Judge: Sex-abuse case against Horace Mann School will proceed in NJ

By Christopher Maag (North Jersey Record)
March 8, 2014

A lawsuit alleging prolonged sexual abuse by a teacher at the Horace Mann School in New York may proceed in New Jersey, according to a judicial opinion issued Friday.

Attorneys for the prestigious private school had argued that New Jersey courts did not have jurisdiction because the school is located in New York, in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

In addition to allowing her unnamed client’s case to go forward, attorney Rosemarie Arnold said the ruling may provide an opening for other victims to sue.

“They tried to get off on a technicality,” Arnold said of the school. “Now they have to now answer questions about what happened and why they didn’t stop it.”

The school did not return calls seeking comment on Saturday. An attorney for Horace Mann did not return calls and emails.

The ruling stands to add to a scandal at that began in June 2012 when a number of former Horace Mann students alleged in a story in The New York Times Magazine that teachers at the school had sexually abused them more than a generation ago. When they or their parents complained, the former students said, school administrators allegedly responded by intimidating some complainants and ignoring others.

Most of the accusations were stymied by New York State’s relatively strict statute of limitations in sex-abuse cases. The school settled with a number of the accusers for undisclosed amounts of money, according to published reports.

But the statute of limitations in New Jersey is more liberal, allowing cases to be brought today concerning abuses that allegedly happened in the 1970s, when the plaintiff attended the school, according to the decision by Superior Court Judge Lisa Perez Friscia, sitting in Bergen County.

The real question came down to jurisdiction. Lawyers for Horace Mann argued that because the school is based in New York, maintains no bank accounts or contractors in New Jersey, and conducts marketing and alumni efforts in New Jersey only as part of its larger programs nationwide, a New Jersey court is powerless to decide the case.

Arnold maintained that New Jersey played an important role in the abuse. The plaintiff received academic credit for singing in the Horace Mann Glee Club, which was led by Johannes Somary, a longtime teacher at the school, now deceased, who is the focus of the allegations. On at least two occasions, the plaintiff alleges, Somary sexually abused him on trips when the Glee Club performed at the Dwight-Englewood School.

Horace Mann received a portion of the ticket sales revenue from the Glee Club performances. And on at least one occasion Inslee Clark, the school’s headmaster at the time, attended the concert. Those events proved sufficient to give New Jersey jurisdiction over the case, Judge Friscia ruled.

“(T)he court finds that plaintiff has set forth sufficient facts to maintain a claim for negligent supervision in New Jersey,” Judge Lisa Perez Friscia of Bergen County Superior Court wrote in her decision.

The plaintiff has alleged that he was abused on more than 200 occasions at the Englewood Boat Basin.