N.J. Schools Sued Over Bullying Can Sue Pupils Responsible, Judge Says

A school district sued under New Jersey’s strict Anti-Bullying law may bring contribution claims against the students accused of harassing the plaintiff, a judge has ruled in a case of first impressions.

Superior Court 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.

The 17 year-old plaintiff, known in court papers as V.B., claims the school staff failed to address his complaints about being ridiculed for being overweight and for his perceived homosexuality.

Ciccone held that a contribution claims is available to the school districts under the Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Law even though the plaintiff brings only statutory claims and no tort claims.

The suit, V.B. v. Flemington-Raritan Regional Board of Education, includes a claim under the Law of Discrimination for failure to accommodate the plaintiff’s anorexia.

V.B. claims that while he attended school in the Flemington-Raritan district from 4th until 8th grade, fellow students twice “pantsed” him (pulling down his pants to expose his underwear). They also threw a plate of spaghetti on him in the lunchroom, threw kickballs at his groin in gym class and jabbed him sharply in the side of the abdomen to inflict pain. His mother repeatedly reported the harassment to school administrators but nothing was done, the suit says.

When he entered high school in the Hunterdon Central district, classmates made harassing comments on Facebook, which were removed after he contacted the social media site’s operators. V.B. developed anorexia, for which he was hospitalized for three months as a 10th grader. He alleges high school administrators also took minimal actions to respond to his complaints about harassment. At the end of 11th grade, the school district decided to issue his diploma a year early in light of the ongoing harassment.

“It’s a decision, on the face of it, that involves a narrow legal issue, but one that could have widespread practical ramifications in the school community because it exposed the bulliers to potential liability as well,” Rubin says. “And maybe if this decision stands, perhaps in some way it will encourage families to be more vigilant about their own children’s behavior.”

Should a parent be held liable for their child’s action if they do nothing to stop the behavior? The Talk boss says absolutely!

Written by Kecia Clarke