In a recent decision, J.P. v. Smith, the Appellate Division of New Jersey determined that a school district escaped liability under the “Child Sexual Abuse Act” (“CSAA”) because the school did not operate as the alleged victim’s household.
In her 2014 complaint, J.P. alleged that Smith, Southern Regional High School District’s assistant band director, repeatedly engaged in sexual abuse while on school grounds, during overnight trips, and in her parents’ home during the 2003-2004 school year.
According to J.P.’s allegations, Smith and her father were friends and J.P.’s father helped Smith obtain employment as the high school’s assistant band director.
J.P. asserted that Smith’s sexual abuse began when her father invited Smith to spend the weekend in their home. According to J.P., the abuse continued at school and during weekend and overnight band trips. Under the CSAA, a person, within the household, who stands in loco parentis to the student, can be found liable under the act if that person knowingly permits sexual abuse by any other person.
The school district argued that it should not be held liable because the school was not a household under the act. J.P. argued that the district was responsible for her well-being on overnight trips, which is when several instances of abuse occurred. The court disagreed with J.P. and noted that schools establish a household for students where they provide amenities and services to full-time boarders. Since the high school district was a day school, and not a private boarding school, the school district did not serve as a household during those band trips. Accordingly, the court dismissed that portion of J.P.’s complaint.
The balance of her complaint was dismissed based on the fact that after J.P. came to believe that the school was at fault for her sexual abuse, she waited more than 90 days to file her claim under the Tort Claim Act.