Appeals Court Deems Tournament an ‘Excursion’ for Liability Purposes in Negligence Case

Sep 14, 2007

A California appeals court has ruled that a school district is shielded by governmental immunity statutes in a case where a student athlete was severely beaten by his teammates while the team was away at a soccer tournament and subsequently sued.
Key to the court’s finding was that the tournament constituted an “excursion” and not a “school-sponsored activity.” The latter would have entitled him “to the same safeguards as those who are on school property, within supervisorial limits.”
Jonathan Elbaz was enrolled in Beverly Hills High School, which provides extracurricular sports programs to its student body, including a boys’ soccer team. In July 2005, Elbaz and the team traveled to a tournament in Santa Barbara. The BHUSD had made all travel arrangements for the team members attending the tournament, including by providing transportation, reserving hotel rooms, making sleeping arrangements and arranging meals.
While he was in his hotel room in Santa Barbara, Elbaz was severely beaten by several other members of the soccer team. On February 17, 2006, Elbaz initiated this lawsuit against BHUSD. The school district demurred, and the trial court sustained the demurrer with leave to amend.
In July 2006, Elbaz filed and served his first amended complaint. In it, he alleged two causes of action for negligence, based upon a violation of section 44808. BHUSD demurred, arguing that it was immune from liability, pursuant to section 35330. Elbaz opposed the demurrer.
After hearing oral arguments and taking the matter under submission, the trial court sustained BHUSD’s demurrer to Elbaz’s first amended complaint without leave to amend. It found that the “specific allegations in the First Amended Complaint established that the activity was a field trip or excursion under Section 35330,” and that the immunity afforded by that statute applied.
Elbaz appealed, claiming that the tournament constituted a “school-sponsored activity,” bringing it within the purview of section 44808, which would allow Elbaz to proceed on his negligence claims against BHUSD. BHUSD contends that it is immune from liability pursuant to section 35330 on the grounds that the tournament constitutes a “field trip” or an “excursion.”
The appeals court noted that the Legislature has established different liability rules for injuries occurring during required school-sponsored, off-premises activities, on the one hand ([§ 44808]), and field trips or excursions, on the other hand ([§ 35330]). (Myricks v. Lynwood Unified School Dist. (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 231, 238, fns. omitted (Myricks).)
“If a student is injured while off campus for a school-sponsored activity, which is defined as an activity ‘that requires attendance and for which attendance credit may be given’ [citation], the student’s injury is treated, for liability purposes, in the same manner as an on-campus injury. ‘Students who are off of the school’s property for required school purposes are entitled to the same safeguards as those who are on school property, within supervisorial limits.’ [Citation.]” (Id. at p. 239; see also Wolfe v. Dublin Unified School Dist. (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 126, 132; Castro v. Los Angeles Bd. of Education (1976) 54 Cal.App.3d 232, 236.) “However, if a student is injured while on a ‘field trip or excursion in connection with courses of instruction or school-related social, educational, cultural, athletic, or school band activities’ [citation], he ‘shall be deemed to have waived all claims against the district or the State of California for injury, accident, illness, or death occurring during or by reason of the filed trip or excursion.'” (Myricks, supra, 74 Cal.App.4th at p. 239, quoting § 35330, subd. (d), italics added.)
“After reviewing Elbaz’s first amended complaint, we conclude that his claims against BHUSD have been waived pursuant to section 35330, subdivision (d). As a matter of law, the tournament constituted a field trip or an excursion, not a school-sponsored activity. There are no allegations to indicate that Elbaz was required to attend, or received credit for, taking part in the tournament. He does not allege that he received a grade for attending the tournament. The tournament occurred when school was not even in session.
“Elbaz asserts that the tournament cannot constitute a field trip because it is participatory in nature, not observatory. In light of the legal authorities discussed above, we decline to construe the phrase ‘field trip’ so narrowly.
“Likewise, we reject Elbaz’s claim that the tournament cannot constitute an excursion because it was not for recreational purposes or for pleasure; it was for competition. Nothing in the statutes or in the case law indicates that a sports competition cannot, as a matter of law, constitute an excursion.
“Elbaz alleges in his first amended complaint that the tournament was a “school-sponsored activity,” and not a field trip or an excursion. These allegations do not save his pleading from demurrer. While we must accept the truth of all facts pled, it is well-established that we do not assume the truth of contentions, deductions, or conclusions of law in the operative complaint. (Aubry v. Tri-City Hospital Dist. (1992) 2 Cal.4th 962, 966-967.) Thus, Elbaz’s attempt to avert dismissal by alleging the conclusion that the tournament constituted a school-sponsored activity fails.
“Elbaz also argues that it is premature to resolve this question now. Rather, if anything, this issue should be decided at the summary judgment stage of the litigation. We disagree. Elbaz has directed us to no evidence that will be adduced that will affect the outcome of this legal issue. And, there is no reason to delay resolution of this question of law.”
Jonathan Elbaz, a Minor, etc., et al. v. Beverly Hills Unified School District; Ct. App. Calif., 2d App. Dist., Div. 2; B195563, 2007 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 4318; 5/30/07
Attorneys of Record: (for Plaintiffs and Appellants) Zimmerman & Kahanowitch, Brian F. Zimmerman and Megan C. Roth. (for Defendant and Respondent) Gibeaut, Mahan & Briscoe and Lisa J. Brown.


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