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Parents of 'Bully' teen appeal dismissal of lawsuit over son's suicide

Brian Ach / AP Images for National Center for Learning Disabilities

David and Tina Long watch "Bully" director Lee Hirsch speak at the National Center for Learning Disabilities' 35th Annual Benefit Dinner at the Mandarin Hotel on April 18 in New York City.

The parents of a Georgia teen whose suicide was included in the 2011 documentary “Bully” are appealing a judge's decision to dismiss their federal lawsuit against the Murray County school district, which they blame for his death through “deliberate indifference” toward years of bullying.

The attorney for David and Tina Long says a notice of appeal was filed June 15, NBC station WRCB of Chattanooga, Tenn., reported.  The Longs’ son, Tyler, was found dead on Oct. 17, 2009, hanging by a belt tied to a closet shelf in his room.


Tyler, who had Asperger’s syndrome, had been picked on since the fifth grade, the Longs claimed. He was unable to comprehend certain facial expressions and body language, so kids would take advantage of him, they said.

The Chatsworth Police Department said it would not bring any criminal charges for events leading up to Tyler's death, WRCB reported in 2009.  

The Longs in 2010 sued the school district and the principal of Murray County High School in Chatsworth, claiming Tyler killed himself because school officials failed to protect him from the bullying even though middle school and high school administrators had been told of the harassment and of Tyler’s medical conditions.

On May 23, Judge Harold Murphy of the U.S. District Court in Rome, Ga., tossed out the suit in a 186-page ruling favoring the school district:

"Even viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to Plaintiffs, the Court cannot find that Defendants' response was clearly unreasonable, caused additional harassment, or demonstrates an official decision by Defendants not to remedy disability harassment. Under those circumstances, the Court finds that Defendants' actions do not rise to the level of deliberate indifference."

Tina Long  told WRCB after the ruling, "We're in shock. The judge seemed to agree with us, but has dismissed the case."

The Longs this week told WRCB they are hoping to appeal, but say their ability to fight the case in court could be hampered by a lack of money.

“Based on the ruling, even if a school is aware that a student is being severely abused on an ongoing basis and fails to protect him, they are immune from liability,” the Longs said in a prepared statement. “Parents all over the country need to know of this ruling. We, as parents, thought that the school was legally obligated to protect our kids, and we vow to try with everything that we have to make that happen."

The Longs' lawyer, W. Winton Briggs, told WRCB in a statement:

"This outrageous ruling and application of the law needs to be exposed. The decision is shocking in that the judge found that Tyler was the subject of ‘severe, nearly constant bullying.' The case came to rest on the exceedingly high standard constituting Deliberate Indifference, which needs to be reformed to protect our children.”

Murray County school officials did not immediately respond to msnbc.com requests for comments.

After Murphy’s ruling, defense attorney Martha Pearson said school officials were “extremely pleased with the result,” the Daily Citizen of Dalton reported.

The film "Bully" features a town meeting hosted by WRCB in Chatsworth in 2009. The film also traces bullying incidents involving other families from around the United States.

The Longs also took their anti-bullying case to national television, appearing with Ellen DeGeneres on “Ellen” in March with their twins, Troy and Teryn, who they said are still bullied at school even after Tyler’s death. “Bully” filmmaker Lee Hirsh also appeared.

 

 

Msnbc.com's Jim Gold contributed to this article. Follow him on Facebook here.

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