A Superior Court judge Tuesday dismissed an Eastover Elementary parent from a lawsuit filed by a mother who says her 8-year-old son with food allergies was given M&M's at a classroom party.
Tigress McDaniel, who is acting as her own attorney, is suing Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, several employees, the school board and two parent volunteers. She contends two schools mishandled her son's food allergies and medical problems.
Tuesday's hearing dealt only with motions to dismiss the volunteers, who are accused of allowing McDaniel's son to bring home M&M's from an October party at Eastover.
Superior Court Judge Lisa Bell dropped parent Susan Holloway from the suit, and said the other parent, Leesa Clardy, has not actually been sued in state court. McDaniel filed a motion to add Clardy, but Bell said that motion must be approved by a judge.
Tuesday's ruling doesn't settle the question of whether the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board should authorize its lawyers to defend volunteers. McDaniel is also suing Holloway, Clardy and the other defendants in federal court, based on the same complaints.
CMS has 37,400 people registered to volunteer. But lawyers for CMS and the North Carolina School Boards Association say until McDaniel sued they had never encountered lawsuits against school volunteers.
"Being a parent volunteer is not some type of automatic absolution," McDaniel told Bell Tuesday. "You are held accountable for your actions. ... There may be more added, and I shall not hesitate to add them as they're discovered."
The motion to dismiss the volunteers hinged on a fairly narrow question. Holloway's lawyer, Lane Williamson, said there are no grounds for a claim because McDaniel's suit says only that her son brought the M&M's home. It does not say that he ate them, let alone got sick.
According to the suit, the child is allergic to dairy products and he told his mother that Holloway said it was OK to eat the candy.
McDaniel told Bell that her son incurred "astronomical" medical expenses and "required treatment or surgery to correct the allergic reaction that he had to the M&M's."
The hearing veered into a barrage of heated exchanges over McDaniel's history and qualifications, as well as the ethics and conduct of Bell and Williamson.
Williamson called McDaniel's suit "entirely frivolous" and asked Bell to schedule an inquiry on restricting McDaniel's access to the courts. He said his research found that McDaniel has been involved in 162 civil cases, including "at least 70" in Guilford and Mecklenburg counties. Williamson said he also found two "gatekeeper orders" filed against her. A gatekeeper order is a restriction requiring court approval to file lawsuits, used to prevent abuse of the legal process.
The gatekeeper orders involving McDaniel cover numerous North Carolina counties but not Mecklenburg, and Williamson asked Bell to start the process of adding such a restriction against McDaniel.
"This is a burden on the taxpayers," Williamson said. "This is a burden on the courts. ... This needs to be stopped. It's a cancer on the judicial system and it needs to be excised here."
When McDaniel's turn to speak came, she started by trying to outline her history with the legal system and the reasons she files so many suits, including why she claims indigence and gets the filing fee waived. Bell repeatedly ordered her to stick to the issue about the classroom candy.
"I am not going to be mistreated in a court of law," McDaniel told Bell, saying that she would appeal any unfavorable decisions and add Bell to her federal complaint.
"You are being unbelievably belligerent and disrespectful to this court," Bell replied.
Later Bell did allow McDaniel to address her background. McDaniel said she is a single mother and a PhD candidate who has been in college for the past decade. She said she dropped out of law school after one year but "I could have become a lawyer and a judge."
McDaniel, who is running for Mecklenburg County commissioner, said she expects to win and "change all this mess that's happening in courtrooms."
McDaniel also warned Bell against dismissing the volunteers or initiating a gatekeeper order. "It appears that you already have a disdain against me," she told the judge. "That's unfortunate and it's unethical."
Williamson responded by describing McDaniel's comments as "quite an inspired stream of gibberish and mendacity."
Bell said she will refer the request for a gatekeeper order to Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Bob Bell (who is not related to her).