NEWARK, N.J. — A prestigious New York City private school can't be held accountable for the alleged sexual abuse of a 14-year-old student by a former headmaster more than 30 years ago because the court where the suit was filed doesn't have jurisdiction over it, the school claims in court papers.
The Dalton School is named as a defendant with former headmaster Gardner Dunnan in the suit filed in June by the former student, identified by the initials J.S. She claims Dunnan sexually assaulted her at his homes in New York City and New Jersey in 1986, when she lived with him and his wife while attending the school.
Dunnan has denied the allegations, saying in June that he was "heartbroken about these false accusations." He is expected to file a response to the lawsuit in the next few weeks.
In a motion to dismiss the suit filed on Friday, the school argued New Jersey's district court doesn't have proper jurisdiction because the school doesn't actively solicit students, teachers or funding in New Jersey.
"It is undisputed that Dalton is incorporated in New York and that its principal place of business is New York," the school wrote. "While a small number of Dalton's students and faculty happen to be New Jersey residents (and come to New York to attend school or perform their jobs), that cannot give rise to personal jurisdiction in New Jersey."
Even if the allegations were true, the school also wrote, Dunnan's alleged behavior would have fallen outside the scope of his duties at the school.
According to the suit, Dunnan "repeatedly touched J.S. without her consent, fondling her breasts, sticking his tongue in her mouth, disrobing and groping her, laying on top of her, and thrusting his genitals against her," the lawsuit alleged.
The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, contends Dalton "knew or should have known that Dunnan engaged in acts of inappropriate, abusive, and/or harmful behavior toward individuals over whom he had power or control."
The former student has suffered from depression and anxiety in the years since the alleged abuse, and only began to realize the depth of the harm it caused after sexual assault allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men were publicized, according to the suit.
That "reasonable discovery of her injuries" occurred less than two years ago, keeping the claims within the statute of limitations, the suit claims.