Judge denies class-action status for Acker lawsuit
By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor
BIRMINGHAM – A federal judge has denied class-action status for a lawsuit brought against a former Alabaster teacher who pleaded guilty in 2012 to molesting girls during his more than 20-year teaching tenure in the city.
In a brief filed in October 2013 in U.S. District Court, Kristin Hurt and four other plaintiffs requested the judge open the case to “Any current or former female student during the time period that Dan Acker (Jr.) worked for (the) Shelby County School Board who was either injured, sexually harassed, abused or molested by Dan Acker (Jr.), or who witnessed such conduct or who was exposed to a sexually hostile education environment through Acker’s conduct.”
If the case had been granted class action status, all individuals fitting the above description would have been able to join as plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit, which was brought against Acker and the Shelby County Board of Education in February.
Acker was sentenced to 17 years in prison in May 2012 after he pleaded guilty to eight counts of sexually abusing underage girls, including Hurt, during his more than 20-year teaching tenure in Alabaster.
In an order issued on Aug. 21, U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins denied class-action status, writing the victims sought in the class-action request would not have enough in common to join into a single lawsuit.
“Although the class plaintiffs possess certain similarities, their essential contentions against the defendants vary in certain material respects,” Hopkins wrote, adding the class could include “potentially hundreds of plaintiffs” and “would include an expansive pool of female students who were not even aware of Mr. Acker’s predatory conduct.”
Hopkins said Acker’s victims can still file separate lawsuits “outside of the class-action format.”
“This is a grave matter, and the plaintiffs describe serious accusations against the defendants,” Hopkins wrote. “Nothing in the court’s analysis is intended to diminish these facts or to question the substantive merits of their claims.”
Hopkins’ order to deny class-action status came a little more than a week after she agreed to extend filing deadlines in the lawsuit until August 2015.