Walker v. Barrett

Decision Date18 August 2011
Docket NumberNo. 10–3225.,10–3225.
Citation650 F.3d 1198,271 Ed. Law Rep. 694
PartiesAdam WALKER, Appellant,v.Bradley T. BARRETT; Logan–Rogersville R–VIII School District; John Hetherington, Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit


Rebecca M. Randles, argued, Sarah Alderks Brown, on the brief, Kansas City, MO, for appellant.Stephen Girard Mirakian, argued, David Bell, on the brief, Kansas City, MO, for appellee Barrett.Gerard T. Noce, argued, St. Louis, MO, for appellees Logan–Rogersville R–VIII School District and John Hetherington.Before RILEY, Chief Judge, SMITH, Circuit Judge, and STROM,1 District Judge.SMITH, Circuit Judge.

Adam Walker sued Bradley Barrett, the Logan–Rogersville R–VIII School District (School District), and John Hetherington, asserting nine different claims stemming from Barrett's alleged sexual abuse of Walker. The complaint alleged that the abuse began in 1992, when Walker was 15 years old and a student of Barrett's. The district court,2 in two separate orders, dismissed all of Walker's claims against all three defendants. The court then denied Walker's motion to amend his complaint. Walker now appeals, arguing that the district court erred in dismissing his claims and denying his motion to amend his complaint. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I. Background

At the time of the alleged abuse, Barrett was a vocal music teacher in the School District's junior high and high schools, and Hetherington was the principal at the Logan–Rogersville High School, also in the School District. Walker's complaint alleged that Barrett, as Walker's vocal music teacher, sexually abused Walker “beginning when [Walker] was 15 years old and continuing through his high school years.” The alleged abuse involved “fellatio, forced fellatio, fondling[,] and masturbation.”

On November 19, 2008—three days before his 31st birthday—Walker filed his complaint in the district court. He asserted the following causes of action: (1) childhood sexual abuse, against Barrett; (2) childhood sexual abuse, against the School District and Hetherington; (3) breach of a fiduciary/confidential relationship, against all three defendants; (4) negligent failure to supervise children, against all three defendants; (5) liability under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681–1688, against the School District; (6) liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against all three defendants; (7) intentional infliction of emotional distress, against all three defendants; (8) negligent infliction of emotional distress, against all three defendants; and (9) premises liability, against the School District (“Count 1” through “Count 9,” respectively).

Walker's complaint alleged that Barrett “used his position as the vocal music teacher,” “the promise of travel with high school choral programs,” and “the facilities of the School District in order to “gain access” to Walker. Walker alleged that “Barrett operated choir programs with the endorsement of Defendant School District, using the facilities of the Defendant School District, and under the supervision of the School District and its agents.” He also alleged that the School District and Hetherington “either knew or had constructive knowledge of Defendant Barrett's past history of sexual misconduct with boys, and of his use of choir and vocal programs affiliated with public schools to gain access to young boys in order to commit the sexual abuse and misconduct.” Moreover, in Count 2, his childhood sexual abuse claim against the School District and Hetherington, Walker alleged that the School District and Hetherington “aided and abetted,” “were accessories after the fact to,” and “condoned and ratified” Barrett's sexual abuse of Walker.

The district court granted the School District's and Hetherington's motion to dismiss Counts 2 through 9 of the complaint. The court held that Walker's complaint did not state a valid claim for relief against the School District or Hetherington on Count 2, for childhood sexual abuse. The court concluded that the statute governing such claims, Missouri Revised Statutes § 537.046, does not apply to nonperpetrator defendants; alternatively, the court concluded that even if the School District and Hetherington could be liable under an aider-and-abettor or ratification theory of liability, Walker had failed to allege the factual basis for such a claim. The court also held that the five-year statute of limitations, under Missouri Revised Statutes § 516.120.4, barred all of Walker's remaining claims against all three defendants, including Barrett. The court concluded that Walker's causes of action were capable of ascertainment when he was subjected to the sexual abuse—namely, the forced fellatio—beginning at age 15. As a result, the statute of limitations on Walker's remaining claims expired on November 22, 2003, five years after Walker's 21st birthday. Since Walker filed his suit in 2008, the court dismissed his claims as time-barred.

Thereafter, the district court denied Walker's motion to amend his complaint. The court explained that Walker's proposed amendments, which all related to his claims against the School District and Hetherington, would be futile because Missouri Revised Statutes § 537.046 did not apply to nonperpetrator defendants. The court further determined that none of the proposed allegations would revive Walker's remaining time-barred claims.

Barrett subsequently moved to dismiss Count 1, the childhood sexual abuse claim against him. The court initially denied Barrett's motion, concluding that Walker's claim was not time-barred under the 2004 version of Missouri Revised Statutes § 537.046, which allowed Walker to file suit any time before his 31st birthday. On Barrett's motion to reconsider, however, the court reversed course and held that Walker's claim for childhood sexual abuse against Barrett was time-barred because the 2004 version of § 537.046 could not apply to his claim. The court concluded that Walker “reasonably could have (and in fact did, according to his complaint) discover that the injury or illness was caused by childhood sexual abuse” no later than his 18th birthday. The court based its ruling on its determination that the 1990 version of § 537.046 set the applicable limitations—not the 2004 amendment to that statute. The court stated that, [i]n my order dismissing the childhood sexual abuse case against the school district and the defendant principal, I held that plaintiff's damages were capable of ascertainment by his 18th birthday, which was in November 1995.” Under the 1990 version of § 537.046, Walker had five years from the date of his 18th birthday to file suit. Thus, by the time the statute was amended in 2004, the statute of limitations had expired, and Barrett “had a ‘vested right to be free from suit.’ (Quoting Doe v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City, 862 S.W.2d 338, 341 (Mo.1993) (en banc).) As a result, the district court dismissed Count 1, against Barrett, as time-barred.

II. Discussion

On appeal, Walker argues that the district court erred in dismissing all of his claims against all three defendants. Specifically, he asserts that the court erred in determining that (1) Counts 3 through 9 were time-barred, (2) the claim for childhood sexual abuse against Barrett was time-barred, and (3) the School District and Hetherington could not be liable for childhood sexual abuse. He also maintains that the court erred in denying his motion to amend his complaint.

A. Dismissal of Counts 3 through 9

Walker contends that the district court erred in dismissing Counts 3 through 9. First, he maintains that the court incorrectly concluded that his state-law claims (Counts 3, 4, 7, 8, and 9) were time-barred. Walker asserts that, under Powel v. Chaminade College Preparatory, Inc., 197 S.W.3d 576, 584–85 (Mo.2006) (en banc), the statute of limitations does not accrue at the moment of the “technical wrong” but from the time that substantial injury has occurred and is capable of ascertainment. In other words, he contends that the issue depends on whether the plaintiff's damages—not the wrongful act itself—were objectively capable of ascertainment. According to Walker, this inquiry is fact intensive and should not be resolved on a motion to dismiss, especially here, where Walker argues that he “assimilated the abuse as something else” and could not ascertain his damages until shortly before he filed the lawsuit.

Second, Walker contends that the court incorrectly concluded that his federal claims, under Title IX and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts 5 and 6), were time-barred. He asserts that the statute of limitations for these claims should be governed by the “most appropriate or analogous state statute of limitations,” which, according to him, is the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse claims. Mo.Rev.Stat. § 537.046. Under this statute, for the reasons Walker argues infra, in Part II.B, he maintains that his claims were timely. Alternatively, even under the shorter limitations period provided by Missouri Revised Statutes § 516.120.4, he argues that his damages were not capable of ascertainment until shortly before he filed this lawsuit.

We review de novo the district court's dismissal of an action for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).” O'Neil v. Simplicity, Inc., 574 F.3d 501, 503 (8th Cir.2009). In reviewing a dismissal, [w]e accept the factual allegations of the complaint as true, but the allegations must supply sufficient ‘facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). On a motion to dismiss, [t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing T...

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