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Ruling possible next week on public bodies’ liability in pillow assault case

Aug 08, 2023Aug 08, 2023

A ruling could come next week on the matter of whether the City of Pell City and the Pell City Board of Education will be released from a civil lawsuit that essentially charges both with neglect.

The suit, filed by the parents of a member of the Pell City High School baseball team in March, asserts that the school system and the city are responsible for the reported injuries their son incurred during a school sanctioned sleepover in early January.

The initial suit claims that the student suffered multiple injuries from the event, held on the high school campus, including a brain concussion, caused by hazing and assault by team members, who struck him in the head several times with pillows while school personnel were present.

It also cites the injuries from the team sleepover included a bloody nose, that the student became dizzy and had a headache after the event.

It is also asserted that the student was given “medication” during the event by a staff member, without notifying or asking the parents if this was allowed.

The suit includes asking that Pell City High School head baseball coach David Collins and assistant baseball coach John Gluschick be terminated from their positions with the school system, identifying them as the personnel who gave the student the “medication.”

In their suit, parents Bill and Cayce Johnson said they took their son to his family doctor Jan. 17 to determine his condition, and that he was diagnosed with a concussion.

Attorneys for the Johnsons told the court during the hearing that defendants named in the suit had acted “willingly and and in bad faith, and all acted together to cover up this.”

A hearing on the requests from the city and the school system for release from the suit was held earlier this month by St. Clair County Circuit Judge Bill Weathington. At that time, he stated he would consider the issues of “assault and battery” as raised in the suit, and if these assertions apply to the entities named.

The motion to dismiss the city’s suit cites a lack of “unfair notice of what the city is being called upon to defend and fails to state any cognizable legal claim upon which relief can be granted in any event.”

It adds that two defendants named in the suit are not the employees of the city and a request within the suit for their termination is not a matter for the city to address, but for the school system.

The motion also includes the statement that the suit which includes the city employees did not allege that the employees did anything and this is in contrast to the allegation of “negligence and wantonness,” which is charged in the suit.

It continues with the statement that a “potentially hidden claim” in the suit regarding a “negligent investigation” is unclear, with “a claim which the plaintiff has not spelled out in the pleadings.”

The motion goes on to charge that as law enforcement officers, the law enforcement individuals included in the suit are entitled to immunity from individual tort liability from that arises from the performance of any discretionary function of his or her job.

Attorneys for the board of education and certain employees cite “sovereign immunity” from the suit, due to all claims being stem from actions taken while in their official capacity on behalf of the board.

The motion includes a failure to state a claim of “assault and battery” against two system employees includes stating that the claim doesn’t apply to the defendants, in that assault and battery are intentional wrongful acts and “negligence” is not.

The civil suit asserts that school system employees were “incompetent or unable to safely hold the lock in,” and that the board of education “negligently, recklessly, carelessly and/or unskillfully hired, trained, assigned and supervised” the employees.

The suit names 10 individuals and/or groups as defendants in the suit, including The Pell City Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. James Martin, PCHS Principal Holly Harmon Costello, David Collins, John Gluschick, PCHS athletics director Steve Mask, school resource officers Jonathan Jenkins and Thomas Gray, The City of Pell City and five “Fictitious Defendants” who had involvement in the situation and events.

Among other requests, the suit asks that Collins and Gluschick be terminated from their positions, requests compensatory damages, punitive damages, and all costs from filing the suit including attorneys’ fees, “all special, incidental and consequential damages,” along with “such other relief as the court of jury deems just and proper under the circumstances.”