Illinois Supreme Court Sheds Light on Pleading Requirements for Negligent Supervision Claims
In Doe v. Coe, 2019 IL 123521, the Illinois Supreme Court clarified the elements of three causes of action that are often brought together and decided together — negligent hiring, negligent supervision, and negligent retention. As noted by the court, the manner in which these claims have been adjudicated has led to ambiguity concerning the required legal elements of each of the separate causes of action. Doe takes great care to clear up those ambiguities. In addition, the decision resolves a longstanding variance in negligent supervision decisions by holding that “notice of a particular unfitness” is not a required element for such claims, though it is for claims of negligent hiring and negligent retention. 2019 IL 123521 at ¶61.
The Doe v. Coe Trial Court Decision and Appeal
At issue was the question of whether Doe had adequately pled her claims against the First Congregational Church of Dundee and its youth pastor, Aaron James, for negligently, willfully, and wantonly hiring, supervising, and retaining the church’s Director of Youth Ministries, Chad Coe. In reviewing the trial court’s granting of the church’s motion to dismiss, the court first addressed an overarching question regarding the church’s duty of care to the plaintiff. As for this issue, the court determined that employers have a duty to act reasonably in hiring and retaining employees. This means that employers are to exercise reasonable care in employing only competent individuals. The court determined that this duty is owed to all foreseeable individuals who might be impacted by the employee or his or her employment, such as a customer of a defendant business or a member of a defendant church. In the context of Doe’s claims, the court found that to the extent Doe pled and would be able to prove that the church and/or James hired, supervised, and retained Coe, they had a duty to the plaintiff to do so reasonably.
The most consequential aspect of the court’s decision was its holding on the legal elements of a negligent supervision claim, which have been the subject of divergent appellate opinions. In particular, appellate panels have differed as to the nature of foreseeability required to plead a negligent supervision claim, with some panels requiring only general foreseeability and others requiring that the supervisor/employer have prior notice of a particular unfitness of the subject employee. After noting and reviewing the varying opinions, the court ultimately determined that only “general foreseeability” is required to allege a legally cognizable claim of negligent supervision. 2019 IL 123521 at ¶61. Accordingly, the required elements for pleading such a claim are
- the defendant had a duty to supervise the harming party,
- the defendant negligently supervised the harming party, and
- such negligence proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries. 2019 IL 123521 at ¶52.
With respect to the first element of “duty,” the court decided that an employer’s duty to supervise its employees is general in nature and the extent to which it must do so depends on several factors such as work performed, the employees performing the work, the size of the employer, the type of work, and the employer’s clientele.
With regard to foreseeability, because only “general foreseeability” is required, the court decided there is no need for a plaintiff to allege that a supervisor had prior notice of a particular unfitness. Rather, the court concluded that “reasonable performance” of the duty to supervise would place the supervisor on notice of an employee’s conduct or even prevent the employee’s tortious conduct all together.
Finally, the court reiterated that the required legal elements of a negligent supervision claim differ significantly from claims of negligent hiring or retention, as the latter require plaintiffs to show that the employee was unfit in a particular manner that rendered the plaintiff’s injury foreseeable to a person of ordinary prudence in the employer’s position.
For more information about employment and labor law, see EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION: PRACTICE & PROCEDURE — 2018 EDITION. Online Library subscribers can view it for free by clicking here. If you don’t currently subscribe to the Online Library, visit www.iicle.com/subscriptions.