NORTH COUNTY -- A former Vista High School student cannot sue theVista Unified School District in connection with allegations that herEnglish teacher sexually abused her when she was a teenage studentalmost 30 years ago, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday.
Thestate's highest court split 6-1 in favor of ruling that a change tostate law in 2002 regarding childhood sexual abuse lawsuits did notextend the time within which people must file a claim with a publicagency like a school district, county or city. State law generallyrequires that a claim be filed with and rejected by a public agencybefore that agency can be sued.
Representativesof school districts and other public agencies have said in courtdocuments and interviews that they feared public entities could beexposed to childhood sexual abuse lawsuits similar to those that plaguethe Roman Catholic church today if the Supreme Court decided the lawextended the time in which to file claims.
JackSleeth, an attorney for the Vista school district, said Monday that hewas "very pleased" that the Supreme Court preserved the legalprotections for public agencies and that the same rules that alwayshave applied to children who may want to sue will continue to apply.
"It establishes that the law is settled and we're not going to have 30-year-old cases," Sleeth said.
ManuelCorrales, the attorney for the former Vista High School student who isnow a 45-year-old mother, could not be reached Monday for comment onthe case.
A San Diego attorney who represents some victims insexual abuse lawsuits against the Catholic diocese and who filed a"friend of the court" brief in the case against the Vista UnifiedSchool District, said Monday's ruling will have a broad effect.
"Thereare a lot of governmental entities that are going to escaperesponsibility for what was done," attorney Irwin Zalkin said.
Respondingto an inquiry about Monday's ruling, an official with the groupSurvivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a nationwide supportgroup for victims of clergy abuse, issued a statement saying statutesof limitations hurt all victims of sexual abuse, regardless of whetherthe alleged perpetrator is a clergyman.
"AllÝsexual abuse isalike in the amount of time it takes the survivor to find the strengthto report the harm," Barbara Dorris, the national outreach director forthe survivors' network, wrote in the statement.
While some havedrawn parallels between the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Churchand the occurrence of teacher sexual abuse of students, availablestatistics for the two situations are not comparable, according to anexpert who authored a 2004 report for the U.S. Department of Educationon sexual misconduct by teachers.
The lawsuit against the Vistaschool district alleged that former teacher Jeffrey Paul Jones, 59,engaged in sex acts with a girl 200 times in an 18-month period thatbegan in 1978, when she was 15 and Jones was 30. The lawsuit alsoalleged school district officials knew or should have known about thealleged misconduct and failed to prevent it.
The woman did not report the alleged sexual misconduct until 2001, when her daughter was in high school.
Anattorney for the district, Dan Shinoff, said earlier this year that hehad not found any evidence to indicate that any district officials knewabout what was happening with Jones and his student.
Jones'attorney, Jonathan Vanderpool, has said that Jones does not disputehaving a relationship with the woman when she was his student, butVanderpool said some of her allegations are "overstated" and that hewould "take issue" with allegations that the relationship caused"everything that has befallen her personally and otherwise."
ASuperior Court judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2003 because the womanhad not filed a claim with the district sometime in 1980, as requiredby law. A state appeals court based in San Diego overturned thatdecision, but the state Supreme Court ruled Monday that the appealscourt was incorrect.
The woman's case against Jones couldproceed, but that may be in dispute in the Superior Court. Vanderpoolsaid earlier this year that the woman accepted a judgment against herin the lawsuit so she could appeal the issue of whether she could suethe district. Vanderpool said then that if the woman lost on appeal, hewould argue in the Superior Court that the case against Jones cannot bereinstated because a judgment in the case already exists.
Jonesalso faced criminal charges in 2002 based on the woman's allegations,but prosecutors dismissed the charges in July 2003 after the U.S.Supreme Court ruled in an unrelated case that the California law thatallowed for criminal charges was unconstitutional. That law letprosecutors bypass the normal statute of limitations in criminal casesfor some sex crimes.
Jones officially left the Vista schooldistrict in the summer of 2003. The state Commission on TeacherCredentialing later revoked his teaching credential.
-- Contact staff writer Scott Marshall at (760) 631-6623 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the Net:
Lawsuit against Vista district reaches state Supreme Court
State Supreme Court to hear lawsuit against VUSD
Court reinstates lawsuit against VUSD
Woman seeks $16M from VUSD
Charges against Vista teacher dismissed
Supreme Court opinion affects local cases
Trial of Vista teacher postponed to July
Vista teacher faces trial on sex charges
Vista High teacher accused of sex crimes
for a listing of alternate locations.