January 25, 2017

Following a four-day bench trial, Foley & Mansfield attorney Thomas Harder obtained a defense verdict in Carver County, Minnesota on behalf of an co-educational private high school and its employee involving the alleged assault and battery of the Plaintiff.

The case originally alleged five counts against the Defendants. First, and most significantly, the Complaint alleged breach of contract against the school, asserting that its published mission statement constituted a contractual obligation. The Defense argued that while a mission statement may communicate the high-level ideals of an organization, such as educating and nurturing students, it is not a contract between the parties. In other words, a parent cannot sue a school simply because their child is failing or otherwise not reaching their potential, as a stated mission is an aspirational statement, not an enforceable contractual obligation.

Other claims alleged by the Plaintiff were assault and battery and defamation against the employee, vicarious liability (claiming the school was liable for the alleged actions of the employee), and negligent retention and supervision against the school. With the exception of the assault and battery claim, all other counts were dismissed on a motion for summary judgment. 

At trial on the assault and battery claim, Plaintiff sought $30,000 in emotional stress damages and $50,000 in future damages, plus attorneys’ fees in excess of $80,000.

On January 17, 2017, the court found that Plaintiff did not prove that the employee assaulted Plaintiff because “mere words or threats alone do not constitute assault”.  Plaintiff also failed to prove that the Defendants intentionally caused harmful or offensive contact with Plaintiff.  The Complaint was dismissed with prejudice. 

In addition to the uncommon legal assertion that the school’s mission statement constituted a contract, it is also highly unusual for an assault and battery claim to go to trial when there is no claim of any actual physical injury of any sort.  Accordingly, the case law relied upon by both Foley & Mansfield and the court were cases from early in the last century.  

Thomas Harder