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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Appeals Court Dismisses Crivitz Locker Room Suit

Issue Date: October 4, 2017

A long running legal battle involving Crivitz School District may finally be at an end. On Tuesday, Oct. 3, the Wisconsin Third District Court of Appeals in Wausau upheld Oconto County Circuit Court Judge Michael Judge's decision to dismiss a lawsuit by three former members of the girls basketball team. No further action will be taken unless one of the parties files a petition asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to review the adverse decision by the Court of Appeals.

The legal actions began on Nov. 13, 2014, when a civil suit against Michael and Kam Dama, Crivitz School District, and its insurer, Employers Mutual Casualty Company, was filed on behalf of plaintiffs Brianna Kopp, Jennifer Kempka and Victoria Neuman in connection with pre-game locker room incident or incidents involving a photo or photos of Sophia Dama with cell phones that occurred on Feb. 18, 2014, while all three were still minors.

Sophia Dama, daughter of Michael and Kam Dama, was later added as a defendant. She also was also a minor at the time. All four girls were members of the Crivitz High School Girls' Basketball Team, and Mike Dama, School Board president, was a volunteer assistant coach.

The three plaintiffs were class officers, honor roll students, members of National Honor Society and star athletes. In various depositions and court actions they had alleged their questioning by school and civil authorities was handled improperly, and punishments were not in line with their alleged offense and not in accord with school rules.

The photo incidents have been described by some as "cyber bullying," and by others as "locker room horseplay."

The plaintiffs were initially represented by Atty. Richard E. Nell. After Nell died in September of 2016 the appeal was refiled by their new legal counsel, Atty. Thad W. Jelinske, of Milwaukee.

Attorneys for the defense in the Oconto court action included Jennifer L. Barwinski, Dustin Woehl, Albert Bianchi, Jr., and Michelle L. Dama, of the Madison law firm Michael, Best and Fredrich.

The original lawsuit was filed Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014 on behalf of the three girls, seeking redress for what they and Nell, their legal advisor, had charged were wrongful punishments imposed by the school district for the alleged cell phone misuse, and wrongful handling of the questioning that led up to those penalties.

The suit and the incidents that led up to it have disrupted the community for more than two years. An attempt to recall Dama in December of 2015 was unsuccessful. Dama retained his seat on the board and his position as board president. In addition to his position on the board, Dama had been a volunteer assistant coach for the team in 2014.

In his 10-page memorandum decision issued in 2016, Judge noted the Second Amended Complaint of the plaintiffs consisted of 10 causes of action against the defendants, consisting of breach of contract, breach of duty of good faith and fair dealings; malicious, willful and intentional denial and disregard of procedural due process; a claim of cyber-bullying and defamation of Plaintiffs by libel and slander; intentional infliction of emotional distress, and conspiracy.

The Plaintiffs sought both monetary and punitive damages against the Defendants, and both sides filed motions for summary judgment.

Judge Judge dismissed those claims and that decision now has been affirmed by the Appellate Court.

In the multi-page decision filed on Tuesday, Oct. 3 the three-judge Appeals Court panel summarized the claims that "arose out of the Plaintiffs' use of a cell phone in a locker room prior to a high school basketball game to photograph and make a video recording involving Sophia. Based on the Defendants' responses to this incident, the Plaintiffs asserted claims for breach of contract, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, defamation, negligence, civil conspiracy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, all of which the circuit court dismissed on summary judgment."

They concluded that ""the court properly granted summary judgment to the Defendants on all of the Plaintiffs' claims, as there are no genuine issues of material fact and the Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law."

In its summary of events leading up to the suit, court documents state: ""Kopp and Kempka were suspended from 25% of the basketball season for a first violation, whereas Neuman was suspended for a greater number of games due to a prior violation. Each of the Plaintiffs was also ineligible for all-conference awards and team awards for the season. As a result of the violation, each of the Plaintiffs was also ineligible, at least for a time, to participate in national honor society, student council, and other clubs, as well as to receive certain athletic awards and to participate in social functions like homecoming court." The three girls were questioned in the school by a member of the sheriff's department but there were never any charges filed in the incident, and the girls did not seek judicial review of their sanctions.

The Plaintiffs' claims dismissed on summary judgment included: (1) breach of contract, against the District; (2) breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, against the District; (3) defamation, against both Kam and Michael Dama; (4) negligence, against the District; (5) civil conspiracy, against the Damas; and (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress, against the District and the Damas.


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