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Doe v. Hotchkiss School

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 8, 2019

JOHN DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
HOTCHKISS SCHOOL, Defendant.

          RULING ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         John Doe (“Plaintiff”) has sued The Hotchkiss School (“Defendant” or “Hotchkiss”) for state-law tort claims related to sexual abuse. Hotchkiss moves for summary judgment in this case against John Doe. Def's. Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 257.

         For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Hotchkiss' Motion for Summary Judgment.

         Plaintiff's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress will be dismissed, while Plaintiff's claims of negligence, recklessness, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and breach of fiduciary duty will proceed to trial.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Allegations

         When John Doe enrolled at Hotchkiss at the age of fourteen, he allegedly “entered an environment of well-known and tolerated sexual assaults, sexually violent hazing, and pedophilia.” Compl., ECF No. 1. Upper classmen, “including school-appointed senior dormitory proctors, ” allegedly assaulted him on multiple occasions, id. at ¶¶ 19-22, and a teacher allegedly sexually abused, drugged, and raped him. Id. at ¶ 36.

         John Doe further alleges that “The Hotchkiss School charged many thousands of dollars per year for the privilege of attending the school and residing in a dormitory on school grounds, ” and “Hotchkiss assumed responsibility for, among other things, students' protection, safety and well-being.” Id. at ¶¶ 9, 10. In his view, Hotchkiss “accepted a duty to [him] and to other minor children in its care and custody to do everything within its power to protect them from sexual abuse by other students and by the school's faculty, ” even while “the school and administrators knew that there was a history and tradition at the school of older male students . . . subjecting younger students to sexual hazing.” Id. at ¶¶ 12, 14.

         This allegedly predatory environment was “not disclosed to John at any time prior to his arrival at the school, ” and the “school and its teachers and administrators permitted and condoned the tradition of hazing, and they allowed sexual assaults to occur without punishment and without even a meaningful threat of punishment.” Id. at ¶¶ 15, 16.

         John Doe further alleges several sexual assaults by other students and a muted response by faculty and staff, id. at ¶¶ 17-24, as well as sexual assault allegations against a teacher and dormitory master that he alleges Hotchkiss knew or should have known about. Id. at ¶¶ 25-45. John Doe believes that “the school created a situation that it knew and should have known was likely to be dangerous to John and to other young children in its care, ” but “the school refused to take appropriate precautions against the risk of harm.” Id. at ¶¶ 46, 47.

         After allegedly suffering sexual abuse at the hands of other students and a teacher, John Doe allegedly reported the incidents to teachers, staff, and administrators that “took no steps to protect John and other vulnerable children from further assaults.” Id. at ¶¶ 49-57. John Doe alleges that the trauma he suffered at Hotchkiss limits his “ability to engage in normal . . . activities, ” “has adversely affected his ability to enter into and maintain lasting meaningful relationships, ” irreparably damaged his “ability to maintain intimate physical, sexual and emotional relationships, ” and caused “physical pain and suffering, ” Id. at ¶¶58-62.

         B. Procedural History

         On February 5, 2015, John Doe filed a Complaint against Hotchkiss for negligence, recklessness, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and breach of fiduciary duty. Compl., ECF No. 1.

         On April 10, 2015, the parties jointly filed a Rule 26(f) Report. ECF No. 17.

         On May 18, 2015, the Court granted a stay until the Connecticut Supreme Court resolved Doe v. The Hartford Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp., 317 Conn. 357 (2015). ECF No. 22. On July 2, 2015, the Court lifted the Stay. ECF No. 25.

         On July 8, 2015, the parties jointly filed a supplemental Rule 26(f) Report. ECF No. 26. On July 21, 2015, the Court approved a revised 26(f) report. ECF Nos. 28, 29.

         On September 14, 2015, Hotchkiss answered the Complaint with affirmative defenses. ECF No. 31.

         On April 18, 2016, the Court granted Attorney Antonio Ponvert's motion to withdraw as attorney for John Doe. ECF Nos. 40, 41.

         On June 1, 2016, Hotchkiss moved to stay, which the Court denied. ECF Nos. 47, 50.

         On July 15, 2016, the parties jointly filed a supplemental Rule 26(f) Report. ECF No. 51.

         On July 27, 2016, the Court held a telephonic status conference and issued a scheduling order with modified deadlines. ECF Nos. 53, 54. The amended deadlines included a deadline for Plaintiff to designate experts and provide any expert reports by January 20, 2017.

         On December 9, 2016, Hotchkiss moved to compel discovery responses. ECF No. 57. On December 12, 2016, the Court denied the motion to compel without prejudice to renewal if the parties did not resolve the discovery dispute after a telephonic conference. ECF No. 61.

         On January 23, 2017, the parties jointly moved for a discovery conference, which the Court granted. ECF Nos. 63, 64. On January 31, 2017, the Court held a telephonic discovery dispute conference. ECF No. 70.

         On March 17, 2017, the parties jointly moved for a discovery conference, which the Court granted. ECF Nos. 73, 74.

         On March 28, 2017, the Court held another telephonic discovery dispute status conference and issued an order requiring Defendants to produce items designated by the Plaintiff. ECF No. 78.

         On May 11, 2017, the parties jointly stipulated to Hotchkiss' motion for independent medical examination, which the Court granted. ECF Nos. 85, 86.

         On June 22, 2017, Hotchkiss moved for conference, which the Court granted. ECF Nos. 99, 100. On July 5, 2017, the Court held a telephonic discovery dispute conference where Plaintiff's counsel informed the Court that counsel intended to withdraw from the case immediately, even though depositions were scheduled for the following day. ECF No. 104.

         The Court then issued an Order to Show Cause and requested that John Doe appear with counsel at an ex parte proceeding by telephone and show cause why Plaintiff's counsel should not remain until after the deposition scheduled for tomorrow had concluded or, in the alternative, why Plaintiff should not be required to pay the costs incurred by Defendant, if the deposition could not go forward. ECF No. 105.

         On July 5, 2017, the Court held a telephonic show cause hearing. ECF No. 106. Based on the representations of John Doe and his counsel during the ex parte telephonic show cause hearing, the Court allowed the withdrawal of Plaintiff's counsel and the July 6, 2017 deposition did not go forward. ECF No. 107.

         On July 6, 2017, the Court granted the motion to withdraw John Doe's second set of counsel. ECF No. 113. Considering the issues discussed during the July 5, 2017 show cause hearing, and due to the attorney motions to withdraw as counsel, the Court ordered John Doe to appear at an August 11, 2017 telephonic status conference. ECF No. 112. Because of the age of the case, the Court ordered John Doe to have new counsel by the August 11, 2017 telephonic conference or proceed pro se. Id.

         The Court cancelled the August 11, 2017 telephonic conference. ECF No. 119. The Court issued an Order to Show Cause as to why the Court should not dismiss the case for failure to prosecute. ECF No. 120.

         On September 28, 2017, the Court held a show cause hearing. ECF No. 126. On September 29, 2017, the Court issued an Order directing John Doe to appear pro se, retain new counsel, or provide a statement to the Court as to why the Court should not dismiss the case for failure to prosecute. ECF No. 129. In November 2017, John Doe hired new counsel. ECF Nos. 133-39.

         On December 15, 2017, the parties jointly proposed a new scheduling order, which the Court granted in part and denied in part. ECF Nos. 143, 144. The parties' lone dispute was whether the Plaintiff should be permitted to add new experts after the deadline to do so; the Court concluded that John Doe had not shown sufficient good cause to justify granting leave to name additional experts after the deadline for such disclosures and the lack of substantive movement in this case since July 2017 had delayed the case long enough. ECF No. 144. The Court, however, did extend the deadlines for fact discovery and the close of discovery to May 4, 2018 and June 1, 2018, respectively. Id.

         On January 29, 2018, the parties jointly stipulated to an independent medical examination. ECF No. 148.

         On April 17, 2018, the Court held a telephonic status conference and granted an oral motion to amend the scheduling order. ECF Nos. 160-62.

         On May 14, 2018, the parties jointly moved for referral to a magistrate for settlement purposes, which the Court granted. ECF Nos. 178, 179. The Court referred the case to Magistrate Judge Garfinkel for a settlement conference. ECF No. 180.

         On May 18, 2018, the parties jointly proposed a scheduling order that the Court adopted. ECF Nos. 184, 188, 189.

         On May 25, 2018, Magistrate Judge Garfinkel held a telephonic pre-settlement status conference. ECF No. 191.

         On June 18, 2018, the Court held a telephonic status conference, denying without prejudice John Doe's motion for order and granting Hotchkiss' motion for extension of time. ECF No. 198.

         On July 3, 2018, Magistrate Judge Garfinkel held a settlement conference with the parties, which did not result in a settlement. ECF No. 207.

         On June 22, 2018, the parties jointly moved for a discovery conference. ECF No. 199. On July 24, 2018, the Court held an in-person status conference on discovery disputes. ECF No. 215. The same day, the Court issued an order on the joint motion for discovery conference for Hotchkiss to provide the Court with the disputed documents for in camera review. ECF No. 217.

         On September 6, 6018, the Court held a post-discovery status conference. ECF No. 235.

         On September 11, 2018, the Court held a telephonic status conference regarding two disputed documents the Court reviewed in camera, requiring parties to make supplemental filings. ECF No. 239. On October 25, 2018, the Court issued an order regarding the documents reviewed in camera. ECF No. 254.

         On November 28, 2018, the Court held a hearing regarding pending expert witness motions. ECF No. 267. The Court denied both the motion in limine and motion for leave to add an expert witness. ECF No. 268.

         On October 29, 2018, Hotchkiss moved for summary judgment. ECF No. 257. On December 18, 2018, John Doe filed an opposition to Hotchkiss' motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 274. On December 21, 2018, after a telephonic status conference, the Court struck John Doe's opposition. ECF No. 282. That same day, John Doe re-filed his opposition to Hotchkiss' motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 286. On January 25, 2019, Hotchkiss replied to John Doe's response. ECF No. 288.

         On February 12, 2019, the Court held a hearing regarding Hotchkiss' motion for summary judgment.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Courts will grant a motion for summary judgment when the record shows no genuine issue as to any material fact, and the movant is “entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Cartrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The non-moving party may defeat the motion by producing specific facts to prove that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986).

         “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 247-48. The moving party, however, may satisfy this burden by pointing to an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. See PepsiCo, Inc. v. Coca-Cola Co., 315 F.3d 101, 105 (2d Cir. 2002) (per curiam).

         When documentary evidence and sworn affidavits supporting a motion for summary judgment “demonstrate[] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, ” the non-moving party must do more than vaguely assert the existence of some unspecified disputed material facts or “rely on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation.” Robinson v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 781 F.3d 42, 44 (2d Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). The party opposing the motion for summary judgment “must come forward with specific evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact.” Id.; see also Atkinson v. Rinaldi, 3:15-cv-913 (DJS), 2016 WL 7234087, at *1 (D. Conn. Dec. 14, 2016) (holding non-moving party must present evidence that would allow reasonable jury to find in his favor to defeat motion for summary judgment); Pelletier v. Armstrong, 3:99-cv-1559 (HBF), 2007 WL 685181, at *7 (D. ...


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