FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Springdale School District and former principal Joseph Rollins have filed a motion asking a federal court to dismiss a sexual assault lawsuit filed by a former student.
“None of plaintiff’s claims withstand scrutiny so as to survive a motion to dismiss by
these separate defendants,” the motion stated. “And therefore the entire case against Springdale School District and Joseph Rollins should be dismissed.”
The filing also said that Rollins “is entitled to qualified immunity and should be dismissed inasmuch as no liability has been demonstrated under the law.” Former Springdale student Alissa Cawood filed the lawsuit in the Western District of Arkansas Federal Court in Fayetteville on November 1, specifically stating that it arises from “sexual harassment, sexual assault, and the deprivation of bodily integrity suffered by a young student at the hands of the Defendants.”
Former vice principal Mark Oesterle is also named as a defendant. He has retained his own counsel and is not part of the motion to dismiss, but he filed a reply to the suit on December 7 in which he denies the allegations.
In 2021, Oesterle pleaded guilty to one charge after sexually assaulting two minor teen girls. He was sentenced to six years probation, fined $1,000 and ordered to register as a Level 3 Sex Offender.
On March 3, Springdale Police arrested him for knowingly going to a pair of Springdale public school campuses in February, which is a Class D Felony due to his Sex Offender status.
Cawood’s suit alleges that all actions took place when the plaintiff was a student at the School of Innovation or Har-Ber High School and it states that Oesterle engaged in “grooming behavior” toward her, culminating in “a pattern of sexual harassment, molestations, sexual assaults, and violations of bodily integrity.”
The suit states that the principal and the district were aware of this behavior and did nothing to stop it, nor did they provide any warning to Cawood’s grandparents, who were her legal guardians. The suit explains that Oesterle’s communications took on “a more sexual nature” in the summer between Cawood’s eighth and ninth grade school years.
The December 14 filing states that “because the complaint fails to adequately allege these defendants had the required notice of the sexual abuse the plaintiff alleges she suffered at the hand of defendant, Mark Oesterle, the motion to dismiss should be granted.” It adds that some allegations made in the complaint “refer to events that occurred after Oesterle separated from his employment from the District.”
The 36-page brief attached to the motion continues by citing specific case law to support the stance that “no individual liability can be imputed to Joseph Rollins.” It adds that Rollins is also not liable for the actions of Oesterle.
“The complaint does not allege that Rollins, himself, participated directly in the improper actions the plaintiff alleges she suffered at the hands of Mark Oesterle. Rollins does not have personal liability since he was not directly
involved in the abuse of the plaintiff.”
Brief in support of motion to dismiss, Cawood vs. Springdale School District et al, December 14
It continues by noting that facts alleged in two paragraphs of the complaint “do not establish a common law tort, much less a constitutional violation by Rollins,” while also alleging that portions of the suit are contradictory.
The brief continues by documenting a timeframe of what Rollins allegedly knew and when.
“It is apparent that Rollins had little or no opportunity to investigate the situation before Oesterle left the District,” it claims. It also cites generalizations in the plaintiff’s complaint, including the lack of specific names or quotes regarding “other SOI officials.” Additionally, it asks how Rollins was supposed to investigate “without more information.”
To say he ‘could be’ grooming, molesting and/or raping vulnerable students as alleged in paragraph 21 is certainly not the same as saying that he IS doing any one of those things. Having suspicions is not enough to be actual notice.Brief in support of motion to dismiss, Cawood vs. Springdale School District et al, December 14
The brief also explains at length that the complaint lists “a multitude of the actions of Oesterle but provides no facts that anyone other than the plaintiff actually witnessed them,” citing specific examples from Cawood’s filing. It then notes that qualified immunity protects “government officials performing discretionary functions from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
The lawsuit states that Oesterle divulged explicit information about his extramarital affairs to the plaintiff and that his inappropriate interest in her was “blatant and obvious to the Springdale School District, its officials, Principal Rollins, SOI teachers and staff, and to other students.” He also began picking her up from school, taking her off campus for lunch, and bringing her home, though permission was not given to do so by her legal guardians.
His behavior allegedly escalated to unwanted sexual contact that became more aggressive, with the suit explaining that he touched her over a dozen times on SOI campus. The suit states that the principal and the district were aware of this but continued to fail to act.
The suit notes her attendance fell off, her mental health deteriorated, and she “suffered from persistent anxiety.” She was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a “direct result of Oesterle’s repeated sexual harassment and abuse.”
Cawood seeks damages for multiple reasons, including emotional suffering, mental anguish, humiliation and loss of self-worth, medical expenses, loss of educational benefits and loss of employment opportunities. The filing requests a jury trial.