Assumption of the Risk • Foreseeable Retaliation • Educational Institutions

Murray v. Albright College, PICS Case No. 14-0490 (Pa. Super. April 1, 2014) (memorandum) Mundy, J. (12 pages).

A college student and his parents sued Albright for negligence and gross negligence for injuries the student suffered in a beating in the dormitory where he lived. The trial court granted summary judgment to the college, dismissing the case and the student appealed. Reversed.

Another student who lived near the plaintiff in the dormitory was found to have contraband and a weapon and was escorted off the campus. That student erroneously believed plaintiff was responsible for instigating the search in which the contraband and weapons were discovered. The day after the search, plaintiff received messages threatening him but he did not inform anyone at the college. Later that day he was approached in the dormitory and beaten by two men.

Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of their case arguing that it was an abuse of discretion for the trial judge to find that it was not foreseeable that an apparent drug dealer found to have weapons in a college dorm would retaliate against a perceived “snitch.” They also argued that the trial court abused its discretion in holding that the plaintiff assumed the risk of being beaten in his dorm when he and others ignored the threatening messages sent by an unknown party.

Despite finding a substantial amount of marijuana, drug paraphernalia, surveillance equipment and a loaded gun in a student’s dorm room, Albright did not follow its own policies and refer this obvious evidence of criminal activity to law enforcement. Albright’s policy was to provide “an educational environment, which ensures that the safety of students, faculty, staff, and guests is protected…”. Although plaintiff did not inform the college of the threats he received, there was substantial evidence from which a jury could conclude that retaliation against a student living in the dorm, near the room with the contraband, was within the “general type of risk” that Albright’s program of safety promised to protect against and, as a result, was foreseeable. Thus, the court erred in granting Albright’s motion for summary judgment.

The trial court erred in applying assumption of the risk. While it may have been prudent for plaintiff to forward the threats he received to the campus police and to have kept his door shut when he heard voices in the hall, his failure to do so did not mean he assumed the risk of being injured in a beating.

The trial court abused its discretion in granting Albright’s motion for summary judgment and dismissing plaintiffs’ complaint with prejudice. Accordingly, the case was remanded for further proceedings.