Kenneth D. Myers, a Cleveland attorney known for handling bullying cases, has settled one involving Eric Mohat, a Mentor teenager who committed suicide seven years ago.
Myers said that even though he could not disclose terms of the deal he secured for Eric’s parents, Bill and Janis Mohat, in their suit against Mentor High School mathematics teacher Thomas Horvath, the parents are pleased by the outcomes.
“We don’t have to go to court,” Myers said by telephone March 31. “We don’t have to proceed from where we were. There’s finality and certainty to it. I’m very happy.”
According to the initial lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in 2009, 17-year-old Eric Mohat shot himself on
March 29, 2007 after months of persistent bullying in math class at Mentor High.
In addition to Horvath, the Mohats targeted the Mentor School Board, former Superintendent Jacqueline Hoynes and Mentor High School principal Joe Spiccia in that suit.
U.S. District Court Judge Donald C. Nugent dismissed that suit, ruling that because Mentor High “did not have a special relationship” with Mohat, it did not have “heightened responsibility for his care and protection.”
In his ruling three years ago, Nugent dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning Myers could proceed to refile it on the state level, in Lake County Common Pleas Court, Myers explained. He narrowed the defendants to Horvath.
Horvath’s attorneys, who also represented the school district, asked the state to throw out the claim, alleging Horvath had immunity as a public employee. The case seemed headed for trial.
“It was a very, very tough case legally because there’s a presumption in the law that generally third parties like school districts or teachers are not responsible for altercations or disputes between two other parties, such as between a student and a group of students,” Myers said. “There are exceptions to that, which is where I felt this case fell, but you start with an uphill battle when you’re trying to show that a school district or an administrator or a teacher is responsible for what happens when one group of students bullies another student.”
As the parties were set to begin the discovery process, attorneys for Horvath “approached me about trying to settle the case” in February, Myers said. The parties agreed to hire a private mediator and terms were reached within a day.
Myers, who lives in Solon and attends Temple Emanu El in Orange, also represents several other families whose children are said to have been bullied. Among them: Lisa and Jim Shively of Uniontown in suburban Akron, who have sued Green Local Schools claiming their daughter, who was 14 in 2011, was physically and emotionally bullied by classmates because she is Jewish.
The Shively girl was placed in another school following the filing of the suit. The case is pending in the 6th District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
Myers also represents the family of Sladjana Vidovic, another Mentor teen who committed suicide following allegations of persistent bullying. Like the Mohat case, the Vidovic case was filed in federal court and dismissed. It’s now in Lake County Common Pleas Court, where it’s supposed to go to trial in July. In the meantime, the 6th District Court of Appeals is supposed to rule on it, Myers said.
All these incidents – and ones involved in a bullying case in Chesapeake in southern Ohio – took place three to seven years ago, said Myers.
Times seem to have changed for the better.
“It just takes these cases a long time to get to court,” he said. “I don’t know if bullying is as bad as it was even five years ago because of high-publicitycasesliketheseand because laws have changed. There’s a lot more awareness of bullying as a problem.
“To some extent, the pendulum has swung in the other direction,” he added. “I’ve represented a number of kids who’ve been accused of bullying for what I consider kind of minor incidents. Schools are now going overboard in disciplining these kids.”