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Judge says NYC not liable for suicide of bullied 12-year-old

By Daniel Wiessner

ALBANY N.Y. (Reuters) - New York City cannot be held liable for the suicide of a 12-year-old boy bullied by classmates who thought he was gay since he did not kill himself at his school, a state judge has ruled.

State Supreme Court Justice Phyllis Flug in Queens on Wednesday dismissed the bulk of a suit by Bergouhi Elissa, the mother of Elijah Mendez, because her son took his life in 2010 at their apartment and not while under supervision of the school.

Elissa, who is seeking funeral expenses and other damages, claimed that officials at the school in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens failed to respond to repeated complaints that the seventh grader was being taunted because of his "perceived sexual orientation."

The judge dismissed all of Elissa's claims over the suicide but allowed her to proceed with claims against the Department of Education that the school failed to prevent the bullying.

"A school is under a duty to adequately supervise the students in its charge and is liable for foreseeable injuries proximately related to its failure to provide adequate supervision," Flug wrote.

The City Law Department and the Department of Education declined to comment on the decision.

Philip Aiello, who represents Elissa, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Mendez's death was six months before Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge after a roommate secretly recorded him on a webcam kissing another man. Clementi's family opted not to sue the university, but the case brought national attention to the bullying of LGBT students.

New York City was sued last year by the mother of a 12-year-old boy, Joel Morales, for claims he hanged himself after years of bullying and physical attacks because he was small.

The case is Bergouhi Elissa v. City of New York, New York State Supreme Court, Queens County, No. 14840-2011.

(Reporting by Dan Wiessner; Editing by Ted Botha and Grant McCool)

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