Federal District Court judge Frederic Block ruled in a Brooklyn court Tuesday that private school Poly Prep could not use New York State’s statue of limitations to thwart a lawsuit levied by its former students who allege that a popular football coach had molested them.
The decision comes amid rumblings that a group of former Horace Mann students, who have accused the Bronx private school’s faculty of sexual abuse during the 1970s and 80s, had hired attorney Gloria Allred to pursue legal action against the school.
Poly Prep argued to have the case against former football coach Phil Foglietta dismissed on the grounds that the statute of limitations for his accusers –which include 10 former students and two day campers, according to The New York Daily News–had expired after those students turned 23:
“Central to plaintiffs’ claims in the present case are their allegations that Poly Prep engaged in an affirmative course of conduct during the period of limitations to deceive the plaintiffs into believing that they had no claim against Poly Prep because the school had no knowledge of Foglietta’s wrongdoing…Foglietta was consistently portrayed to the plaintiffs as a reputable and esteemed football coach throughout the limitations period (1966-1991),” Block wrote in Tuesday’s order.
Mr. Foglietta was accused of molesting students at Poly Prep from 1966 to 1991. In the ruling, the first complaint against Mr. Foglietta came in 1966 from a student (and his family) alleging several instances of abuse.
Per The New York Times:
The family was told that an investigation was conducted, that the student’s claims were not credible and that the student would face “severe consequences” if he continued to make such allegations, according to the ruling.
Horace Mann has been grappling with allegations of sexual abuse by its former faculty members following a June New York Times Sunday Magazine profile which detailed the alleged incidents. The three professors highlighted in the story, including the former chair of the arts and music department, are all dead.
While the statute of limitations was long thought to be a roadblock for adults who were seeking litigation against their former schools for actions that took place decades ago, one attorney with experience trying these kinds of cases said plaintiffs could still accuse their schools of conspiracy and fraud.
“They’re concealing this information they should be revealing, and then they are hiding behind the statute of limitations, saying, ‘Oh, you should have sued us,’” the attorney added. “It’s an absurd and asinine construction, asking kids who could not possibly have any idea that the school had knowledge of this activity to have to sue the school by a certain time, while the school is still fervently engaged in a coverup to minimize its own culpability and its own knowledge,” the lawyer said.
After Mr. Foglietta retired in 1991, Poly Prep held a celebratory banquet at the Downtown Athletic Club in his honor, and set up a memorial fund in his name after he died in 1998. Such measures depicted Mr. Foglietta as a celebrated coach, despite the allegations from former students at the time.
Judge Block described Poly Prep’s actions as “deceitful conduct” by claiming ignorance of Mr. Foglietta’s actions and allegations.
From the NY Daily News:
Block dismissed claims the plaintiffs made against the elite private school based on the anti-racketeering statute known as RICO. But he will allow RICO claims made by two plaintiffs, Philip Culhane and Philip Henningsen, to proceed against former and current Poly Prep officials because they said they would not have donated money to the school if they had known that Poly Prep officials knew about the alleged abuse as early as the 1960s.