The day before the first anniversary of Hailee Lamberth’s suicide, the family of the 13-year-old who is suing the Clark County School District over the bullying she experienced was shocked by a court filing that equated Hailee’s act with “murder.”
“Of course, as a practical matter, a decedent cannot be criminally punished, but this does not render the act of killing any less wrongful,” reads the motion to dismiss filed Thursday by the district’s attorneys in the wrongful death lawsuit.
Hailee’s death is her fault regardless of what might have motivated it, the motion said, contending suicide is “analogous to, if not included within, the crime of murder.
“Hailee’s voluntary suicide is the superseding cause of her death and it therefore cuts off all liability for the nonfeasance alleged against the defendants (of Clark County School District)” the motion claims.
Hailee’s own suicide note, however, points the finger at Henderson’s White Middle School and her bully: “Please tell my school that I killed myself, so that the next time (name withheld) wants to call somebody (expletives), maybe they won’t.”
Hailee’s father, Jason Lamberth, had expected the district’s motion to dismiss, but not on the anniversary of her death and not with an argument laying the blame on her.
“We’re dealing with a lot of emotions this month, let alone that week. That’s one of the reasons we were wary of filing a lawsuit, to relive the grief. And then they do something like this,” said Lamberth. “The 10th (of December) was Hailee’s birthday and the 12th was when she died, and I get this motion on the 11th.”
The family filed the lawsuit now in federal court in October, accusing the district of failing to inform them that Hailee was being bullied.
District spokeswoman Michelle Booth said the deadline for filing the motion to dismiss was Friday but wouldn’t’ elaborate on how long lawyers were given to write the motion.
State law not only prohibits bullying, it requires schools to investigate every report of bullying within 10 days. A school must first, however, “provide written notice of a reported violation to the parent or legal guardian of each pupil involved.”
White Middle School received such a written report about Hailee and confirmed it three weeks before she shot herself but didn’t inform her parents.
“I can’t tell you how many times in my mind I’ve played out the conversations I would have had with Hailee about the severe bullying she was enduring,” Lamberth said. “Whether or not she would have changed schools or changed some of her classes … Those conversations will never happen, and Hailee will never get to experience monumental life milestones because school administrators broke the law and failed to notify us of the reported incidents.”
The district finally told Lamberth of Hailee’s bullying three months after her death, and not voluntarily.
Spurred by the suicide note, Lamberth asked school leaders and district officials at several meetings if they had knowledge of Hailee being harassed. He was told the same thing for months in early 2014 — there was no record.
An anonymous tipster, however, led Lamberth to request Hailee’s student file. The bullying report was in her file. The report Lamberth was told didn’t exist detailed a bullying incident that happened exactly three weeks before Hailee’s death.
Hailee, a straight-A student, was bullied by a male student who called her “fat” and “ugly” beginning in November 2013. Female students also bullied her in physical education, calling her a “fat ass,” “stupid bitch” and “slut,” according to lawsuit documents.
The district calls the Lamberths’ claim of losing a chance for intervention “entirely speculative.”
“Would the parents have intervened at the moment of Hailee’s despair? Would this intervention have permanently averted Hailee’s suicide? These are questions which can never be answered without pure speculation,” said the motion.
“She made the deliberate decision to (1) prepare a suicide note; (2) obtain the firearm, (3) prepare the gun to fire; and (4) pull the trigger.”
The motion also shrugs off the state law telling schools to inform parents of bullying reports. It asserts compliance is not “mandatory” because the Nevada statute begins with the words “the Legislature declares,” making it optional.
“Why would they (the Nevada Legislature) put it in law then?” asked Allen Lichtenstein, the attorney representing the Lamberths. The law isn’t meant to be “some helpful hints for school administrators.”
He recognizes that the district’s attorneys can “make arguments all they want. That’s what lawyers do. …But this is an absurdity.”
In addition to the district’s claim that it can’t be held liable in a student suicide, the motion contends the defendants — Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky, School Board members, the school principal and other staff — have no constitutional duty to “protect Hailee from the alleged bullies.”
State law, however, prohibits bullying in public schools and requires those same schools to “provide a safe and respectful learning environment.” District policy says exactly that and adds another adjective: “secure.”
The district’s motion also downplays bullying, characterizing it as a rite of passage for young students “learning how to interact appropriately with their peers.”
“It is thus understandable that, in the school setting, students often engage in insults, banter, teasing, shoving, pushing, and gender-specific conduct that is upsetting to the students subjected to it,” states the motion to dismiss.
That runs counter to state law prohibiting bullying “on the premises of any public school, at an activity sponsored by a public school or on any school bus,” and requiring disclosure of violations.
State law defines bullying as “a willful act which is written, verbal or physical, or a course of conduct on the part of one or more persons which is not authorized by law and which exposes a person repeatedly and over time to one or more negative actions which is highly offensive to a reasonable person.”
The district also vows in its policies to “consistently and vigorously address bullying, cyber-bullying, harassment, and intimidation.”
But in the motion, the district downplays the seriousness of Hailee’s bullying, said Lichtenstein, referencing the district’s description of what Hailee experienced as being “bothered.”
“I found that outrageous,” said Lichtenstein, adding that district officials seem to be hard on bullying only when it’s “in their interest.”
The district also references unfounded allegations, investigated and dismissed immediately after the girl’s death, that her father beat her. That claim of child abuse was made by Hailee’s former principal, Andrea Katona, in an internal district document, according to lawsuit documents. That document is largely why the family filed its lawsuit, which includes a claim of defamation, Lamberth said.
“Every time they (district officials) spoke, they were lying to my face. Then, when I heard that claim, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Lamberth. “I never even spanked Hailee. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Contact Trevon Milliard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @TrevonMilliard.