Defendants successfully argued that the school and its director were immune from claims of assault and battery.

A trial over a lawsuit alleging that three female students at Kapolei Charter School had been illegally strip searched was averted when a judge granted summary judgment in favor of the state and other defendants.

The case stemmed from allegations by the former students that the school’s director had illegally performed a “strip search” on them after they were accused of vaping and smoking on a class field trip in September 2019, according to court documents. The complaint was filed in 2020 when the students were juniors and represented by guardians.

Hawaii Circuit Court Judge Kevin Morikone ruled Tuesday for the defendants, including the school, its director Wanda Villareal, the state Department of Education and the Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission.

Kapolei Charter School Goodwill lawsuit strip searched campus principal
A circuit court judge ruled in favor of Kapolei Charter School and Director Wanda Villareal in a lawsuit alleging an illegal “strip search” of three female students. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Deputy Attorney General Justine Hura welcomed the decision, saying in a press release that the AG’s position “has always been that the claims lacked any merit.”

The defense’s motion for summary judgement rested on two broad claims regarding the charges in the lawsuit, which included assault, battery, violation of civil rights, false imprisonment and conspiracy.

One was that the state, which includes the school and Villareal, is immune from claims that included assault and battery based on an exception listed in the State Tort Liability Act. The defense also argued that immunity precluded other charges like conspiracy, which depended on claims of assault and battery.

In a July 6 response to the plaintiffs’ Memorandum in Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment, the defense wrote that plaintiffs “claim that qualified immunity cannot possibly apply to a state employee who is alleged to have committed an intentional tort. It does.”

Second, the defense argued that the plaintiffs failed to make any cogent argument or meet the necessary standards for claims for charges including defamation, negligence, false imprisonment and a host of other charges.

For example, in the July 6 response plaintiffs wrote that the false imprisonment claim “fails on the basis that Plaintiffs’ detention occurred at a school and in the course of an investigation, and therefore it was not unlawful.”

The ruling vacates a planned July 17 hearing for opening statements and jury selection.

“Our Governing Board has stood with unwavering trust and belief in our school director,
Wanda Villareal,” Kapolei Charter School Governing Board Chair Malcolm Lau said in the press release. “We take school safety seriously and work hard to keep our school positive and drug-free. We are proud that we have approached this matter with care and compassion for all concerned. Our top priority is to ensure that we can provide a positive and safe learning environment that serves the best interests of our students.”

William Sink, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, did not respond to requests for comment.

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