Ohio school asks judge to dismiss bullying lawsuit

An Ohio school district being sued by two families who claim their children's deaths were caused by bullying has asked a federal judge to dismiss one of the lawsuits.

The Mentor Public School District said in a court filing last week that 16-year-old Sladjana Vidovic was not a student at Mentor High School when she committed suicide in October 2008. Vidovic's parents sued the school district, superintendent and principal in August, claiming their daughter was severely bullied.

The school district also claims that Sladjana's parents, Dragan and Celija Vidovic, lack capacity to bring claims on her behalf because her estate was closed before they filed the lawsuit. Records in Lake County Probate Court show that Sladjana Vidovic's estate was reopened Wednesday retroactively to Aug. 4, the date it was closed.

Lake County Probate Court Judge Ted Klammer wrote Wednesday that the estate was closed because of a clerical error.

"The estate of Sladjana Vidovic should remain open for the pending wrongful death case," Klammer wrote.

David Kane Smith, an attorney representing the school district, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Vidovic, whose parents are from Croatia, described daily torment at the school in a suicide note written before she hanged herself from her bedroom window. Students mocked her accent, taunted her with insults like "Slutty Jana" and threw food at her.

Her death marked the fourth time in little more than two years that a bullied high school student in Mentor, a small Cleveland suburb on Lake Erie, died by his or her own hand — three suicides, one overdose of antidepressants. One was bullied for being gay, another for having a learning disability, another for being a boy who happened to like wearing pink.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court seeks unspecified damages. A case management conference between both parties is scheduled for next week in federal court.

Ken Myers, an attorney representing the Vidovics, said he is trying to ascertain whether Sladjana Vidovic was still officially enrolled in the school when she committed suicide. She had stopped attending classes, he said. Whether she was enrolled the day she died does not affect the lawsuit, Myers said.

"The allegation is that they're the ones that — by ignoring all this — led her to this act," he said. "The fact that she saw what was going on and tried to take steps to remedy it by leaving the school doesn't change the lawsuit at all."

The school said in the filing that it considers allegations of harassment and bullying a serious matter that is "effectively addressed through the district's anti-harassment policy and anti-bullying programs."

In April 2009, the parents of Eric Mohat — one of the four students who died — filed a lawsuit against the school district, principal, superintendent and Eric's math teacher. Mohat shot himself in 2007. His parents say other students referred to him with anti-gay slurs and picked on him for wearing pink. After his death, other kids told the Mohats that they had seen the teen relentlessly bullied in math class.

That lawsuit is on hold while the Ohio Supreme Court considers a question of state law regarding the case.