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Riddle v. Buncombe County Board of Education

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

October 17, 2017

NICHOLAS A. RIDDLE, Plaintiff
v.
BUNCOMBE COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION; JAMES BEATTY, in his Individual Capacity, and in his Official Capacity with the Buncombe County Board of Education; and RODERICK BROWN, JR., in his Individual Capacity, and in his Official Capacity with the Buncombe County Board of Education, Defendants

         Appeal by plaintiff from order entered 19 May 2016 by Judge Gary Gavenus in Buncombe County No. 16 CVS 625 Superior Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 19 April 2017.

          Charles G. Monnett III & Associates, by Randall J. Phillips, for plaintiff-appellant.

          York Williams, L.L.P., by Gregory C. York and Jared A. Johnson, for defendant-appellees.

          Ball Barden & Cury, P.A., by Alexandra Cury, for defendant-appellee Roderick Brown, Jr., in his individual capacity.

          CALABRIA, JUDGE.

         Nicholas A. Riddle ("plaintiff") appeals from the trial court's order dismissing his action pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 12(b)(6) (2015). Plaintiff alleged negligent infliction of emotional distress claims against the Buncombe County Board of Education ("BCBE"); James Beatty ("Beatty"), individually and in his official capacity with the BCBE; and Roderick Brown, Jr. ("Brown"), individually and in his official capacity with the BCBE (collectively, "defendants"). On appeal, the issue is whether it was reasonably foreseeable that plaintiff would suffer severe emotional distress as a proximate result of defendants' allegedly negligent acts, which led to the death of plaintiff's teammate and friend, Donald Boyer Crotty ("Crotty"). After careful review, we hold that plaintiff's injury was not reasonably foreseeable. Therefore, we affirm the trial court's order dismissing plaintiff's action.

         I. Background

         As plaintiff's claims were dismissed pretrial pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 12(b)(6), "the facts set forth herein are taken from the allegations of the complaint, which must be taken as true at this point." Johnson v. Ruark Obstetrics & Gynecology Assocs., P.A., 327 N.C. 283, 286, 395 S.E.2d 85, 87, reh'g denied, 327 N.C. 644, 399 S.E.2d 133 (1990).

         In July 2011, Beatty was a teacher and the varsity football coach at T.C. Roberson High School ("T.C. Roberson") in Buncombe County, North Carolina. Plaintiff and Brown were members of the football team. T.C. Roberson football players had access to various equipment, including a John Deere motorized vehicle ("the John Deere") that was routinely used to move items during and after practice. Beatty authorized the team's use of the John Deere, notwithstanding the fact that all players were minors and that none of BCBE's representatives had ever trained or instructed them regarding the vehicle's safe operation.

         According to the complaint, on 11 July 2011, plaintiff, Brown, and other members of the team were scrimmaging and participating in drills on the T.C. Roberson football field. Beatty instructed Brown to use the John Deere to transport large Gatorade coolers across the field from an area near the 50-yard line. Brown, traveling at an unsafe and excessive rate of speed, drove the John Deere across the field as plaintiff, Crotty, and several players walked toward him. When they realized that Brown was driving directly at them, the players moved to avoid the John Deere. However, Brown simultaneously turned the steering wheel to the right and collided with Crotty, entrapping him with the front hood of the vehicle. Crotty's head struck the asphalt running track, and the John Deere's right tires traveled over his body and head. Crotty immediately displayed signs of brain injury and was only partially responsive as witnesses tended to him.

         On 11 February 2016, plaintiff filed the instant action in Buncombe County Superior Court.[1] Plaintiff alleged, inter alia, that Beatty and Brown committed negligent acts that proximately and foreseeably caused plaintiff to suffer severe emotional distress, and that all defendants were jointly and severally liable for plaintiff's injury.[2] On 1 April 2016, defendants filed an answer denying negligence and asserting various affirmative defenses. Defendants' answer also included a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 12(b)(6). Following a hearing, the trial court granted defendants' motion to dismiss. Plaintiff appeals.

         II. Analysis

         Plaintiff argues that the trial court erroneously granted defendants' motion to dismiss because he sufficiently alleged claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress arising out of concern for (1) himself and (2) his teammate and friend, Crotty. We disagree.

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss "tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. In ruling on the motion the allegations of the complaint must be viewed as admitted, and on that basis the court must determine as a matter of law whether the allegations state a claim for which relief may be granted." Stanback v. Stanback, 297 N.C. 181, 185, 254 S.E.2d 611, 615 (1979) (citations omitted). On appeal, "[t]his Court must conduct a de novo review of the pleadings to determine their legal sufficiency and to determine whether the trial court's ruling on the motion to dismiss was ...


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