cyber bullying

Cyberbullying Litigation on the Rise

by Fred Abramson on September 13, 2011 · 1 comment

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The Wall Street Journal reports that  bullying litigation is on the rise throughout the country.

The primary driver of this type of litigation is an increasing awareness of bullying.  The lawsuits are increasing for several  additional reasons, including new standards and more experts in the legal community, says David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center.

Apparently Martin J. Cirkiel an attorney who practices in Texas claims that he has processed 60 to 70 cases about bullying in the past two years.

One case that has garnered much attention is the matter of  Jon Timothy and Tami Carmichael of Cleburne, Texas, who are convinced their 13-year-old son Jon’s suicide in March 2010 was the result of daily bullying by peers and the lack of action taken by school officials.

The lawsuit alleges:

that staff and students were aware of multiple acts of bullying, including incidents in which their son was thrown into a trash can, had his head flushed in a toilet and — shortly before his death — was stripped nude, tied up and again placed into a trash can. The lawsuit states a tape of the latter event was posted on YouTube, then taken down “at the direction of an unknown staff member, who also failed to report the incident.”

The Carmichaels’ federal lawsuit is against the Joshua Independent School District.  This could be a big problem for school districts who take a blind eye to bullies.

USA Today also notes some other recent lawsuits:

•The National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Faegre & Benson law firm filed a lawsuit on July 21, challenging anti-gay harassment in schools within the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota. The case is “currently in mediation,” says Brett Johnson, spokesman for the district.

•The family of a Howard County, Md., student filed a $10 million federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore against several school officials in January, claiming administrators failed to protect the student from bullying that led to his suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. District spokeswoman Patti Caplan says a motion to dismiss has been filed.

The Law Office of Frederic R. Abramson practices civil litigation in New York. If you have a question about Cyberbullying in New York, free fall to call me at 212-233-0666.

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What privacy rights do you have on social networks? Nearly everyday, civil litigators like myself and law enforcement officials request information from Facebook regarding user information.  Understandably, Facebook has been very difficult in responding to such requests, believing that users have a right to privacy concerning its users information. But how much right should users of social networks have over information that is of public record?

Many social networking sites have taken the position that they will not respond to requests for information without a subpoena.  This is a problem because users cannot obtain access to their accounts even if their account has been hacked.

This is especially problematic when it comes to the problem of cyber bullying. I have been trying to obtain records from Facebook for a client whose child whose account has been hacked by a cyber bully.  Facebook has been unwilling to provide information to me about my clients own account.

According to, the Deputy General Counsel of Facebook, Mark Howitson told lawyers at the Legal Tech Conference in New York today that they are ready to fight requests for user  information without a subpoena.

Unfortunately, you can only serve that subpoena in California which is problematic if you live in New York. Even with a subpoena, they will only provide basic subscriber information unless that user gives his or her consent.  The company believes that it does not have to provide user information under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act which was passed before Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, danced to his first disco tune at his bar mitzvah. Since this issue is relatively new, a congressional hearing is forthcoming.

Mr. Howiston suggests that the best way to obtain information from Facebook is to make a simple friend request, which is of little utility.

What do you think?  What right of privacy should you have on social networks?  Should there be a cyber bullying exception?

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