CLEVELAND, Ohio — A federal judge has thrown out one of two bullying lawsuits involving student suicides at Mentor High School.
U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent dismissed a lawsuit brought against school officials by the parents of Eric Mohat, 17, who shot himself in 2007 after enduring what his parents described as months of harassment by classmates.
But Nugent continues to preside over a second case filed last year by the parents of Sladjana Vidovic, 16, a Mentor High student who hung herself in 2008. Sladjana’s parents contend their daughter was persistently tormented by classmates.
Attorney Kenneth Myers filed both cases in federal court, asserting violations of the parents’ 14th Amendment right to “the companionship, care, custody and management of their child, including the right to control his education.”
But Myers said the cases involve different legal issues and Nugent’s decision to dismiss the Mohat case shouldn’t have an impact on the Vidovic case.
In the Mohat case, Myers was unable to provide evidence that school officials had been made aware of the bullying that was going on, he said. But not so in the Vidovic
“In the Vidovic case, we have a lot more evidence that the parents had repeatedly complained about the bullying to the school,” Myers said. “And the suicides occurred a year apart, so the school district was on notice as a result of Eric’s death.”
Myers said he plans to meet with Eric’s parents, Bill and Janis, to discuss whether they want to refile the case in Lake County Common Pleas Court, or to appeal Nugent’s ruling.
In a prepared statement, the school district said: “This decision will not end our ongoing commitment to train our staff and students with anti-bullying and mental health education initiatives. Our deepest sympathy remains with the Mohat family grieving the loss of their son.”
The Mohats’ lawsuit accused the Mentor School District and school officials of failing to intercede on behalf of Eric against the bullies, and that this failure contributed to his decision to commit suicide.
But Nugent wrote in his order that the school had no constitutional duty to protect Eric from harm, nor could it have prevented his suicide.
“Consequently, however tragic and unfair this may seem,” Nugent wrote, the Mohats “have not established that the school’s failure to stop the bullying Eric suffered, or its failure to prevent his ultimate suicide,” was a constitutional violation.
Although the Mohats lost their lawsuit, they succeeded in making school officials aware of bullying problems at the high school, Myers said.
“One of their main goals was to bring this to people’s attention, and they certainly did that,” Myers said. “Their other goal was to hold people accountable for their failure to act. That, to some extent, is being done through the Vidovic case.”
To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org, 216-999-4153