Judge upholds $102.5 million verdict for San Jose district

SAN JOSE — A judge has upheld a civil jury’s $102.5 million judgment for two women who were groomed and sexually abused by a now-imprisoned South San Jose music teacher, rejecting a school district’s arguments that the jurors’ findings were unfair and excessive.

In March, the jury found that the Union School District should absorb the majority of civil liability for the actions of Samuel Neipp, a former teacher at Dartmouth Middle School. Neipp is serving a 56-year prison sentence after his 2019 no-contest plea to sexually exploiting two girls under his tutelage between 2009 and 2014.

Samuel Neipp 

One plaintiff, identified in court as Jane Doe 1, was awarded $65 million, and the other, identified as Jane Doe 2, was awarded $37.5 million. Jurors found the district to be 80% liable for the abuse suffered by Doe 1, and 55% liable for Doe 2.

Those percentages, and the sheer amount of the award — one of the largest school-neglect payouts in county history — prompted the district to file a motion for a new trial and challenge the judgment.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Eric Geffon denied both actions. When accounting for the liability shares, Doe 1 stands to receive $52 million from the district, while Doe 2 is set to receive $20.6 million.

Neipp was arrested in 2017 after Doe 1 told police that he had threatened to post nude images of her online. That led to her revealing that starting around 2014, when she attended Dartmouth Middle School, Neipp exchanged inappropriate texts with her, and later engaged in sex acts with her.

After seeing news about Neipp’s arrest, Doe 2 contacted police and reported that around 2009 Neipp began sending text messages and emails to her, and regularly spent time alone with her in his classroom. Both plaintiffs reported that the abuse continued even after they left the school.

Their ensuing lawsuits asserted that district officials admonished Neipp but never formally punished him after learning of similar texts with another student, reportedly telling him in a letter that while his behavior was “inappropriate and did not show good judgment,” the matter was going to be kept confidential.

The superintendent for the Union School District was not available for comment Monday. In court filings, the district’s attorneys contended that Neipp had covered up his abuse of Doe 2 to the point where they only found out about it years later, and had no opportunity to intervene. With Doe 1, the district stated that it acted reasonably when they reported her text exchanges to police, and deferred to initial investigations that found no proof of wrongdoing.

They further argued that jurors were misled and unfairly influenced by the plaintiff’s attorneys, and wrote that the finding that the district was more liable for the abuse than Neipp himself “cannot stand.” They also asked the court to revisit the award amount itself, arguing it was excessive.

“They have suffered significant trauma, but the measurement here is way out of whack,” the district’s attorneys wrote.

Geffon was not swayed by the district’s arguments, and denied their motions to overrule the judgment and for a new trial.

Lauren Cerri, an attorney at San Jose-based Corsiglia, McMahon and Allard who represented Doe 1, called the district’s actions after the March jury verdict another instance of evading responsibility. She referred to a settlement in late May, also secured by her law firm, in which the Union School District agreed to pay $7.5 million to five men who were sexually assaulted by a teacher in the 1970s and 1980s, with no administrator intervention of his openly suspicious behavior.

“The school district failed to protect my client then failed to take any responsibility at trial,” Cerri said, referring to Doe 1. “Through these motions it tried again to avoid responsibility even after the jury listened to all the evidence and made its ruling.”

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