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Brueckner v. Norwich University

730 A.2d 1086 (1999)

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Brueckner v. Norwich University

Vermont Supreme Court

730 A.2d 1086 (1999)

Facts

William C. Brueckner, Jr. (plaintiff) attended the Military College of Vermont at Norwich University (Norwich) (defendant) on a naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps scholarship. Norwich appointed upperclassmen, known as the cadre, to orient and indoctrinate freshmen, known as rooks. The cadre regularly engaged in hazing. Brueckner lasted only 16 days at Norwich because of the hazing he endured, including an assault and forced calisthenics on an injured shoulder. After Brueckner reported the hazing to campus officials, he believed that the hazing would not stop, so he left campus, and his scholarship was terminated. Although Norwich officially prohibited hazing, hazing was prohibited by the honor code, and Norwich officials trained and advised the cadre not to engage in hazing, senior administration knew about serious cases of hazing before Brueckner was a student and did not make any changes. Officials also knew that rooks were too intimidated to report hazing, and one officer had been discouraged from reporting hazing. However, when hazing was reported to a senior vice president in the past, the perpetrators were disciplined, including suspension and dismissal, and the discipline was publicly announced. Brueckner sued Norwich for assault and battery, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent supervision. A jury awarded Brueckner nearly $500,000 in compensatory damages and $1.75 million in punitive damages. Norwich moved for judgment as a matter of law or for a new trial, arguing that respondeat superior did not apply and that the punitive damages were not supported by evidence of malice. The trial court denied the motions. Norwich appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Amestoy, C.J.)

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