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Brittany and Emily Morrow were bullied severely by several students only to have the school suggest that the Morrows should move to a different school.
In an answer to their claims for federal relief, the Third Circuit opined that the school is not legally liable for allowing children to be bullied by other students.
No Due Process Right to Be Free From Bullying
The Morrows filed suit under 42 USC 1983, claiming that the school officials had violated their daughters' substantive due process rights under the 14th Amendment.
The Third Circuit noted that while substantive due process is responsible for many legal rights, there is not necessarily a violation of a liberty interest simply when persons are hurt on government time or property.
Put more plainly, simply because Section 1983 allows allegations of a loss of fundamental rights by the government does not mean it is a shortcut to sue the state or city for all torts which occur to public school students.
Section 1983 Not a Portal to Private Tort
Bullying constitutes several intentional torts which are actionable in state courts, and depending on the amount of damages claimed, and even federal court. However, the fact that private violence like bullying occurs and that the government does not protect the victim does "not constitute a violation of the Due Process Clause."
The Supreme Court affirmed this in DeShaney v. Winnebago Cnty. Dep't of Social Servs. when it determined that Social Services' had no affirmative obligation under the Constitution to protect children who were abused by their parents.
No Affirmative Obligation by School
The Third Circuit has continued to follow the principles in Deshaney and found that the government also has no obligation to protect persons from having their medical information viewed pursuant to HIPAA. The school also did not become obligated after creating the danger that caused the Morrow girls to become injured, unlike a Philadelphia police officer who abandoned a woman on the highway.
Schools are also not obligated under any sort of "special relationship," even when children are being sexually assaulted at school by other students.
State Remedies Still Available
Without any constitutional violation, there is no claim against a school for Section 1983 even in the face of truly heinous indifference to bullying, but families like the Morrows may find compensation in state tort actions for their children's woes.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.