Joseph Doe v. Yale University

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Superior Court of Connecticut.

Joseph Doe v. Yale University

UWYCV085010994S

Decided: January 14, 2010

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO STRIKE DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL DEFENSES

I. BACKGROUND

The Plaintiff has filed a five-count action against the Defendant by way of an Amended Complaint dated April 17, 2009.   All five counts address the liability of Yale University for the inaction of its geology professor and employee, Philip Ihinger, for failing to report his viewing of a fellow professor, Antonio Lasaga, engaged in a sexually explicit situation with a minor, in a Yale geology department classroom.   The Complaint alleges that Professor Ihinger did nothing in response to what he had observed, including failing to report what he observed to the Commission of Children and Families, applicable personnel at Yale University, or any other applicable entity.   As a result, it is alleged, Professor Lasaga continued to sexually abuse, sexually assault, and sexually exploit the Plaintiff from September 1996 until November 1998.   The Counts against Yale allege:

First Count:  Common Law Negligence

Second Count:  Negligence per se in violation of C.G.S. Sec. 17a-101, et seq.

Third Count:  Reckless and Wanton Misconduct

Fourth Count:  Negligent Failure to Implement and/or Enforce Policies and Procedure for the Prevention of Sexual Abuse at Yale University

Fifth Count:  Notice to Yale University

The Defendant has alleged three special defenses, namely statutory good faith immunity, release, and res judicata as to Counts One, Four, and Five. It alleges statutory immunity as to Count Two and Count Three.   Plaintiff has moved to strike all of the special defenses except for those alleging statutory good faith immunity as to Counts Two and Three.

On July 6, 2009, this Court ruled on the Defendant's Motion to Strike the Plaintiff's Complaint and Plaintiff's Request to Amend Complaint.   The Court denied the Defendant's Motion to Strike and held that a common law duty existed to report an incident of child abuse in the circumstances presented in this case.   The Court further allowed the Plaintiff to add two counts to his complaint against Yale and held that a stipulation previously entered by the parties did not prevent the addition of the counts.

The parties argued this matter before the Court on January 11, 2010, at which time the Court reserved decision.

II. LAW

A. Statutory Good Faith Immunity

Defendant has employed the good faith basis defense contained in C.G.S. Sec. 17a-101 as a defense to the common-law cause of action.   Obviously, this defense is available to it regarding the statutory claims contained in Counts Two and Three of the Complaint.   For that reason, the Plaintiff has not moved to strike the defense as it applies to Counts Two and Three.   However, the Defendant argues, without the benefit of authority, that since this Court found a common-law duty premised on C.G.S. Sec. 17a-101 et seq., the Defendant is entitled to use any special defense contained in that statute as a common-law defense.   Plaintiff has moved to strike this special defense as to Counts One, Four and Five on the grounds that there is no authority for this novel proposition.

On July 6, 2009, this Court did find that there was a strong public policy evinced in the wording of C.G.S. 17a-101 et seq. in favor of protecting children from child abuse.   However, this statute was not the sole basis for the court's finding.   The Court had performed an analysis pursuant to the dictates of Gazo v. Stamford, 255 Conn. 245, 250, 765 A.2d 505 (2001), in considering the test for a legal duty of care.   This analysis included not only the basis of the public policy analysis, but also the question of whether the ordinary person, in a similar situation, would anticipate that harm would result if the matter was not reported.   The first part of the test involves the question of foreseeability and the second part involves the question of policy.   It was after this analysis, which did not rely entirely on the statute, that the Court determined that a common law duty did exist.   The Court also notes that the United States Supreme Court, in 1971, noted that there was a public policy to “raise the hue and cry and report felonies to the authorities.”  Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 696, 92 S.Ct. 2646, 33 L.Ed.2d 626 (1972).  C.G.S. Section 17a-101 et seq. is, therefore, not the only policy consideration supporting a common-law duty.

The jury in this matter when considering Counts One, Four and Five will have to consider the “reasonable man” standard consistent with our common law.   The Defendant has the benefit of the statutory defense raised as a defense to Counts Two and Three.   There is no authority to transmit the statutory defense onto the common law causes of action.   The Court did not base its entire analysis on the statute and any statement to the contrary is in error.   Plaintiff's Motion to Strike the good faith defense contained in Special Defenses to Counts One, Four and Five is granted.

B. Res Judicata and Release

The remaining special defenses relate to the wording of a stipulation entered between the parties years ago in a prior lawsuit.   Pursuant to the wording of the stipulation the Plaintiff was barred from bringing any future claims for actions contained in that lawsuit.   The stipulation specifically did not bar the Plaintiff from bringing a future claim regarding C.G.S. Sec. 17a-101 et seq.

The Defendant had previously objected to the Plaintiff amending his complaint to add additional counts, based upon the wording of the prior stipulation.   On July 6, 2009, this Court ruled that the stipulation only barred those claims which were brought in the prior lawsuit.   While the statutory cause of action was mentioned, it was not limited as the only cause of action which could be instituted in the future.   Therefore, the Court allowed the additional counts.   Plaintiff has moved to strike all special defenses relating to this stipulation on the basis that the Court's prior ruling constituted the “law of the case.”   Defendant now claims that, like any contract, it is within the jury's province to interpret the wording of the stipulation.

The Court has previously ruled on this matter.   The Court finds that the wording of the stipulation is clear and unambiguous.   All claims made in the prior case could not be raised again.   The statutory claims may have been mentioned in the stipulation because a motion to amend the complaint was pending regarding the statutory claims and the parties, perhaps, wanted to clarify that those claims were not yet involved in the prior case.   However, it is abundantly clear that there was no restriction placed regarding the statutory claims as the only claims which could be instituted in a future case.   The only restriction related to the claims made in the prior case.   Therefore, this Court will adhere to its prior ruling as the “law of the case” and all special defenses relating to release and res judicata based upon the stipulation are stricken.  State v. Casanova, 255 Conn. 581, 767 A.2d 1189 (2001).

III. CONCLUSION

Based upon the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff's Motion to Strike the Defendant's Special Defenses is granted in its entirety.

Dennis G. Eveleigh, Judge

Eveleigh, Dennis G., J.

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