Judge dismisses defendants in suit against Fluvanna women's prison

FLUVANNA COUNTY, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- A lawsuit filed by a woman who claims she was sexually harassed and assaulted at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women hit a snag Thursday when a judge dismissed two of the three defendants. However, the woman's attorneys have vowed to appeal.

"Our client suffered badly at the hands of an employee of the state," said Jeff Fogel, who is representing the woman along with fellow civil rights attorney Steve Rosenfield.

The suit, filed in May 2014 in Fluvanna County Circuit Court, names the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Abacus Corporation staffing agency, and former Fluvanna prison employee James Harris. It alleges that between May and July 2012, while he was her work supervisor, Harris exposed himself to the woman, touched her, and tried to force her to perform oral sex.

In a motions hearing in Fluvanna Circuit Court on Thursday, neither side argued that the harassment hadn't taken place. Harris was not represented in court and was not named in the motions, but Assistant Attorney General Nancy Hull Davidson acknowledged that he had been fired for his conduct with the woman.

Both Davidson and the attorney for Abacus, Robert Yates, each argued they should be dismissed from the suit because the woman had not completed the prison complaint process in the required time frame.

Davidson additionally argued that the state is protected from such lawsuits by the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity.

In court, Fogel noted that since his client filed her complaint in August 2012, the state has removed the 30-day time limit for prisoners to report sexual assault.

But Judge Rick Moore sided with the defendants. He dismissed the state from the suit, citing sovereign immunity, and he dismissed Abacus because the woman's complaint was made before the state had removed the time restriction for making such reports.

Following the hearing, Fogel expressed disappointment in the ruling and said he would appeal.

"What's been most disturbing to us is the moral position that the state has taken," he said. "Having acknowledged that she was sexually assaulted and harassed by one of their employees, they relied on pure technicalities to get out of the case."

Yates said he was pleased with the judge's decision, and a spokesperson for the Attorney General's office declined to comment on the suit. The attorney for Harris did not return a call from CBS19.

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