposition testimony of school principal Paul Enderle establish the following about the property at issue. The school has about 50 classrooms, the Cafetorium, which is a large, multipurpose room that is equivalent in size to about 5 classrooms combined, and also has a gymnasium, which is about twice the size as the Cafetorium. The Cafetorium's open main floor is a series of four elevated tiers that face a stage that is approximately three feet tall. The room also holds sound equipment and the control room for the sound and lights. When the room was being used as an auditorium for Julie's event, approximately 400 chairs had been arranged on the tiered floor to face the stage. When the Cafetorium is used as the school's cafeteria, it is set up with foldable tables that have attached stools and wheels so the tables can be compacted and rolled aside when not needed. The room is used daily as the school cafeteria and used regularly for events such as student assemblies, school club meetings, ceremonies and ...


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