SAN JOSE — A judge upheld a civil jury’s $102.5 million judgment for two women who were groomed and sexually abused by a now-imprisoned South San Jose music teacher, rejecting arguments from a school district that the jury’s findings were unfair and excessive.
In March, the jury found that the Union School District should bear the majority of civil liability for the actions of Samuel Neipp, a former teacher at Dartmouth Middle School. Neipp is serving a 56-year prison sentence after his 2019 no contest plea for sexually exploiting two girls under his guardianship between 2009 and 2014.
The jurors found the district to be 80% responsible for the abuse suffered by a plaintiff brought before the court as Jane Doe 1, and 55% responsible for the second plaintiff, Jane Doe 2. These percentages and the amount itself of the award — one of the largest school neglect payments in county history — prompted the district to file a motion for a new trial and challenge the judgment.
On Friday, Superior Court Judge Eric Geffon denied both actions. When accounting for liability shares, this means that Doe 1 should receive $52 million from the district, while Doe 2 should receive $20.6 million.
Neipp was arrested in 2017 after Doe 1 told police he threatened to post nude images of her online. This led her to reveal that from around 2014 when she attended Dartmouth Middle School, Neipp exchanged inappropriate texts with her and then engaged in sexual acts with her.
After hearing the news of Neipp’s arrest, Doe 2 contacted the police and reported that around 2009, Neipp had started texting and emailing her and regularly spending time alone with her in her classroom. Both complainants reported that the abuse continued even after they left school.
Their lawsuit claimed district officials reprimanded Neipp but never formally punished him after he learned of similar texts with another student, telling him in a letter that while his behavior was “inappropriate and did not show good judgment”, the matter would be kept confidential.
The Union School District superintendent was unavailable for comment on Monday. In court filings, district attorneys argued that Neipp covered up his Doe 2 abuse to the point that they didn’t find out until years later and had no opportunity to intervene. With Doe 1, the district said it acted reasonably when it reported its text exchanges to police and referred to initial investigations which found no evidence of wrongdoing.
They further argued that the jurors had been misled and unfairly influenced by the plaintiffs’ attorneys, and wrote that the conclusion that the district was more responsible for the abuse than Neipp himself “cannot bear “. They also asked the court to review the amount of compensation itself, which it deemed excessive.
“They have suffered significant trauma, but the measure here is completely out of whack,” the district attorney wrote.
Geffon was unswayed by the district’s arguments and denied their motions to vacate the judgment and for a new trial.
Lauren Cerri, a San Jose-based Corsiglia, McMahon and Allard attorney who represented Doe 1, called the district’s actions after the March jury verdict another example of evading liability. She referenced a settlement in late May, also secured by her law firm, in which the Union School District agreed to pay $7.5 million to five men who were sexually assaulted by a teacher in the 1970s and 1980s, without the intervention of its administrator overtly. suspicious behavior.
“The school district failed to protect my client and then took no responsibility at trial,” Cerri said, referring to Doe 1.
In related filings, the district has asked for the ability to pay at least half — if not all — of the $72.6 million it now owes the two plaintiffs in installments over the next decade. In the documents, district attorneys said a lump sum payment would be a “chilling blow” that could force schools to close, and noted that the amount of the judgment is more than the district’s operating budget.
Cerri said the district’s claim that he had no commercial insurance but was instead part of an insurance pool was a distinction without difference. She wrote in a filed response that at a minimum, 50% of amounts owed should be paid immediately.
In an interview Monday, she dismissed the idea that the district’s financial liability from the judgment will hit operating coffers.
“Most if not all of the judgment will be paid for by insurance or insurance pools,” Cerri said. “That’s why these districts drag out litigation and continue to fail to take responsibility even after the jury has spoken.”