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Bullying Case Permitted to Proceed to Trial

In a decision issued in September 2008, a Connecticut Superior Court judge ruled in the case of Dornfried v. Berlin Board of Education, that there is no private right of action under Connecticut’s anti-bullying statute.  In Dornfried, a high school student and his parents sued the principal, athletic director, and head football coach, claiming that the administrators and coaches were liable for harm allegedly caused to the plaintiff when he was bullied by other students at school.  The 6th count of the plaintiff’s complaint, which alleged that the defendants had failed to comply with Connecticut General Statutes Section 10-222d, was stricken from the complaint on the grounds that the plaintiffs could not bring a claim directly under that statute.  The court noted that not only was there no explicit language in the statute creating a private cause of action, but there was no indication that the legislature implicitly intended to create such a cause of action.  The court ultimately struck all but one count of the complaint for various reasons, leaving only the second count concerning the allegations of reckless disregard on the part of the defendants as to the bullying by other students.

Following the ruling on the motion to strike, the defendants moved for summary judgment on the remaining second count of the complaint.  This motion was denied in a ruling on October 4, 2010, in which the court noted that there were many factual disputes yet to be resolved in this case: whether there was an exchange between the student and the coach concerning the bullying issue; the frequency, nature and intensity of the alleged bullying, whether other people informed the defendant of the alleged incidents, and whether the coach had actual knowledge of the incidents; the extent and effectiveness of the resulting investigation; and the degree and nature of the duty owed to the student by the defendants.  In cases where there are these types of factual disputes, summary judgment, noted the court, is not the appropriate method to dispose of the case, and the motion for summary judgment was denied.  We presume that, unless this case is settled between the parties, there will be a trial to determine the facts.

Even the supporters of the anti-bullying statute in the legislature declared during debate on the bill that they hoped that this statute would not lead to litigation: “It is not a punitive kind of thing. I would hope the parents don’t target our teachers, don’t target school systems to say that we have all these acts of bullying, the teachers or the administrators are not doing their job.  That is not what the intent of the bill is.” (Representative Green, 45 H.R. Proc., Pt. 10, 2002 Session, p. 3212).  Regardless of the intent of the legislature, it seems these types of cases are destined to be decided by our court system for some time to come.