A federal judge has dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Lewiston and the Lewiston School Department that was filed by the father of a 13-year-old boy who died on a field trip last year.

Rayan Issa Contributed photo

Rayan Issa, a seventh-grade student in Lewiston, drowned during a school field trip to Range Pond State Park in Poland on June 12, 2018.

The boy’s father, Ali Abdisamad, filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in April. He named the city, the school department and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry as defendants in the lawsuit. In documents submitted to the court, Abdisamad argued that the city and state are responsible for Issa’s wrongful death and for denying due process – a violation of his state and federal constitutional rights – by failing to follow city protocols and standard procedures.

The complaint claimed the city and state failed to follow safety protocols and should be held responsible for Issa’s death. The lawsuit sought financial damages for medical costs and funeral expenses, as well as for the family’s suffering.

In an email to the Press Herald, Verne Paradie, the lawyer representing Abdisamad, said Judge Lance Walker’s dismissal of the charges against the city of Lewiston and the Lewiston School Department in U.S. District Court was “obviously a very disappointing decision for the family.”

Kasia Park and Edward Benjamin, the attorneys representing the city, said they were pleased with the judge’s decision.

“Obviously, this is a tragic event, we are pleased with the result. The court found correctly the plaintiff failed to state a constitutional claim against the city,” Park said.

The attorney for the school department said she would not comment on the judge’s decision.

Lewiston Superintendent Todd Finn did not respond to a voicemail left Wednesday. Dottie Perham-Whittier, Lewiston’s Community Relations Coordinator, did not respond to an email Wednesday.

According to court records submitted by Paradie, on the day of the accident, 111 students and 11 chaperones – all school employees – were at Range Pond. One lifeguard was on duty.

Witnesses said Issa and his classmates were passing a football in the water when he reportedly went under. At approximately 11 a.m., a classmate told a chaperone “he could not find Rayan.” The chaperone reported the missing child to the lifeguard.

Court documents say that witnesses said the lifeguard on duty did not appear to know what to do in the situation and asked chaperones to get in the water to look for the student.

Rescue personnel arrived, located Issa in the pond and transported him to the hospital where he was pronounced dead after arrival.

Walker dismissed the claims against the state in June, saying the department is protected from lawsuits filed by private parties.

He dismissed the remaining claims against the city and the school department this week.

In the decision, Walker wrote that the claims of “deliberate indifference” and “outrageous conduct” by school-employed chaperones are speculative and Abdisamad’s allegations do not suggest that chaperones or state employees took actions to “deprive Issa of his life.”

Walker added that if there was evidence that chaperones or the city employees did not follow protocol, it would likely demonstrate, at most, negligence.

Paradie said he plans to file a motion for the court to reconsider.

If the court denies the motion, Paradie says he intends to appeal the decision to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He believes Walker’s ruling is not consistent with the 1st Circuit’s holding in previous cases where states were found guilty of “state-created danger.”

Walker did leave the option open for the father to file a wrongful death claim in state court.

“We plan on litigating this fully through the federal system and if, that is unsuccessful, we will consider our state court options,” Paradie said.

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