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Plaintiff, defendants make their case in court filings; next hearing set for February

INDEPENDENT FILE PHOTO - Juan Robles was killed on Oct. 21, 2014, when he wandered away from school and was hit by an Amtrak train outside Gervais.A hearing has been set for February in a wrongful death lawsuit against the Woodburn School District by a local parent.

Carmen Melara-Robles, the plaintiff, filed the $1.3 million suit this summer, in connection with the October 2014 death of her adopted son, Juan Carlos Robles, an autistic 13-year-old middle school student who was killed by a train after leaving a soccer practice unaccompanied.

Melara-Robles filed an amended complaint in September after changing attorneys. According to court records, her case is now being handled by Paul Ferder, of the Salem firm Ferder, Casebeer, French & Thompson LLP.

The firm’s website describes Ferder as a “nationally renowned litigator,” whose practice specializes in personal injury and civil litigation.

The amended complaint is largely similar to the original, alleging that the district was negligent in ensuring that Juan Robles’ statutorily required “safety plan” was being implemented and followed.

The suit also names Nabor Piña as a defendant, alleging his actions on Oct. 21, 2014, were “a substantial factor” in Juan Robles’ death.

Piña is a seventh-grade teacher at French Prairie Middle School, where Juan Robles was a student, and was his coach on the boys soccer team.

Melara-Robles’ complaint alleges Piña was outside French Prairie, talking to a secretary, when she arrived after soccer practice to pick up her son. The complaint alleges Piña did not know where Juan Robles was, and “expressed no interest or concern as to where (he) might be.”

The complaint also charges school and district staff with failing to follow the plan it established for the safety of Juan Robles, who had a history of running away from school, especially after having had an altercation with a teacher or another student, which had allegedly been the case that day.

The plan, which was attached to the complaint as an exhibit, required district staff to physically block the exits if Juan Robles attempted to leave a classroom. It also mandated that he be followed if he did leave campus, and that staff call police, his case worker and Melara-Robles in that event.

The amended complaint asks the court for economic damages to cover funeral costs ($6,243) and pecuniary and non-economic damages for the loss of society, companionship and services in an amount not to exceed $1.33 million.

The district and Piña, who are being jointly represented by the Portland-based firm Merserau Shannon LLP, also filed its answer to the complaint in September.

Beyond admitting that the Woodburn School District is a public body operating in Marion County, the defendants’ response tersely denied “each and every other allegation, matter and thing set forth in plaintiff’s complaint, and the whole thereof.”

The filing also advanced a number of affirmative defenses, including alleging the plaintiff’s failure to state a claim, claiming defendants have discretionary immunity for their actions in this matter under Oregon law and arguing that any legitimate damages suffered were caused by third parties, not the district or its staff.

The document asked that the matter be dismissed, and that the district be awarded reasonable costs and disbursements for its defense.

The defendants are being represented by longtime attorney Peter Merserau, whose specialties include civil litigation and public sector tort defense.

According to court records, the last hearing in the case was held on Nov. 18 before Judge Cheryl Pellegrini. A status check is scheduled for 10 a.m. Feb. 1. No other dates in the case have been set.

Tyler Francke covers all things Woodburn. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-765-1195.

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