Friday, December 30, 2005
Those in disagreement say her focus is misplaced.
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- A girl who was sexually assaulted while selling candy for her elementary school may pursue a lawsuit against companies involved in the fund-raiser, the state Supreme Court ruled.
The justices voted 4-2 to revive a lawsuit filed by the parents of a fifth-grader who was attacked and beaten by a man she approached to buy candy near her Indiana County home in 1999.
Wednesday's ruling sends back to county court the case against 84 Services Fundraising; its owner, Scott Manzek; and two other companies. A county judge had previously dismissed the lawsuit.
David C. Long, a lawyer for the girl, said he hoped the litigation will cause school districts to reconsider the use of pupils to raise revenue.
"With any kind of luck we're going to destroy the school fund-raising industry. It's a plague. It has no business existing," Long said Thursday.
Manzek and his attorney, Thomas Birris, did not immediately return messages seeking comment Thursday.
The majority opinion said the allegations are enough to proceed with the lawsuit, even though the family's case against Punxsutawney Area School District and its superintendent was dismissed in federal court.
"Whether these facts will survive discovery and motions for summary judgment and, if so, whether [the] parents can meet their burden before a jury and obtain recovery is for another day," wrote Justice Max Baer. "It was, however, error to dismiss this case on preliminary objections."
In a dissent, Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy said he did not think the lawsuit will succeed. He said Manzek and the companies didn't need to warn parents that there are "evil people who could possibly cause intentional harm to minor students."
The victim was 10 years old when Manzek's company offered her and other pupils at Banks-Canoe Elementary School prizes for selling candy. The prizes were a powerful motivator, Long said.
"Her parents told her that it was dangerous," he said. "You can't come in and then undermine every single thing her parents are trying to tell her."
The victim was four sales short of the 50 required to win an inflatable chair when she encountered Timothy S. Fleming, who was mowing his grass less than a mile from her home. Fleming invited her inside before attacking her in the bathroom and rendering her unconscious.
David B. White, the lawyer for Safeco Inc., an Illinois company that supplied 84 Services and is a co-defendant, called it "a tragic incident and a tragic case. But to shift the fault from the criminal, Mr. Fleming, to other entities, is, I think, misplaced."
Fleming, now 26, pleaded guilty to attempted homicide and involuntary deviant sexual intercourse. He could be released from state prison as early as March 2007.
The girl's parents and her brother subsequently died in an accidental fire at their Rossiter home in 2002. The girl escaped from the burning house, and a sister who was not home at the time also survived.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education defers to school districts about conducting fund-raisers, said department spokesman Mike Storm.
The Texas PTA passed a resolution in 2004 against door-to-door fund raising. The Florida PTA has called on districts to ban door-to-door solicitation before ninth grade without an adult present. And the California State PTA's position is that "children should never be used to sell door-to-door or exploited to raise funds."
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