Thursday, December 31, 2020

Federal court rules that parents of a third grader who committed suicide have a cause of action against school board and school principal

 In a case that has a number of interesting implications the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has affirmed the denial of a motion to dismiss in a case involving the suicide of a young boy due to bullying in school.

The case involves a third grader who committed suicide after allegedly being the victim of multiple bullying incidents over a couple of years.  According to the complaint, school officials either downplayed the severity of incidents or flat out refused to notify them. Also, despite surveillance footage of the most recent incident, the school's principal and vice principal misrepresented the nature of Taye’s injuries to the boys parents.  

The parents sued the school board, and the principal and vice principal in their personal capacities.  The defendants filed a motion to dismiss which was denied by the lower court, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The case is interesting for a number of reasons.  First, there is the question of whether state immunity should protect the defendants.  

Second, there is the question of proximate cause.  Most often courts find that suicide is an unforeseeable intervening cause that severs the chain of causation preventing plaintiffs from supporting proximate cause.  However, in this case the court found that the boy’s suicide was plainly foreseeable, especially considering the school’s guidelines on bullying include suicide as a risk.

As I am sure you remember the prevailing test for proximate cause is to ask whether the injury is a foreseeable consequence of the risk created by the negligent conduct.  If the school guidelines actually mention suicide as a risk, it will be very difficult for the defendants to say that it was an unforeseeable consequence.

The case is called Myers v. Cincinnati Board of Education and you can find a copy here.

For more information on the case you can read stories in Law & Crime, and Courthouse News.