A federal judge yesterday dismissed some of the claims in a lawsuit filed in 2019 against the Riverhead Central School District and school officials for the alleged sexual abuse of a high School student by former principal Charles Regan.
The judge dismissed the plaintiff’s claims arising under federal law but allowed claims arising under New York State law to proceed.
Plaintiff Anastasia Stapon, then a high school senior, accused Regan of grooming her for a sexual relationship over a period of a few months, then engaging in explicit sexting with her for a month before forcibly kissing her in his office at the high school on April 29, 2019.
Facing disciplinary action, Regan tendered his resignation in August 2019, about a week after Stapon’s lawsuit against him and the district was filed in federal court.
U.S. District Court Judge William Kuntz II yesterday granted the school district’s motion to dismiss claims brought against it under Title IX, a federal civil rights law that protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. The court’s ruling was first reported by the Riverhead News-Review.
“Liability requires a school district official, with the power to remedy the harassment, (to) 1) have actual knowledge of the harassment, and subsequently 2) act with deliberate indifference to it,” the judge wrote.
Plaintiff’s complaint failed to plead facts, which if proven, would be sufficient to show a Title IX violation, the judge ruled.
The district lacked actual knowledge of Regan’s alleged harassment, the judge wrote.
“Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts to support a reasonable inference that anyone, let alone any school official with authority, other than Defendant Regan, knew about Plaintiff’s sexual harassment before April 29, 2019,” the judge wrote.
The school district’s response to the sexual harassment was “clearly reasonable given the known circumstances,” he ruled.
The judge also granted the motion to dismiss claims brought under Section 1983 of U.S. Code Title 42., ruling that the plaintiff did not plausibly plead a section 1983 claim.
Plaintiff did not allege facts sufficient to support liability against the individual school official defendants, the judge ruled.
“Plaintiff fails to allege any facts that would show the individual defendants had knowledge, actual or constructive, such that they could be considered grossly negligent or deliberately indifferent,” he wrote.
The court let stand the plaintiff’s claims under New York State law, which include tort, human rights, assault and fraud claims. The ruling holds that the federal court would retain the state law claims under its supplemental jurisdiction, despite dismissing the federal claims.
Stapon’s attorney, John Ray, hailed the decision to let the state law claims stand and remain in the purview of the federal court as very significant. He said the dismissal of the federal claims is a “pyrrhic victory” for the district.
“All the state claims survived and they are just as valuable and just as potent,” Ray said in an interview. “The federal judge kept the state cases in the federal court. It’s much better to have it there because it will be speedier, by far, to get to verdict and the federal court has a wider pool of jurors,” Ray said.
The federal claims stand against Regan, who did not make a motion to dismiss them, as the school district did.
Regan does not currently have an attorney representing him in the action. His lawyer, Edward Heilig of Holbrook withdrew from the case in March 2020.
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