The attorney for two families of children killed in the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre vowed Tuesday to appeal a Superior Court judge’s ruling that found the city and school board were not negligent in their death.
Donald Papcsy, attorney for the families of victims Jesse Lewis and Noah Pozner, told the Connecticut Law Tribune he believes he has a strong case on appeal, based on exemptions to governmental immunity, and that the case is strong enough to appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court. The courts were expected to decide in the next week which would be the venue to hear the case..
Papcsy’s comments follow a 29-page ruling released Tuesday morning, which found the city and school board immune from litigation related to the 2012 mass shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead.
Families of two victims, 6-year-old students Jesse Lewis and Noah Pozner, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in August 2017, alleging safety measures were inadequate to prevent gunman Adam Lanza from making his way through the school’s classrooms. It also alleged school officials failed to provide doors that could lock from the inside, and that staff lacked proper training for a lockdown.
The judge’s ruling comes as a lawsuit by 10 of the families to hold gunmakers responsible for the Sandy Hook Elementary School is on hold before the Connecticut Supreme Court, pending the outcome of a bankruptcy filing by firearms manufacturer Remington Outdoor Co. Inc.
Superior Court Judge Robin Wilson focused her decision primarily on governmental immunity, which she found granted the town broad discretion.
“On appeal, the court will have a chance to review what we believe are significant issues with the ruling. We believe either the Supreme Court or Appellate Court will agree with us,” Papcsy said. “Our operative complaint fully laid out the foundation that was necessary to overcome the immunity defense alleged in the defendant’s summary judgment. And there is no question there are genuine issues of material fact—regarding immunity exceptions of imminent harm and identifiable victim—that a jury absolutely should have been able to consider.”
Papcsy said Wilson’s decision ultimately holds that schools “can never be held accountable if they failed to implement protocols intended to keep our children and teachers safe in their public schools.”
“In this case and in cases like it, there are protocols in place specifically for these incidents,” he said. “But what the defense will say is that they do not have to follow them because they are completely discretionary, and if they are not followed, no one can hold them accountable. The judicial system has, to this point, agreed with that premise. But the parents who lost their children in this horrific event strongly disagree.”
Papcsy said officials never ordered a lockdown at anytime during the shooting.
Sandy Hook had an emergency “code blue” protocol in its guidelines, but the judge noted the language in guidelines are discretionary.
But Papcsy is gearing to challenge that notion.
“It’s common sense that if you are going to have a lockdown procedure that you should provide keys to the teachers so they can lock the doors,” he said. “We were provided with evidence from different sources that this was not the case. Municipalities should not be able to escape accountability by saying that in a lockdown procedure, actually locking the doors is discretionary and not required.”
In her ruling, Wilson said the school district could never have imagined the massacre that took place 5 and a half years ago, before the term “mass killing” became a part of the federal lawmaking lexicon.
“In a situation so extraordinary and unique, so chaotic and violent, it could not have been apparent that their actions or inactions were likely to subject the students and other faculty to imminent harm,” Wilson wrote.
Attorney Charles Deluca, senior partner at Ryan Ryan Deluca in Stamford, and Monte Frank, a member of Pullman & Comley, represented the city and the Newtown Board of Education.
Frank declined to comment, but Deluca said he “was not surprised” by Wilson’s ruling.
“I thought the court issued a very thoughtfully and well-reasoned decision,” he said. “We are pleased the court agreed with the arguments we put forth on behalf of the town and the Board of Education.”
Michael Marciano contributed to this story.