On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Docket No. L-2124-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: March 23, 2011
Before Judges Cuff, Sapp-Peterson and Fasciale.
Plaintiff Y.G., filed a complaint seeking damages pursuant to the Child Sexual Abuse Act (CSAA), N.J.S.A. 2A:61B-1, against a former middle school teacher who sexually abused her, another teacher, a school administrator, and the local board of education. She appeals from the orders granting summary judgment in favor of defendants Board of Education for the Township of Teaneck (Board), Lennox Small, and Charles Clark. Because we are not persuaded the CSAA includes public day schools within its ambit, we affirm.
The underlying facts of this appeal are largely undisputed. In 2000, Y.G. was a student at a middle school under the control of the Board. Under the guise of tutoring and detention, defendant James Darden, an English teacher, engaged in an improper sexual relationship with Y.G. She was thirteen years old at the commencement of the relationship. Y.G. alleged approximately 300 acts of sexual intercourse, along with other acts of a sexual nature, until the end of her sophomore year in high school. Y.G. contends Small, another teacher at the school, walked in on them after one such sexual encounter, saw evidence of the encounter on Darden's clothing, and warned Darden "to be careful." Plaintiff alleges Clark, the Dean of Discipline at the school, Small, and the Board allowed this abuse to occur and continue.
Several years after the relationship ended, Y.G. encountered Darden who, upon noticing plaintiff's two-year-old daughter, commented that she "did good." As a result of this encounter, plaintiff began to worry incessantly about the safety of her child. She also experienced headaches and other physical symptoms that she came to realize stemmed from the inappropriate relationship she had with Darden while she was only a teenager. Y.G. contacted the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office and Darden eventually pled guilty to official misconduct and aggravated sexual assault. Darden is currently incarcerated. Plaintiff is in therapy and on medication.
Plaintiff filed a one-count complaint on July 11, 2008, alleging defendants are liable under the CSAA for active and passive sexual abuse. Judge Hansbury entered a default judgment against Darden, but granted summary judgment to the Board, Small, and Clark because he concluded they did not fit the CSAA's definition of "within the household."
On appeal, we are called upon to determine whether the CSAA applies to sexual abuse that takes place at a public day school. We review de novo the interpretation of a statute on a motion for summary judgment. Manalapan Realty, L.P. v. Twp. Comm. of Manalapan, 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995); Wells Reit II-80 Park Plaza, LLC v. Dir., Div. of Taxation, 414 N.J. Super. 453, 462 (App. Div. 2010).
The CSAA defines sexual abuse as an act of sexual contact or sexual penetration between a child under the age of 18 years and an adult. A parent, resource family parent, guardian or other person standing in loco parentis within the household who knowingly permits or acquiesces in sexual abuse by any other person also commits sexual abuse . . . . [N.J.S.A. 2A:61B-1a(1).]
Thus, the statute imposes liability on both "active" and "passive" sexual abusers. Hardwicke v. Am. Boychoir Sch., 188 N.J. 69, 86 (2006).
In Hardwicke, the Supreme Court held that a private boarding school could be liable as a passive abuser under the CSAA. Id. at 94. There, the plaintiff alleged the Musical Director of the school abused him over the course of two years, and the school itself knew or should have known of the abuse. Id. at 74. The Court noted that in order to hold a passive sexual abuser liable under the statute, a plaintiff must demonstrate the defendant is: "(1) a person (2) standing in loco parentis (3) within the household." Id. at 86. The Court first found the boarding school was a "person" under the statute. Id. at 91. It next determined the school satisfied the role of "in loco parentis" because it regulated the students' personal hygiene, monitored the cleanliness of their rooms, dictated the amount of money each student could have on campus, required students to write two weekly letters to friends or family, expected students to attend religious services when on campus during the weekend, provided transportation for recreational activities off school grounds, and disciplined students who violated those policies. [Id. at 91-92.]
Finally, the Court considered whether the boarding school was a "household" under the statute. ...