(CN) – A California vice principal who reprimanded four middle-school students for ditching class to participate in immigration-reform protests was not responsible for the suicide of one of the teens, the 9th Circuit ruled.
On March 28, 2006, four students walked out of De Anza Middle School to protest immigration reform measures. Two days later, Vice Principal Gene Bennett took away their year-end activities, including a trip to Disneyland, and lectured them about the potential consequences of truancy, including police intervention and a $250 fine.
One of the students, 14-year-old Anthony Soltero, committed suicide after school that day by shooting himself with a gun. He left a suicide note that read: “I just want to tell you that I love you [guys] and I’ll miss you, [and] tell this to all my family. I killed myself because [I] have to[o] many problems … Tell my teachers [they’re] the best and tell Mr. [Bennett] he is a motherf#@(-)ker.”
Soltero’s parents and one of the truant students sued Bennett for civil rights violations, claiming the school official negligently caused Soltero’s suicide.
Finding Bennett’s discipline appropriate, the district court determined that the student’s suicide was an extraordinary and unforeseeable consequence of the lecture.
A panel of the federal appeals court in Pasadena, Calif., agreed.
“Because Bennett did not violate the students’ constitutional rights, there is no evidence that Bennett intended to harm the students,” Judge Hall wrote, “and because Anthony’s death was not proximately caused by Bennett’s actions, we affirm.”