The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stanley S. Harris, District Judge.
Before the Court is the Motion To Dismiss Defendant City
Lights School, Inc. ("City Lights") pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6), plaintiffs opposition thereto, and City Light's
reply.*fn1 The Court denies the motion to dismiss. "Findings
of fact and conclusions of law are unnecessary on decisions of
motions under Rule 12 or 56." Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a); Summers v.
Department of Justice, 140 F.3d 1077, 1079-80 (D.C.Cir. 1998).
Nonetheless, the Court sets forth its reasoning.
On or about May 11, 1998, plaintiff visited the National
Zoological Park ("the Zoo") in Washington, D.C., while on a
field trip with his school. Plaintiff alleges that during that
trip, he was assaulted, kicked, and beaten by five male
students, who were also on a school field trip. These students
attended City Lights, a private, non-profit school, chartered
under District of Columbia law, for at-risk youths. Plaintiff
alleges that at the time of attack, the students were
unsupervised. Plaintiff alleges that he suffered a concussion
and injuries to multiple areas of his body. Plaintiff filed a
lawsuit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia,
alleging one count of negligent supervision against City Lights
and one count of assault against each of the five individual
defendants. The case was removed to this Court pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1446.*fn2
City Lights moves to dismiss for failure to state a claim.
Plaintiff's complaint alleges that "City Lights had a duty to
supervise its students," Compl. ¶ 9, that "the five students
were unsupervised," Compl. ¶ 8, and that the alleged failure to
supervise proximately caused plaintiff to suffer great bodily
harm, Compl. ¶¶ 11-13. City Lights contends that the complaint
must be dismissed because, as a matter of law in the District of
Columbia, "City Lights owed no duty to [plaintiff] to provide a
constant watch over its students during a school field trip in
order to prevent a unforeseeable act of violence." Def.'s Mot.
To Dismiss at 1-2.
Plaintiff counters that City Lights does owe a common-law
duty, by virtue of the principle enunciated in Restatement 2d
Torts § 319:
One who takes charge of a third person whom he knows
or should know to be likely to cause bodily harm to
others if not controlled is under a duty to exercise
reasonable care to control the third person to
prevent him from doing such harm.
City Lights responds that resorting to the "dangerous
propensity" principle of § 319 does not save plaintiffs
complaint from dismissal, because plaintiff makes no allegations
in his complaint that the five students were likely to cause
bodily harm, or, even if they did, that City Lights knew or
should have known that. Therefore, even if all the allegations
in the complaint were accepted as true, there is no basis for
recovery from City Lights. The Court concludes that City Lights
may well have owed a duty to plaintiff, arising from two
possible theories, and the Court declines to dismiss the
complaint for insufficiency of factual allegations.
"[A] complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a
claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can
prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would
entitle him to relief."
Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d
80 (1957). Plaintiffs factual allegations must be presumed true
and liberally construed in his favor when reviewing the adequacy
of a complaint for purposes of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Phillips
v. Bureau of Prisons, 591 F.2d 966, 968 (D.C.Cir. 1979) (citing
Miree v. DeKalb County, Georgia, 433 U.S. 25, 27 n. 2, 97
S.Ct. 2490, 53 L.Ed.2d 557 (1977)).
It is well-settled that in any negligence claim, a person is
liable to another only if "(1) the defendant owed a duty of care
to the plaintiff, (2) the defendant breached that duty, and (3)
the breach of duty proximately caused damage to the plaintiff."
Brown v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 717 A.2d 309, 311-12 (D.C.
1998); White v. United States, 780 F.2d 97, 102 (D.C.Cir.
1986). If City Lights is correct that no duty exists between
defendant and plaintiff, then plaintiffs claim against it must
fail. The initial question before the Court therefore is whether
City Lights owed a duty to plaintiff.
Whether a legal duty exists between a defendant and a
plaintiff is a question of law to be determined by the court.
In re Sealed Case, 67 F.3d 965, 968 (D.C.Cir. 1995). The
substantive tort law of the District of Columbia governs this
diversity action. See Joy v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc.,
999 F.2d 549, 553 (D.C.Cir. 1993). The existence and scope of a
school's duty of care to third parties during a field trip is
one of first impression in the District of Columbia. The Court
"must determine issues of state law as it believes the highest
court of the state would determine them, not necessarily
(although usually this will be the case) as they have been
decided by other state courts in the past." Charles A. Wright ...