WASHINGTON (CN) – A woman impregnated by her teacher at a school for emotionally disturbed students can sue the man, but cannot pursue claims against the school or its administrators, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg held that all of the federal claims made by the woman, A.B., who is now the mother of a young daughter from the liaison, were legally deficient and that her state-law claims were barred by her failure to provide timely notice to the school district.
According to the underlying lawsuit, A.B., a student at the Transition Academy at Shadd, a special-needs school in the District of Columbia Public School system, was 18 when she became involved in a sexual relationship with her teacher, Robert Weismiller.
The relationship lasted from November 2008 until April 2009, by which time A.B. was pregnant, according to the 32-page Memorandum Opinion.
After learning of her pregnancy, school officials did investigate the relationship between the teacher and student, but confronted with Weismiller’s denials and lack of corroborating evidence, it concluded there was no “definitive proof” Weismiller had engaged in wrongdoing, Judge Boasberg wrote.
Weismiller was let go the following October as part of a systemwide reduction in force.
A.B. sued Weismiller, the school district, its former chancellor, and the District of Columbia, alleging multiple violations of state and federal laws.
The young woman claimed her 6-month relationship with Weismiller was far from an isolated incident and that the teacher had initiated sexual relationships with students as far back as 1976. “In 1984, while teaching middle school in Prince William County, Virginia, plaintiff alleges Weismiller sexually assaulted two eighth-grade students, which resulted in a lawsuit against him and the school board and his subsequent termination,” the judge wrote, citing the amended complaint.
A.B. claimed the school district defendants “knew or should have known that Weismiller had engaged in inappropriate sexual relationships in the past” and were negligent in hiring him.
The District of Columbia, District of Columbia Public Schools and former Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee filed a motion to dismiss.
In a lengthy review of the case, Boasberg ticked off claim after claim, knocking down each of A.B.’s assertions.
To begin with, Boasberg wrote, courts have historically held that the school district was non sui juris – not sue-able as an entity separate from the District of Columbia – and he was not inclined to decide otherwise.
Boasberg said he had to dismiss the claim against the former chancellor, because filing a suit for damages against municipal officials in their official capacities is equivalent to a suit against the municipality itself.
“‘Based upon the understanding that it is duplicative to name both a government entity and the entity’s employees in their official capacity[,]’ courts routinely dismiss claims against the officials to conserve judicial resources when the entity itself is also sued,” Boasberg wrote.
Boasberg also found the claims against the District of Columbia could not stand.
“All that she has alleged is that, since 1976, Weismiller has been involved in
‘inappropriate sexual relationships with at least four other students at other schools in the Washington, D.C. area,’ and that the District, DCPS, and Rhee ‘knew or should have known that Weismiller had engaged in inappropriate sexual relationships with students in the past,'” Boasberg wrote. “Plaintiff here must thus plead the existence of a DCPS policy or custom of inadequately checking the backgrounds of teachers before hiring them. She has not done so. Plaintiff does not identify any official District policy on pre-hiring background checks of DCPS teachers or allege how a District policymaker was deliberately indifferent in adopting such a policy.
“Plaintiff’s second argument on substantive due process is similarly unavailing,” Boasberg said. “She does not plead a single fact in support of her claim that the District has a custom of ‘cultivating an atmosphere where teachers are afraid to report abuse,’ making this allegation solely ‘upon information and belief.'”
Boasberg noted that even after she went to a school health official and said she feared she was pregnant, A.B. never claims to have told anyone in a position of authority that she and Weismiller had a sexual relationship.
“Although she does allege that she, ‘her daughter, and Weismiller have taken paternity tests, and the results are positive,’ she does not plead that she obtained this information before Weismiller was fired in October 2009 or even before she filed this lawsuit,” Boasberg wrote.
“For the reasons articulated herein, an Order accompanying this Memorandum Opinion will grant the District Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.”