Monday, June 8, 2009
C.A. Tosses Molestation Suit Against San Bernardino Schools
Panel Says Teacher’s Former Employer Not Liable for Alleged Predation at Another School
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A school district that fails to act on suspicions that a teacher has molested a student cannot be held liable if that teacher later molests a pupil at another school, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
Div. Two affirmed the dismissals of suits brought on behalf of four first-grade pupils in San Bernardino County’s Central School District, who were alleged victims of Eric Norman Olsen.
Olsen was sentenced to five years in prison in 2007 for molesting six pupils, charges to which he pled no contest. He worked as a substitute teacher in at least 17 school districts in three counties, and once told police he may have molested as many as 200 pupils in the three years he taught, according to news reports.
School Districts Sued
The families of four Central District victims sued, among other defendants, the San Bernardino City Unified School District, the Chino Valley Unified School District, and the Ontario-Montclair School District, alleging those districts breached their mandatory statutory duty to report their suspicions about Olsen to police or child welfare authorities. San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Barry L. Plotkin sustained demurrers on the ground that the districts owed no such duties to the plaintiffs.
Plotkin cited Randi W. v. Muroc Joint Unified School Dist. (1997) 14 Cal.4th 1066, which held that the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act does not protect subsequent victims of molestation based on a mandatory reporter’s past failures to do what the statute requires.
Under CANRA, various professionals who may come into contact with a child, such as teachers, clergy members, health care workers, child care workers, doctors and social workers, are required to report any knowledge, observation, or reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect that arises within the scope of the reporter’s practice or employment. Failure to report may result in both criminal and civil liability.
‘Inappropriate and Improper’
The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant districts knew of “inappropriate and improper” conduct by Olsen, and that the San Bernardino and Chino Valley districts barred him from teaching there after he allowed children to sit on his lap, but that no CANRA-mandated reports were filed.
Plotkin rejected the plaintiffs’ contention that Randi W. was abrogated when CANRA was amended in 2000.
Justice Douglas Miller, writing for the Court of Appeal in Friday’s ruling, which dealt only with the appeals of dismissals in favor of the San Bernardino schools, agreed with the trial judge. (The court Friday also affirmed, in an unpublished opinion, the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims against the Chino Valley district.)
The substance of the 2000 amendment, Miller wrote, was to alter a provision defining “child care custodian” in connection with the designation of such persons as mandatory reporters. Under the prior law, teachers and other school personnel were included in the definition of child care custodian.
The amendment deleted “child care custodian” and various other categories of mandatory reporters, and created a new, comprehensive list of such reporters, including all of the persons previously listed within the eliminated categories, including teachers, instructional aides and classified school employees.
The intent, Miller said, was to reorganize the list, not to undermine the validity of Randi W.’s holding that the failure of a child care custodian to report did not create a cause of action in favor of a subsequent victim. The amendment, the justice said, made “no substantive change in the categories of individuals and their duties.”
Attorneys on appeal were Michael J. Bidart, Gregory Bentley, and Steven M. Schuetze of Shernoff, Bidart, Darras & Echeverria and Thomas V. Girardi and V. Andre Rekte of Girardi & Keese for the plaintiffs and Sarah L. Overton of Cummings, McClorey, Davis, Acho & Associates for the San Bernardino district.
The case is P.S. v. San Bernardino City Unified School District, 09 S.O.S. 3222.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company