Court Dismisses Claim Brought by Spurned Student-Athlete

Dec 29, 2005

A New York state court has dismissed the claim of a plaintiff student-athlete, who claimed that a football coach inflicted emotional distress upon him when he threw him to the ground and that the coach subsequently retaliated against him after his parents complained to the principal. The retaliation, he claimed, occurred when the football coach had the baseball coach cut him from the baseball team.
The incident that spawned the litigation occurred on October 22, 2002 when plaintiff Dustin Cronk, as a member of the Suffern High School varsity football team, was standing on the sideline with his coach, Dave McNally. According to the court, Cronk was “joking around … blocking” the coach’s view of the football field. McNally “suddenly grabbed him and threw him” to the ground. Cronk returned to his feet, and told McNally, “Don’t ever fu#*in touch me again.”
Later that week, McNally “kicked” Cronk out of gym class for insubordination, The next day, Cronk’s father complained to the principal.
The friction continued to escalate as McNally then isolated Cronk before practice and told Cronk that “he should have worked out the problem after the incident instead of leaving and that he should not have gotten his parents involved because he was ‘going to have to grow up – not grow up, but learn to deal with problems on my own, and not get your parents involved so much.’”
Nevertheless, Cronk played the remaining three games left in the football season, as the incident appeared to die down.
The calm was short-lived. Cronk tried out for the varsity baseball team that spring. Having played on the team previous years, he was “stunned” when he did not make the team. He would later argue that because McNally and the other coaches “are all friends,” he did not make the team because of the incident with McNally.
Cronk filed a report that spring with the Ramapo Police Department, alleging that McNally assaulted him on the football field. The police dept. concluded that there was a “lack of evidence to support the Cronk complaint” and that the “case should be closed.” Cronk’s mother would later allege that students interviewed in the case said that the officers misrepresented what the students had told them. Furthermore, she alleged that the investigation was “compromised” by the investigating officer’s familiarity with McNally.
Cronk and his parents filed a civil complaint in June of 2004, seeking to recover money damages for the defendants’ alleged “tortuous conduct” in denying Cronk an “opportunity to participate as a player on the school’s varsity baseball team … .” They specifically alleged that these actions included “improper retaliation, conspiracy and deliberate indifference and neglect with respect to the customs and policies of the Defendants.” The plaintiffs denominate two separate causes of action; first, for intentional infliction of emotional distress and second for “improper termination from baseball program.”
The school district moved for summary judgment, arguing that the “plaintiffs cannot prove that the district was negligent in the hiring, training and supervision of the Suffern High School employees, and plaintiffs cannot prove negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress or battery.” Further, the district argued that the plaintiffs’ second cause of action for retaliation and wrongful exclusion from the baseball team is not a recognized cause of action and that same is akin to “educational malpractice,” which is not cognizable in New York.
In its analysis, the court wrote that “In order to prevail on a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff must plead and prove that a defendant engaged in extreme and outrageous conduct and that such conduct intentionally or recklessly caused severe emotional distress’ (citations omitted). Said conduct must transcend the bounds of decency and be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.” (Citations omitted). Klinge v. Ithaca College, 235 A.D.2d 724 (3rd Dept. 1997).
“Courts are reluctant to allow recovery under the banner of intentional infliction of emotional distress absent a deliberate and malicious campaign of harassment or intimidation.’ (Citations omitted).” Cohn-Frankel v. United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, 246 A.D.2d 332 (1st Dept. 1998).
“Further, a plaintiff is required to establish that severe emotional distress was suffered, which is “supported by medical evidence, not the mere recitation of speculative claims.” Walentas v. Johnes, 257 A.D.2d 352 (1st Dept. 1999), lv. to app. dsmd. 93 N.Y.2d 958 (1999); see, also Leone v. Leewood Serv. Sta., 212 A.D.2d 669 (2nd Dept. 1995), lv. to app. den. 86 N.Y.2d 709 (1995). While contemporaneous medical treatment is not required, there must be an evidentiary showing that the alleged conduct caused mental or physical symptoms that indicate the presence of emotional distress. See Josephine v. Columbia University, 4 Misc 3d 1023(A) (Sup. Ct. NY Co. 2004).”
The plaintiff in the instant case “did not allege nor demonstrate through evidentiary submissions that Dustin has suffered mental or physical symptoms that indicate the presence of emotional distress related to the alleged actions. This failure alone is sufficient to dismiss said claim.”
The court also did not find that McNally’s action of grabbing and throwing Dustin to the ground, “even when combined with the further claimed ensuing confrontations between Dustin and the football coaches and the allegedly inadequate response of the school … meets the rigorous standard of stating a viable claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
Turning to the second cause of action, the court was unaware of “any viable claim for a student’s exclusion from a sports team, allegedly motivated solely by retaliation, as here is alleged. Plaintiffs have failed to cite any authority or case law supporting the existence of such a claim.”
Cronk et al. v. Suffern Senior High School et al.; S.Ct.N.Y., Rockland Co.; 2005 Ny Slip Op 52059u; 12/14/05
Attorneys of Record: (for defendants) Rutherford & Christie, LLP, New York, New York. (for plaintiffs) Anthony R. Dellicari, P.C., Garnerville, New York.


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