Hamilton County and the Tennessee Department of Children's Services claim three former Ooltewah High School employees cannot sue them for actions taken after the 2015 rape of a student.
In June, former Ooltewah High School Principal Jim Jarvis, the school's former athletic director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley and former head basketball coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery, along with their wives, filed a federal lawsuit against the Hamilton County Department of Education, Tennessee Department of Children's Services, Hamilton County, the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office, Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston and former Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith for handling of the rape.
The attack at the center of this case happened in December 2015, when an Ooltewah High School freshman was raped by his basketball teammates with a pool cue during a team trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn. The victim, 15 at the time of the attack, suffered injuries so severe he was rushed to a hospital for emergency surgery.
The victim filed a federal lawsuit against Jarvis, Nayadley and Montgomery, including the Hamilton County Board of Education, late last year in connection with the attack. Another victim also was sexually assaulted by his teammates with a pool cue during the trip and filed a federal lawsuit. The cases are moving toward trial next year.
Both lawsuits claim Hamilton County Schools and the three men ignored signs of abuse and allowed a culture of bullying and sexual assault to fester at the school, leaving students unprotected.
But Jarvis, Nayadley and Montgomery claim they are victims, and the lawsuit they filed alleges negligence, age and race discrimination, wrongful termination, defamation, fraud and breach of fiduciary duty, among other things, in connection with the rape case. Each of the men asks for at least $25,000 for emotional harm, pain and suffering, $1,550,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages. Their wives each ask for $100,000 in damages for loss of consortium.
Hamilton County recently filed a six-page response to the lawsuit, arguing it cannot be held responsible for the actions of the school system, children's services or the district attorney's office, saying each are separate legal entities or agencies. The county is also not responsible for the actions of Smith or Pinkston, the response claims.
"To the extent that the Hamilton County was obligated to act or refrain from acting, all actions undertaken or refrained from being undertaken by Hamilton County were taken in good faith and were without malice or willfulness," the response says.
But the lawsuit claims the county is responsible because it funds the school system and district attorney's office.
In the response, Hamilton County says it "cannot be held liable for any damages claimed by the Plaintiffs on the grounds that the injuries sustained by the Plaintiffs were not proximately caused by or directly related to any unconstitutional practice on the part of the county."
The response was filed by the county's long-serving attorney, Rheubin Taylor.
The Tennessee Department of Children's Services also recently filed a two-page motion, asking that the case against it be dismissed, saying the lawsuit failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
"This Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims against DCS because DCS is a state entity cloaked with Eleventh Amendment immunity," the motion claims.
Attorney General Herbert Slatery III filed the motion on behalf of Children's Services and notes that he conferred with the plaintiffs' attorney, Curtis Bowe, asking "whether an amendment could cure Plaintiffs' deficient pleading."
A consensus was not reached, Slatery notes in the motion.
The lawsuit claims Children's Services took inappropriate action when handling the case and failed to follow policy, procedure or protocol. Children's Services also erroneously named Montgomery and Nayadley for failing to report child abuse and/or lack of supervision without the due process to which they were entitled under law, the lawsuit claims.
Children's Services also still has an administrative charge pending against Montgomery for a lack of supervision, preventing him from working as a teacher, coach or within a school system, the lawsuit states.
The criminal charges of failure to report child sexual abuse against Montgomery and Nayadley have been dismissed.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Travis McDonough ordered that the lawsuit filed by the three former Ooltewah High School employees be consolidated with the two federal lawsuits filed by the students in the case, since all three lawsuits arise from the same incident.
"The Court finds that they will likely involve common questions of law and fact such that it would be in the interest of judicial economy for the instant case to be consolidated with [the previous two,]" the order states.
But McDonough notes there is a likelihood of confusion or prejudice if all three cases proceed to trial at the same time, because the lawsuit filed by the students names Jarvis, Nayadley and Montgomery as defendants, and they are plaintiffs in the most recent lawsuit. The three former Ooltewah High School employees also have added defendants who are not included in the students' lawsuits, and assert new claims, the order says.
McDonough concluded that the case should be consolidated for discovery and separated at trial.
The Hamilton County Department of Education and Smith previously filed a joint response to the lawsuit. Pinkston and the district attorney's office are expected to file a response in coming weeks.