THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Supreme Court
Linda L. Etheredge, as
of the Estate of Ernest
Dunlap, III, Deceased, Respondent,
Richland School District
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF
Appeal From Richland County
L. Casey Manning, Circuit Court Judge
Opinion No. 25159
Heard January 19, 2000 - Filed June 26, 2000
Charles E. Carpenter, Jr., Donald V. Richardson, III,
Georgia Anna Mitchell and S. Elizabeth Brosnan, all
of Richardson, Plowden, Carpenter & Robinson, PA,
of Columbia, for petitioner.
Henry Hammer, Howard Hammer, and John W.
Carrigg, Jr., all of Hammer, Hammer, Carrigg &
Potterfield, of Columbia; and Douglas N. Truslow, of
Columbia, for respondent.
PER CURIAM: We granted certiorari to review the opinion of
the Court of Appeals in Etheredge v. Richland School District One, 330 S.C.
447, 499 S.E.2d 238 (Ct. App.1998). We reverse.
On January 25, 1994, Ernest Dunlap (Dunlap), was shot and
killed by Floyd Brown (Floyd), a student at Eau Claire High School (Eau
Claire), while standing in the hallway during a class change. Linda
Etheredge (Etheredge), personal representative of the estate of Dunlap filed
an action against Richland County School District One (School District)
alleging wrongful death. The School District moved for summary judgment
averring that the actions were barred by the South Carolina Tort Claims Act.
S.C. Code Ann. §§ 15-78-10, et seq. (Supp. 1999).
The evidence submitted to the trial court at the summary
judgment hearing consisted primarily of several affidavits. The School
District submitted the affidavits of two Eau Claire employees (1) Dorothy
Walker, a teacher and (2) Ellen Mosely, the principal at the time of the
shooting. Etheredge submitted the affidavit of Harland Brown (Brown), one
of the campus monitors employed by the school.
Brown was employed at Eau Claire from September 1993
through February 1994. In his affidavit, he stated that he was informed that
his job would entail breaking up fights, preventing the students from having
drugs and alcohol on the premises at the high school, and providing security
for the school. Brown alleged that he received absolutely no training from
the School District or Eau Claire.
Brown asserted that he was not given the proper equipment to
perform his job 1 and his requests to the School District for the appropriate
equipment were ignored. He also insisted that he needed the authority to
possibly a sidearm, a night stick, a flashlight, chemical mace, and handcuffs
and/or other restraining devices.
search the persons, bookbags or lockers of the students. Brown described the
situation at Eau Claire as very volatile. He expressed his belief that
students apprehended for criminal activity were never disciplined in a
manner consistent with the severity of their offense. He was present at Eau
Claire in his capacity as campus monitor on the day of the shooting.
The trial court granted the School District's motion based on S.C.
Code Ann. § 15-78-60 (Supp. 1999). 2 Etheredge appealed.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding
that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment and finding that
there was sufficient evidence to create a jury question whether the School
District acted in a grossly negligent manner. We granted the School
District's petition for a writ of certiorari.
The School District argues that the Court of Appeals erred in
holding that Brown's affidavit created a genuine issue of material fact
whether the School District was grossly negligent. We agree.
A governmental entity is not liable for a loss resulting from the
"responsibility or duty including but not limited to supervision, protection,
control, confinement, or custody of any student . . . except when the
responsibility or duty is exercised in a grossly negligent manner." S.C. Code
Ann. § 15-78-60(25) (Supp. 1999).
Gross negligence is the intentional conscious failure to do
something which it is incumbent upon one to do or the doing of a thing
intentionally that one ought not to do. Clyburn v. Sumter County District
Seventeen, 317 S.C. 50, 451 S.E.2d 885 (1994); Richardson v. Hambright,
296 S.C. 504, 374 S.E.2d 296 (1988). It is the failure to exercise slight care.
Clyburn, supra. Gross negligence has also been defined as a relative term,
and means the absence of care that is necessary under the circumstances.
Hollins v. Richland County School District One, 310 S.C. 486, 427 S.E.2d 654
(1993). Additionally, while gross negligence ordinarily is a mixed question of
law and fact, when the evidence supports but one reasonable inference, the
(4), (5), (9), (20), and (25).
question becomes a matter of law for the court. Clyburn, supra.
Summary judgment is appropriate when it is clear that there is
no genuine issue of material fact and the conclusions and inferences to be
drawn from the facts are undisputed. SSI Medical Services. Inc. v. Cox, 301
S.C. 493, 392 S.E.2d 789 (1990). In ruling on a motion for summary
judgment, the evidence and the inferences which can be drawn therefrom
should be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id.
In Clyburn, supra, we affirmed the decision of the Court of
Appeals and the lower court granting summary judgment to the School
District. We held that the School District was not grossly negligent as a
matter of law in its handling of a dispute between a student and a
nonstudent where the nonstudent attacked the student on a school bus with
a knife. After hearing of the initial altercation on the bus, the school bus
administrator called the student and the nonstudent's sister into the office to
discuss the situation, warned the sister that the nonstudent sister would face
criminal charges if she boarded the bus again and attempted to contact the
parents. The bus driver watched for the nonstudent and stated she would
not stop the bus if she saw the nonstudent. We found that the intervention
showed that the School District exercised at the very least "slight care."
In Hollins, supra, we found that whether the School District
exercised "slight care" in sending a note home with an eleven-year old
student who lost her bus privileges was a question for the jury. The
suspension notice was given to the child and not directly to her mother.
While walking home, the eleven-year old was fatally struck by an automobile
while attempting to cross the highway. We said that the school itself created
the risk by failing to give adequate notice to the parent about the
suspension. We took notice of the age difference between the parties and
distinguished the steps taken by the administrators in Clyburn to control the
In this case, the students were high school age and the School
District had no direct knowledge or notice of the animosity between Dunlap
and Floyd. The only reasonable inference that can be drawn is that the
School District, at the very least, exercised "slight care" to ensure the safety
of its students. The principal, assistant principal and the two security
monitors constantly monitored the hallways and were in constant contact
with each other by walkie talkies. The teachers stood in their doorways to
watch students during the change of class. Some of the doors were locked to
limit the flow of traffic. A list of suspended students was circulated daily.
There was an intervention system set up to help resolve conflicts between
the students. At the very least, "slight care" was taken.
Brown's affidavit describes what he finds to be deficiencies at
Eau Claire, but there is no evidence in Brown's affidavit that links these
deficiencies or the School District's failure to provide him with a uniform,
night stick or to properly train him to the prevention of this tragic incident.
Further, the fact that the School District might have done more does not
negate the fact that it exercised "slight care."
The School District also argues that the Court of Appeals
erroneously interpreted the School District's Answer as an admission that
the School District had notice, before the shooting, of the problems between
Dunlap and Floyd. We agree.
Paragraph three (3) of the School District's answer states:
The Defendant admits that Earnest Dunlap,
III was shot and killed while attending Eau Claire
High School as a student. The Defendant further
admits that prior to this incident, Ernest Dunlap,
III's actions toward the pupil who shot him created a
belief by that pupil that such pupil was in imminent
danger of losing his life or sustaining serious bodily
There is no indication from this language that the School District knew
about the specific problems between these two students. Nor is there an
admission that the School District had advance notice that a shooting was
about to happen. The answer merely attempts to state the belief of Floyd.
Based on the foregoing, the Court of Appeals is