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December 13, 2000


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. Standard

"[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.

B. Existence of duty

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 ...

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