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Settlement Reached Over ‘Teddy Bear Master’ Suit
July 30, 2008 - Three Knightstown High School students and their parents have reached a settlement with a Knightstown Intermediate School teacher who sued them for defamation over a horror film parody the students made.
According to court records, a court-appointed mediator notified the court two weeks ago that the parties had reached a settlement. An American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing the students and their parents told The Banner the terms of the settlement are confidential. Because the litigants are private parties, the settlement is not a matter of public record.
KIS math teacher Dan Clevenger filed suit against four Knightstown High School students and their parents in May 2007, although he eventually agreed to dismiss his claims against one of the students and that student's parents. He alleged he had been defamed in "The Teddy Bear Master," a film the students made prior to the 2006-2007 school year on their own time off school grounds, and also made claims for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
On March 25, Hancock Circuit Court Judge Richard Culver, a special judge assigned to the case, ruled that Clevenger was entitled to summary judgment on his defamation and invasion of privacy claims. Culver refused to let the ACLU file an immediate appeal of his ruling, and the parties ended up seeking mediation before a trial could be held to determine Clevenger's damages and other unresolved issues.
Shortly after Culver's March 25 ruling, ACLU attorney Gavin Rose told The Banner he was disappointed with the decision and Culver's refusal to allow them to take an immediate appeal. He said he thought the judge's ruling was "a mistaken interpretation of both the law and the facts," and added that he was "confident that in the end this film will be adjudged as exactly what it was: a fictitious horror movie about possessed teddy bears."
The four students involved in the film were all expelled from KHS in the fall of 2006, but in December of that year, a federal judge in Indianapolis issued an injunction reversing the expulsions. While U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker said she thought the film was "vulgar and tasteless and humiliating," she concluded the students were likely to prevail on their First Amendment free speech claims if their cases went to trial.
In the spring of 2007, three of the students and their families reached a settlement with the Charles A. Beard Memorial School Corporation. In exchange for dismissing their lawsuits, the students and their parents were paid a total of $69,000 and CAB was required to expunge the expulsions from the students' school records.
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