School Liability for Assaults of Students – In the Place of the Parent (In Loco Parentis)
In loco parentis is a centuries old legal concept coined in 18th century England. It literally means “in place of the parent.” In general, a school stands in loco parentis to the children it is tasked with educating. While a child is at school, the school takes the place of the parent. Sounds simple enough. However, when it comes to child sex abuse lawsuits against schools in New Jersey, the in loco parentis and household requirement often present hurdles for victims seeking justice through child sex abuse lawsuits against schools.
Under New Jersey’s Child Sexual Abuse Act, individuals who allow child molestation can be held liable in a child sex abuse lawsuit. The Act provides, “A parent, resource family parent, guardian or other person standing in loco parentis within the household who knowingly permits or acquiesces in sexual abuse by any other person also commits sexual abuse…” (emphasis added).
The Act applies a relaxed statute of limitations period for cases that fall within its reach. Cases filed under the Act get the benefit of a 2 year statute of limitations, but here’s the important part—the clock starts ticking after the victim reasonably discovers that they were affected by the abuse. In ordinary cases, New Jersey’s usual statute of limitations applies, which is 2 years from the date of the incident. In essence, the Child Sexual Abuse Act’s statute of limitations allows lawsuits to succeed in cases of decades old abuse. This is why child sexual abuse lawsuits are often filed under the Act.
In Loco Parentis Within the Household – Private Schools versus Public Schools
Over the past two decades, there has been a slew of New Jersey court cases which have interpreted the key language, “in loco parentis within the household.”
New Jersey courts have made a distinction between the treatment of private and public schools under the NJ’s Child Sexual Abuse Act. The reason is the Act’s dual requirement. First, the individual (or entity) must stand in loco parentis, and most schools, public or private, do.
Second, the individual/entity must be within the household. The second requirement is where most cases are won or lost.
Household Requirement – Did the School Provide Food, Shelter, Education, Etc.?
Private Boarding School
One of the most important cases was Hardwicke v. American Boychoir School, a 2006 New Jersey Supreme Court case. In the Hardwicke case, the court found that a boarding school was “within the household” under the Act because it provided food, shelter, education, recreational activities and emotional support to students. The court further explained that whether a school is “within the household” depends on the circumstances of the case, specifically the qualities and characteristics of the relationship between the student/victim and the school. The court also stressed that the household requirement does not require that the student reside at the school.
In general, New Jersey courts have found that public schools are not households under the Act. In Y.G. v. Bd. of Educ. for the Twp. of Teaneck, a 2011 unpublished opinion from the New Jersey Superior Court, the court found that a public day school was not a household for purposes of the Child Sexual Abuse Act.
When it comes to private day (non-boarding) schools, at least one NJ court held in favor of the student. See Nunnery v. Salesian Missions, Inc. (District of New Jersey, 2008), which found a private day school to be within the household under the Act. However, more recently, a federal court in New Jersey held that a Catholic school was not a household under the Act. See Bryson v. Diocese of Camden, (District of New Jersey, 2012).
For more legal info about lawsuits against schools for sex assault or abuse of a student, visit our PA & NJ School Sex Abuse Law Library.
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