Golden Valley: Breck School wants suit over ex-teacher’s sex abuse tossed

Pioneer Press: Breck School wants to dismiss a lawsuit by a former student who claims that he was sexually abused by a former teacher there — and that school officials knew about it.
Rich Covin, 52, a retired retina surgeon now living in Rhinelander, Wis., says he was abused by former teacher William Jacobs when Covin was a student at the Golden Valley school in the early 1970s.
Covin came forward after Jacobs was charged in another case, 35 years after the Breck incident.
He has sued and settled with the imprisoned Jacobs, but he also sued Breck in Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis. The suit alleges that the school committed fraud by not warning Covin and his parents about Jacobs’ history of sexual abuse.
Breck School denies it committed fraud.
“He was already harmed by the sexual abuse before Breck had its notice,” Breck attorney Marianne Short said during a hearing Friday, Aug. 17.
Short asked Judge William Howard to dismiss the case based on Minnesota’s statute of limitations, which says a fraud claim must be filed within six years of its discovery. Because 36 years have passed since Covin was abused, Short said, the claim was barred.
She also said the school’s duties to its students did not include disclosing that Jacobs was a sexual predator. The school, Short said, “has no duty to disclose — only to protect and supervise.”
Covin’s attorney, Jeffrey Anderson disagreed. Not only did the school have an obligation to disclose information about Jacobs’ past, Anderson said, but the school also had a fiduciary duty to warn Covin and his parents because Covin was a minor in Breck’s care.
“I do agree with Ms. Short on one thing: that the facts are repugnant and deplorable,” he said.
Anderson said the six-year limit does not apply because Covin discovered that Breck had defrauded him in 2010, after details of Jacobs’ sexual abuse became public.
In January 2010, a young man came forward with allegations of Jacobs’ sexual abuse. He told his mother that Jacobs had been abusing him since a 2007 camping trip.
Jacobs was sentenced April 9 in Hennepin County to 18 years in prison after he pleaded guilty of three counts of criminal sexual conduct and three counts of possession of child pornography.
In a June deposition, Jacobs — who has worked as a camp counselor, teacher, Minneapolis Park Police chief, and lawyer — said he was accused of sexual abuse twice at Breck School. He said he reported himself to the headmaster, John Littleford, but was not reported to authorities. He finished his contract, received his pay and left the school.
The following year, Jacobs testified, Littleford asked him back to Breck to teach chemistry and run an outdoor education program. During this time, Covin said, the sexual abuse began.
Covin did not know about the other students until 2010, Anderson said, and thus could not have filed a lawsuit against Breck. In his closing comments, he said the school chose profit over its duty to protect a student.
Howard gave both attorneys 60 days to find new evidence or court decisions that may have bearing on the case. He promised a decision in a few months.
Amanda Ogbuehi is a University of St.Thomas intern covering civil court news under a grant from the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information.