November 18, 2018

Regional School District 4 Prevails in Lawsuit Filed by Former High School Principal

REGION 4— A summary judgment from Middlesex Superior Court Judge Julia Aurigemma has ended a lawsuit filed against the school district by former Valley Regional High School Principal Eric Rice, though an appeal of the decision to the Connecticut Appellate Court remains a possibility.

In a decision issued on August 15, Judge Aurigemma rejected claims by Rice that the school district violated terms of his October 2010 release and resignation agreement when it released emails and other information on his brief tenure as the high school principal in response to a freedom of information request from the Hartford Courant. The newspaper published an article on Rice’s departure from the principal position in June 2011 that included information from the emails. Rice, represented by the Hamden law firm Gesmonde, Petrosimone & Srigrinari, filed a lawsuit in December 2011 contending the release of the information violated the terms of the agreement and defamed him. The legal action was also filed against Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy and former assistant superintendent Ian Neviaser as individuals.

After months of proceedings and motions before four different judges, and depositions from Levy and Neviaser, Aurigemma agreed last spring to hear arguments and issue a summary judgement on the case, which was initially listed for a trial at the Middletown courthouse in November.

In the decision, Aurigemma determined the release and resignation agreement between Rice and the school district that was signed before his departure from the high school principal job in October 2010 was “comprehensive,” and under its terms Rice waived any further legal claims against the school district. Under the agreement, Rice, who assumed the principal job in August 2010 and was later a subject of complaints from teachers and other staff, received $62,000 in severance pay and health insurance coverage until he found other employment.

The agreement also included a letter of recommendation which was negotiated by attorneys for Rice and the school district. Rice, a Chester resident, later assumed a teaching position with the West Haven school system.
The judge’s decision also rejected claims that the school district had defamed Rice by releasing the emails and other documents in response to the freedom of information request. Aurigemma determined that all of the documents were from the time period covered by the release and resignation agreement, and that school officials had been “deliberative” in deciding which documents to release to the newspaper. The judge determined that Rice had not been defamed by the school district, or by Levy and Neviaser.

Attorneys for Rice earlier this month filed a motion to appeal Aurigemma’s decision to the Connecticut Appellate Court. A status hearing ion the case is scheduled for Oct. 9 at Middlesex Superior Court.

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