Judge denies motion to dismiss wrongful death lawsuit in murder of Huffman student Courtlin Arrington

A Jefferson County Circuit Court judge has dismissed a motion to dismiss the wrongful death lawsuit filed against former Birmingham City Schools superintendent Lisa Herring and Huffman High School principal Douglas Lyons by the family of Courtlin Arrington, the 17-year-old who was shot and killed by a Huffman classmate in March 2018.

Judge Marshal Jackson Hatcher ruled Friday that Tynesha Tatum, Arrington’s mother, who filed the lawsuit in 2019 in conjunction with her daughter, identified in the lawsuit as GT, “has discharged her burden of establishing the material facts and issues “.

On Wednesday, March 7, 2018, Arrington, then a junior, was shot dead by classmate Michael Barber Jr., outside a school classroom. In the ruling, Judge Hatcher noted that Barber brought a gun into the school through a side door that afternoon, when he and a friend were allowed entry by another student. Barber later said he carried the gun, a 9mm highpoint, for protection, and slipped it into his shorts.

Arrington and other students were outside a classroom when they encountered Barber. She “spotted the handgun in Barber’s shorts,” Hatcher wrote, adding. “According to Barber, Arrington could see the gun. When Barber pulled the handgun out of his shorts to show it to Arrington, the gun fired, shooting Arrington and killing her.

In June 2019, a Jefferson County jury found 18-year-old Barber guilty of criminally negligent homicide, a Class A misdemeanor. He was originally charged with manslaughter, a Class B felony that would have resulted in a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. In August, Barber was sentenced to one year in the Jefferson County jail, the maximum allowed by law.

In the lawsuit, filed in May 2018, attorneys Courtney French and UW Clemon, who represent Tatum and her daughter, claim that Herring and Lyons “willfully, maliciously and in bad faith failed to provide adequate and reasonable safety and security students at Huffman High School and failed to implement adequate security measures to guard against acts of violence.

They also argued that Herring and Lyons “acted beyond their authority” and “thus lost the benefit of state immunity that would otherwise have been granted to them.”

Arguments regarding the motion to dismiss were made before Hatcher in June 2022. In the decision, the judge noted: “Defendants argue that they are entitled to immunity from damages claimed by reason of their alleged inability to put have adequate plans or regulations in place to effectively implement statutory objectives. Yet in defendant Herring’s deposition testimony, she said that as of March 2018, there were no policies related to school safety, security, or emergency preparedness. , only practices, regulations and procedures. »

The defendants also argued, Hatcher wrote “that educators cannot be held responsible for the criminal acts of third parties”, citing the 1991 Alabama case WLO vs. Smith.

Hatcher, however, cited two Alabama cases involving criminal acts committed by a student against another student that “concluded that educators were not entitled to state agent immunity at the trial stage. summary”.

In the ruling, Hatcher ordered the parties to meet with her next Thursday to set a trial date.