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Uhr v. East Greenbush Central School District


    Citation. Uhr v. East Greenbush Cent. Sch. Dist., 94 N.Y.2d 32, 720 N.E.2d 886, 698 N.Y.S.2d 609, 1999 N.Y. LEXIS 3435 (N.Y. Oct. 21, 1999)

    Brief Fact Summary. East Greenbush Central School District (Defendant) failed to properly diagnosis Plaintiff’s scoliosis at its early stage. Plaintiff sued under a statute, which requires school authorities to examine students for scoliosis.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A statutory duty does not per se confer a private right of action.

    Facts. Plaintiff was inflicted by scoliosis. The New York Education Law Article, Section 905 requires school authorities in New York to examine students between ages eight and sixteen for scoliosis at least once a year. In the 1992-1993 school year, Plaintiff was screened for scoliosis, but the test was negative. In the following year, Plaintiff was not screened. However, in 1995, as a ninth grader, an examination for scoliosis illustrated that she had the infliction. An examination by an orthopedic doctor concluded that her scoliosis had progressed to the point that surgery was required, instead of the braces that can often be utilized when the condition is diagnosed earlier. Plaintiff sued the Defendant under Section 905 and for common law negligence.

    Issue. Does Section 905, authorize a private right of action?

    Held. No. Judgment affirmed.
    * A statutory command does not necessarily carry with it a right of private enforcement by means of tort litigation. When a statute itself expressly authorizes a private right of action there is no need for further analysis.
    * When a statute is silent, as it is here, courts have had to determine whether a private right of action may be fairly implied. The test for a private right of action is: (1) whether the plaintiff is one of the class for whose particular benefit the statute was enacted; (2) whether recognition of a private right of action would promote the legislative purpose; and, (3) whether creation of such a right would be consistent with the legislative scheme. In this case, Plaintiff has satisfied the first two parts, and the court focuses on the third requirement
    * Plaintiff argued that a private right of action is necessary for enforcement of the statute. However, the Legislature has vested the Commissioner with the power to withhold public funding from noncompliant school districts. Thus, the legislature clearly contemplated administrative enforcement of the statute.
    * In Section 905(2), states that the school district shall not suffer any liability to any person as a result of making such test or examination. Therefore, Section 905 (2) is compelling evidence that the Legislature did not intend to provide a private right of action. However, Plaintiff claims that Section 905(2) only applies when there was an examination, not when Defendant fails to perform an examination. Plaintiff interprets the statute as conferring immunity for misfeasance, but not nonfeasance. The court disagreed.
    * The court in Bello v. Board of Education stated in dicta that “the legislature did not intend to impose liability either for the making of the tests, or for the failure to make the tests.” Shortly after Bello, the Legislature amended Section 905 (2), but only to require parental notification and not to confer a private right of action. This is strong evidence of the Legislature’s conclusion that the court in Bello correctly interpreted the statute’s failure to confer a private right of action.
    * There is also the concern of cost to the school districts. Orthopedists agreed to volunteer their time and expertise to train school personnel on the simple examination procedure. The Legislature did not intend that the districts bear the potential liability for a program that benefits a far wider population.
    * Plaintiffs did not state a cause of action for common law negligence

    Discussion. A statutory duty does not per se confer a private right of action. If a statute is silent as to a private right of action, then the three-pong test should be applied.


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