U.S. Middle District Judge John E. Jones III dismissed a lawsuit that was filed over the suicide of a former Milton Hersey School student.
Abrielle Bartels hanged herself in 2013, when she was 14. She was dismissed shortly before this from her school after repeated counseling and voluntary hospitalizations for mental health issues. School officials told her family that they could no longer provide adequate care for her emotional issues.
The girl’s family filed a lawsuit against Milton Hershey School in 2016, claiming that dismissing her was a factor in her suicide. The school, in Hershey, Pennsylvania is a 2,100-student, free boarding school for low income students.
The parents alleged that the dismissal plunged her into an assertedly unstable environment very different from the structured one she was used to at the school.
“Milton Hershey School’s actions were a virtual death sentence to a vulnerable and sensitive child,” argued the lawsuit. “Abbie’s suicide was completely preventable.”
Jones ultimately rejected the family’s claim that Milton Hershey violated federal housing law by discriminating against Bartels over her mental health condition. The girl lived at and attended class at the school for free, so she wasn’t covered under those regulations, which deal with discrimination against buyers and renters property.
Jones also dismissed the family’s negligence claim. He discovered that the school’s duty of care to Bartels ended weeks before her death when she was released to her family after her final inpatient mental health commitment. Bartels wasn’t under the supervision of the school when she died.
“Schools throughout this country frequently decide to remove students from their programs for myriad reasons,” the judge wrote. “Given the undisputed facts, (Milton Hershey’s) decision to bar Abrielle from returning to school or preclude her from attending her graduation, in and of itself, could not as a matter of course constitute extreme and outrageous conduct.”
“The panoply leading to Abrielle’s suicide, and her death itself…are undeniable tragic. Abrielle’s death is manifestly heartbreaking. Sadly, however, as is often the case in our system of civil justice, we find that this is simply not an actionable demise,” Jones added.