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Roe v. Hotchkiss School

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 8, 2019

RICHARD ROE, Plaintiff,
v.
HOTCHKISS SCHOOL, Defendant.

          RULING ON MOTION TO DISMISS

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Richard Roe (“Plaintiff”) has sued The Hotchkiss School (“Defendant” or “Hotchkiss”) for negligence, recklessness, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and breach of fiduciary duty related to sexual abuse by a Hotchkiss teacher. Complaint, ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”).

         Hotchkiss has moved to dismiss the intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of fiduciary duty claims. Def.'s. Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 29 (“Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss”).

         For the following reasons, Hotchkiss's motion to dismiss is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         Roe's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim is dismissed, but his breach of fiduciary duty claim remains.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Allegations

         Hotchkiss is a private boarding school in Lakeville, Connecticut. Compl. at ¶ 1. In 1970, Hotchkiss hired Roy Smith to teach in the school's English department. Id. at ¶ 22. Roy Smith allegedly immediately volunteered to serve as the school's athletic trainer shortly after being hired and acted as the only athletic trainer for fifteen years. Id. Mr. Roe alleges that “[i]t was well known and accepted” that “Smith groomed and abused boys in his School-provided apartment in the boys' dorms.” Id. at ¶ 28. Mr. Roe further alleges that “Hotchkiss had a strong protective culture that discouraged reporting and actively retaliated against reporters” and that “Hotchkiss had no policy for identifying or reporting sexual misconduct.” Id. at ¶¶ 33, 34.

         Mr. Roe enrolled at Hotchkiss as a fifteen-year-old student. Id. at ¶¶ 1, 3. He alleges that he unknowingly “entered an environment of well-known and tolerated sexual assaults and pedophilia.” Id. at ¶ 3. He also alleges that Mr. Smith “inappropriately touched [him] on several occasions, and ultimately drugged and sexually assaulted him.” Id. at ¶¶ 3, 22. Mr. Roe further alleges that Mr. Smith's actions “were inflicted on school property, during the school year, and under the noses of the School's teachers and administrators.” Id. at ¶ 3.

         Mr. Roe had Mr. Smith as an English teacher during his junior year at Hotchkiss. Id. at ¶ 41. During that year, Mr. Roe sought out and worked with Mr. Smith to revise almost every paper he had written because Mr. Smith was a harsh grader and he wanted a good grade in English in order to apply to and get admitted to the best college or university.” Id. at ¶ 43.

         According to Mr. Roe, “[b]y the end of the winter term, Richard was regularly visiting Smith's dormitory apartment, visiting at least every other week to revise drafts of English class papers.” Id. at ¶ 52. When Mr. Roe met with Mr. Smith at his apartment, he alleges that “Smith established very clearly defined ritualized conduct of his student, ” where “Richard always had to sit side-by-side next to Smith on his couch” and “Smith frequently ma[de] a point by rubbing or squeezing Richard's upper thigh, or putting his arm over Richard's shoulder as they looked at a document or book together during these ‘study sessions.'” Id. at ¶ 46.

         On one occasion, Mr. Roe alleges that “Smith patted the back of Richard's leg as Richard was leaving. Smith did so in such a way as to hit Richard's testicles with his fingers, ” which he dismissed as an accident. Id. at ¶ 49.

         On another occasion, Mr. Roe alleges that “Smith patted Richard's right thigh very high up, such that Smith hit Richard's penis with his hand.” Id. at ¶ 50. After Richard moved Smith's hand, Smith apologized. Id.

         Finally, Mr. Roe alleges that Mr. Smith drugged and sexually assaulted him before spring recess of his junior year. Mr. Roe claims that he “had an appointment with Smith in his apartment to finalize some revisions and discuss a new spring project.” Id. at ¶ 53. After allegedly entering Mr. Smith's apartment, “Richard sat on the couch, and Smith offered Richard some tea. Smith had never offered Richard food or beverages before, so Richard accepted politely.” Id. at ¶ 54. Once he finished the tea, Richard alleges that he closed his eyes while Mr. Smith was out of the room. Id. at ¶ 57. When he next opened his eyes, Mr. Roe alleges he could not move or speak as Mr. Smith sexually assaulted him. Id. at ¶ 58.

         When Mr. Roe awoke from the ordeal, he allegedly felt “completely disoriented” and “thought something bad had happened, but he did not know what.” Id. at ¶ 59. According to Mr. Roe, he had “unsteady legs” after leaving the apartment and struggled to get down the staircase to his dorm. Id. ¶ 61. Mr. Roe claims to have felt nauseous, “ashamed, confused, frightened, and in shock.” Id. at ¶¶ 61, 63. In the aftermath of the alleged sexual assault, Mr. Roe claims that his “academic performance took a dramatic downturn.” Id. at ¶ 64. While “his junior year had begun with stellar academic performance, his teacher noticed a distinct change in April, immediately after Smith drugged and assaulted Richard.” Id. In addition, Mr. Roe allegedly deteriorated physically after the assault, losing over twenty pounds. Id. at ¶ 65.

         According to Roe, parents entrusted their minor children to Hotchkiss' care for boarding school, “where children live[d] for the majority of their school years.” Id. at ¶14. With this trust, Hotchkiss “is therefore responsible not only for the children's education, but also their safety, their protection, and their physical and emotional well-being.” Id. Along with the trust parents placed in Hotchkiss, Mr. Roe alleges that “Hotchkiss administrators and faculty understood this was their duty.” Id. at ¶ 15. And former Headmaster Arthur White would say during orientation “Parents, your job is to leave, ” which, according to Mr. Roe, allegedly shows that Hotchkiss knew of its duty to protect children from harm while they were away from their parents at boarding school. Id.

         Mr. Roe alleges that Mr. Smith would have been unable to sexually assault him without Hotchkiss' affirmative acts. These affirmative acts included “housing Smith in and giving him unfettered access to and authority over a boys' dormitory, allowing him unsupervised access to vulnerable young children, allowing him without any medical credentials to give pills to children, and allowing him to work in the athletics program and locker room areas where he was able to touch and leer at the naked and partially-clothed bodies of boys, ” which allegedly exposed Mr. Roe to a high risk of harm. Id. at ¶ 38.

         Since his time at Hotchkiss, Mr. Roe claims to have “suffered school and career difficulty, difficulty sleeping, repeated panic attacks, and intrusive nightmares and flashbacks.” Id. at ¶ 66. Mr. Roe also claims to have “struggled with thoughts of suicidal ideation, planning, and even unsuccessful attempts to end his life.” Id. Mr. Roe alleges that the trauma has resulted in “emotional turmoil and feelings of helplessness” that “led to excessive self-medication through substance abuse.” Id. And Mr. Roe alleges that his “ability to maintain intimate physical, sexual, and emotional relationships with other human beings has been irreparably damaged.” Id. at ¶ 67. Most notably, Mr. Roe claims that “[h]is personal relationships with friends, family, and loved ones were damaged by his inability to form trusting relationships.” Id. at ¶ 66.

         B. Procedural History

         On October 12, 2018, Mr. Roe filed his Complaint against Hotchkiss School, alleging negligence, recklessness, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of ...


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