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Judge Allows Suit Against CAMHS Employee Over 2015 Student Suicide to Move Forward

The Counseling and Mental Health Services office on the fourth floor of the Harvard University Heath Services clinic on Wednesday afternoon.
The Counseling and Mental Health Services office on the fourth floor of the Harvard University Heath Services clinic on Wednesday afternoon. By Michelle H. Aye
By Leah J. Teichholtz, Crimson Staff Writer

A Massachusetts Superior Court judge on Tuesday allowed a lawsuit to move forward against a Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Service case manager who is accused of negligence over a 2015 student suicide.

The lawsuit, filed in 2018, alleges Harvard and several of its employees were negligent in their duty of care to Luke Z. Tang ’18, who died by suicide in September 2015. On Nov. 2, lawyers for Harvard’s employees argued for a ruling without trial, claiming the defendants upheld their duty of care.

Judge Brent A. Tingle denied a motion for summary judgment on Tuesday in the case against CAMHS employee Melanie G. Northrop, Tang’s case manager after his initial suicide attempt in April 2015. Unless settled, Northrop’s case will go to trial.

“There are disputed issues of material fact as to whether this defendant met this standard of care, including, but not limited to continuity of care issues at the end of 2014 school year and upon Luke Tang’s return for the 2015 school year,” Tingle wrote in his decision.

Harvard, Senior Resident Dean Catherine R. Shapiro, and former Lowell Resident Dean Caitlin M. Casey ’03 are also named in the suit for negligence, but the judge has not yet issued a decision on whether their case will go to trial.

Throughout the proceedings, both sides cited Nguyen vs. MIT, a wrongful death suit following the 2009 suicide of an MIT graduate student. In 2018, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts found MIT was not liable, in part because the student had not shared his suicidal ideation with university officials.

In the Nov. 2 hearings, David W. Heinlein, the Tang family’s lawyer, argued for judgment on whether Tang was owed a legal duty of care by Harvard, Shapiro, and Casey. During oral arguments, both sides agreed the employees owed Tang a duty of care after learning of his suicide attempt.

Tingle judged Tuesday that the defendants owed Tang a duty of care but said details of the nature of that duty would be released in a subsequent decision.

“Accordingly, the plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment is ALLOWED only as to the issue of duty with respect to Harvard, Shapiro, and Casey,” Tingle wrote. “The Court will address in detail the nature and extent of the duty owed by these defendants in its forthcoming decision on their motion for summary judgment.”

Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane declined to comment on the case.

—Staff writer Leah J. Teichholtz can be reached at leah.teichholtz@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @LeahTeichholtz.

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College AdministrationMental HealthUniversityCourt