Education Law

Parents of 11 students can be named as defendants in school-bullying suit, judge rules

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A trial judge’s ruling earlier this month in a New Jersey school bullying case has the potential to change the legal landscape in such cases nationwide, if other jurists find it persuasive.

Ordinarily, the plaintiff family in such cases sues the school district, alleging a failure to take appropriate action to prevent the misconduct by a fellow student or students. But earlier this month, in what is being billed as a first-of-its-kind ruling, a New Jersey judge agreed to let school district defendants implead 11 alleged bullies and their parents, according to the Associated Press and the Star-Ledger.

A New Jersey Law Journal article provides additional details.

Solo Brian Cige, who represents the unidentified plaintiff in the case, said he did not feel it was appropriate for him initially to name claimed bullies and their parents as defendants because the cause of action is discrimination.

However, he applauded the ruling by Superior Court Judge Yolanda Ciccone, even though it may complicate the case. The judge’s ruling came in response to a motion by school district counsel seeking to implead third-party defendants.

“This has the potential to have national implications,” Cige told the Star-Ledger.. “A perfect storm of facts and law and timeliness led to a strong decision, and that sends a message to alleged bullies and their parents that they need to take responsibility or dire consequences are possible.”

Cige’s client, who is identified only by his initials, says in the suit he was tormented because he was overweight and because he was perceived as gay from fourth grade until he graduated early, as a junior. The school districts say they did nothing wrong, and lawyers for some of the impleaded families also assert they were unaware of any problem, the articles say.

Attorney Jeffrey Schanaberger of Hill Wallack in Princeton represents the Flemington-Raritan Regional Board of Education. The plaintiff attended school in that district before moving on to high school at Hunterdon Central Regional School District.

“Our pitch to the court was, had the plaintiff used these very same facts and pled a count for negligent supervision, there would be no question that a right of contribution existed,” he explained to the New Jersey Law Journal. “Our argument was simply that the label the plaintiff chooses to put on this cause of action shouldn’t control.”

Attorney Robert Gold of Gold, Albanese & Barletti represents the Hunterdon Central district.

“As lawyers,” he told the Star-Ledger, “when we look at these things, we ask ‘Are there other potentially culpable parties?’ “

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