When Kristie Bruce-Lane, a candidate for San Diego’s 76th Assembly District seat, felt her 6-year-old son was being bullied at school she took two aggressive, and unusual, steps.
First, she filed a lawsuit. She sued the school, the head of the school and the mothers of the 6-year-old boys she thought were bullying her son.
Then she did something even more unusual, according to legal experts — she used the boys’ full names in the lawsuit. That means the legal action will likely stay on their records for life.
“There have been lawsuits against anyone for anything, but that said, it certainly is unusual to have schoolyard bullying result in a lawsuit,” said legal analyst Dan Eaton. “Disciplinary problems are usually handled at the school level, and that’s why this is so extraordinary.”
The lawsuit seeks $48.4 million total in damages: $24.4 million from the mothers of the boys; $12.2 million from San Diego French American School; and $12.2 million from head of school Mark Rosenblum.
Bruce-Lane, a Republican, is running against Democrat Brian Maienschein for Assembly District 76. She and her attorneys did not respond to multiple requests for comment prior to this story being published.
But after publication, Bruce-Lane’s attorneys provided a statement to KPBS saying she strongly denied suing the boys themselves. Instead, the statement said Bruce-Lane is just suing their mothers, the school and the head of the school.
“The complaint does not, and never has, named a child as a defendant or a party to the action, alleged a cause of action against a child, or sought damages against a child,” the letter states.
A case information page of the San Diego Superior Court and a judge’s order identify both boys as defendants, but the court’s register of actions does not include the boys.
The initial complaint filed in April 2021 states that Bruce-Lane’s son had been attending San Diego French American School, a pricey private school in La Jolla, since he was two. It alleges that when her son was a first grader, he was punched, pushed and called “stupid” by two classmates. Bruce-Lane claims she filed formal complaints with the school and, when nothing happened, requested that Rosenblum resign.
In March 2021, the school told Bruce-Lane her son was not welcome back the next year because she and her husband Todd Lane “prevented a positive or constructive relationship” and “seriously interfered with (the school’s) accomplishment of its educational purpose,” according to court documents.
Bruce-Lane filed the lawsuit a month later.
Bruce-Lane’s son “suffered emotional distress, mental anguish, embarrassment, humiliation and anxiety and has suffered and continues to suffer financially, including, but not limited to, the cost of counseling and therapy due to (the school’s) failure to investigate the aforementioned reported incidents of bullying,” the complaint reads.
It also claims the mothers of the two boys were aware of their “bullying habits and tendencies that created an unreasonable risk of harm to other persons” and were negligent by not preventing the bullying.
In court documents filed in response to Bruce-Lane’s suit, the San Diego French American School states it “repeatedly addressed Todd’s and Kristie’s complaints about the alleged bullying over a period of ten months.”
The school’s efforts included: “The formation of a Behavioral Response Team, separating the involved children, exchanging numerous emails with the parents, meeting with the parents in person and multiple offers to set up Zoom meetings,” the documents state.
The school’s response goes on to say that Bruce-Lane and her husband refused to cooperate with the school and became abusive and threatening to teachers and staff and demanded the school “completely ignore their own son’s misbehavior.”
Bruce-Lane serves on the Olivenhain Municipal Water Board and started a nonprofit called The Thumbprint Project Foundation, which “aids in the transitioning of homeless children who have been impacted by Childhood Domestic Violence,” according to her campaign website. She has been endorsed by Congressman Darrell Issa and Republican activist Carl DeMaio.
She supports anti-tax and anti-government regulation policies and wants to “get criminals off the street and back our blue,” according to an interview she did with KUSI. She is also involved with The RMNNT, a conservative political activist organization that meets at Awaken Church and trains candidates to run for office.
Regardless of whether the lawsuit is successful, it’s bad politics for a candidate running for office to sue over 6-year-olds bullying, said Will Moore, a San Diego attorney who was an unsuccessful candidate for San Diego City Council in 2020.
“That is an extremely strange choice,” Moore said. “I might have held onto this for a couple of months. That is an interesting political choice to file this lawsuit.”
Neither Bruce-Lane nor her husband ever attempted to contact the mothers of the boys before filing the lawsuit, said Douglas Jaffe, an attorney for Dima Saab, one of the mothers being sued.
“She had heard there was one playground incident, but she had to hear that from the school, there was never any approach by Ms. Bruce Lane to come to Ms. Saab, parent to parent, indicating any problem,” Jaffe said. “These are children who went to school together for three years in preschool, kindergarten, and then this was first grade. They had been friends, attended birthday parties together.”
Jaffe said his client’s son denies bullying and that no one from the school saw it happen. He added that for his client to be liable, “it has to be intentional by the child … (and) whether a child who’s in first grade can even have that kind of intent is going to be an issue.”
In September 2021, the San Diego French American School and Rosenblum asked the court to seal the records using the boys’ full names and that all future court filings only use their initials.
In a tentative ruling, San Diego Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal wrote that the court would use the boys’ initials going forward, but also ruled the court wouldn’t seal past records
“That part I found to be shocking,” said Jaffe. “It puts, unsupported in our opinion, allegations out there against a minor with that minor name that shouldn’t be there.”
Eaton said Bruce-Lane’s decision to include the names does nothing to help her case, but it could do damage to the children’s futures.
“Whether that’s going to have any impact on them, I have no idea, whether psychologically or legally or professionally,” he said.
Rosenblum, the head of the school, declined a request for an interview, but said in a statement that his school “unequivocally stands behind its policies, practices and actions as they relate to student welfare.“
The lawsuit’s claims “are not only outrageous but are unfounded and unsubstantiated,” the statement read. “We are confident that any jury would reach the same conclusion when presented with the evidence.“
The school has filed for a summary judgment to dismiss the lawsuit, and a hearing on that is set for April 2023. If the suit goes forward, a trial is scheduled for June 2023.