CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- A defamation lawsuit filed by a Chesterfield mother against Chesterfield County Schools officials will go to trial now after the Virginia Supreme Court reversed a lower court's decision to throw out the case.
Laura Mary-Beth Pendleton sued Chesterfield County Schools superintendent Dr. Marcus Newsome and other school officials claiming they implied she was to blame for the January 2012 death of her daughter Amarria Denise Johnson. The seven-year-old girl died after she was given a peanut by a classmate at Hopkins Road Elementary School. Amarria was severely allergic to peanuts.
Pendleton, a licensed practical nurse, said she informed the school of her daughter's severe allergies and provided them with instruction and medicine should Amarria have a reaction. In the lawsuit, Pendleton claimed the school system implied she was to blame for Amarria's death through statements released to other parents and the media.
"She was very pleased to hear that her case will finally be heard by a jury," Pendleton's attorney Mark Krudys said. "In its opinion, the Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed what it has long held — that defamation by innuendo — implying materially false things about a person, is just as legally actionable as referring to them in a direct manner."
According to court documents, Pendleton asserted:
In the days following Amarria's death, when Ms. Pendleton was seeking answers to, and grieving from, the loss of her daughter, the Defendants undertook a public-relations smear campaign to deflect away from school and health officials, and onto Ms. Pendleton, responsibility for Amarria's death. The Defendants falsely implied, inferred, and/or insinuated, through direct statements, omissions of relevant facts, and use of innuendo, that Amarria's death was caused by Ms. Pendleton's alleged inactions -- specifically, failing to provide necessary information and medications to Amarria's school.
In truth, as noted above, Ms. Pendleton had completed necessary paperwork and had provided Amarria's EpiPen Jr. to the Hopkins clinic assistant.
Defendants' false statements -- made by inference, implication, and/or insinuation -- caused Ms. Pendleton to be pilloried by the public.
Ms. Pendleton did attempt to explain her actual actions to the public.
Her single voice, however, was not heard above the chorus of false statements spread by the Defendants, whose falsities were bolstered by the Defendants' employment positions, and were repeated over and over in the media.
Persuaded by the Defendants' characterization of events, countless individuals, including the parents of other Chesterfield County Public Schools ("CCPS") students, concluded and declared that Ms. Pendleton was a bad mother -- the most hurtful and disparaging of labels.
A trial date for Pendleton's defamation lawsuit has not been set. The trial will take place in the City of Richmond. Pendleton's wrongful death lawsuit against Chesterfield School is scheduled for October in Chesterfield County Court.
Chesterfield Schools has not yet commented on this most recent development.