Settlement reached in Lower Merion webcam 'spying' case

By Jon Campisi | Jan 2, 2012

A settlement has been reached in one of the lawsuits filed against the Lower Merion School District over the institution’s webcam controversy, in which it was alleged that the cameras in laptop computers issued to students snapped images of the youngsters without their knowledge.

The settlement was reached last week between Joshua Levin, a 2009 graduate of Harriton High School, and the school district, according to court records and local news reports.

Levin sued the wealthy suburban Philadelphia school district in federal court this past June, alleging civil rights violations stemming from the thousands of images that were taken of him by the take-home computer issued to him by his school.

The federal complaint contained counts of invasion of privacy and alleged violations of Pennsylvania’s wiretapping law.

In August, the school district filed a motion asking a judge to dismiss the suit because it differed from other suits filed stemming from the webcam controversy. For example, Levin’s images were never viewed by anyone other than the plaintiff, unlike other instances that led to separate litigation, school district attorneys had argued.

Last week, however, U.S. District Judge Jan E. DuBois dismissed the case with prejudice following an announcement that the parties had reached a settlement, court records show.

Levin’s lawyer, Norman Perlberger, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he would not be discussing the exact details of the settlement, although he did say that it was much “higher” than the $10,000 payments offered to other plaintiffs in the webcam litigation.

Lower Merion School District spokesman Doug Young, however, told the Pennsylvania Record that the school district would only be responsible for $10,000; an amount less than $10,000 is being contributed by the insurance company, he said.

Young blasted the plaintiff in the case, saying Levin was only out to get a payday from the district.

“From the beginning, this complaint was driven purely by monetary interests,” Young wrote in an email to the Record.

Young stated that Levin’s computer was one of five stolen from school district property and recovered by Lower Merion police.

“No LMSD employee ever viewed any images recorded on his laptop,” Young wrote. “Unfortunately, the plaintiff and his lawyer decided to use litigation as a wedge and a threat in their attempted pillaging of Lower Merion taxpayers for hundreds of thousands of dollars. That process wasted more than six months of time, energy and resources – absolutely nothing changed from our initial position.”

The largest settlement thus far has gone to former Lower Merion student Blake Robbins, the first plaintiff to bring legal action against the district over the so-called webcam “spying” scandal.

Blake Robbins got a $175,000 settlement following his lawsuit, which was filed in early 2010.

Robbins, like the others in successive lawsuits, claimed that his laptop indiscriminately snapped photos of him while he was in his Montgomery County home. Some photos of him were taken while Robbins was asleep.

Robbins’ sister, Paige Robbins, filed her own lawsuit against the school district over the webcam scandal on Dec. 7. That case is pending in federal court.

About a week after Paige Robbins’ civil action was filed, her attorney, Mary Elizabeth Bogan, filed a motion in federal court to withdraw as counsel in the case.

A hearing on that motion is scheduled for Jan. 11.

More News

The Record Network