Change in law opens door for Shattuck-St. Mary's negligence lawsuit, and many others

Lynn Seibel escorted from Rice County Courthouse
Lynn Seibel is escorted out of the Rice County Courthouse on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, after his first appearance on 17 felony charges, in Faribault, Minn.
Cristeta Boarini/AP

The lawsuit filed by a former Shattuck-St. Mary's student Monday that accuses the school of negligence comes after the state enacted a new law allowing child sexual abuse victims more time to bring claims as adults.

The student, who was not named in a lawsuit filed by lawyer Jeff Anderson, claims the Faribault boarding school failed to protect him from sexual abuse by former teacher Lynn Seibel a decade ago. The suit also alleges the school continued to employ Seibel despite claims of sexual abuse and that school administrators were told about Seibel's behavior.

Anderson has represented victims of sex abuse at Penn State and in the Catholic Church. In the past two weeks since the Child Victims Act became law, Anderson has filed lawsuits against the Archdioceses of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, the Diocese of Winona, St. John's Preparatory Academy, the Order of St. Benedict and St. John's Abbey, on behalf of those who say they were sexually abused.

Anderson said the law gives "survivors a chance to regain their power, to get help hope and healing, and to do something to protect other kids. It's enormously important, one of the most important developments in a public policy in child protection in Minnesota there's ever been."

• Arrest: Ex-Faribault teacher faces sex crimes charges
• Affidavit: Read the complaint against Lynn Seibel
• Story: Lynn Seibel was previously accused of misconduct
• Story: Police, school differ on whether abuse was reported
• Story: Quiet, southern Minnesota town reacts to allegations
• Story: Unwelcome spotlight falls on prestigious school
• Story: Teachers claim alleged abuse was known, not reported
• Interview: 'I'm still innocent,' Lynn Seibel says from jail
• Story: Victims silent, until one charged with similar crime
• Story: Former student sues school for negligence
• Chronology: Alleged abuse at Shattuck-St. Mary's

Shattuck-St. Mary's President Nick Stoneman, through a spokesperson, declined an interview request. In a statement, the school said, "We're disappointed that Mr. Anderson has rushed to file this lawsuit as it makes accusations about our school without knowing, or choosing to ignore, important material facts." The school called the allegations of negligence "unfounded and misdirected."

Seibel was charged last year with 17 felony counts for the alleged sexual abuse of six male students at Shattuck-St. Mary's from 1999 to 2003 and possession of child pornography in 2003. He is awaiting trial in Rice County and has said he's not guilty. Seibel, now 71, was a drama teacher at the school from 1992 to 2003.

Nick Stoneman, Shattuck-St, Mary's
Nick Stoneman, head of Shattuck-St.Mary's school in Faribault, Minnesota.
Linkedin image

The former student filing the lawsuit is not among the alleged victims in the criminal complaint. He attended Shattuck-St. Mary's when he was 13 to 18 years old. He claims Seibel sexually abused him several times from the fall of 2000 to 2003. During that time, the student lived in a boy's dormitory supervised by Seibel, who lived in an apartment with his family on the first floor.

Shattuck-St. Mary's has denied knowing of any of the allegations in the complaint against Seibel when he was employed at the school. In today's statement, the school said it has no record of the former student "ever reporting any incident of sexual misconduct by Mr. Seibel while he was a student or in the ten years since he graduated."

The lawsuit does not claim the student reported the abuse. Rather, it alleges that the school knew of other red flags about Seibel's behavior during the time the former student says he was abused, including a "naked dance party" involving Seibel and teenage boys that was discovered by a teacher. It claims a student told a headmaster he was sexually abused by Seibel but the headmaster "did nothing" with the report. It says at the student's graduation, the headmaster, who has since left the school, told the student "Don't screw up. My neck is on the line."

It notes that Seibel had been convicted of lewd conduct before he was hired at Shattuck-St. Mary's and recounts many of the details from the criminal complaint against Seibel last year, including details from Seibel's interview with police in California in August 2012. Police said Seibel told them he held "sessions in which he would watch teenage boys masturbate and measure their genitals, and that Seibel said the sessions likely began in either 1996 or 1997.

In an interview with MPR News in January, former teacher Seth Hedderick said he discovered the naked dance party involving Seibel in the boys dormitory in the fall of 2000 and reported it to head of school Gregory Kieffer the next day.

Kieffer has declined several interview requests. Shattuck-St. Mary's forced Seibel to leave the school in August 2003 after it learned of child pornography on Seibel's school computer. The school did not report the child pornography to police for nearly a decade, believing that it had no legal obligation. The school gave police a record of the images and its findings last year as part of a criminal investigation of Seibel's behavior at the school.

The lawsuit seeks damages of more than $50,000 and said the former student "has suffered and will continue to suffer great pain of mind and body, severe and permanent emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, humiliation and psychological injuries, sexual confusion, depression ..." and has spent money on therapy and other psychological treatment.

Anderson said he expects to file more lawsuits against Shattuck-St. Mary's on behalf of former students. However, he said the legal approach to the school is based on whether they are willing to openly investigate the claims of former students.

"If...they're willing to revamp their entire system and the culture that permitted this so that other kids are protected in the future, and they're willing to take some measure of accountability, we're willing to work with them instead of against them," Anderson said.

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