Madison County

(15) JANE DOE, as Mother and Next Friend of M.D., a Minor, ALL OTHER MINOR CHILDREN, Similarly-Situated, SUE DOE, and ALL OTHER EMPLOYEES OF BENTLEY CADILLAC, Similarly-Situated vs. JEREMY JOSEPH NELSON and JAMES STARKEY, Individually and as Owner of SANITARY SYSTEMS (Circuit Court of Madison County, Alabama)

County/Docket #/Judge: Madison / 47-CV-2016-900433 / D. Alan Mann

Plaintiff(s) Attorney(s): Eric J. Artrip and Teri Ryder Mastando of Mastando & Artrip, LLC, Huntsville, AL; Drew E. Haskins, IV, of Heninger Garrison, et al., Birmingham, AL

Defendant(s) Attorney(s): A. Joe Peddy and Thomas M. Little of Smith, Spires, et al., Birmingham, AL, for James Starkey and Sanitary Systems

Age/Sex/Occupation Of Plaintiff: Various

Cause Of Injury: Class Action/Negligence/Intentional Torts/Negligent Hiring, Training, Retention, and Supervision/Invasion of Privacy/Janitor Installs Surveillance Systems in Changing Rooms and Bathrooms. On April 12, 2016, plaintiffs Jane Doe, on behalf of M.D. and other similarly situated minors, and Sue Doe, on her own behalf and on the behalf of other employees of Bentley Cadillac, filed an amended class action complaint against defendant Jeremy Joseph Nelson and against defendant James Starkey, individually and as owner of Sanitary Systems. Plaintiff alleged that Starkey, doing business as Sanitary Systems, hired Nelson to perform janitorial services at various facilities and businesses in Huntsville, including the dance studio that M.D. attended, Bentley Cadillac, and WHNT Channel 19. During his employment, Nelson placed video surveillance systems in bathrooms and changing rooms at these facilities and filmed adults and children without their knowledge; in addition, he distributed photographs of M.D. and other minors. On Oct. 7, 2014, a warrant was issued for Nelson’s arrest. The activity took place at the dance studio from about April 1, 2014, until Nelson’s arrest, at WHNT from about April 2013 until Nelson’s arrest, and at Bentley Cadillac from about September 2014 until Nelson’s arrest.

Plaintiffs brought claims for negligent and/or wanton hiring, training, retention, and/or supervision against Starkey and Sanitary and for invasion of privacy against all three defendants. Subsequently, the case was consolidated with that brought by a class of female employees of WHNT, represented by Jane Smith.

After pleading guilty to sexual exploitation of children and distribution of child pornography, Nelson was sentenced to 140 years in prison.

Nature Of Injury: Mental and physical anguish and emotional distress

Expert Witnesses: n/a

Settlement: $1,250,000 on March 25, 2019 (with Starkey and Sanitary Systems).

Editor’s Note: The court granted plaintiffs’ request for attorney’s fees of $437,500. In addition to the $1,250,000 settlement, Starkey and Sanitary Systems were to pay $15,000 in litigation expenses. The court approved class representative incentive awards of $5,000 for each of the three class representatives. In their motion for preliminary approval of the settlement, the parties noted that plaintiffs represented 396 children at the dance studio, 23 individuals at Bentley Cadillac, and 20 individuals at WHNT. They also stated that there was little evidence that Starkey, who had met Nelson at church, knew of Nelson’s conduct or of any facts that would have put him on notice of the possibility of such conduct. The guardian ad litem was awarded $1,500 for her work on behalf of the minor class members.