An appeals court Wednesday sided with a Broward County private school in a wrongful-death lawsuit stemming from the suicide of a 13-year-old student who had gotten in trouble for selling a vape pen to another student.
Overturning a circuit judge’s decision, a panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal said an enrollment agreement required legal claims to go to arbitration rather than be decided in a civil lawsuit.
Colleen Happ filed the lawsuit after her son, Colin, committed suicide after being requested by Calvary Christian Academy to withdraw from school for selling the vape pen, Wednesday’s ruling said.
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The lawsuit alleged that the school “violated its policies and procedures and a common law duty to assess and provide suicide prevention and crisis support to a disciplined student,” Wednesday’s ruling said.
But the school argued that the claims should go to arbitration or be dismissed because of the enrollment agreement.
A Broward County circuit judge rejected the argument, but the three-judge appellate panel disagreed. The ruling, written by Judge Dorian Damoorgian and joined by Judges Alan Forst and Jeffrey Kuntz, said the “claims have a direct relationship to the enrollment contract” and terms in a school handbook.
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“For example, the complaint repeatedly references the school’s ‘policies and procedures’ when discussing the duty owed to the student,” the ruling said “Moreover, the complaint references the school’s ‘policies and procedures’ when discussing the school’s alleged failure to properly investigate the incident, take appropriate disciplinary measures, and evaluate the student to determine the appropriate post-disciplinary support treatment. In other words, the complaint expressly relies on the enrollment contract and handbook to establish the school’s duty to the student, the alleged breach of which formed the basis of the wrongful death action.”