Suit in Mass. Bullying Case Was Settled for $225,000, Documents Show

December 29, 2011

A lawsuit brought by the parents of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old Irish immigrant in Massachusetts who committed suicide after relentless bullying, was settled for $225,000, according to documents made public Tuesday.

The settlement with the town of South Hadley and its school department was reached more than a year ago, but the details were kept under wraps until a journalist won a court order for the release of the information.

The documents show that Prince’s parents settled claims against the town and its school department for $225,000. In return, the parents promised to release the plaintiffs from any further claims.

The documents were released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which represented Slate reporter Emily Bazelon in her bid to for the disclosure of the settlement.

“This is a victory for the public’s right to know and for transparency in government,” said Bill Newman, an attorney with the ACLU’s legal office in western Massachusetts.

Prince hanged herself in January 2010 after classmates taunted her after she dated a popular boy. She had recently moved from Ireland to South Hadley, a rural town about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of Boston.

Five students later accepted plea deals in criminal cases connected with bullying that preceded her death. None involved prison time.

Prince’s death drew international attention and was among several high-profile teen suicides that prompted new laws aimed at cracking down on bullying in schools. All school districts in Massachusetts are now required to develop bullying prevention plans.

After unsuccessful attempts to gain access to details of the settlement, which was reached with the town and its insurer in November 2010, Bazelon sought a court order to release the information under the state’s public records law.

In an order dated Dec. 23, Superior Court Judge Mary Lou-Rup ruled in favor of Bazelon, saying the town had not shown what harm would be caused by disclosure of the settlement. The judge noted that the Prince family had not registered an objection to releasing the details.

Edward Ryan, lawyer for the town, did not immediately return an after-hours call Tuesday seeking comment.

Ryan had argued in court that the settlement was not a public document and that all parties involved had agreed to keep it confidential.

Topics Lawsuits Massachusetts

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