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Court denies Wilton’s motion to dismiss in sexual abuse case

November 13, 2017

By Jeannette Ross, Wilton Bulletin (November 10, 2017) -- Unless there is a settlement, it appears the sexual abuse lawsuit filed against the Town of Wilton and Board of Education will go to trial early next year, after Judge Charles T. Lee denied the town’s motion to dismiss “in its entirety” on Thursday, Nov. 9.

The lawsuit, referred to as  Girl Doe PPA v. Wilton Board of Education et al, alleges that a 4-year-old preschool student at Miller-Driscoll School was molested by former paraprofessional Eric Von Kohorn when he took her to the bathroom on Dec. 21, 2012. District policy prohibits a male employee taking a female student into the bathroom alone. The plaintiffs also allege Dr. Fred Rapczynski, head of the preschool, failed to make a timely report to the Department of Children and Families after the girl’s parents brought the matter to his attention. The suit further alleges Rapczynski also failed to inform the family that he submitted a second report to DCF which indicated that Von Kohorn subsequently admitted he had taken the girl to the bathroom alone, although he said he remained outside the stall.

The plaintiffs argue the Wilton Board of Education is responsible for Rapczynski’s omissions and staff members who failed to prevent Von Kohorn’s actions. They further argue the town is thus responsible for the acts of its employees.

The town filed its motion for summary judgment on March 2, on the grounds that these acts were a discretionary governmental duty, rather than a ministerial duty and thus it is entitled to governmental immunity. It also argued it is not liable because it was not apparent any harm to the girl was imminent or apparent.

In his ruling Lee wrote, “the court finds that it is not apparent from the complaint or the evidence submitted on this motion that the acts or omissions complained of necessarily involved the exercise of judgment. Accordingly, the characterization of the defendants’ actions as discretionary or ministerial presents a question of fact for the jury to decide.”

Emotional distress

The lawsuit also alleges emotional distress caused to the girl’s parents. To these counts Lee wrote the court interpreted the law “to require notification of the Doe parents after the second report to the DCF … .” Doing so would promote the purpose of the law, which is “to strengthen the family and to make the home safe by enhancing the parental capacity for good child care.”

“Advising the parents of Von Kohorn’s admission of violating the school toileting policy was important to enhancing the parents’ ‘capacity for good child care,’” he wrote.

As a result, Lee wrote, “The defendants are not protected by governmental immunity and can be held liable if the plaintiffs establish the elements of a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim.”

The judge also ruled the town cannot escape liability on the argument it is protected by governmental immunity, and the motion for summary judgment was denied on that basis as well.

A trial management conference is scheduled for Feb. 14, 2018, and jury selection is scheduled for March 6 in Stamford Superior Court.

Judge Lee’s full decision may be read here: DocumentInquiry

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