Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sparta school board confidentially paid out $85,000 for allegedly not taking reasonable steps to prevent reported student-on-student bully attack.

On June 15, 2016, the Sparta Board of Education (Sussex County) quietly paid $85,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former student who said that he was attacked by another student while he was walking on a path from Sparta High School to Station Park.

In his suit, Christopher Moore said that he was attacked by Tim Delea on October 26, 2009 while on school property.  Moore claimed that school officials knew about Delea's allegedly propensity to harass Moore "and failed to take reasonable action in accordance with the Anti-Bullying Act to prevent such conduct from occurring and/or to properly discipline Tim Delea."

Also named as defendants in the lawsuit are Sparta Township, Tim Delea and Tim Delea's parents, Robert and Karen Delea.  An Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request has been sent to the Township of Sparta to determine how much, if anything, the Township contributed to the settlement.  This article will be updated upon receipt of the Township's response.  The public is unable to learn how much, if anything, the Delea family contributed because OPRA applies only to government agencies.    
Update--July 18, 2016: Mary Coe, Sparta Township Clerk, advised that "I am in receipt of your OPRA request dated July 17, 2016 in which you requested a copy of the settlement agreement between Sparta Township and Christopher Moore dated June 16, 2016. Please be advised that Sparta Township has no records responsive to your request concerning this individual."

The case is captioned Moore v. Sparta Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. SSX-L-618-12 and Moore's attorney was Chuck McGiveny of Florham Park.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Moore's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that the Sparta school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Moore $85,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.