FARMINGTON, Utah (AP) — A Utah judge tossed out a lawsuit Thursday claiming a school district didn’t do enough to protect students from a female teacher who sexually abused three male students.
Judge John Morris said he was ruling in line with a Utah law that protects schools from liability when students are assaulted.
Lindy Hamilton, a lawyer for one of the students, said she plans to appeal the decision. Hamilton argued that the school should have known that 36-year-old Brianne Altice had lost a job due to alleged sexual misconduct before she was hired.
Altice is serving at least two and up to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual abuse charges in a plea deal stemming from allegations that she had sex with 16-and-17-year-old students.
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At her sentencing, she said she was emotionally damaged and made mistakes by giving into her teenage students’ advances.
The lawsuit seeking at least $674,000 in damages claims school administrators didn’t do enough in response to signs of her sexual misconduct that included photos of her having a picnic with one of the victims that were anonymously sent in 2013 to the principal at Davis High School.
Prosecutors have said Altice was warned not to get too close to her students but still went on to have a sexual relationship with the teen boy.
Hamilton said her teen client was publicly shamed and emotionally scarred when his contact with Altice became public in the high-profile case.
“He’s forever branded as the kid who had sex with his teacher,” said Hamilton. She argued that the protections provided to schools by state law don’t apply because it was the shaming, not the illegal sex, that created the lasting damage.
The Associated Press does not generally name minors who police say are victims of sex abuse.
State attorneys representing the school district argued that the law is clear, though it’s more typically applied in cases like fights on school property.
In his ruling, Judge Morris said he was constrained by the law. “I feel I have to rule that way,” he said.
Hamilton says a recent Utah Supreme Court ruling that allowed the family of a girl killed in a sinkhole to sue state road authorities for shoddy maintenance could change the rules on government immunity and bolster her appeal.
The parents of one of the other teenage victims in the Altice case also sued the school but withdrew the suit after state attorneys raised similar immunity arguments.