Washington Court of Appeals: School district may have breached its duty to monitor a student who was also a registered sex offender (updated)

N.L. v. Bethel Sch. Dist., No. 45832-2-II (Wash. Ct. App. Apr. 28, 2015).

14-year-old N.L. met 18-year-old Nicholas Clark, another student in the same school district, when the middle school and high school track teams were practicing on the same field. The next day, Clark asked N.L. to skip track practice and go out to lunch with him. Clark drove N.L. to his home, where he sexually assaulted her. 

It turns out that Nicholas Clark had a long record of what the Washington Court of Appeals describes as “sexually inappropriate conduct.” In ninth grade, he had grabbed a girl, kissed her on the mouth and breasts, grabbed her buttocks, and pulled her pelvis into him. He was convicted of attempted indecent liberties, was suspended for the rest of the year, and required to register as a sex offender. After he returned to school, though, his behavior didn’t change much. In fact, the court of appeals tells us that when he was in tenth grade, he sexually assaulted a girl on a bus (what kind of assault is left unspecified). 

N.L. has sued the Bethel School District for negligence. She alleges that it failed to properly monitor Clark—Bethel didn’t have a policy for monitoring students who were registered sex offenders—and breached its duty to protect her from another dangerous student. 

The court holds that a reasonable jury could find that the danger that Clark posed to N.L. was reasonably foreseeable. It also holds that the School District breached its duty to N.L. in failing to monitor Clark. There’s also a triable issue on proximate causation. The case is remanded to superior court for a trial.

UPDATE (11/16/15): I now see that the Washington Supreme Court granted review of this case in September. Oral argument is scheduled for January. When the Court issues an opinion, I will post another update.