• Cullen and Dykman LLP Blogs

  • Archives

  • If A Student Is A Bully, The Parents May Be On The Hook

    In a case that may change the legal landscape of bullying litigations for schools, a New Jersey judge ruled that two school districts may implead the alleged bullies and their parents.  Judge Yolanda Ciccone denied a motion to dismiss third party-complaints against 13 students in a suit brought against the Hunterdon Central and Flemington-Raritan school districts under the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 18:37-13.

    17 year old plaintiff, “V.B.”, in his complaint, claims that the school staff failed to address his complaints about being taunted for being overweight and for his perceived sexuality.  Judge Ciccone held that a contribution claim is available to the school districts under the Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Law even though the plaintiff did not allege any tort claims.  The Tortfeasor Contribution Law applies whenever one party’s injury is caused by the tortious conduct of two or more persons.  Rather, the action includes a claim under discrimination and for failure to accommodate a disability, the plaintiff’s anorexia.  After multiple complaints over a series of years, the plaintiff claims, the school administrators took minimal actions to respond.  The school, however, allowed the plaintiff to graduate one year early due to all of the harassment he regularly faced.

    While the complaint did not name any of the alleged bullies as defendants, the school brought third-party complaints against the students and claimed that the parents were made aware of their children’s conduct and that the parents’ failure to act may be deemed willful or wanton behavior.  Attorneys for the third-party defendants asserted that there can be no contribution because they have not committed any common law tort.  Additionally, they asserted parental immunity, claiming that the conduct of the parents did not rise to the level of willful or wanton failure to supervise their respective children.  Judge Ciccone states that absent the school district’s negligence, the third-party defendants’ alleged negligence would not have occurred or would have been limited.  “Both acts of negligence were required here for plaintiff to suffer harm,” she noted.  Dismissal of the parents based on immunity was premature as very little discovery has been conducted in the case.

    This decision may have a significant impact in school litigation because it exposes the bullies and their families to possible liability and could potentially limit the financial liability of the school if the plaintiff prevails.

    Bullying in schools is an ongoing and serious problem. If you or your institution has any questions or concerns regarding education related issues, please email Cynthia A. Augello at caugello@cullenanddykman.com or call her at (516) 357-3753.