California state universities and colleges have no responsibility to protect their students from known threats of violence, says the California Court of Appeal, which sided with UCLA in a decision in The Regents of the University of California v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County revealed on Wednesday, October 7. This case could have sweeping implications for all institutions of higher learning at a time when violence on campuses has claimed hundreds of lives.
“We need to hold these universities and colleges responsible for failing to adhere to their own policies and procedures,” Brian Panish stated. “We fully intend to take this case to the California Supreme Court.”
Panish Shea & Boyle LLP represents Plaintiff Katherine Rosen, a UCLA pre-med student who had been working in a chemistry laboratory on campus when she was brutally stabbed by fellow student Damon Thompson. In the months leading up to the attack, the university had treated Mr. Thompson for symptoms indicative of schizophrenia disorder, including auditory hallucinations and paranoid thinking, and he exhibited troublesome behavior that raised red flags.
Ms. Rosen filed a negligence action against the Regents of the University of California and several UCLA employees alleging that defendants had breached their duty of care by failing to adopt reasonable measures that would have protected her from Thompson’s foreseeable violent conduct. In Rosen v. The Regents of the University of California, Plaintiff alleged that UCLA failed to adhere to its own policies and procedures. The Defendants brought a motion for summary judgment, which was denied by the trial court. On appeal, two of the three justices concluded that a public university has no general duty to protect its students from the criminal acts of other students.
Presiding Justice Dennis M. Perluss disagreed with the decision, emphasizing in his dissent that UCLA promotes itself and encourages student enrollment on the basis of campus safety. The school sent parents brochures that stated: “Welcome to one of the most secure campuses in the country,” Justice Perluss noted the January 2008 Report of the University of California Campus Security Task Force declared in its opening line, “There is no greater priority for the University of California system than the safety and security of its students, faculty, staff, and visitors.” His dissenting opinion stated: “Are these sentiments simply aspirational or is the relationship between UCLA – or any other college or university – and its students sufficiently ‘special’ that the school and its personnel have an affirmative duty to adopt reasonable procedures to protect their students from foreseeable injury at the hands of third parties acting negligently or intentionally and to implement those measures with reasonable care? . . . I would find such a special relationship exists between a college and its enrolled students, at least when the student is in a classroom under the direct supervision of an instructor, and the school has a duty to take reasonable steps to keep its classrooms safe from foreseeable threats of violence”
“We believe that Presiding Justice Perluss in his dissent reflects the realities that exist on campuses today,” Mr. Panish said. “Virtually every university and college put these types of policies and procedures in place after Virginia Tech – and all we are asking these schools to do is to follow them.”
Mr. Panish stated that further review would be sought in the Supreme Court.
“We are going to keep fighting for what we think is right because we want everyone’s sons and daughters to be safe on college campuses.”
Read the October 8, 2015 Los Angeles Times Article here.