The Murray County school district has dropped its efforts to collect nearly $30,000 in court costs from a student's parents after they lost a lawsuit claiming their son had killed himself because school administrators had failed to protect him from school bullies.
The district's insurance provider, Utica Mutual Insurance Co., agreed to forego any further effort to collect the district's costs for successfully defending itself in federal court in Rome and in the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals against allegations by Tina and David Long that school administrators' failures were at the heart of their 17-year-old son's 2009 suicide.
Laurie Webb Daniel, an appellate lawyer at Holland & Knight who sought to shield the Longs from having to pay more than $9,000 in appellate costs to the school district, said that school attorneys began negotiating the agreement to drop the charges shortly after she objected to the appellate bill of costs they had submitted.
As part of the agreement, the Longs will forego their right to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. The agreement does not preclude the family from continuing to speak out about their son's death and the cost that school bullying exacts, Daniel said.
In a news release, the Longs said that the court rulings in favor of the school district and their decision not to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case have been "both heartbreaking and devastating to our family."
"Our resolve has never been about money, merely justice for our son," they added. "With a $30,000 cost against us we had to consider what is best for our children. Our motivation has always been to inspire positive change, advocate and find solutions so that no other child will have to endure the constant, severe and pervasive bullying that Tyler endured. We resolved this cost dispute so we can move forward. … The end of our litigation, however, does not mean that we will end our efforts to stop bullying in our schools."
Matthew Moffett, an attorney with Atlanta's Gray, Rust, St. Amand, Moffett & Brieske who joined with the Gainesville firm of Harben, Hartley & Hawkins in defending the Murray school district, said in an email to the Daily Report: "It doesn't make economic sense for any more money to be spent by anyone on this case. It is time for everyone to accept the ruling of a federal judge, as reviewed and affirmed by three appeals judges, that this case was without legal validity."
The story of the Longs' son, Tyler, received national attention last year in the documentary Bully. Tyler, who had a developmental disability known as Asperger syndrome, hanged himself in a bedroom closet at his home. Although a suicide note he left behind made no mention of bullying, his parents insisted that he killed himself because school administrators had failed to shield him from frequent, cruel harassment by his classmates. U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy eventually dismissed the case, finding there was "no evidence of an existence of a clear pattern of inaction or abuse by any school employees." Murphy also ordered the Longs to reimburse the school district for $20,977 in court costs.
In his order last year dismissing the case, Murphy did not directly link Tyler's suicide to abusive treatment by his classmates. But the judge found there was sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude "that the harassment of Tyler was sufficiently severe and pervasive that it altered the condition of his education and created an abusive educational environment."