School District Not Liable for Alleged Failure to Prevent Bullying: Morgan v. Town of Lexington

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Morgan v. Town of Lexington, 823 F.3d 737 (1st Cir. 2016)

Pierce Davis & Perritano successfully defended the Town of Lexington against claims of civil rights violations arising from the alleged failure to prevent school bullying. The First Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld the dismissal of a civil rights suit brought against the Town by a seventh-grade student who alleged he was assaulted by a group of other middle school students as part of an initiation into their “Kool-Aid club.”  The brief assault involved punching and kicking outside the school building, and was recorded on a cell phone video by another student.  Thereafter, the plaintiff reported the assault and contends he was retaliated against by the perpetrators for getting them in trouble.  These subsequent acts of retaliation included tripping, pushing, and knocking over the plaintiff, as well as pulling down his pants in public.  The plaintiff also alleged he was bullied by Facebook comments created by a student who did not attend the Middle School.   The plaintiff left school due to the harassment, then later re-enrolled, after briefly attending another school.  The plaintiff was treated by a mental health professional for PTSD, fear and anxiety, which he attributes to the bullying.  He missed 112 days of school purportedly due to these conditions.

This decision in favor of the Town reinforces the body of law that narrowly interprets the substantive due process rights afforded to students who experience bullying or harassment by classmates.  A school’s failure to prevent peer-on-peer bullying does not ordinarily rise to the level of a constitutional violation of a student’s civil rights.  Nor does bullying conduct, which included isolated incident of pulling down a victim’s pants, transform that conduct into harassment “based on sex” to support a Title IX discrimination claim.

Read more about this case in Developments in Municipal Law Fall 2016 Newsletter on piercedavis.com.

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John J. Cloherty III

jcloherty@piercedavis.com

 

617.350.0950