Quelle limite à la responsabilité civile des établissements sociaux ?

agression

Par arrêt du Conseil d’État en date du 17 décembre 2008, il a été jugé que les dommages causés par un mineur confié à un foyer d’action éducative au titre de l’assistance éducative engageaient la responsabilité civile de ce dernier, alors même que l’enfant n’était pas sous sa surveillance.

Le sens de la décision est aussi simple qu’abrupt : lorsqu’un mineur confié au titre de l’assistance éducative à un établissement spécialisé cause un dommage à un tiers, la responsabilité civile de cet établissement est engagée, le fait que le mineur n’était pas, au moment des faits, sous sa surveillance effective demeurant sans importance.

En l’espèce, un mineur confié par le juge des enfants à un foyer d’action éducative relevant de la direction de la protection judiciaire de la jeunesse, au titre de l’article 375 et suivants du code civil, avait commis une agression sur un jeune alors qu’il se trouvait dans l’enceinte du lycée agricole où il était scolarisé.

Pour condamner l’État à payer la somme de 2.500 € à la victime, le Conseil d’État a retenu la responsabilité sans faute de l’établissement. Il a en effet considéré :

« que la décision par laquelle le juge des enfants confie la garde d’un mineur, dans le cadre d’une mesure d’assistance éducative […], transfère à la personne qui en est chargée la responsabilité d’organiser, de diriger et contrôler la vie du mineur ; qu’en raison des pouvoirs dont l’État se trouve ainsi investi lorsque le mineur a été confié à un service ou établissement qui relève de son autorité, sa responsabilité est engagée, même sans faute, pour les dommages causés aux tiers par ce mineur. »

La circonstance « que le mineur ne se trouvait pas, au moment des faits, sous la surveillance effective du service ou de l’établissement qui en a la garde » est sans importance.

La Haute juridiction administrative ajoute deux points :

  • seul un cas de force majeure ou une faute de la victime aurait pu supprimer ou atténuer cette responsabilité,
  • la réparation des préjudices causés par le mineur n’est point subordonnée à l’existence d’un caractère anormal ou spécial du risque.

Ce faisant, les juges du Palais Royal adoptent une position symétrique à celle de leurs collègues du Quai de l’horloge ((Autrement dit, la Cour de cassation.)) sur la mise en cause de la responsabilité des établissements, lorsque les enfants confiés au titre de l’assistance éducative sont sous la surveillance d’autres personnes. Tel est le cas, par exemple, des dommages causés par un mineur à l’occasion  d’un séjour chez ses parents ((Cass. Crim, 8 janvier 2008, n° 07-81.725.)) ou lors de l’accomplissement d’un stage agricole ((Cass. Civ. 2ème, 22 mai 2003, n° 01-15.311.)).

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