Claims Dismissed in Suit Against School District

Family may refile distress, due process allegations

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By Rob Kunzig

A federal judge has dismissed three claims in a lawsuit against Cape Henlopen school board officials and a teacher filed by a 2009 Cape graduate and his parents.

Seven counts remain, including malicious prosecution, unlawful detention and defamation. The case is scheduled to go to trial April 1, 2011.

Attorneys for Cape teacher Amanda Jester sought to strike down the claim that she intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon Roger “Dayne” Wooleyhan Jr. during an October 2008 incident.

Then a Cape senior, Wooleyhan allegedly elbowed Jester in the chest as she separated him and his girlfriend in the hallway. The incident led to his arrest and suspension. Jester’s attorneys also sought to dismiss claims that the teacher abused Wooleyhan’s due process rights.

Jester’s attorneys argued that the Wooleyhans’ claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress were insufficiently detailed. Though the claim seems to merely recite the Delaware emotional distress standard, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Baylson wrote in the June 28 memo, earlier paragraphs describe Jester’s alleged conduct.

“At this early stage in the proceedings, prior to discovery, this court will not dismiss Wooleyhans’ emotional distress claim for failure to sufficiently plead emotional distress,” he wrote.

Baylson found flaws in two other emotional distress claims, dismissing both. The Wooleyhans allege that Jester physically separated the students, Baylson wrote, and falsely accused Roger Jr. of elbowing her; these are the same facts used to claim that Jester defamed Roger Jr.

Citing a Supreme Court decision, Baylson wrote that emotional distress claims cannot be based on facts that also relate to a defamation claim. He dismissed the claim without prejudice, allowing Roger Jr. to amend and resubmit. The judge dismissed the third-party emotional distress claim of Roger Jr.’s parents, Roger and Elizabeth.

Baylson wrote their claim failed to meet the emotional distress standards set by Delaware law: they were not present at the incident, and they did not laim that Jester’s actions violated their parental rights. The claim was dismissed with prejudice, meaning Roger and Elizabeth cannot refile.

An abuse of process claim was dismissed without prejudice. Baylson wrote the Wooleyhans only allege Jester abused the process with an underlying ulterior motive, resulting in damage to all plaintiffs.

“Such a brief conclusory allegation that Jester’s actions constituted abuse of process, without any supporting allegations in the complaint suggesting that Jester committed any act or threat not authorized by the process fails to sufficiently plead a claim of abuse of process,” he wrote, adding the Wooleyhans may amend the claim to establish an ulterior motive.

The suit, filed Feb. 23, in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, names 10 other defendants, including Superintendent George Stone, Principal John Yore, Assistant Principal Dianne Mrazeck, teachers Lisa Coverdale and John Walsh, Student Resource Officer William Matt, Student Services Coordinator Robert Maull and the Delaware State Police. Roger Jr. was cleared of all charges Feb. 3, 2009, in Justice of the Peace Court No. 2 in Lewes.

Seven counts remain, including malicious prosecution, unlawful detention and defamation. The case is scheduled to go to trial April 1, 2011.