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Suit alleging abuse at Darlington School dropped, for now


 

A lawsuit alleging a pattern of sexual abuse at a northwest Georgia boarding school has been dropped – for now.

Former students sued the Darlington School in Rome, a former teacher and two other men in June, saying they had been molested as minors in the 1970s and 1980s. The suit alleged the school did nothing to stop the abuse, even after it was reported to administrators.

Nine former students and the estate of a deceased former student filed the suit. Other former students have since come forward, saying they also experienced abuse at the school.

The students' lawyer dismissed the case Friday, but plans to file it again after the General Assembly takes up proposed changes to the state's Hidden Predator Act. A 2015 version of the law suspended the statute of limitations on lawsuits alleging sexual abuse against minors. The two-year suspension expired at the end of June, shortly after the Darlington case was filed.

But the 2015 law affected only cases against perpetrators, not institutions that may have covered up abuse. When legislators convene their 2018 session next month, they will consider House Bill 605, which would extend the statute of limitations for suing such institutions.

Darlington and the other defendants, including former teacher Roger Stifflemire, asked a judge to dismiss the former students' lawsuit. Stifflemire, who lives near Montgomery, Alabama, denied the allegations.

A hearing on motions to dismiss the case had been scheduled for Monday.

"Although we would have appreciated the opportunity to present our case and move forward to trial, we believe it is better to postpone the discussion of the legal arguments until a later time," the former students' lawyer, Darren Penn, said in a statement. "We fully intend to refile this case at a date of our choosing. ... As Darlington continues its attempts to avoid responsibility for failing its students and the Darlington community as a whole, we have decided to take this path toward justice."

Darlington's headmaster, Brent Bell, told the Rome News-Tribune the school wants the former students to participate in an internal investigation of their claims.

"Although the lawsuit has been dismissed," Bell told the newspaper, "the school is committed to discovering the whole truth and will continue its fact-finding effort outside the legal process to investigate these claims of abuse."


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