Pictured is the Wellsville Middle School, or the “Brooklyn School,” now demolished
Civil case against WCS is unique in New York, all other Child Victims Act cases have been resolved without trial to date
By Andrew Harris
In January 2019, then Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act(CVA) into law. The new law immediately opened a window for victims to seek civil damages for sexual assault or abuse they may have suffered, regardless of how much time has passed. That window was initially one year but was extended another year due to the impacts of Covid-19. This window closed on August 13, 2021.
The CVA made the justice system more accessible to victims’ of sexual abuse in New York, extending the statute of limitations for reporting these crimes in both criminal and civil courts. Click here to learn more about the law itself.
Lawyers for a previous student at Wellsville Central Schools were the first in NYS to file a civil lawsuit under the CVA on August 14th, 2019. That case, which is about to head to trial, is now also distinguished as the first civil action filed under the special reporting window provided by the CVA that will go to trial. So far, all other cases have been settled out of court or resolved by a pre-trial default judgment or dismissal.
This lawsuit against Wellsville Central Schools is complicated, nuanced, and unprecedented. Almost forty years have elapsed since the reported abuse occurred, and jury selection is slated to begin on March 30th, 2022. Justice Deborah Chimes of the Erie County Supreme Court will preside as a visiting judge. The trial will be held in Belmont NY at the Allegany County Courthouse.
With three weeks still until the court action begins, the Wellsville Sun will present a three part series to report to readers a comprehensive view of the case. This first part will provide a general overview of the case, the parties to the trial, and will introduce each side’s argument. The second and third installments will delve into the details of the arguments made by both parties leading up to the trial.
The lawsuit is based on the reports of a former student at Wellsville Middle School from 1980-1982. The student has filed a lawsuit against Wellsville Central Schools and a past administrator for ignoring the alleged report of repeated sexual and physical abuse suffered at the hands of a custodian. This student reports that the custodian raped, assaulted, and harassed her over several years, both on and off school property. The previous student states that the abuse was reported at the time and that the school employee who received the report did not take the appropriate action to protect the student. According to the plaintiff, the abuse continued after the school was notified and failed to take necessary action.
Wellsville Central Schools as a defendant, has taken the so-far, unique position of refusing to settle the case out of court. Every other case that has been resolved to date, using the special reporting window of the CVA has been resolved without a trial on the merits. Many cases in NY are still working through the courts and are unresolved. We asked Superintendent of Schools David Foster why Wellsville isn’t settling and plans a trial defense:
“The alleged perpetrator in this case was never an employee of the school district. Wellsville will present a strong case showing that the individual named in these tragic allegations was never employed by our District.”
When we asked one of the plaintiff’s lawyers, Hugh Sandler, about this surprising and sweeping argument by Wellsville Central Schools he commented:
“Schools owe a fundamental duty to their communities: to protect children from violence and abuse while at school. This case is an egregious example of how the Wellsville School District failed in that duty. Simply put, the perpetrator worked at Wellsville and Wellsville failed to protect our client from this man. That failure resulted in her repeated and brutal rape on school property. The school’s claim that he was not an employee of the school is misleading and irrelevant. It has, of course, always been unlawful for a school to let its students be sexually abused on school property regardless of whether the abuser worked for the school, and we believe a jury will understand that.”
On Wednesday March 9th, the Wellsville Sun will explain the school district’s pre-trial defense and also layout the plaintiff’s reaction to the school’s claim that the reported abuser was never an “employee,” of the school.
Above is the actual complaint filed by the plaintiff in this case. She, along with several school employees involved in both the lawsuit and the discovery of facts are named. Warning: Upsetting details about the reported abuse are included in detail.