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Michigan judge dismisses lawsuits against school district over mass shooting  

Though federal cases are still pending, a state judge held the school district and its staff members are protected by governmental immunity.

PONTIAC, Mich. (CN) — A Michigan judge late Friday dismissed several lawsuits against the Oxford school district and staff members over a 2021 school shooting that left four students dead and several others injured, including a teacher.

Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Mary Ellen Brennan concluded the school district has governmental immunity from the claims.

“Because it is undisputed that the school district was a governmental agency…it follows that…the school district is immune from tort liability,” she wrote in an opinion published late Friday afternoon.  

She added, "While plaintiffs allege claims against defendant Oxford Community Schools for gross negligence and vicarious liability, such claims do not fall within any of the six recognized exceptions,"

Brennan said confessed shooter Ethan Crumbley was the “direct cause” of the event.

“Crumbley’s act of firing the gun…was one of the most immediate, efficient and direct cause of injury or damage,” she added.

Attorney Ven Johnson, an attorney involved in the lawsuits, expressed disappointment in a statement in response to the ruling.

"On behalf of our Oxford clients, we are deeply saddened and disappointed by Judge Brennan’s dismissal today of all the Oxford Community Schools defendants," Johnson said, according to the Detroit Free Press. "We maintain that governmental immunity is wrong and unconstitutional, and the law should be changed immediately."

Crumbley, whose rampage left four students dead and several others injured at Oxford High School in November 2021, pleaded guilty last October to all 24 charges against him, including the first terrorism charges brought against a U.S. school shooting suspect. He will be sentenced in the spring.

Eight victims survived being shot, while three students were pronounced dead the day of the shooting and a fourth victim succumbed to his injuries the next morning.

The first complaint over the shooting came just a month after the tragedy, when Riley Franz, a then-17-year-old who suffered a gunshot wound to the neck, filed a federal lawsuit against the school district. At the time, the Franz family's attorney, Geoffrey Fieger of Fieger Law, predicted the complaints would be dismissed.

“That’s the unfortunate secret many people in the state of Michigan aren’t aware of. Their lawmakers…behind their back in conjunction with insurance companies, make it impossible for victims to sue,” he thundered at a press conference.

Franz's lawsuit alleged school officials should have known something was brewing.

“Crumbley acted in such a way that would lead a reasonable observer to know…that he was planning to cause great bodily harm to the students or staff at Oxford High School,” the complaint.

In January 2022, another lawsuit was filed in Oakland County Circuit Court by the family of Tate Myre, a 16-year-old student who was shot and killed during the deadly shooting spree.

The complaint, which was dismissed Friday by Brennan, accused Oxford teachers and counselors of not doing enough to stop Crumbley from carrying out the rampage even though he exhibited “strange” and “bizarre” behavior.

In a statement on the cases being dismissed, the Oxford Community School District emphasized sympathy for the grieving community.

"We recognize that the decision will affect each of our school community families differently," the statement said, according to The Detroit News. "Oxford is still grieving. Oxford is still healing. As we continue this journey, Oxford Community Schools remains committed to providing a world-class education to our students, a workplace of choice for our staff, recovery supports for our community and a safe and healthy learning environment for all lives in which we are privileged to be a part."

Jennifer and James Crumbley – the first parents of a school shooter to be charged with a crime related to the shooting – remain in custody as they fight manslaughter charges. Their attorneys filed appeals documents with the Michigan Supreme Court on Oct. 10 claiming they were innocent because they had nothing to do with the planned attack and are not “responsible for the deaths of others.” The filings said their son bears complete responsibility.

Their trial was scheduled to begin in January but is on hold because of the appeal.

Recent docket entries for the federal lawsuits against Oxford Schools note that the parties are working towards a settlement.

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