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Mother Of Student Failed To Bring Complaint Against School After Student Turned 18
Porter-Gaud School is an independent coeducational college preparatory day school in Charleston, South Carolina. In December 2018, then fifteen-year-old student John Doe engaged in a consensual sexual encounter with his classmate and neighbor, Catherine Roe. Thereafter, the two minors engaged in multiple sexual encounters with each other on separate occasions. Five months after the initial encounter, Catherine Roe told her parents that the initial encounter was non-consensual rape, though the remainder of the sexual interactions were mutually consensual. John Doe denied coercion on any occasion. Initially, both sets of parents decided that the matter was settled and that the teens should just stay apart.
Catherine Roe, however, told the School administrators and counselors that John Doe had raped her. The School followed mandatory reporting procedures and called the police to investigate the allegations of rape. The police did not prosecute John Doe because there was no evidence of Doe’s guilt and the police considered it a “he said/she said case,” with corroborating witnesses supporting Doe’s account of the evening and not Roe’s account. The police ended the investigation with no action taken against John Doe. Unhappy with this outcome, Roe physically assaulted Doe at the School on two occasions and loudly called him a rapist in front of many students, faculty, and parents.
The School brought in outside investigators, and Doe’s family hired counsel and provided the investigator with witness information. Eventually, the investigators stopped the investigation and the School informed Doe that there was no policy violation on his part and he was free to return as a student in good standing. The School refused to notify the other witnesses and students that they found Doe had engaged in no wrongdoing.
Mary Doe, John Doe’s mother, and John Doe (now 18 years old) sued the School for slander, libel, defamation, negligence, malicious prosecution (i.e., wrongfully subjecting someone to the prosecutorial process), violation of John Doe’s constitutional rights and Title IX, as a result of the School’s investigation. The Does allege that the investigation took a toll on John Doe and the family emotionally, and took a toll on the family financially because they had to hire counsel.
The School filed a motion to dismiss the complaints, arguing that Mary Doe had not pled facts that support a cause of action for individual damages to herself, nor had the Does pled facts that amounted to malicious prosecution. Mary Doe argued that since she paid tuition to the School, and the School accepted that payment, the School had a contractual duty that they breached when they treated John Doe inequitably compared to Catherine Roe. The School argued that the Does failed to state any facts that provided Mary Doe with a claim for relief since all the facts support injuries solely suffered by John Doe.
The Court found that Mary Doe did not allege any facts that supported a claim for defamation to Mary Doe. The complaint did not allege that the School spoke or wrote any statements about Mary Doe, much less any defamatory statements. The Court also found that Mary Doe did not provide any bases for her negligence claim in the complaint. She did not provide any facts that showed the School owed a duty of care to her as John Doe’s mother, and paying tuition alone was not enough to create an implied contract between the School and Mary Doe. The Court further found that Mary Doe did not allege any facts that supported a claim of malicious prosecution because Mary Doe was never prosecuted. Similarly, the Court found that the School did not prosecute John Doe because they did not charge John Doe with a crime or arrest him, so his claim for malicious prosecution was also dismissed. The Court dismissed all causes of action brought by Mary Doe and determined that the remaining claims brought by John Doe could move forward, with John Doe as the sole plaintiff.
Doe v. Porter-Gaud School (D.S.C., Jan. 6, 2023) 2023 WL 122028.
While this case is from South Carolina and not binding in California, it does provide insight in how a court would handle a case when a student turns 18 between the incident and the lawsuit. The Court in this case noted that a contractual relationship was not created between the mother and the School by merely paying tuition, however, schools should be aware that signing an enrollment agreement does create a contractual relationship between schools and parents, so the outcome of a similar case could be different for many schools.