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Cope v. Utah Valley State College, 2014 UT 53, — P.3d —- (Nov. 21, 2014)

Nov 21, 2014

In this case dealing with the common law public duty doctrine, the Supreme Court reversed in part prior case law and clarified that doctrine. Plaintiff was injured while she was a dancer on defendant college’s ballroom dancing team and was practicing with a partner. She sued the college, and the district court granted summary judgment on grounds that under the common law public duty doctrine, defendant college owed no duty of care to plaintiff because there was no special relationship. In Cope v. Utah Valley State College, 2012 UT App 319, the Court of Appeals reversed, finding there was a special relationship so that this exception to the public duty doctrine applied. In a significant decision, the Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeals but for different reasons. The Supreme Court held that the doctrine does not even apply to ballroom dancing instruction because that instruction is not a public duty “owed to the general public at large” or in the instant situation to the college’s student body and faculty. In the decision, however, the Court examined the common law public duty doctrine in depth, and affirmed its continued applicability in Utah despite the later adoption of the Utah Governmental Immunity Act. It also reversed a prior public duty case, Webb v. University of Utah, 2005 UT 80, 125 P.3d 906, to the extent that Webb states or implies the public duty doctrine applies to acts of a public entity, finding that the doctrine applies only a public entity’s omissions.