Court Denies Bemidji Area Schools’ Motion to Dismiss, Rules for Student Sexual Abuse Survivors

On August 14, 2020, a federal Minnesota court denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss in Doe 1 et al. v. Independent School District 31. The lawsuit alleges that Plaintiffs— two minor female students— were preyed upon and sexually exploited by their assistant principal while attending Bemidji Middle School. The lawsuit further alleges that the school district’s failure to monitor its Internet and device usage, as well as the school district’s failure to investigate reports of sexual exploitation, resulted in the assistant principal’s victimization of at least 55 girls and boys from 2014 through 2017.

Plaintiffs brought claims under Title IX; Section 1983; and state law notions of negligence, negligent supervision, and negligent retention. In denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss in its entirety, the court held: “Taking into account allegations that the District was on clear notice, the egregiousness of the alleged sexual improprieties occurring on District-owned devices, and the elevated statuses of the school officials, Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that the District owed Plaintiffs a duty of care arising out of a special relationship.” Additionally, the court found: “Plaintiffs plausibly allege that the District’s failure to adequately train District personnel ‘regarding how to handle student-on-student harassment’ plausibly ‘resulted in the deprivation of [Plaintiffs’] constitutional right to equal protection’ in the District’s school.”

Nichols Kaster, PLLP proudly represents Plaintiffs and celebrates the impact this decision may have for all sexual abuse survivors in the District of Minnesota. “With its decision, the court recognized that school districts may be held liable when they turn a blind eye to sexual harassment endured by their students,” said attorney Nicole Schladt. “Our clients trusted Bemidji Area Schools to educate their employees and students about social media, sexting, and cyberbullying. Instead, the school district ignored these serious responsibilities and ultimately sheltered a sex harasser.”