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Kauhako v. State of Hawaii Board of Education Department of Education

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

December 21, 2016

ANGELICA J. KAUHAKO, individually and as parent and next friend of her minor child, MARIANA DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF HAWAII BOARD OF EDUCATION DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants. STATE OF HAWAII BOARD OF EDUCATION DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants and Third-Party Plaintiffs,
v.
RUSTON TOM, Third-Party Defendant.

          ORDER ADOPTING FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION TO DENY THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT RUSTON TOM'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES

          DERRICK K. WATSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Following a nine-day trial, the jury returned a verdict against the State of Hawaii Board of Education Department of Education (“State”) and Kristin Lindquist on Angelica Kauhako and her daughter Mariana's negligence-based claims arising out of an alleged sexual assault against Mariana by another student at Waianae High School, Third-Party Defendant Ruston Tom. The jury also returned a verdict in favor of Tom on the State's third-party claim against him for contribution. Following the favorable verdict, Tom sought attorneys' fees against the State as the prevailing party under statutory fee shifting provisions.

         Tom objects to the Magistrate Judge's October 28, 2016 Findings and Recommendation (F&R), denying his post-trial motion for attorneys' fees and costs.[1] Because Tom is not entitled to attorneys' fees under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1415, or Hawaii Revised Statutes (“HRS”) § 607-14.5, and there is no other basis under which to award fees, the Court ADOPTS the conclusions of the F&R and overrules Tom's Objections.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Claims, Third-Party Claims, And Trial

         A. Claims and Third-Party Claims

         On September 6, 2013, Kauhako filed a Complaint against the State; Lindquist, Mariana's Special Education teacher; and Nelson Shigeta, Principal of Waianae High School (collectively, the “State Defendants”), alleging that Tom sexually assaulted Mariana in a school bathroom during school hours. The Complaint asserted the following claims: (1) violation of Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a), based on student-on-student sexual harassment (Count I); (2) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX (Count II); (3) premises liability (Count III); (4) sexual assault and battery (Count IV); (5) negligent supervision of students (Count V); (6) negligent hiring, training, and/or supervision of school staff (Count VI); (7) negligence (Count VII); (8) gross negligence (Count VIII); (9) willful and wanton conduct/reckless disregard (Count IX); (10) intentional infliction of severe emotional distress (“IIED”) (Count X); (11) negligent infliction of emotional distress (“NIED”) (Count XI); (12) and a respondeat superior claim against the State (Count XII). See Dkt. No. 1-1.

         On November 7, 2013, the State Defendants filed a First Amended Third-Party Complaint against Tom, seeking contribution and indemnification in the event that that they were found liable to Kauhako for any injuries or damages. See Dkt. No. 11. Tom's Motion to Strike or Dismiss the Third-Party Complaint was denied in a July 11, 2014 order. See Dkt. No. 29.

         B. Trial And Verdict

         Trial commenced on April 18, 2016. As a result of rulings on several dispositive motions, see Dkt. Nos. 45 and 83, the following claims remained for trial against the State and Lindquist: (1) violation of Title IX (Count I); (2) negligent supervision of students (Count V); (3) negligence (Count VII); (4) gross negligence (Count VIII); (5) IIED (Count X); and (6) NIED (Count XI).

         During the course of trial, the Court denied Tom's motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a). See Dkt. Nos. 185 and 191. Tom's Rule 50(a) Motion asserted, in part:

that any arguable third party claims against Ruston are not based upon federal statutes that automatically confer jurisdiction upon the federal district court since Ruston, himself, has no liabilities under Title IX or under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act [“IDEA”]. Perhaps he could have been sued by the Plaintiff for negligent or intentional torts under Hawaii State law, but the Plaintiff has chosen not to pursue any such claims against Ruston. Accordingly, this Court's jurisdiction arises - if at all - under 28 U.S.C. 1367(a), the statute that allows this Court to exercise its “supplemental jurisdiction” under certain clearly defined circumstances or, alternatively to decline jurisdiction for reasons set forth in Section 1367(c). In their Third-Party Complaint against Ruston the Defendants made no allegations pertaining to jurisdiction and to this date never have articulated any basis or justification for this Court to hear their claims against Ruston Tom.

Dkt. No. 185 at 4-5.

         The jury returned its verdict on May 2, 2016, finding the State and Lindquist liable for negligence, negligent supervision, and NIED. The jury awarded Kauhako general damages in the amount of $157, 500, and awarded Mariana $630, 000 in general damages, $2, 825 for past medical expenses and $20, 000 for future medical expenses. The jury also apportioned fault between the Defendants, finding the State 95 percent and Lindquist 5 percent liable, respectively. See Dkt. No. 204. The jury's verdict included a determination that Kauhako failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Lindquist was motivated by malice. As a result, post-trial, the Court ruled as a matter of law ...


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