Judge Drops Claims Against Parents of Alleged Student Bullies

By Lauren E. Tedesco, Esq.

In a long awaited decision, Somerset County Superior Court Judge Yolanda Ciccone ruled that two Hunterdon County school districts failed to prove negligence against the parents of alleged bullies.

This recent decision was issued in the matter of V.B., a Minor by his Parent and Guardian, L.B. v. Flemington-Raritan Regional Board of Education and Hunterdon Central Regional High School and Board of Education; Hunterdon Central and Flemington-Raritan Regional v. C.W., J.A., and K.I., Dkt. HNT-L-95-13, a highly publicized case involving a school district’s third-party claims against the alleged student bullies and their parents.

Plaintiff, V.B., a minor student originally filed a complaint against the Flemington-Raritan Regional Board of Education and the Hunterdon Central Regional High School and Board of Education (“Defendants/Third Party Plaintiffs”) alleging violations of the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (“Anti-Bullying Act”), N.J.S.A. 18A:37-13 et seq., and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”), N.J.S.A. 10:5-2 et seq. V.B.’s complaint alleges he was subjected to a hostile school environment from fourth (4th) grade through tenth (10th) grade, by both students and employees of the Defendants, due to his weight, perceptions about his sexual orientation, and his disability.

Plaintiff alleges that throughout his time at the Copper Hill School, Reading-Fleming Intermediate School, J.P. Chase School, and Hunterdon Central Regional High School he endured the following: taunting by students calling him “fat” and “chubby;” had pasta thrown on him; was “pantsed” (pulling down and actually exposing his underwear); intentionally hit with kickballs; and called anti-gay slurs. In 10th grade at Hunterdon Central Regional High School, it is alleged V.B. was hospitalized beginning in April 2012 into June of 2012 for anorexia, as a result of the comments from students regarding his weight. V.B. alleges that despite years of complaints, made by himself and his mother, Defendants/Third Party Plaintiffs failed to stop the harassment and bullying behaviors of the students.

V.B. did not name as defendants the students responsible for the alleged acts of bullying, or their parents to the original complaint. The defendant school districts then filed third-party complaints against the alleged bullies and their parents (“Third-Party Defendants”) seeking indemnity and contribution if V.B. prevails in his suit against the school districts. The third-party complaints were predicated upon the New Jersey Joint Tortfeasors Contribution Act, and alleged failures to supervise the various acts of bullying alleged to have been carried out, under a negligence theory.

In March of 2014, Judge Ciccone denied the Third-Party Defendant’s motion to dismiss, ruling that Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs could file suit against 13 students and their parents for the alleged bullying incidents, and ordered discovery on whether the third-party claims were cognizable.

However, on August 3, 2015, Judge Ciccone ruled in favor of the parents, dismissing the school districts’ third party claims for indemnification and contribution, ruling that the actions of students who allegedly bullied another student over the course of several years did not prove that their parents were negligent. Yet, Judge Ciccone ruled that Flemington-Raritan Board of Education’s claims against five students, three for assault and battery, and two for battery against the alleged victim, V.B., remained. The assault and battery claims included the alleged conduct such as hitting V.B. with kickballs, throwing pasta at him and pantsing. Therefore, the parents of the students who remain in the matter still may be held indirectly liable, and financially responsible if V.B. prevails on his claims against the districts. The Judge dismissed the Third-Party Defendants who were alleged to have only took part in taunting and name calling against V.B.

Judge Ciccone also ruled that the third-party complaints were not cognizable for violations of the NJLAD, however, were cognizable for violations of the Anti-Bullying Act.

The decision is significant, as it permits school districts to bring a cause of action against alleged student bullies in order to spread potential liability and ultimate financial compensation, even in cases where the alleged victim plaintiff has not filed against those individuals themselves. Districts should be mindful of this decision, and should contact their board attorneys for guidance in regards to Harassment Intimidation and Bullying (“HIB”) policies, programming and response strategies, and operative HIB reporting procedures.

Discovery Rule Not Apply to Permit Late Filing of Tort Claims Act Notice Two Years Later Against Newark Police Department

By Betsy G. Ramos, Esq.

In Ramey v. DeMaio, 2015 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2039 (App. Div. Aug. 25, 2015), the plaintiff filed a complaint against Samuel DeMaio, the acting police director of Newark, for allegedly providing false information regarding her daughter’s homicide, which was published in the Star Ledger. Her daughter was murdered on July 5, 2011 but she did not file suit until June 27, 2013. The defendant DeMaio filed a motion for summary judgment based upon the plaintiff’s failure to file a notice of claim within 90 days of the accrual of the claim as required by N.J.S.A. 59:8-8.

In response, the plaintiff filed a motion asking the court to permit the late filing of notice of claim. The trial court granted DeMaio’s motion and denied plaintiff’s motion. Plaintiff appealed these rulings to the Appellate Division.

The plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in denying her request to file a late notice of claim and dismissing her complaint. She claimed that the 90 day notice period should be tolled by the application of the discovery rue. She contended that it took her nearly 2 years to obtain documents from the Prosecutoar’s Office that revealed incorrect information regarding their daughter’s murder had been supplied to the Star Ledger. She argued that these facts warrant the application of the discovery rule and support a finding that extraordinary circumstances existed to warranted granting her motion to file a late notice of claim.

The Appellate Division found that the discovery rule did not apply here. Although the plaintiff did not receive the requested reports until late, the information contained therein fails to prove a factual basis of plaintiff’s claims. Although she found certain reported facts to be inaccurate, the court found that the materials lacked cognizable legal consequence. Hence, it was not a basis to toll the timely filing of a late notice of claim and the appeals court upheld the dismissal of the complaint.

Mary Ellen Rose Named Managing Partner of Capehart Scatchard

Only Female Managing Partner of the 20 Largest Firms in New Jersey

mary-ellen-roseMt. Laurel, NJ – – Capehart Scatchard is pleased to announce that effective September 1, 2015, Mary Ellen Rose, Esq. will be Managing Partner of the law firm.  She previously served the firm as the Assistant Managing Partner last year and the Hiring Partner for the past 15 years.  Ms. Rose has the distinction of being the only female managing partner of any of the 20 largest law firms in New Jersey.

Ms. Rose, a lifelong resident of New Jersey, focuses her practice in the areas of commercial and business law, transportation, and franchise law.  She received her undergraduate degree magna cum laude from West Virginia University and her law degree from Rutgers University School of Law in Camden.  She is admitted to practice in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Samantha Vander Wielen Joins Capehart Scatchard’s Litigation Department

samantha_vanderwielenCapehart Scatchard is pleased to announce that Samantha J. Vander Wielen, Esq., formerly known as Samantha J. Foss, Esq., has recently joined its Litigation Department as an associate in the Mt. Laurel office.

Ms. Vander Wielen, a Burlington County resident, focuses her practice in general litigation throughout the federal and state courts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania with a concentration on insurance defense matters. She has successfully represented clients in all aspects of litigation in cases involving construction, products and premises liability, business and contract disputes, restrictive covenants, property subrogation and personal injury.  She has extensive experience representing both national and international businesses and corporations in commercial litigation matters involving contract, employment, proprietary information and business disputes.

Ms. Vander Wielen is currently the 2015-2017 Young Lawyer Trustee of the Burlington County Bar Association.  She was named a “Top Attorney” for Business by SJ Magazine in August 2014.

Ms. Vander Wielen received her law degree from Rutgers School of Law in Camden and her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Temple University.  She is admitted to practice law in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Amy Goldstein Named to ‘Best Lawyers in America 2016’ List

Mt. Laurel, NJ – – Capehart Scatchard Shareholder, Amy C. Goldstein, Esq. was recently selected by her peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© 2016 in the practice area of Family Law.  Best Lawyers® is based on an exhaustive peer-review survey in which almost 79,000 leading attorneys cast nearly 6.7 million votes on the legal abilities of other lawyers in their practice areas.

Ms. Goldstein has practiced family law exclusively for thirty-three years. She is the President-Elect of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and has frequently spoken and written numerous articles on issues relating to family law. Ms. Goldstein received her J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law.

Capehart Scatchard Attorneys Present at NJ Workers’ Compensation Seminar

Mt. Laurel, NJ – – Capehart Scatchard Workers’ Compensation Department attorneys, John H. Geaney, Esq.Prudence M. Higbee, Esq., Christina Adinolfi Shea, Esq., and Ted Yoa, Esq. were featured speakers at a Millennium seminar event held on July 16, 2015 at the Holiday Inn & National Conference Center in East Windsor, New Jersey.

In addition to moderating the one-day program, Mr. Geaney presented “How Employers Can Consistently Win in Workers Comp” and “Where Workers’ Comp and ADA/FMLA Come Together.”  Ms. Higbee presented “Hot Topics in Workers’ Comp and What the Statute Teaches Us” and also served as moderator for a presentation titled, “IMEs in Workers’ Comp.”   Ms. Adinolfi Shea was a panelist on “IMEs in Workers’ Comp,” and Mr. Yoa presented on “Recent Decisions You Need to Know.”

A seasoned workers’ compensation practitioner for over 30 years, Mr. Geaney, a Moorestown resident, is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual and A Guide to Employment Issues Under the ADA & FMLA distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education.  Mr. Geaney concentrates his practice in the representation of employers in workers’ compensation defense matters, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Ms. Higbee, an East Greenwich resident, focuses her practice in the representation of employers, self-insured companies, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation defense matters.  Ms. Higbee received her law degree from Widener University School of Law, where she was a member of the Widener Law Symposium Journal, and her B.A. degree from Rowan University.  Prior to joining the firm, she served as a Judicial Clerk to the Honorable Samuel G. DeSimone, Assignment Judge of Vicinage 15.

Ms. Adinolfi Shea, a Chesterfield resident, represents insurance carriers and employers in the defense of workers’ compensation claims at all stages of litigation.  Ms. Adinolfi Shea received her law degree from Rutgers University School of Law in Camden and her B.A. degree from Villanova University.  Upon law school graduation, Ms. Adinolfi Shea worked as a law clerk to the Honorable Marie E. Lihotz, Appellate Division, State of New Jersey.

Mr. Yoa, a Collingswood resident, focuses his practice in the representation of employers, self-insured companies, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation defense matters.  He received his law degree from Rutgers University School of Law in Camden, magna cum laude, and his B.A. degree in Psychology, cum laude from The College of New Jersey.  Upon law school graduation, Mr. Yoa worked as a law clerk to the Honorable Lawrence DeBello, in the New Jersey Superior Court, Mercer County Vicinage.

Capehart Scatchard Supports Kids’ Chance of New Jersey

john-geaneyLora V. NorthenMt. Laurel, NJ – –  Several attorneys from Capehart Scatchard’s Workers’ Compensation Department recently attended the Third Annual Gala for Kids’ Chance of New Jersey.  Capehart Scatchard was a sponsor of the Gala held on July 23, 2015 at the Heldrich Hotel in New Brunswick, N.J.

The Gala was a fundraiser for Kids’ Chance, a non-profit organization, created to provide educational opportunities and scholarships for the children of workers who were fatally or catastrophically injured on the job.  John Geaney and Lora Northen, shareholders in the firm, serve as members of the Kids’ Chance Board of Directors.   New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno was the keynote speaker at the event.  The highlight of the Gala featured the presentation of scholarships to eleven students whose parents suffered fatal or physically catastrophic injuries while working.