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Rene Sheaffer v. Scott Valley Union School District et al

December 6, 2012


(Super. Ct. No. SCSCCVPO07332)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hoch , J.

Sheaffer v. Scott Valley Union School Dist.



California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

Rene Sheaffer sued the Scott Valley School District (District) and one of its teachers, Jim Morris, for negligent supervision after she was raped on campus by a high school student, Austin Eastlick.*fn1 In a prior unpublished decision, we reversed an earlier grant of summary judgment because the trial court erroneously denied a continuance of the hearing on the motion for summary judgment. (Sheaffer v. Scott Valley School District (Jan. 13, 2010, C059862) [nonpub. opn.] (Sheaffer I).) After remand, the trial court again granted summary judgment in favor of defendants. The trial court reasoned that defendants were liable only if Sheaffer could show a triable issue of fact that the sexual assault was foreseeable. Based on the undisputed facts, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants because Eastlick's possession of a multitool did not render it foreseeable that he would use a different knife to commit a sexual assault on campus. And, Morris lent the shop keys based on a life-long and unproblematic history with Eastlick that rendered the sexual assault unforeseeable.

On appeal, Sheaffer argues the trial court erred by (1) overruling her evidentiary objections to defendants' evidence, (2) denying her motion for a continuance to conduct further discovery prior to the hearing on the motion for summary judgment, (3) granting summary judgment even though defendants breached their duty to supervise Eastlick by failing to enforce a no-knives rule on campus, and (4) entering summary judgment in favor of Morris even though he lent Eastlick the keys to the campus metal shop where Eastlick raped Sheaffer.

We conclude that the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of defendants. Although the District was aware that Eastlick sometimes carried a multitool*fn2 that he used to complete his farm chores, Eastlick perpetrated the rape using a single blade foldout knife*fn3 that he hid from defendants. Morris lent the keys to the metal shop based on his life-long relationship with Eastlick, which indicated that Eastlick was a trustworthy person. Here, the record shows that Eastlick's crime was unforeseeable to defendants. Sheaffer's remaining contentions are forfeited for failure to preserve them for appeal. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment.


Operative Complaint

After this court reversed the summary judgment granted in Sheaffer I, supra, C059862, after defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on the first amended complaint, and after the trial court issued an order allowing Sheaffer to amend her fourth cause of action for negligence against the District, Sheaffer filed a second amended complaint.

The second amended complaint alleged that Sheaffer was 17 years old on January 27, 2006, when she rode to school on a bus with Eastlick. Eastlick asked for and received the keys to the campus metal shop from Morris. Eastlick then enticed Sheaffer to accompany him to the deserted metal shop, where he held a foldout knife to her throat while raping and then forcing her to orally copulate him. Eastlick later pled guilty to unspecified criminal charges in connection with the sexual assault.

The District had a rule requiring students to be suspended or expelled for bringing knives or other dangerous objects onto campus. On two occasions prior to January 27, 2006, Eastlick was caught with a knife but received no discipline for the violations.

Based on these allegations, the operative complaint set forth three causes of action against the District and Morris: (1) negligence as to the District for "failing to warn, suspend or reprimand" Eastlick for his prior knife possessions on campus; (2) negligence as to Morris for providing Eastlick with the keys to the deserted metal shop; and (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress as to Morris. The intentional infliction of emotional distress cause of action was later dismissed.

Motion for Summary Judgment

In December 2010, defendants moved for summary judgment on the first amended complaint on the grounds that the unforseeability of Eastlick's crime defeated Sheaffer's causes of action for negligence.*fn4 Defendants introduced evidence that there had been no sexual assault on campus for more than 25 years and there was no evidence suggesting that Eastlick would rape another student while armed with a foldout knife.

Defendants also introduced evidence showing Sheaffer and Eastlick dated in ninth grade when she allowed him "to fondle her bare breast." They rode the bus together every morning on their way to their respective high schools. On January 27, 2006, Sheaffer and Eastlick got off the bus together at Etna High School, where Eastlick but not Sheaffer was a student. Sheaffer had transferred out of Etna High School to another school prior to the start of the school year. Eastlick stopped by Morris's classroom and received the keys to the school's metal shop.

Morris had known Eastlick "since Eastlick was a baby and ha[d] developed a longstanding relationship of trust with him." Eastlick had been in Morris's classes for each of the three years that Morris had taught at Etna High School. Eastlick also went on overnight trips with Morris as part of the Future Farmers of America program. On the trips, Morris did not encounter any behavioral problems with Eastlick. Given the large area encompassed by the campus, "it is not uncommon to give students keys to allow them access to parts of the campus to obtain or retrieve items." Morris lent keys to students based on his experience with them and his judgment as to who was trustworthy. Eastlick had borrowed keys to the metal shop in the past and had not abused the privilege. Morris never saw Eastlick carry a foldout knife. However, Morris could not recall whether Eastlick carried a multitool because they were commonly carried by students in that rural community. When he saw multitools on campus, he told students to put them away.

Declarations by school psychologist Carol Baker and school counselor Carolyn Hewes showed that "Eastlick was repeatedly evaluated for a learning disability, but there was never any manifestation of, or reason to suspect, any mental instability or behavioral issues." Review of the school files showed that Eastlick had no prior incidents of sexual assault, had not been assessed to require any anger management training, and had no behavior issues or mental disabilities.

At his deposition, Eastlick explained that he received a Gerber foldout knife for Christmas in December 2005. Eastlick knew that the knife was prohibited at school and would be confiscated if seen. Thus, if he took it to school, he carried it inside his pants pocket to conceal it. Neither Morris nor the school principal was aware that Eastlick owned this foldout knife.

Eastlick did acknowledge that he regularly carried a Gerber multitool in a leather pouch. He used the multitool for completing his farm chores. Although the multitool contained a small 2.5 inch knife, the blade had a broken tip and it was not capable of being locked into an open position. There was no evidence that the multitool was used in a threatening manner. Further, the multitool was not used against Sheaffer.

Eastlick answered that he had never gotten in trouble for a physical fight, graffiti, or breaking school property. He acknowledged that he once participated in a snowball fight on campus in which one of his snowballs accidently hit a teacher. Eastlick appears not to have received any discipline or punishment for the snowball incident.

There was a dispute about what happened at the metal shop. Eastlick claimed that he picked up a utility knife and held it to his own neck while joking about killing himself. Eastlick asked Sheaffer to perform oral sex on him, and she voluntarily complied. Sheaffer contends Eastlick drew a knife, which he held to her neck while raping her and forcing her to orally copulate him.

In addition to arguing a lack of foreseeability, defendants asserted that they enjoyed discretionary immunity because they were entitled to determine the correct disciplinary response to Eastlick bringing a multitool onto campus.

Opposition to Summary Judgment

Sheaffer opposed summary judgment on two grounds. First, she argued that defendants had not yet fully responded to her discovery requests. Specifically, Sheaffer asserted that defendants ...

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