Schools Not Liable For Teacher’s Sexual Abuse
A federal appeals court upheld a judge’s dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a former high school student who was sexually abused by a teacher.
The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals said U.S. District Judge Christopher C. Conner correctly ruled Alexandra Kobrick could not recover damages from the Lakeland or Western Wayne school districts because there was insufficient evidence to support her claim the districts knew or should have known about the abuse.
As a policy, The Times-Tribune does not identify victims of sexual assault. However, Kobrick agreed to be identified.
Kobrick filed suit in 2013 against the districts and Matthew Stevens, a former band teacher who pleaded guilty in Lackawanna County Court in June 2014 to corruption of a minor for having a sexual relationship with Kobrick while she was a student at Lakeland in 2011-12.
The lawsuit alleged Lakeland school officials missed signs that Stevens had an inappropriate relationship with Kobrick. It faulted Western Wayne for failing to adequately investigate allegations Stevens had a relationship with a different student there before he joined the Lakeland School District.
In upholding Conner’s ruling, the 3rd Circuit Court said evidence showed Lakeland officials were unaware of any sexual conduct until Kobrick came forward to report the abuse in 2013, after she graduated. The law requires they had “actual notice” of the conduct to be held liable.
Regarding Western Wayne, the court noted officials there investigated the case of the other student, but she denied the allegation. Although district officials possibly could have done more, their actions did not rise to the level of “deliberate indifference,” which is required to prove the claim, it said.
Stevens previously agreed to a $4 million judgment against him in the civil suit, but Kobrick has not yet been able to collect because Stevens did not have insurance coverage, said her attorney, Daniel Munley of Scranton. Munley said he has taken steps to protect Kobrick’s ability to recover damages in the future and hopes she will be able to do so.
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