The Indiana Court of Appeals reinstated a wrongful death lawsuit against Indianapolis Public Schools when it found genuine issues of material fact as to Arlington Community High School’s duty to supervise its students after a teen’s murder nearby.
In early February 2016, Jaylan Murray’s body was found at an apartment complex across the street from Arlington Community High School, where he was a student. Jaylan, a frequent runaway with an active Department of Child Services case file, of which the school was aware, had been murdered.
On the day of his murder, Jaylan had gone to Arlington around 1 p.m. and had signed in at the front desk. He left the premises without Arlington’s knowledge, without signing out, and presumably through an unlocked and unmonitored exit. Arlington’s students are expected to enter and exit through the front entrance to the building and sign in and out if arriving or leaving during the school day. The front entrance provides the only entry to the building.
Co-personal representatives of Murray’s estate, Katrina Murray and Aquila F. Flynn, filed a complaint for wrongful death against the school, alleging that it had been negligent for failing to properly supervise and monitor its students during school hours.
Marion Superior Court granted summary judgment for the school, however, finding it was immune from any failure to adopt or enforce an attendance policy under the Indiana Tort Claims Act, and that Jaylan was contributorily negligent in his own murder.
On appeal, the estate contended the school breached its duty by “failing to properly supervise and monitor their students during school hours” in accordance with Indiana Code section 20-33-8-8. Specifically, it claimed that because the school was notified that Jaylan was a runaway minor before he appeared at the front office, the school should have taken measures preventing him from returning to the street.
The appellate court ultimately reversed the trial court’s decision, finding the issue was not appropriate for summary judgment in Katrina Murray and Aquila F. Flynn, as Co-Personal Representatives of the Estate of Jaylan T. R. Murray, Deceased v. Indianapolis Public Schools and Arlington Community High School, 18A-CT-1955. Judge James Kirsch dissented without a separate opinion.
“While the designated facts could support a conclusion that the School failed to exercise reasonable care to supervise and monitor Jaylan given its presumed awareness of Jaylan’s propensity to run away, reasonable minds might differ as to the particular extent and scope of the School’s duty to ensure Jaylan’s safety under these circumstances and, as such, the issue remains a factual one, and should properly be presented to the trier of fact,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for the court. Her majority opinion was joined by Judge Margret Robb.
The appellate court further found that the record contained issues of fact precluding summary judgment on the basis of contributory negligence.
“Minors often engage in unwise behavior but those choices do not automatically make them contributorily negligent as a matter of law,” Riley continued. “While Jaylan’s decision to leave the School’s premises was ill-advised, in light of the conflicting designated evidence surrounding the reason for his truancy and his murder, it remains debatable whether Jaylan failed to exercise the same degree of care and caution which an ordinary, reasonable sixteen-year-old would exercise in a similar situation.”