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Plaintiffs' attorneys in NHCS civil case motion to dismiss class-action allegations

Attorneys filed for the class action dismissal on May 9, 2022.
New Hanover County Clerk of Courts
Attorneys filed for the class action dismissal on May 9, 2022.

The lawyers who represent the survivors of former New Hanover County Schools teacher Michael Earl Kelly’s sexual abuse or alleged sexual abuse — known as John Does 1-14 — have filed in Superior Court a motion to dismiss the class action claim in the suit against the New Hanover County School Board, former Deputy Superintendent Rick Holliday, and former Superintendent Tim Markley.

The attorneys maintain that they are not dismissing the overall cases of John Does 1-14, only the class action allegations. Class-action status would have allowed additional victims to receive compensation in the event of a ruling in the plaintiffs’ favor. Without it, only the 14 plaintiffs currently part of the lawsuit against the New Hanover County School district could benefit from a ruling in this particular case.

The attorneys from the Rhine Law Firm, P.C. and the Lea/Schultz Law Firm, P.C. filed to dismiss the class action allegations on May 9. If Superior Court Judge Phyllis Gorham decides that the John Does 1-14 civil suit can go forward, this would bar any future plaintiffs from claiming any potential financial damages awarded in this case.

The lawyers first filed the class action suit in July of 2019 after Michael Earl Kelly pled guilty to 59 felony sex offenses against children.

In the most recent complaint, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said that only 14 of Kelly’s victims have come forward to participate in the suit. They acknowledge in the filing that there are other unnamed victims, but they have “not indicated” they’d like to be part of this litigation. Though they said these unnamed victims might serve as witnesses should a trial take place.

But the attorneys also said that other than those victims named in the criminal charges against Kelly, the identities of the other victims remain unknown to the attorneys.

The filing goes on to state that the John Does 1-14 agree with the current approach to dismiss the class action suit — and that they are unaware of any other victims that want to be a representative in the current civil suit.

According to the dismissal motion, the plaintiffs and their attorneys believe that the class action dismissal will not “prejudice” other plaintiffs from coming forward.

The attorneys said that if the class action suit was dismissed the other victims of Kelly’s abuse, in particular, the students who attended Isaac Bear Early College High School at the time of his arrest in February 2018, would have until their 28th birthday to file either an individual action or bring forward another class action. This is based upon the provisions in the 2019 SAFE Child Act that extends the statute of limitations in childhood sexual abuse cases.

The filing ends with the plaintiffs' attorneys pledging to attempt to re-contact Kelly’s other victims to see whether they were relying on the class action suit to seek financial damages. They said once that occurs, the plaintiffs will set the motion forward for a hearing before Superior Court Judge Phyllis Gorham.

For more information on the civil case:

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR