Tony Stark entered a new world of liability in Captain America Civil War. No, not a products liability case for building another murdering robot. No, not a 1983 action for holding super-heroes in a submarine prison in violation of their civil rights. This time, Tony took a minor out of the United States, without a passport, to fight other super-heroes, in Germany. Does this mean Tony Stark committed child endangerment of Peter Parker?
Sure, Peter Parker is Spider-Man, but Pete is also a high school student and a minor. Did Tony have Aunt May sign a permission slip? Or consent for medical treatment if Peter was hurt? Did Tony explain all of the possible risks to Aunt May of fighting Captain America, Bucky, Falcon, Ant-Man, or the Scarlet Witch?
Tony Stark met with Peter Parker at the Queens home of Peter’s aunt. As such, New York law will be applied. The Empire State states that a person is guilty of endangering the welfare of a child when:
- He or she knowingly acts in a manner likely to be injurious to the physical, mental or moral welfare of a child less than seventeen years old or directs or authorizes such child to engage in an occupation involving a substantial risk of danger to his or her life or health; or
- Being a parent, guardian or other person legally charged with the care or custody of a child less than eighteen years old, he or she fails or refuses to exercise reasonable diligence in the control of such child to prevent him or her from becoming an “abused child,” a “neglected child,” a “juvenile delinquent” or a “person in need of supervision,” as those terms are defined in articles ten, three and seven of the family court act.
Penal Law § 260.10 (Consol., Lexis Advance through 2016 released chapters 1-31, 50-53, 56).
Tony Stark purposefully asked Peter Parker to go to Germany with him to subdue Captain America’s Avengers. This would require confronting, and possibly fighting, the greatest soldier ever, one of the greatest assassins ever, one who can warp reality, one who can defy the laws of physics, and a flying hero who is well armed. This unquestionably showed Stark “knowingly [acting] in a manner likely to be injurious to the physical, mental or moral welfare of a child less than seventeen years old.”
Stark arguably was employing Parker, which qualifies as authorizing a child to “engage in an occupation involving a substantial risk of danger to his or her life or health.” As Spider-Man did take his share of hits from other heroes, the black eye given to him by Steve from Brooklyn is Exhibit A to the health danger.
The issue of whether Tony Stark contributed to Peter Parker being a juvenile delinquent might turn in Stark’s favor. Under New York law, a “Juvenile Delinquent” is someone who is over seven and less than sixteen years old who commits a crime if an adult did the criminal action, however, the youth is not criminally responsible because of age. NY CLS Family Ct Act § 301.2.
Asking a teenager to be a vigilante would be a crime, as it is asking a youth to join a conspiracy to commit assault, the intentional causing of injury to another person. NY CLS Penal § 120.05(1).
Courts do not take kindly to vigilantism. As New York Judge Vito Titone stated in a case with an prosecutor who abused his power:
A person charged with or suspected of the most heinous of crimes is still entitled to the fundamental fairness encompassed by the notion of due process. “Vigilante Justice” is abhorrent to our concept of jurisprudence whether the end product be a body dangling from a rope, or a person charged with a crime as a result of lawless conduct on the part of an overzealous prosecutor. The latter indeed is reprehensible since both society and the accused are victimized by one sworn to uphold the law.
People v. Rao (App.Div. 1980) 73 A.D.2d 88, 100 citing People v Isaacson, 44 NY2d 511, p 524 (originally cited in Can Matt Murdock be Disbarred for Vigilantism?).
The wrinkle here is Iron Man is a state actor, even if his actions are highly Constitutionally suspect. As such, Peter Parker likely registered himself with the Sokovia Accords (raising the issue of whether a minor can legally register themselves with the Sokovia Accords). There are definitely murky legal issues, however, Tony Stark arguably was not outright contributing to the delinquency of a minor by asking Spider-Man to join the fight against Captain America.
Child endangerment on the other hand, totally.