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With compassion and regret, a New York State Court of Claims judge has concluded that he cannot award damages to a state university freshman whose first months living away at college became a nightmare of threats, larceny and assault — possibly acts committed by a roommate. Judge Philip J. Patti of Rochester, N.Y., said that New York, unlike some states, has not assumed a duty to protect university students from the foreseeable risks of criminal activity. “The doctrine of in loco parentis no longer applies in our State, and the duty of care owed by a university to its students is narrowly drawn,” Patti said in Broeker v. State, 90956. “A college does not have a duty to supervise its students’ activities outside the classroom. Nor is it required to protect them from the dangerous activities of their classmates or to monitor students who are antisocial, criminal or even violent.” Patti’s ruling arises from a series of difficulties Michelle Broeker encountered after enrolling as a first-year student at the State University of New York at Oswego in the fall of 1994. After Broeker’s first roommate left school two days after starting because of homesickness, she was paired with another roommate. According to Broeker, the new roommate destroyed her belongings, ransacked her portion of the dormitory room and stole her cash. After reporting those incidents to college authorities, the roommates were separated. However, Broeker was immediately subjected to threatening telephone calls. Additionally, while walking to the library one evening and passing through a wooded, poorly lit area, Broeker was attacked by a small group of assailants and beaten. A few days later, Broeker awoke in her dorm room to find that motor oil had been poured on the floor near her door. That evening, she packed her belongings, left and never again returned to SUNY-Oswego as a student. UNIVERSITY’S DUTY At issue in this claim was whether the university had any duty, or had assumed any duty, to protect Broeker. Since New York so greatly limits its liability in these matters, Broeker’s attorney, Gregory R. Gilbert of Amdursky, Pelky, Fennell & Wallen in Oswego, N.Y., based the breach of duty suit on his client’s status as a dormitory tenant rather than her relationship to the university as student. Testimony indicated that college safety officials, alerted to the incidents and aware that Broeker suspected her former roommate, had given her some general advice — such as to avoid walking anywhere on campus alone — and indicated that they might tap her telephone. They also, according to the court’s finding, promised to put extra patrols around Broeker’s dormitory. But they had not made a specific promise that would give rise to a special duty, the court held. NO BREACH OF DUTY Judge Patti said he could find no breach of a proprietary duty that would hold the state liable for the theft of Broeker’s personal property and the ransacking of her room. He also held that Broeker could not establish a duty to protect based on the claim that the assault was foreseeable because, without a legal duty, “foreseeability is immaterial.” “While I am constrained to find for defendant, I was touched and saddened by the difficulties that claimant faced during her brief stay on the Oswego campus,” Patti said. “No young person embarking upon the adventure and challenge of a college education should have to endure such a painful and unfortunate series of events. As defendant points out, however, compassion alone does not justify an award.” The state of New York was defended by assistant New York Attorney General Ed J. Thompson.

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