United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
M. Brinkema United States District Judge
mid-1990s, Thomas Graham ("Graham") and Alan Lanier
("Lanier"), plaintiffs in these consolidated civil
actions, were the victims of child sexual abuse at the hands
of Steffon Rodney Christian ("Christian"), a former
employee of Baldwin Elementary School ("Baldwin
Elementary"). Christian was arrested in 2011 and
ultimately pleaded guilty to 22 counts of sex crimes against
minors, including crimes against plaintiffs. Graham and
Lanier, now adults, have sued Christian as well as the City
of Manassas School Board (the "School Board") and
Alice H. Howard ("Howard"), who was Baldwin
Elementary's principal at the time (collectively,
"defendants"), alleging federal claims under Title
IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 as well as state law claims of gross negligence,
battery, assault, and intentional infliction of emotional
the Court are the School Board's and Howard's motions
to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. For the reasons that follow, the School
Board's motions will be granted in their entirety;
Howard's motions will be granted in part and denied in
part; and all counts of plaintiffs' complaints except for
the gross negligence claims against Howard will be dismissed.
began working at Baldwin Elementary in 1981. He started as a
kindergarten instructional assistant and, in 1987, switched
to library secretary. He also coached the boys'
basketball team and ran the school safety patrol program.
Christian used these positions to develop inappropriately
close relationships with male Baldwin Elementary students. He
gave them gifts and money and supplied them with pornography.
He occasionally spent time with students outside school
grounds and after school hours, on golf outings and at his
home. Christian's efforts to cultivate connections with
male students were designed to "groom" them for
sexual abuse, and ultimately he forced many of them to engage
in various sexual acts with him, both at school and in his
was a student at Baldwin Elementary from 1992 to 1995, for
fourth through sixth grade. When he started fourth grade, he
heard from an older sixth-grade student that Christian was a
"child molester." Graham had never heard the term
before, and the comment did not prevent him from becoming
close with Christian. Their relationship began when Christian
helped Graham recover his stolen bicycle. By the time Graham
was in fifth grade, Christian began sexually abusing him in
the video room and equipment closet that was attached to
Chistian's office in the library. That abuse continued
throughout the summer after Graham graduated from Baldwin
Elementary in 1995. Once, when Graham was in ninth grade, he
was molested by Christian at Christian's home.
was a student at Baldwin Elementary from 1990 to 1993, also
for fourth through sixth grade. Christian began grooming
Lanier in fourth grade, asking him to join the boys'
basketball team and safety patrol. When Lanier was in fifth
grade, Christian began asking him about sex, pornography, and
other inappropriate topics. Christian spent a substantial
amount of time with Lanier, playing sports and helping him
with homework. Unlike in Graham's case, Christian's
sexual abuse of Lanier did not begin until Lanier had
graduated from Baldwin Elementary. In 1995, when Lanier was
in eighth grade, Christian brought Lanier to his home and
forced Lanier to perform sex acts. That summer, he abused
Lanier several times in his Baldwin Elementary office. The
abuse continued until 1999, when Lanier was in high school.
In an effort to cover his crimes, Christian bribed Lanier to
stay quiet and threatened him with violence if he told anyone
what was happening.
Christian's efforts to hide his misconduct, there were
signs that something was amiss. It was a matter of public
knowledge that Christian had close relationships with many
boys enrolled at Baldwin Elementary and often spent time with
them at school and beyond school grounds. Graham's mother
told Howard, Baldwin Elementary's principal at the time,
that she felt Christian's relationships with boys were
troubling. Lanier's mother had a similar conversation
with Howard. A school administrator publicly expressed
concerns about Christian, and a third-grade teacher observed
that Christian's relationships with male students were
inappropriately close. In 1996, someone contacted the local
police department to urge an investigation into whether
Christian was abusing male students. The police reached out
to Howard to gather evidence related to these allegations,
but Howard was allegedly "hostile" to such efforts,
and no charges were filed at that time.
2011, Christian was arrested and charged with four counts of
sexually abusing one male student at Baldwin Elementary in
the mid-1990s. This arrest encouraged other victims,
including the plaintiffs, to come forward with their
allegations of having been sexually abused. In June 2012,
Christian pleaded guilty to 22 criminal charges, which
included charges of sodomy and aggravated sexual battery
involving Graham and Lanier. He remains incarcerated in the
custody of the Virginia Department of Corrections.
plaintiffs, who turned 18 in the late 1990s or early 2000s,
have suffered long-term injuries as a result of
Christian's abuse. Lanier's severe psychological
distress stemming from the abuse has resulted in nightmares,
an inability to trust others or form meaningful romantic
relationships, and a dependency on alcohol. He also suffers
from extreme anxiety and has been suicidal. Graham had been
unable to concentrate or behave in class, and as a result he
failed ninth grade. His academic problems continued and, in
2004, he dropped out of college due to psychological
distress. He has struggled with guilt, anxiety, depression,
and substance abuse, and he too has difficulty trusting
others or forming romantic relationships. In August 2017,
both Graham and Lanier saw Dr. Brian Zimnitsky ("Dr.
Zimnitsky"), who informed them about the "causal
connection" between the sexual abuse they suffered at
Christian's hands and the "psychiatric
injuries" they have experienced.
February 8, 2019, nearly seven years after Christian was
convicted and sentenced, Graham and Lanier filed these civil
actions. Each plaintiffs eight-count complaint names
Christian, the School Board,  and Howard as defendants.
Counts I through IV assert federal law claims against the
School Board and Howard. Specifically, Count I alleges
discrimination or exclusion from participation in educational
activities in violation of Title IX. Counts II through IV
allege three theories of liability under § 1983 for
deprivation of plaintiffs' constitutional rights to be
free from sexual assault: failure to train (Count II),
supervisory liability (Count III), and state-created danger
(Count IV). Count V, also asserted against the School Board
and Howard, alleges gross negligence in violation of Virginia
law. Finally, Counts VI through VIII are state law claims
alleging that all three defendants are liable for battery
(Count VI), assault (Count VII), and intentional infliction
of emotional distress (Count VIII).
response to defendants' motions to dismiss, plaintiffs
concede that several of these claims should not go forward.
First, because Christian is incarcerated and thus deemed to
be incapacitated under state law, see Va. Code Ann. §
8.01-9(A),  plaintiffs have voluntarily dismissed him
from this civil action. Second, plaintiffs have consented to
dismissal, against Howard only, of Counts I, VI, VII, and
VIII. Plaintiffs' concessions leave Count I
(Title IX, against the School Board); Counts II, III, and IV
(§ 1983, against the School Board and Howard); Count V
(gross negligence, against the School Board and ...