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Court: Teacher can’t be sued for failing to report abuse

Scott Lauck//April 30, 2020//

Court: Teacher can’t be sued for failing to report abuse

Scott Lauck//April 30, 2020//

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The Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District ruled April 21 that a student who allegedly was assaulted by a teacher can’t sue another instructor to whom she’d reported his behavior.

The court said that, while the teacher was a mandatory reporter under both state law and St. Louis school regulations, those rules create a duty only to the general public, rather than a private cause of action.

“Such reporting requirements do not create a duty to particular individuals,” Judge Angela T. Quigless wrote for the court.

Theresa Appelbaum of Padberg, Corrigan & Appelbaum, an attorney for the plaintiff, said she was disappointed in the ruling and may ask for further review. The underlying suit remains pending against the accused teacher, Michael Holloman, and the Gateway Region YMCA where he worked.

“It’s a sad case all the way around,” Appelbaum said. “This young lady needed to be protected, and she wasn’t.”

The plaintiff, identified as E.M. in the suit, alleges that Michael Holloman, a high school physical education instructor, had invited her to a St. Louis hotel room on prom night in 2016, “ostensibly for the purpose of providing her with information regarding a modeling career.” The suit alleges Holloman engaged in sodomy and intercourse with E.M., who was then 15.

Holloman, who has denied the allegations, initially was charged with statutory rape, statutory sodomy and sexual contact with a student by a teacher. But, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a St. Louis circuit judge dismissed the charges in January due to the failure of police to preserve surveillance video from the hotel.

E.M. alleges that before the incident took place, she had told another teacher, Tameka Wiggins, that Holloman was pursuing an inappropriate sexual relationship with her, but that Wiggins failed to report the PE teacher’s conduct. Section 210.115 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri requires school officials to report suspected child abuse to state authorities. Similarly, the St. Louis School District’s Board of Education regulation P4843 requires school officials to report sexual harassment, including that directed at students.

The Eastern District, however, said that under the “public-duty doctrine,” neither of those rules makes Wiggins civilly liable to E.M. because her duty to report suspected abuse is owed to the general public, rather than to a particular individual. Although federal courts have held since the 1980s that Missouri’s reporting requirement fell under the public-duty doctrine, the Eastern District’s April 21 opinion appears to be the first Missouri appellate ruling to address it.

“E.M. argues that once she disclosed Holloman’s inappropriate conduct directly to Wiggins, E.M. had a specific, direct, and distinctive interest in Wiggins’s duty to report Holloman’s inappropriate conduct because injury to E.M., a particular, identifiable individual, was reasonably foreseeable,” Quigless wrote. “We disagree that E.M.’s disclosure to Wiggins transformed Wiggins’s duty owed to the general public under section 210.115 to a duty owed to E.M. in particular.”

The court reached the same conclusion as to the school board regulation. Judges Mary K. Hoff and Sherri B. Sullivan concurred.

Joshua E. Douglass of Mickes O’Toole, an attorney for Wiggins, didn’t return a call seeking comment.

The case is E.M. v. Gateway Region Young Men’s Christian Association et al., ED108227.

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