Court Dismisses Sexual Abuse Case Involving Coach Due to Statute of Limitations

Mar 22, 2024

By Dr. Rachel S. Silverman

Previous students and athletes of Ashtabula High School, including one female and five males, are plaintiffs in an action alleging sexual abuse by a former Ashtabula teacher and coach. At the time of the alleged abuse, all plaintiffs were minors and not yet eighteen. Plaintiff Shelley Chapman was a student at Ashtabula High School from fall 1985 until spring 1988 and played on the girls’ basketball and volleyball teams and ran track. After graduating, Chapman was an assistant volleyball coach at Ashtabula High School. The male plaintiffs, Sean Allgood, Nathaniel Jones, Adrian Mathers, Andre Miller, and Brian Scruggs, were students at Ashtabula High School from 1985 to 1990 and played on the school’s football and basketball teams. Allgood also ran track. Defendants include Christine Seuffert, a former teacher and volleyball coach, and Ashtabula Area City School District.

Chapman met Seuffert during her sophomore year of high school because Seuffert was Chapman’s homeroom teacher. Chapman began to visit Seuffert’s classroom during lunch and more frequently as the school year continued. Seuffert invited Chapman to stop by her house when riding her bike to the beach. After multiple visits and talks outside Seuffert’s house, Seuffert gave Chapman her phone number, and they began to speak on the phone nightly. Chapman played volleyball junior year, and Seuffert was the head coach. Seuffert would occasionally drive Chapman home from the games, and Chapman continued to ride her bike to Seuffert’s house. Seuffert started inviting Chapman inside, and they would have dinner together as well as drink alcohol. Allegedly, Seuffert would give Chapman so many hall or late passes for class that other teachers stopped accepting them. On Saturdays, Seuffert would pick Chapman up from a local cleaners and would bring Chapman back to her house to watch television together. Eventually, Chapman claims they began ‘cuddling’ on the couch. Seuffert began visiting Chapman at her house late at night, and they would lay in bed together, cuddling and engaging in sexual activity. They did the same at Seuffert’s house as well. Chapman says on one occasion, Seuffert was shocked by the escalation of sexual activity and objected, and Seuffert wrote Chapman several apology letters. A few weeks later, the two began to see each other romantically. Chapman’s sister caught Seuffert sleeping with Chapman in her bed. When Chapman’s mother learned of Seuffert routinely picking up her daughter from the cleaners, she called the school and complained about the teacher-student interactions. After Chapman graduated from high school, the romantic relationship continued.

Chapman and plaintiff Miller began spending time together, at which point Chapman was already spending time with Seuffert. Chapman began taking Miller with her when she visited Seuffert’s house. Seuffert would provide alcohol, and Miller witnessed that Seuffert and Chapman had an “intimate, sexual relationship.” The other male plaintiffs joined Miller at Seuffert’s house several times per week, and she would provide them all with alcohol. Seuffert also flirted with male plaintiffs and engaged in physical touching and sexual activity with the plaintiffs.

Rumors about gatherings, drinking, and sexual activity at Seuffert’s house began spreading around the high school. The head boys’ basketball coach heard these rumors and threatened to suspend the male plaintiffs if the rumors were true. The male plaintiffs denied the rumors because they did not want to lose their spots on the team. The male plaintiffs stopped going to Seuffert’s house after the coach’s threat of suspension, but the school did not investigate or report Seuffert.

Fastforward over thirty years later, Ashtabula High School received an anonymous letter in November 2021 detailing Seuffert’s unethical behavior with students. This letter named the plaintiffs as the victims. The letter caused the plaintiffs to realize they were the victims, not the ones who did something wrong. Ashtabula hired Podojil Consulting and Professional Services to investigate the allegations. Podojil interviewed the male plaintiffs and basketball coaches, who confirmed the allegations as accurate, but Seuffert denied the allegations. After the investigation, Ashtabula referred the matter to the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff’s Department conducted its own investigation and found the same information. In the summer of 2022, Sueffert resigned from her position on the Ashtabula school board.

On May 16, 2023, the plaintiffs filed a twenty-count complaint against Ashtabula, Seuffert, and “John Does” alleging violations of Title IX, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983“), various negligence theories, Ohio Rev. Code § 2307.60, breach of fiduciary duty, and respondeat superior. On July 21, 2023, Ashtabula filed a Motion to Dismiss. Then, on November 13, 2023, Seuffert filed a Motion to Dismiss.

Seuffert’s Motion to Dismiss challenged the court’s subject-matter jurisdiction. Seuffert claimed the plaintiffs are unable to raise a federal question. Therefore, this court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. However, the court denied Seuffert’s Motion to Dismiss under 12(b)(1) because Title IX and Section 1983 are federal-questions the court has jurisdiction over. Relatedly, the court also has the discretion to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over other state-law claims. The court denied Seuffert’s Motion to Dismiss as moot under Rule 12(b)(7). Seuffert further included in her Motion to Dismiss that she wished to join Ashtabula’s Motion to Dismiss pursuant to rule 12(b)(6).

Ashtabula moved to dismiss plaintiffs’ federal and state law claims against it under Rule 12(b)(6). Ashtabula moved to dismiss the Title IX claims because they claim plaintiffs failed to show that an individual with authority at Ashtabula had actual notice of the alleged sexual misconduct and the claims are time-barred. Although the court concluded plaintiffs plausibly plead actual notice, the Title IX claims are time-barred. Although Title IX does not have its own statute of limitations, it borrows from Ohio’s two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. When the statute of limitations begins to accrue is a question of federal law. The court stated that the statute of limitations for the male plaintiffs began when they knew or should have known that the “appropriate persons” at Ashtabula knew of Seuffert’s misconduct and failed to respond appropriately. The male plaintiffs alleged the basketball coaches became aware of the conduct around 1989 or 1990, so, according to the court, that is when the statute of limitations began. For Chapman, the start of the statute of limitations is less clear because she was not confronted about Seuffert’s abuse by an authority from the school, but her mother called the school to complain about Seuffert’s interactions with her daughter in 1988 during Chapman’s senior year. Therefore, the court found that the statute of limitations began in 1988. As a result of such findings, the male plaintiffs and Chapman’s Title IX claims were deemed to be time-barred by the statute of limitations.

Plaintiffs’ other claims were based on the first claim, and since the first claim was barred by the statute of limitations, the court dismissed the remaining federal claims. In conclusion, the court granted Ashtabula’s Motion to Dismiss on the plaintiff’s federal claims, and the court granted in part Seuffert’s Motion to Dismiss to the extent she joins Ashtabula’s Motion to Dismiss. However, the court denied in part Seuffert’s Motion to Dismiss under Rules 12(b)(1) and (7). The court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over remaining state-law claims and dismissed them. 


Chapman v. Seuffert, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13856 *; 2024 WL 310093

Dr. Rachel S. Silverman is an Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator for the Sport and Recreation Management Program in the Kinesiology and Sport Sciences Department at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Her research agenda focuses on women in sports, including legal, sociological, and ethical aspects of sports management.

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