Disgruntled Parent’s Graphic Lawsuit Against Sidwell Friends Dismissed
A sexually explicit lawsuit against Sidwell Friends that has lasted more than two years and roped in brand-name Washingtonians such as Bob Woodward was dismissed this week—but is it gone for good?
DC superior court judge Michael Rankin Wednesday threw out a more-than-two-year-old lawsuit between Northwest DC’s elite Sidwell Friends School, its former middle-school psychologist, and an alum and onetime parent. (DC Superior Court remains open during the federal shutdown.)
In the lawsuit, filed by Arthur “Terry” Newmyer in May 2011, Newmyer accused Sidwell psychologist James “Jack” Huntington of having an affair with Newmyer’s now ex-wife while treating their daughter, five at the time.
Newmyer contended that school officials were aware of the affair and did nothing to stop it. Huntington had used his school e-mail account to send lewd messages to the ex-wife, sometimes with students in the room. Newmyer, who was not yet divorced from the woman at the time, sued for $10 million.
Following years of motions, a $13 million countersuit filed by Huntington, and the airing of dozens of pages’ worth of sexually graphic e-mails between Huntington and Newmyer’s ex-wife, Sidwell and Huntington moved for summary judgment in July.
They argued that Newmyer could not support his claim for malpractice against Huntington, as Huntington was not treating Newmyer’s child. They also argued that Newmyer couldn’t support his claim of emotional distress under District law. Newmyer’s lawyers disputed both claims.
Following two hours of oral arguments held Wednesday, Judge Rankin—the fourth judge assigned to the case after three others had to recuse themselves due to close ties to the school—granted Sidwell’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing the suit. A written ruling is still forthcoming.
In an e-mail to the Sidwell community yesterday announcing the dismissal, head of school Tom Farquhar wrote, “Mr. Newmyer may choose to exercise his right to appeal the decision, but we are confident that Judge Rankin’s ruling will be upheld. We are deeply grateful for the support our parents, employees and alumni have shown in Sidwell Friends School. We strive, each day, to fulfill our mission to nurture a genuine love of learning among our students and to be worthy of your continuing trust.”
Farquhar’s e-mail was one of the first times the school has acknowledged the lawsuit outside of the court filings. While it’s been closely followed by parents and the Washington community, the lawsuit has been rarely broached by the administration. The case has proved an ongoing embarrassment to the elite school—home to both daughters of President Obama and a grandchild of Vice President Biden—that prides itself on keeping dirty laundry private.
The case forced Sidwell parents such as Bob Woodward and Elsa Walsh to get involved, and it proved an ongoing distraction to the Sidwell board, led by former Hillary Clinton aide Lissa Muscatine, who now co-owns the Politics & Prose bookstore with her husband, Bradley Graham, a former Washington Post editor.
In a surprise announcement that school officials maintain was unrelated to the Newmyer lawsuit, Farquhar announced this summer that he’ll be stepping down at the end of the next academic year to become an organic vegetable farmer.
According to lawyers at this week’s hearing, Rankin said from the bench that he expected Newmyer to appeal his decision. And it appears so far that Rankin was right. “Obviously, we think the judge’s decision is wrong,” Newmyer’s attorney Kerry Scanlon told Washingtonian. “The first thing we are going to do is study the transcript of his ruling, which was given orally.”
Then, perhaps an appeal. The pretrial conference scheduled for next Thursday remains on the docket, though it may be converted to a motions hearing before then. Newmyer’s attorneys have 30 days from the date of Rankin’s ruling to file their appeal.