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Atlanta Teacher On Trial For Allowing 'Indecent' Student Behavior

By Akela Talamasca on April 1st, 2010

In December 2008, Southwest DeKalb High School chorus teacher Nathan Grigsby conducted a class in which students performed in front of each other, a la “American Idol.” A trio of male students performed a dance routine to the tune “Meeting In My Bedroom,” wherein they were caught on a cell phone video camera pantomiming sexually suggestive moves.

Since that date, Grigsby has been fired from DeKalb on the grounds of public indecency, and contributing to the deprivation of a minor, misdemeanors for which he will stand trial this week. However, a group of parents of students are standing by the former teacher, who they say shouldn’t take the blame for actions committed by his students. “He was the ideal teacher, he helped children develop, and now that he’s not there, it’s a missing piece of the school community,” said Jassundra Barnett, mother of Jerramy, who is one of the three students who have now been charged with public indecency.

This is a thorny issue — that the “indecent” acts were performed there can be no doubt; there is video evidence to that fact. Grigsby’s lawyer contends that the teacher immediately put a stop to the proceedings when he saw how the students were behaving, but the video apparently shows otherwise. There are also the eyewitness reports who claim that the student body present were all enjoying the spectacle, and that there was no harm done.

However, it is true that a teacher is responsible for what takes place in his classroom, whether or not he is directly involved. Teenagers are constantly pushing their boundaries; it’s how they learn the “rules” of the world. It’s up to their elders to keep them in check. At the same time, the trio’s behavior was simply aping the media content they absorb all the time through television and movies, so the blame should be traced back even farther to its origin. The question ultimately becomes: was Grigsby out of line for allowing the dance to take place, and is it actually a crime?

Courts take different approaches to issue of liability for volitional policyholder misconduct causing injury.(Recent Court Decisions)

Journal of Risk and Insurance September 1, 2004 | Stempel, Jeffrey W.

American Home Assurance Co. v. Pope, 360 F. 3d 848 (United States Court of Appeals for Eight Circuit–April 20, 2004) (applying Missouri law) Beckwith v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., 83 P. 3d 275 (Nevada Supreme Court-January 30, 2004) A variant of the fortuity/intentional act question arises when an insurer argues that a loss or claim is not the result of an “occurrence” under a policy. The term “occurrence” is usually defined to mean an “accident” (including continuous or repeated exposure to conditions, a part of the definition that negates any suggestion that an accident must be brief or isolated in time to be within coverage). Insurers may seek to defeat coverage for what they regard as questionable claims by arguing that the loss is not the result of an accident. By doing this, the insurer attempts to avoid precedent and ground rules of insurance coverage that are more advantageous to the policyholder. Under these ground rules of coverage, it is the policyholder’s burden to show that a matter comes within coverage (e.g., that the loss stems from an “accident”). But if this point is conceded or the policyholder shoulders the burden, the burden of persuasion then shifts to the insurer if the insurer is seeking to successfully interpose an exclusion to coverage, whether the exclusion be for an “intentional act,” “expected or intended injury,” “self-inflicted injury,” or a “criminal act.” Consequently, if the insurer can draw the coverage battle lines on the plain of the accident/occurrence definition rather than on one of these fortuity-based exclusions, the insurer is potentially relieved of its need to shoulder the burden of persuasion as well as the maxim that exclusions are strictly construed against the insurer and in favor of coverage. This can make a difference in case results. in our site act question of the day

For example, in American Home Assurance Co. v. Pope, 360 F. 3d 848 (8th Cir. 2004) (applying Missouri law) the insurer sought to invoke a criminal act exclusion in a case in which a psychologist had failed to report child abuse dangers posed by one of the doctor’s patients and failing to report past abuse, a crime under relevant state law. The insurer argued that a crime is a crime is a crime and that, therefore, the criminal act exclusion barred coverage for the doctor sued by the other parent for failing to warn of future abuse dangers. The trial court accepted this defense but the Eight Circuit reversed, concluding that although the policy in question “may have excluded coverage of the criminal misconduct claim, [the insurer] did not show that any exclusion applied to [the] claim that [the policyholder] breached a common law duty to notify” the child’s mother and caregivers of the dangers posed by the father. See 360 F. 3d at 848-49. go to web site act question of the day

Contrast this with the insurer’s success in Beckwith v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., 83 P. 3d 275 (Nev. 2004) in which the insurer was successful in arguing that coverage was excluded because there was no “accident” and thus no “occurrence” where the policyholder struck a third party that had confronted him regarding bizarre antics and where the policyholder had alleged the incident resulted from intoxication and delusions that the third party was an “evil master” that threatened the policyholder. According to the Nevada Supreme Court, the policyholder’s delusions were “of no matter because he admittedly struck [the third party claimant] in the eye with the desire of getting away from him. This is a non-accidental intentional act even if Beckwith did not intend to harm [the claimant].” See 83 P. 3d at 277. Although the precedential value of this decision may be limited (two Justices dissented; one Justice concurred in the result but noted that involuntary intoxication would auger for a different result; the policyholder’s conduct was both outrageous and his explanation bizarre and perhaps suspect; he had pleaded nolo contendere to criminal charges related to the assault and intent is usually an element of a crime). See 83 P. 3d at 278 (Rose, J. & Shearing, J., dissenting). See 83 P. 3d at 278 (Agosti, J., concurring). See also Capitol Indemnity Corp. v. Blazer, 51 F. Supp. 2d 1080 (D. Nev. 1999) (finding that determination of accident must be made from viewpoint of policyholder’s state of mind; third party claim arising from barroom brawl is accidental occurrence under liability policy because policyholder did not make attack on customer; but no coverage because of exclusion for claims “arising out of” assault and battery). Beckwith v. State Farm illustrates the degree to which the insurer gains some advantage by shifting the linguistic focus to whether intentional conduct is an “accident” rather than fighting over whether an exclusion of intentionally caused injury might apply.

Jeffrey W. Stempel University of Nevada, Las Vegas Stempel, Jeffrey W.

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