A judge has ruled in favor of the Miles City Unified School District, dropping two counts in a lawsuit alleging the district is responsible for not stopping former athletic trainer James "Doc" Jensen’s decades-long sexual abuse of students.
The district and Jensen are named in a September 2018 lawsuit that claims Jensen sexually assaulted as many as 100 boys during his 25-year tenure with the high school.
Jensen has pleaded guilty in federal court to a single count of enticing boys for sexual purposes and remains in custody. He also faces 10 state felony counts alleging he possessed child pornography of boys as young as age 9.
Because of the state’s statute of limitation laws, Jensen could not be charged with any of the hundreds of alleged abuses against boys during his time working for the high school between the late 1970s and until at least 1998.
On Monday, Bryant Martin, an attorney for the plaintiffs, called the judge's ruling routine "procedural cleanup" that doesn't affect the bulk of the lawsuit's negligence claims against the district.
On Monday, Custer County District Judge Nickolas Murnion issued a summary judgment dropping one count in the suit alleging the district, as Jensen’s employer, was vicariously liable for his illegal actions against the boys.
The judge ruled the plaintiffs’ claim of “vicarious liability is not a stand-alone cause of action.”
Within a few hours of the ruling, plaintiff's attorneys refiled their motion so the claim doesn't stand alone.
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"It's housekeeping, that's all it is," said Martin.
A second count was dropped that claimed the district broke state law by failing to inform state officials after receiving a complaint about Jensen from a parent.
The law at the time required reporting claims of abuse in cases involving parents, guardians, or any adult residing in the same home as the victim. The law also included day care facilities, residential institutions and agencies, but not specifically schools.
“Since defendant Jensen is not the parent of the children allegedly abused in this case,” he doesn’t fit the law’s “defined caretaker” statute, the judge ruled.
Martin said the plaintiffs plan to proceed with claims the district was negligent beyond the scope of the reporting statute.
“We’ll still use all of those arguments,” he said.
Jeff Weldon, an attorney for the law firm defending the school district, praised Murnion's ruling in an emailed statement.
"Part of the problem with claims that go so far back in time is looking at those events through the lens of today," Weldon wrote. "The Court recognized in its dismissal of the negligence per se claim that the plaintiffs’ claim was based on the statute as written today rather than the statute as it was written in the 1990s. The District continues to discover information about the allegations and will continue to defend its position in this suit."