Plaintiff Who Was “Pantsed” Appeals Six-Figure Verdict in His Favor

LTB logo

I have no sympathy for bullies, who are usually criminals in training. Still, you wouldn't expect to see one get sued for "pantsing" someone. If that did happen, you wouldn't expect to see the plaintiff be awarded $161,000. And if that happened, you wouldn't expect to see the winning plaintiff appeal the verdict in his favor.

Man, you need to adjust your expectations. You were just wrong three times in a row:

Based upon allegations he had been “pantsed” twice by fellow Pasadena City College band member Kyle Ballard and the school failed to take appropriate protective and corrective measures, plaintiff and appellant Jacob Summers filed the operative first amended complaint against Ballard and the Pasadena Area Community College District. Ballard’s default was entered, but the action proceeded to jury trial against the District, resulting in a defense verdict. After verdict, the trial court entered a default judgment against Ballard and in favor of Summers for $161,721.44. Summers appeals.

How might this conundrum be explained?

According to the opinion, Ballard pantsed Summers twice, in October 2009 and January 2010. The first incident occurred during a rehearsal by the marching band, of which both pantser and pantsee were members. On this occasion, Ballard "pulled his shorts to the ground, leaving Summers in his underwear in front of the entire band." Although this pantsing was not entirely successful, it did take place in front of 150 fellow band members. The band director witnessed the pantsing "but took no corrective action." Both he and Summers did tell Ballard not to do it again, however.

In fact, Ballard was a serial pantser. Summers claimed he had seen Ballard do the same thing to other students five to ten times, and Ballard later admitted "engaging in a pattern of pulling down the shorts of other students." This pattern would continue.

The second pantsing of Summers took place in a gym in front of about 30 students, apparently during a rehearsal of the drum section. On this occasion, Ballard succeeded in a full pantsing of Summers, yanking down his target's underwear as well as his shorts. Worse, Summers was wearing his drummer's harness at the time and was not immediately able to re-pants himself. Or, his inability to react quickly may explain the full pantsing, which Ballard himself noted had been remarkably successful: "That's the cleanest pantsing I've ever done," he said at the time.

After the second pantsing, Summers contacted campus police, who said they would not do anything because no crime had been committed. That's not technically true—any unwanted, "offensive touching" is a battery—but crimes at this level generally are not processed through the justice system, so it is not too surprising that the police did not make any arrests. Summers then talked to school officials, who did "reprimand" Ballard and move him to a different class, and eventually suspended him for two weeks. He did not return to the school.

There must have been more going on behind the scenes, because the opinion also says that Summers "felt ostracized" after this, and that "threatening" comments were posted on Facebook. But when Summers sued—and he did sue—it was only based on the pantsing.

Summers sued the school district and Ballard. Apparently he argued that the district had discriminated against him based on sex, and it's not surprising he lost on that one, but his negligence claim went forward. Ballard, meanwhile, who was sued for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, did not respond to the complaint and so defaulted. Oddly, though, he did show up to testify at the trial, after being called as a witness by the district. But he was still in default. The jury found for the district, and might have found for Ballard too had he not been in default (and so not entitled to put on a defense). After the verdict, the judge entered a default judgment against Ballard, and, somehow, awarded Summers $161,721.44.

And yet Summers appealed. Why? Most likely because Ballard doesn't have any money. That could explain why he defaulted and didn't cure the default, and it would also explain the appeal, because a judgment against somebody who's broke isn't much good. Summers' only chance to collect would therefore be to get a new trial against the district. Unfortunately for him, he really had no good arguments on appeal, which is likely why the opinion is very short and unpublished.

The only remaining mystery I think lies in the fact that according to the opinion, Summers had come to the school after four years in the Marine Corps. Actually, two or three mysteries: (1)(a) what kind of person is brave and/or dumb enough to pants a Marine, and (1)(b) how did he survive; but also (2) how could a Marine argue that a pantsing had caused him emotional distress?

We will likely never know the answers.