On December 21, 2009, parents acting on behalf of their son, a special education elementary school student who committed suicide as a result of physical and verbal harassment experienced at the hands of peers, sued Blue Springs School District and a number of individuals in Missouri state court. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, requested a declaratory judgment and punitive damages for the school's failure to handle student harassment, claiming wrongful death due to negligence and a state-created danger under § 1983 in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause; negligent infliction of emotional distress; and unlawful discrimination against a disabled individual under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The plaintiffs also sued individual parents who participated in harassment of their son for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that from 2001 until 2007, their son, while attending elementary school in the district, was physically and verbally harassed by peers due to a physical disability and emotional disorders. This harassment was largely overlooked by school administrative officials despite the plaintiffs' persistent complaints, culminating in their son's suicide in 2007.
The case was removed to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri on January 27, 2010. On March 9, 2010, the Court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss on the plaintiffs' Rehabilitation Act claim only as it pertained to individual defendants and not the school district, as Rehabilitation Act claims can only be asserted against individuals who receive federal funds. The Court denied the motion to dismiss in all other respects.
The parties engaged in nearly two years of discovery. On May 10, 2012, the Court granted the school district's motion for partial summary judgment on the plaintiffs' wrongful death and negligent infliction of emotional distress claims on the basis of their sovereign immunity under Missouri state law.
On June 5, 2012, the Court granted the individual defendants' joint motion for summary judgment as to one of the defendants, but not the other, finding that there existed issues of material fact as to whether the fact that one of the defendants' vandalized the plaintiffs' home could constitute intentional infliction of emotional distress contributing to the plaintiffs' son's death given the circumstances.
On August 17, 2012, the Court denied individual school employee defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings on the plaintiffs' state law tort claims. The defendants claimed that their positions of employment with the school district provided them with sovereign immunity. The Court rejected this claim, as school employees such as teachers and principals have never qualified as "public officials" under Missouri law and the defendants weren't performing "discretionary functions."
The school district and school employee defendants entered into a confidential settlement agreement with the plaintiffs, which the Court approved on October 4, 2012, resulting in the final dismissal of the action against all defendants. According to a number of news sources
, the settlement's "private" status was in conflict with open records laws, which later revealed that the agreement resulted in $500,000 to be paid to the plaintiffs as settlement. The settlement agreement also required administrative officials to be trained in bullying awareness and for the school district to hold a bullying awareness day.
The parties stipulated to dismiss the action with prejudice on May 24, 2013.Stella Cernak - 04/13/2014