WE NEED YOUR HELP — Support your hometown newspaper by making a donation.

Sewanhaka Central High School District battles two Supreme Court cases

Posted

The Sewanhaka Central High School District Board of Education approved a resolution on Nov. 24 to hire Farmingdale-based Guercio and Guercio as special counsel “to defend the district’s interests” in an unspecified legal proceeding. But court records show that the district is actually involved in two separate cases in New York State Supreme Court. It was unclear at press time whether Guercio and Guercio was hired for either of those cases.

Elmont residents Christina Drummond-Young and Eric Young filed the more recent case against the district in February, claiming that district officials were negligent in allowing “a dangerous condition ” they “knew, or should have known, existed and continued to exist” within the district’s premises, and failed to warn Drummond-Young of the dangerous conditions (which are not specified in the lawsuit) when she fell down the stairs to the track at Elmont Memorial High School in August 2019.

George Gridelli, an attorney representing the Youngs, told the Herald that the “dangerous conditions” include the steps not being uniform in distance, and the handrail being too low to the ground.

As a result, the lawsuit claims, Drummond-Young fractured her ankle and needed surgery. Her insurance paid her medical bills, Gridelli said, but she is seeking damages for her pain and suffering that exceed the limits of lower courts’ awards.

Additionally, the lawsuit claims, Eric Young, Drummond-Young’s husband, “has been deprived of her society, companionship and consortium, and was otherwise required to render to her services for her care and cure, and as such has been damaged in an amount which exceeds the monetary jurisdictional limits of all New York State courts.”

The couple filed a Notice of Claim for the damages in September 2019, the lawsuit asserts, but the district “refused to make payment.”

Attorneys for the district declined to comment because the case is ongoing, but acknowledged in court documents that a Notice of Claim was filed and had not been paid. They denied all of the other allegations.

The parties are due back in court in January.

In the meantime, the district must also deal with a second lawsuit, which a former student, Diane Messelschmitt, filed last year under the state’s Child Victims Act. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the act into law in February 2019, extending the statute of limitations for survivors of child sexual abuse to file a criminal or civil case and allowing claims to be brought against institutions that may have been involved in the abuse.

The suit alleges that the district and H. Frank Carey High School officials are “vicariously liable and responsible for their own acts and omissions which caused, allowed and permitted” former teacher, band instructor and cheerleading and dance squad coach Stanley Indig to sexually abuse and assault young girls at the school, including Messelschmitt, who was then known as Diane Schleimer.

Messelschmitt played in the band and took part in cheerleading and dance squad when she attended Carey from 1985 to 1987, the suit states, and “encountered defendant Stanley Indig on an almost daily basis.” In the spring of 1987, the suit claims, Indig “began to invade plaintiff’s personal space, often sitting right next to her she practiced piano alone in the music room,” and once told Messelschmitt that he was “‘going through a difficult time in his marriage,’ and stated that he was ‘so glad I have you.’”

One day in March, the suit states, Indig followed Messelschmitt into the supply closet in the music room, “closed the door behind him and proceeded to sexually assault her,” grabbing her by the neck and shoulders, “forcibly kissing her, and reaching his hand under her skirt to touch and grab her intimate parts and her vagina.”

District officials were supposed to be responsible for her care, well-being and safety, and had a duty to protect her from abuse and other harms, Messelschmitt’s attorneys argue in court documents, because she was a minor in their care, and “were aware and/or should have been aware that Stanley Indig was a sexual abuser who had inappropriate contact with and inappropriate relations with children.” He frequently sought to be left alone with children, the lawsuit alleges, frequently left school grounds with students, in violation of school rules, and had a reputation as a “pig” who wanted to expose himself.

Lawyers for Indig and the district declined to comment, but the district’s attorneys denied the allegations in court documents, claiming that, since the alleged incident occurred more than 30 year ago, the district no longer had the relevant personnel documents and the statute of limitations had lapsed. Therefore, they argued, the lawsuit should be dismissed.

They are due back in court on Dec. 9.