Milford asks judge to reconsider ruling in prom date murder lawsuit
MILFORD — The city has asked the judge who refused to throw out a lawsuit filed by the family of Maren Sanchez to reconsider his decision in light of a Supreme Court decision released last week.
A hearing on the motion is scheduled for Feb. 19.
Sanchez was stabbed to death by classmate Christopher Plaskon in April 2014 at Jonathan Law High School after she rebuffed his invitation to the prom.
The lawsuit says that in November 2013, Sanchez reported to the high school guidance department that Plaskon was emotionally disturbed and threatening to commit suicide or acts of serious self-harm with a knife, and she believed it was important for high school personnel to prevent him from engaging in potentially violent conduct.
The main issues in the case: whether school officials had discretion in responding to Sanchez’s warning within the school district’s Suicide Prevention and Intervention Procedure, or SPIP — and whether more of an intervention would have prevented the killing.
State law shields municipalities from liability if employees are negligent in performing discretionary acts, but not necessarily for negligence in the performance of mandatory acts.
Plaskon’s guidance counselor failed to advise the principal, school security or others in the school administration or the state Department of Children and Families of Sanchez’s report, in violation of mandatory school policies and state law, the lawsuit states.
In a Jan. 4 memorandum, Judge Barry Stevens did not accept the argument by the city that Plaskon intended to kill Sanchez and that there were no actions the school system could have taken to prevent it.
“Sanchez’s report that Plaskon was exhibiting suicidal ideation was an indication of an emotional problem sufficient to trigger the mandatory procedure of the Suicide Prevention and Intervention Procedure,” the judge ruled in denying the city’s motion for summary judgment.
But in a Jan. 25 motion, the city says a recent Supreme Court ruling means the judge should reconsider.
The city’s motion points to a Jan. 22 decision by the state Supreme Court it says “clarifies the legal principles” in the case.
In that case, an East Haven cop investigating a possible domestic violence incident in a vehicle couldn’t verify the owner of the car had a valid driver’s license, but declined to order it towed and instead drove the man home.
The owner then returned to his vehicle and drove it away, after which he got into an accident with another man who sued the town for damages.
A jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff, but the appeals court decided the case should have been thrown out because the officer wasn’t obligated to order the man’s car towed.
In Milford’s new motion in the lawsuit, the city says last week’s Supreme Court ruling — Ventura v. East Haven — illustrates why school officials had discretion while responding to Sanchez’s complaint.
“The concepts of whom and what to monitor, how to do so, and how long to do so, are not subject to prescription,” the motion says. “This is because, as in the law enforcement context addressed in Ventura, there is ‘considerable discretion inherent’ in such determinations, due to the ‘array of situations’ which could trigger the SPIP.”
The judge has asked a lawyer representing Sanchez’s family to respond to the city’s filing by Feb. 14.
Plaskon was sentenced on June 7, 2016, to 25 years in prison after he pleaded no contest to murder for stabbing 16-year-old Maren Sanchez to death on April 25, 2014, with a steak knife in the hallway of the high school.
A week later, Sanchez’s mother, Donna Cimarelli-Sanchez, filed suit in Superior Court here against the Plaskon family and the Board of Education seeking damages for her daughter’s death.
The Plaskon family later agreed to pay Cimarelli-Sanchez an undisclosed settlement, ending the lawsuit against them.
Messages were left Wednesday for the lawyers representing Sanchez’s family and the city.