Doe v. Adkins

Decision Date26 August 2021
Docket NumberNO. 20CA08,20CA08
Citation178 N.E.3d 947
Parties Mother Doe, as Parent and Next Friend of STUDENT DOE, a minor, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Amy ADKINS fka Lugones, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
CourtOhio Court of Appeals

Randall L. Lambert and Cassaundra L. Sark, Ironton, Ohio, for appellants.

Charles K. Gould, Huntington, West Virginia, for appellee.

DECISION AND JUDGMENT ENTRY

ABELE, J.

{¶1} This is an appeal from a Lawrence County Common Pleas Court judgment that denied a motion to dismiss filed by Fairland Local School District Board of Education (FLSB) and Troy Glenn Dillon, defendants below and appellants herein. Appellants assign two errors for review:

FIRST ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR:
"THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY DENYING DEFENDANTS/APPELLANTS FAIRLAND LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF EDUCATION AND TROY GLENN DILLON'S MOTION TO DISMISS BY HOLDING THAT
THE AFORESAID DEFENDANTS WERE NOT ENTITLED TO IMMUNITY, PURSUANT TO R.C. 2744.02, REGARDING PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE'S CLAIMS BASED ON NEGLIGENCE."
SECOND ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR:
"THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY DENYING DEFENDANTS/APPELLANTS FAIRLAND LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF EDUCATION AND TROY GLENN DILLON'S MOTION TO DISMISS BY HOLDING THAT THE AFORESAID DEFENDANTS WERE NOT ENTITLED TO IMMUNITY, PURSUANT TO R.C. 2744.02, REGARDING PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE'S INTENTIONAL TORT CLAIM."

{¶2} This appeal arises from allegations of inappropriate sexual contact between a Fairland High School (FHS) Spanish teacher, Amy Adkins (fka Lugones), and Student Doe, a 15-year-old student. During the 2017-2018 school year, Adkins seduced the student through text messages, the internet, and physical contact. On Saturday, April 7, 2018, the relationship culminated in sexual intercourse.

{¶3} By Monday, April 9, 2018, rumors of the sexual encounter began to circulate throughout FHS. A few days later, after FHS Principal Troy Glenn Dillon heard the allegations, Dillon met with the student to discuss the rumor. Initially, the student denied the truth of the rumor and indicated that he actually started the rumor "simply to joke with the guys." Dillon also met with Adkins to discuss the rumor and she likewise denied the rumor was true.

{¶4} The next day, Dillon contacted the student's mother to request a meeting. During this meeting, the student admitted that he and Adkins had engaged in sexual intercourse. Law enforcement officers subsequently investigated, and FLSB terminated Adkins’ employment.

{¶5} On March 17, 2020, the student's mother, as Parent and Next Friend, filed a complaint against Adkins, FLSB, and Dillon and asserted six causes of action: (1) civil assault and battery; (2) negligent hiring, retention, training, and supervision; (3) negligent supervision; (4) negligence of Principal Dillon; (5) negligence per se; and (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress.

{¶6} Appellee first asserted that Adkins’ conduct constituted assault and battery that resulted in severe emotional and other compensatory damages.

{¶7} In her second claim for relief, appellee alleged that FLSB was negligent in its "hiring, retention, training, supervision, and monitoring of faculty, school staff, and students." Appellee specifically claimed that FLSB breached its duty of due care in its hiring, retention, training, and supervision in the following respects:

a. Failed to perform an adequate background check on [Adkins];
b. Failed to make adequate inquiry or investigation of [Adkins’] prior work and personal history and inappropriate relationships with minor students;
c. Permitted [Adkins] to engage in conduct which demonstrated that she was befriending and establishing an emotional connection with Student Doe to lower his inhibitions for the purpose of an inappropriate emotional, romantic, and sexual relationship;
d. Failed to take appropriate measures to prevent the sexual advances and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature perpetrated by [Adkins];
e. Permitted Student Doe to be alone with [Adkins] despite conduct reasonably suggesting that [Adkins] presented a substantial risk of sexual abuse and harassment to Student Doe;
f. Failed to implement methods, means, or procedures to adequately monitor the social media and electronic communications policy as between staff and students;
g. Failed to adequately train teachers, staff, and school administration to recognize, prevent, and/or report indications of inappropriate conduct as between staff and students;
h. Failed to provide appropriate instruction to students regarding personal safety, sexual abuse, and assault prevention; and
i. Failed to make adequate inquiry or investigation when evaluating [Adkins’] sexually aggressive behavior toward Student Doe.

{¶8} Appellee further claimed that FLSB was aware, or should have been aware if it had conducted an adequate investigation into Adkins’ work history, that Adkins "had a history of abusive, aberrant, suspicious, improper, and inappropriate conduct making sexual abuse and harassment of Student Doe foreseeable." Appellee likewise alleged that FLSB was aware, "or could have discovered through adequate inquiry or investigation, that [Adkins] was engaging in grooming, encouraging, or consummating an inappropriate relationship with Student Doe and committing acts of sexual abuse of Student Doe."

{¶9} In her third claim for relief, appellee asserted that FLSB negligently supervised the student. She claimed that FLSB "breached its duty to exercise over Student Doe any degree of supervision to protect Student Doe from unwanted sexual abuse and harassment at the hands of [Adkins]." Appellee further alleged that FLSB acted negligently by allowing the student to be alone with Adkins "despite conduct reasonably suggesting that [Adkins] presented a substantial risk of sexual abuse and harassment to Student Doe."

{¶10} In her fourth claim for relief, appellee claimed that Dillon acted negligently by failing to timely report and investigate Adkins’ behavior. Appellee alleged that Dillon's failures "led to continued inappropriate contact between [Adkins] and Student Doe."

{¶11} Appellee's fifth claim for relief asserted that FLSB was negligent per se under R.C. 2151.421. Appellee claimed that FLSB "had a duty to timely report suspected sexual abuse, harassment, or neglect to District officials and an appropriate social services or law enforcement agency" and that FLSB "knew or should have known that [Adkins] was engaging in verbal and physical behavior that was sexually abusive to Student Doe." Appellee alleged that FLSB "breached its duty to timely report the reasonably suspected abuse of Student Doe as required by the Ohio Revised Code and established District policies." She further claimed that FLSB's "breach [of its duties] led to the sexual abuse of Student Doe."

{¶12} In her sixth claim for relief, appellee alleged that Adkins and FLSB intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon Student Doe. Appellee asserted that FLSB "engaged in an intentional, wanton, and reckless course of unreasonable and offensive conduct by hiring a sexual pedophile to teach at FHS, and after knowing [Adkins’] employment created a substantial risk of sexual abuse and harassment to Student Doe, failed to take any appropriate remedial steps to timely report, stop, warn, prevent, or ensure the sexual advances and/or in [sic] verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature did not continue."

{¶13} On June 8, 2020, appellants filed a Civ.R. 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. Appellants asserted that under R.C. Chapter 2744, they are immune from liability.

{¶14} At the hearing to consider appellants’ motion, appellee raised a new argument to attempt to defeat appellants’ claim of political-subdivision immunity that not only did R.C. 2744.02(B)(2) and (B)(5) remove appellants’ general grant of immunity, but also the R.C. 2744.02(B)(4) physical-defect exception removes appellants’ immunity. Appellee argued that a physical defect existed because surveillance cameras may not have functioned properly, and if they had, appellants would have learned about Adkins’ behavior before the inappropriate sexual contact.

{¶15} The trial court overruled appellantsmotion to dismiss and this appeal followed.

{¶16} In their two assignments of error, appellants assert that the trial court erred by denying their motion to dismiss the complaint on the basis of political-subdivision immunity. Because the same standard of review and general principles apply to both assignments of error, for ease of discussion we consider them together.

ASTANDARD OF REVIEW

{¶17} Appellate courts conduct a de novo review of trial court decisions that grant or deny a Civ.R. 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss.1 Alexander Local School Dist. Bd. of Edn. v. Village of Albany, 2017-Ohio-8704, 101 N.E.3d 21, ¶ 22 (4th Dist.) ; e.g., Menorah Park Ctr. for Senior Living v. Rolston , 164 Ohio St.3d 400, 2020-Ohio-6658, 173 N.E.3d 432, citing Lunsford v. Sterilite of Ohio, L.L.C. , 162 Ohio St.3d 231, 2020-Ohio-4193, 165 N.E.3d 245. We, therefore, afford no deference to the trial court's decision, but instead, independently review the trial court's decision. Struckman v. Bd. of Edn. of Teays Valley Local School Dist. , 4th Dist. Pickaway No. 16CA10, 2017-Ohio-1177, 2017 WL 1193817, ¶ 18.

{¶18} Additionally, "[w]hether a party is entitled to immunity is a question of law properly determined by the court prior to trial pursuant to a motion for summary judgment [or a motion to dismiss]." Pelletier v. Campbell , 153 Ohio St.3d 611, 2018-Ohio-2121, 109 N.E.3d 1210, ¶ 12, citing Conley v. Shearer , 64 Ohio St.3d 284, 292, 595 N.E.2d 862 (1992). Hence, appellate courts also conduct a de novo review of a trial court's determination regarding political-subdivision immunity. Wright v. Village of Williamsport , 4th Dist., 2019-Ohio-2682, 140 N.E.3d 1, ¶ 15 (citations omitted).

BMOTION TO DISMISS

{¶19} Civ.R. 12(B)(6) allows a party to file a motion to dismiss a complaint...

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