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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Ind. Decisions - "Jury should decide Spencer school bullying suit"

Reporting on a NFP Court of Appeals decision issued April 4th, Grant Johnson, Minor Child, by his Mother and Father, Don Johnson and Janice Johnson, Appellants-Plaintiffs v. South Spencer School Corporation and Cliff Hagan’s Boys’ Club of Owensboro, Kentucky, Inc., Mark Wilson wrote yesterday in the Louisville Courier Journal:

Rockport, Ind. - An Indiana Court of Appeals ruling says a judge erred by making a summary judgment in a lawsuit accusing a Southern Indiana school corporation of negligence in its handling of a student’s bullying.

The appeals court did not comment on the lawsuit’s merits. Instead, it said there were factual issues open to interpretation that should be decided by a jury.

Parents Don and Janice Johnson filed the lawsuit in May 2012 against the South Spencer School Corp. and the Cliff Hagan Boys & Girls Club in Owensboro, Ky.

They complained that their son was verbally and physically bullied during his second- and third-grade years at Rockport Elementary School and in an after-school care program run by the Boys & Girls Club.

The bullying became so bad that the Johnson’s transferred their son to private school halfway through third grade, according to the appeals court ruling.

In August 2014, Spencer County Circuit Court Judge Jonathan Dartt made summary judgments in favor of the school corporation and Boys & Girls Club.

However, the appeals ruling earlier this month reversed Dartt’s ruling, sending the lawsuit back to court. Attorney Stacy Newton, who represents the Johnsons, said the next step will be to seek a trial date.

“Part of what they want is to make sure the school itself is on notice that these things are happening and for them not to happen to other students,” Newton said. * * *

The lawsuit said only one teacher and teacher’s aide were assigned to monitor three classes at a time on the playground and neither the school nor the club did anything to improve the student-to-teacher ratio, according to the appeals ruling.

The Johnson’s son endured ongoing name calling, thefts of his belongings, and physical injuries from classmates, including several fifth-grade students, according to the ruling.

In one after-school incident, a Boys & Girls’ club employee saw a fifth-grade student “maliciously” put a jump rope around the neck of the Johnson’s son, the appeals ruling said. As a result, he received medical treatment for a rope burn around his neck.

Court records detailed other alleged bullying incidents, some of which caused their son injuries. Among these were a scratch by another student during a recess incident that left a scar on his face and an instance of after-school bullying that caused severe bruising on his legs.

The appeals court ruling noted that proving a negligence claim requires showing that a defendant — in this case the school corporation and Boys & Girls Club — owed but did not fulfill a duty to the person filing the lawsuit, causing an injury.

“Whether there has been a breach of duty in a negligence action is generally a question of fact that is inappropriate for resolution by summary judgment,” the appeals court wrote.

The court wrote: “We believe that the factfinder (jury) should resolve the question of whether the School and the Boys’ Club breached their duty of care to Grant by failing to take additional, remedial actions when it became apparent that there was an ongoing problem, and/or by failing to provide adequate supervision. We express no opinion about whether a breach actually occurred; instead, we merely find that issues of fact remain that render this case inappropriate for resolution by summary judgment.”

ILB: This opinion has been added to our "Why is this NFP?" category/

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 16, 2015 10:17 AM
Posted to Ind. App.Ct. Decisions | Why is this NFP?