ALBUQUERQUE (CN) – Calling high school football players a possible “unsafe condition” that threatens the safety of other students, a federal judge refused to dismiss a mother’s lawsuit over a hazing attack on her son.
U.S. District Judge James O. Browning refused to dismiss a negligence claim against Los Lunas Schools Board of Education, it superintendent, the principal of Valencia High School and several football coaches.
The defendants claimed that the parent failed to state a plausible negligence claim and that they were immune under New Mexico’s Torts Claim Act.
C.H., the parent, sued the schools on behalf of her minor son, R.H.
The mother says his son, a member of the varsity football team, was attacked by three senior players in a locker room in October 2010. Her son allegedly was thrown to the ground, held down and battered physically and sexually while other teammates watched and encouraged the attack.
Judge Browning disagreed with the defendants’ argument that the parent had failed to plead that school officials had actual knowledge of hazing. Browning said she pleaded negligent supervision.
Browning added that the complaint goes beyond just negligent supervision and that the defendants should have known that hazing took place among New Mexico high school football teams because of a widely publicized hazing attack in 2008 at a Las Vegas, N.M., high school.
That incident “should have served as a warning to other schools and football coaching staffs to take reasonable measures to prevent additional incidents of that nature,” Browning wrote, citing the original complaint.
Browning added that “football coaches read sports pages and know what is going on with other football teams that are highly publicized … the Court can reasonably infer from the allegations that the Los Lunas football coaches would have known about the Las Vegas football incident.”
Browning compared loose-running high school students to loose-running dogs and “roaming prison gangs,” which are capable of violence and are a foreseeable danger.
“A teenager, like a loose dog, is not an obvious danger, but given the right circumstances a defendant may have reason to know or suspect that the loose dog presents a dangerous condition,” Browning wrote. “The senior football players may qualify as a dangerous condition of the property, because, ‘under the right circumstances,’ high school football players ‘could represent an unsafe condition’ and threaten the safety of other students.”
Browning ruled that the plaintiff pled sufficient facts to attack the defendants’ immunity above a “speculative level,” that the complaint needs only to state a plausible claim for relief.
The parent met that standard “under the NMTCA [New Mexico Tort Claims Act], because she asserts that it was not the attack itself that was negligent, but that the defendants failed to act in face of a known danger” that resulted in her son’s injuries, Browning wrote.
He denied defendants’ motion to dismiss.