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Kok v. Tacoma School District No. 10

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

January 22, 2014

RITH KOK, individually and as administrator of the Estate of SAMNANG KOK, deceased; MAKAI JOHNSON-KOK, individually and as a beneficiary of the Estate of SAMNANG KOK; RORTH KOK, individually and as a beneficiary of the Estate of SAMNANG KOK; RY SOU KOK, individually and as a beneficiary of the Estate of SAMNANG KOK; KOSAL KOK, individually and as a beneficiary of the Estate of SAMNANG KOK; and LISA KOK, individually and as a beneficiary of the Estate of SAMNANG KOK; Appellants,
v.
TACOMA SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 10, A MUNICIPAL ENTITY UNDER THE LAWS OF THE State of Washington; and DOUGLAS SENGSABONG CHANTHABOULY and "JANE DOE" CHANTHABOULY, individually and the marital community composed thereof; Respondents.

ORDER GRANTING MOTIONS TO PUBLISH

Respondent, Tacoma School District No. 10, and a non-moving party filed separate motions to publish our October 22, 2013 opinion in this matter. After review of the records and files herein, we grant the motions.

It is ORDERED that the final paragraph that reads "A majority of the panel having determined that this opinion will not be printed in the Washington Appellate Reports, but will be filed for public record pursuant to RCW 2.06.040, it is so ordered." is deleted.

It is further ORDERED that the opinion is now published.

Penoyar, J.

The estate of Samnang Kok (Estate) sued the Tacoma School District (District) for negligence after Douglas Chanthabouly shot Kok in the hallway at Foss High School. To prevail in its negligence action, the Estate had the burden to show that the District had some reason to believe Chanthabouly might be dangerous. The trial court granted summary judgment for the District, finding that Chanthabouly's actions were not foreseeable. The Estate appeals, arguing that foreseeability is an issue for the jury and that the trial judge, whose spouse had previously represented the District on unrelated issues, should have recused herself under the appearance of fairness doctrine. Because Chanthabouly's behavior and medical records did not indicate that he was at risk for harming other students, we hold that the trial court did not err in finding that his actions were not foreseeable by the District. Additionally, the trial judge did not err by denying the Estate's recusal motion because neither she nor her spouse has an interest in the outcome of the present case. We affirm.

FACTS

On January 3, 2007, Chanthabouly fatally shot Kok in the hallway at Foss High School. The Estate brought this claim against the District, arguing that it was negligent by failing to maintain a safe school environment and by enrolling a student with a severe mental illness.

I. Medical History

Chanthabouly was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia following a suicide attempt in January 2005. At the time of his suicide attempt, doctors noted that he was hearing voices; that he claimed to get into fights with people he did not know, and that his thoughts were illogical and his judgment bad. After a brief hospitalization, Chanthabouly received 11 months of outpatient mental health care from Comprehensive Mental Health.[1] His psychiatrists prescribed him antipsychotics, which he took in the morning and at night, to combat his auditory hallucinations. When Chanthabouly's care at Comprehensive Mental Health ended in January 2006, his case manager stated that he was stable while on his medication; he occasionally heard voices, but they did not tell him to harm himself and he was able to separate reality from hallucinations.

Chanthabouly's medical records do not indicate that he was at risk for assaultive behavior. His mental health assessment, completed while he was receiving treatment following his suicide attempt, states that he "has never been assaultive towards others." Clerk's Papers (CP) at 114. His mental health counselor noted that while he continued to have post-treatment auditory hallucinations, they were not usually commanding or threatening. His psychiatrist testified that she did not see any indication that he would harm others. His medical records also contain assessments from Chanthabouly and his mother. Both of them indicated that he was lonely and had difficulty getting along with his peers but that he did not get into fights or arguments.

II. School History

Chanthabouly attended several high schools within the District. He started the 2002-03 school year at Stadium High School, and then transferred to Foss, where his siblings were enrolled. Chanthabouly began the 2003-04 school year at Mount Tahoma High School because his family had moved into Mount Tahoma's attendance area. He transferred from Mount Tahoma to Oakland High School mid-school year, and remained at Oakland for the rest of the year.[2] Chanthabouly began the 2004-05 school year back at Mount Tahoma, but, after his suicide attempt, he transferred to Foss, where his younger brother was enrolled.[3] He remained at Foss from April 2005 until January 2007.

Chanthabouly's school record does not contain any incidents of prior assaultive behavior. His suspension at Stadium was for "defiance of authority" and not for fighting. CP at 342. He complained of bullying while at Mount Tahoma, but his record does not show any acts on his part. Additionally, none of the staff noticed any violent behavior while Chanthabouly was at Foss. His principal testified that Chanthabouly was never referred to him for disciplinary issues. Similarly, his counselor stated that teachers would approach him if they were concerned about a student and that no teachers approached him about Chanthabouly. Chanthabouly's teachers reported that, although he had difficulty participating in class and finishing his assignments, he was cooperative and polite. The school security officer testified that he did not have any ...


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