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Doe v. Schneider

United States District Court, Third Circuit

September 30, 2013

JOHN DOE
v.
KENNETH SCHNEIDER, et al.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Mitchell S. Goldberg, J.

This lawsuit, brought primarily under the Child Abuse Victims’ Rights Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2255, stems from allegations that Defendant, Kenneth Schneider, groomed and then systematically molested Plaintiff, Roman Zavarov, over a span of approximately six years. Plaintiff, an aspiring ballet dancer, was twelve-years-old when these acts are first alleged to have occurred.

Although the complaint was filed in 2008, resolution of this civil case has been significantly delayed due to the filing of federal criminal charges against Kenneth Schneider. On October 1, 2010, Schneider was convicted by a jury of traveling in foreign commerce with the intent to engage in sex with a minor between the ages of twelve and sixteen, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(b) (Count I of the indictment), and transporting a person in foreign commerce with the intent that such person engage in criminal sexual conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2421 (Count II of the indictment). On September 21, 2011, the Honorable Juan R. Sánchez, who presided over the criminal trial, granted a judgment of acquittal on Count II of the indictment and subsequently sentenced Schneider to fifteen years incarceration.

Currently before the Court are Plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment and the Defendants’ cross-motions for summary judgment.

I.FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiff was born in Kazakhstan on March 21, 1986. He began studying to become a ballet dancer at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia when he was ten years old. In 1998, when Plaintiff was twelve, his parents could no longer afford to pay for the school’s dormitories, and because the Academy was nearly forty-five minutes from their home, Plaintiff’s parents were forced to withdraw him from the school. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff’s teachers introduced him to Defendant Kenneth Schneider, who was associated with a non-profit organization devoted to supporting students of the arts. Schneider lived in an apartment close to the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and offered to house Plaintiff during the week so that he could continue his attendance there. It was explained that Plaintiff would sleep on a pull-out couch in Schneider’s apartment during the school week and return to his parents’ home on weekends, holidays and during the summer. Plaintiff and his parents accepted this offer, and Plaintiff began living with Schneider during the school week in 1998. (Pl.’s Trial Testimony, Doc. No. 125-1, Ex. G, pp. 2-7, 9, 13.)

Plaintiff asserts that shortly after moving into Kenneth Schneider’s apartment, Schneider began sexually abusing him, including having him engage in oral and anal sex, and that such abuse continued over a period of several years.[2] Schneider denies having ever sexually abused Plaintiff and has appealed his conviction to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.[3]

Much of the sexual abuse alleged by Plaintiff took place in Kenneth Schneider’s apartment in Russia. However, in the summer of 2001, when Plaintiff was fifteen-years-old, he and Schneider travelled to the home of Schneider’s parents, Dr. Bernard Schneider and Marjorie Schneider, in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. (Pl.’s Dep. July 9, 2012, Doc. No. 144-3, pp. 7-8, 10.) This trip was made so that Plaintiff could attend the summer program at The Rock School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Pl.’s Trial Testimony, p. 45.) Plaintiff and Kenneth Schneider also made a trip to the home of Bernard and Marjorie Schneider in the summer of 2002. (Pl.’s Dep. July 9, 2012, p. 13.)

Plaintiff has testified that Kenneth Schneider did not initiate oral or anal sex at any time while in Pennsylvania. However, Plaintiff asserts that Bernard and Marjorie Schneider, as well as Kenneth Schneider’s sister, Dr. Susan Schneider, were aware of the abuse because they witnessed incidents of kissing, hugging and hand-holding that took place in the family’s home over these summers. (Pl.’s Trial Testimony, pp. 48-49.) These Defendants deny that they were ever aware of any sexual contact between Plaintiff and Kenneth Schneider. (See Bernard & Marjorie Schneider Br., Doc. No. 145, pp. 5-7; Susan Schneider Br., Doc. No. 144, p. 6.)

In further support of his assertion that Schneider’s family was aware of the alleged sexual abuse, Plaintiff claims that Marjorie Schneider witnessed a kiss on the lips between Plaintiff and Kenneth Schneider in the family’s dining room in the summer of 2001. (Pl.’s Dep. July 9, 2012, pp. 11-12.) Marjorie Schneider denies ever having witnessed such contact. (Marjorie Schneider Trial Testimony, Doc. No. 125-1, Ex. D, p. 6.49.) Additionally, at some point during his stays with the Schneider family, although it is not clear whether it was in 2001 or 2002, Plaintiff testified that Kenneth Schneider fondled him in a closed bedroom, and that Marjorie Schneider knocked and was let into the room. Plaintiff admits, however, that Marjorie Schneider did not witness any fondling. (Pl.’s Dep. Feb. 28, 2012, Doc. No. 144-1, Ex. B, pp. 163-64, 179.)

With regard to Bernard Schneider, Plaintiff asserts that he knew of the sexual abuse because his wife must have told him about the kiss she witnessed. (Pl.’s Trial Testimony, pp. 84-87.) As for Susan Schneider, Plaintiff asserts that in the summer of 2002, she witnessed Kenneth Schneider and Plaintiff sitting on a bed, holding hands. (Pl.’s Dep. Feb. 28, 2012, pp. 83-88.) During a family dinner that same summer, upon a suggestion being made that Kenneth Schneider should get married, Plaintiff asserts that Susan Schneider further demonstrated knowledge of the abuse by stating, “yeah, like that’s going to happen.” (Id. at pp. 102-03.)

In 2002, after spending the summer at the Schneider’s Pennsylvania home, Kenneth Schneider and Plaintiff moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and remained there until 2004, when Plaintiff completed high school. (Pl.’s Dep. July 9, 2012, p. 17.) Plaintiff has testified that he and Kenneth Schneider engaged in sexual contact in Massachusetts during this time period. Plaintiff also testified that he and Kenneth Schneider took a vacation to Montana in 2003, where they engaged in sexual contact. (Id. at p. 23.)

From 2004 to 2005, when Plaintiff was eighteen and nineteen years old, he obtained employment as a dancer for the American Ballet Theater in New York. At certain points during this time period, he lived with Susan Schneider at her New York City apartment. Plaintiff testified that he and Kenneth Schneider did not engage in sexual contact while he was living in New York or anytime thereafter. (Id. at pp. 22-23, 35.)

After working briefly in New York, Plaintiff returned to Massachusetts from 2005 through 2006 to work for the Boston Ballet. He was eventually fired from the Boston Ballet for poor performance, which Plaintiff claims stemmed from depression, and he returned to Philadelphia to live with Marjorie and Bernard Schneider. Plaintiff met his wife, Gina Zavarov, in 2006 while living with the Schneiders. (Id. at pp. 28-31.)

Over Christmas in 2006, Plaintiff attempted suicide and was hospitalized. Shortly thereafter, he moved in with Gina Zavarov and her family. (Pl.’s Trial Testimony, pp. 61-62, 64.) Around this time period, Marjorie Schneider arranged a meeting with Plaintiff and asked him to sign a release which stated as follows:

Bernard Schneider, Marjorie Schneider and Kenneth Schneider (the “Hosts”) have acted as host family and legal guardians for Roman Andreyevich Zavarov (the “Guest”), a citizen of the Russian Federation, from the year 1998 until the year 2007. During this time, the guest also received assistance and support from The Apogee Foundation, a New York not-for-profit corporation (“Apogee”).[4] This reconciliation dated January 12, 2007, establishes that the Guest is now ceasing to be hosted by the Hosts and will no longer have his financial status guaranteed by the Hosts or by Apogee. . . . The Parties each acknowledge and agree that no harm has come to the Guest at any time by virtue of his relationship and activities with the Hosts or with Apogee, and the Guest forever releases, acquits and discharges the Hosts and all relatives of the Hosts as well as Apogee . . . of all causes of action, claims and liabilities of any kind.

Plaintiff, Marjorie Schneider, Bernard Schneider and Kenneth Schneider, on his own behalf and on behalf of The Apogee Foundation, signed the release. (Reconciliation, Doc. No. 125-1, Ex. B.)

In summary, Plaintiff has testified that he was sexually abused by Kenneth Schneider from 1998 through 2004, or from ages twelve through eighteen. (Pl.’s Dep. Feb. 28, 2012, pp. 115, 136-37.) He described very specific incidences of sexual abuse from his early childhood, while living in Russia with Schneider. (Id. at pp. 127-32.) However, when Plaintiff was asked directly about the sexual contact that occurred between him and Schneider when he was between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, Plaintiff testified that he initiated sex with Schneider on more than one occasion during that time period. (Id. at pp. 132-33.) Plaintiff explained that from ages sixteen through eighteen, he had perceived the sexual contact to be consensual, testifying as follows:

Q: Did you try to stop his advances when you were 18 years of age?
A: I did not.
Q: Why not?
A: Because I loved him.
Q: Okay. Do you believe that when you were 18 years old the sex that you had with Mr. Schneider in Boston was consensual?
A: Yes. . . .
Q: Did you believe that the sex you were having with Mr. Schneider when you were 17 was consensual?
A: Yes.
Q: Okay. And did you believe that the sex you had with Mr. Schneider when you’re 16—when you were 16 years of age was consensual?
A: Yes.

(Id. at pp. 143, 145, 147.) Despite acknowledging that he initiated sexual contact with Schneider during this time period and that he perceived the sex to be consensual, Plaintiff continues to assert that this contact constitutes sexual abuse, testifying as follows:

Q: And when you were 17 years old and you initiated sex with Mr. Schneider, do you believe in your mind that’s part of the time period you were molested?
A: Yes.

(Id. at pp. 136-37.)

As a result of his relationship with Kenneth Schneider, Plaintiff explains that he has sought mental health treatment, which specifically focuses on his memories of abuse. He maintains that he suffers from depression and alcoholism, and is often withdrawn from his peers. He claims to have difficulty performing at work, making friends and maintaining relationships. (Pl.’s Dep. July 9, 2012, pp. 29-31, 51-53, 117-21.)

Plaintiff filed his original complaint on August 12, 2008, and filed an amended complaint on August 29, 2008. Following this Court’s opinion partially granting Defendants’ motion to dismiss, [5] the remaining claims are as follows: (1) violation of the Child Abuse Victims’ Rights Act (“CAVRA”), 18 U.S.C. § 2255, against all Defendants (“Count I”); (2) assault and battery against Kenneth Schneider (“Count II”); (3) negligent hiring and supervision against The Apogee Foundation, Susan Schneider, Marjorie Schneider and Bernard Schneider (“Count III”); (4) breach of ...


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