MSC: Youth facility had no duty to protect against criminal conduct

The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that a youth rehabilitation center had no duty to protect a man who was murdered by an absconder 11 days after the then-16-year-old offender escaped from a juvenile detention facility.

Michael Kirksey had escaped, along with three other boys, from a Starr Commonwealth facility  in Albion. Staff at the private facility discovered his absence from his room at 10:38 p.m., then searched the 400-acre grounds before notifying local law enforcement at 12:19 a.m., nearly two hours later.

The boys made their way into downtown Albion, where they stole a van and headed east to the Detroit area.

One of Kirksey’s companions returned voluntarily to the facility, and the other two were later found and returned by police.

But police didn’t catch up to Kirksey for nearly two weeks. When he was picked up in Southeast Michigan, he confessed to having killed Dominique Wade, who was cleaning  his car in front of his home in Pontiac.

Wade’s estate sued, saying that because Kirksey had a history of violence, and a history of escaping juvenile detention facilities, local authorities should have been called before the search of the grounds.

Under MCL 803.306a, the facility was required to immediately notify a police agency of the escape and the police agency is required to enter that information into the LEIN system.

But in the order in Sharon Brooks v Starr Commonwealth,  “does not create an actionable duty in favor of the general public.

“The principal purpose of the act is to provide for public wards. Further, as the circuit court concluded, under the facts of this case there is no proximate cause, and only speculation, that links the delay in reporting the escape of the public ward and the ward’s intentional killing of the decedent 11 days later.”

Justice Michael F. Cavanagh dissented, stating, ” … on the facts of this case, the evidence of Starr Commonwealth’s violation of MCL 803.306a was sufficient to create a rebuttable presumption of negligence under Klanseck v Anderson Sales & Service Inc … The issue of proximate cause should be submitted to a jury.”

Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly and Justice Diane M. Hathaway joined his dissent.

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