Groff v. Lawson

The plaintiff’s negligence claim against a Westfield school resource officer must be dismissed on grounds of sovereign immunity.

The officer heard a report that students were “fleeing” the school, where an all-night graduation was being held. He considered the situation to be dangerous, both to the students and the public. He understood that the exit the students were using was dark and that, once out of the school, the students would be near an unlit, curving street. He knew that the possible reasons for students fleeing a school included a fight, alcohol or drug involvement, or a school shooter. Under these circumstances, the officer was faced with an urgent situation requiring an immediate response to protect the safety of students and the community.

He left school grounds, choosing not to activate his cruiser’s lights or sirens as the roads appeared clear and he did not want to cause any fleeing students to run further from the school. Pursuing what he believed was a student driving a golf cart, he made a right turn from a left turn lane and an auto collision ensued.

The officer was performing a governmental function when he responded to a radio report of students “fleeing” the school. His actions were taken in connection with his duties as a Fairfax police officer and school resource officer. The government’s interest in his work, both generally and at the time of the incident, was very substantial. His driving in the early morning hours of June 22, 2016 involved “special risks” and the exercise of substantial discretion. His evaluation of the situation — that he was dealing with an urgent situation that posed an immediate danger to students and the public — was objectively reasonable, as was his decision to employ his vehicle, and undertake special risks, in an effort to address the danger.

Defendant’s plea in bar granted.

Groff v. Lawson, No. CL18-9089, Mar. 6, 2019. Fairfax (Bellows).

Categories: Opinions, Virginia Circuit Courts

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