Bullying caused boy’s suicide, high court rules

by Jun Hongo

The Tokyo High Court on Wednesday expanded a lower court ruling and ordered Tochigi Prefecture and the city of Kanuma to pay a combined 8.6 million yen in compensation to the parents of a 15-year-old boy who committed suicide after being bullied at school.

It is the first time a court has acknowledged that depression caused by bullying resulted in suicide, according to the lawyers for Katsuji and Haruyo Usui.

The Utsunomiya District Court ruled in September 2005 that Takehito Usui was bullied at school and ordered Kanuma’s board of education, Tochigi Prefecture and the victim’s classmates to pay a combined 2.4 million yen in compensation.

But the district court did not agree that the bullying was the cause of the November 1999 suicide. This prompted the parents to appeal.

The parents claimed the board of education and the prefecture could have prevented the suicide, which they say was directly caused by the bullying in class and had asked for 110 million yen from the two defendants for not doing their duty to protect their son.

Presiding Judge Hiromu Emi said Usui’s suicide was caused by the bullying, and agreed the boy had been bullied in class and “the teachers did not provide the required protection for Takehito.” He said the boy was harassed for a long time, causing him to become depressed.

The parents said they were satisfied that Wednesday’s verdict included the acknowledgment that the bullying was the direct cause of the suicide, but said they would appeal the case to the Supreme Court because the high court did not hold the board of education directly responsible for the suicide — only for the bullying — ruling there was insufficient evidence to support the claim.

“The court ruled that bullying caused the suicide but denied that the school was responsible for what happened on its property. It doesn’t make sense,” Katsuji Usui, 54, told reporters.

According to the court, Usui’s classmates began harassing him autumn 1998 when he was an eighth-grader at Kitainukai Junior High School. The other children physically attacked him, forced him to expose his genitals in the classroom and stole his belongings.

He began refusing to go to school in November 1999 and was found hanged at his home on Nov. 26.

The suit was originally filed in July 2001 against Kanuma and Tochigi Prefecture and two of Usui’s classmates, who cannot be named because they are minors.

The two classmates and their parents reached an out-of-court settlement last July for 1.2 million yen each and an apology to Katsuji and Haruyo Usui for having bullied their son.

Kanuma and the prefecture have continued to fight the lawsuit.