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Harford County

Harford school board signs on to mass federal lawsuit against vaping device manufacturer Juul

Harford County Public Schools has joined the more than 100 school districts across the country who are taking legal action in federal court against vaping device manufacturer Juul, citing the additional costs borne by the school system related to students vaping.

“I fully support this, given the uptick we’ve seen over the last couple of years,” Bernard Hennigan, executive director of student services, said during a recent Board of Education meeting.


Board members voted unanimously, during their Dec. 7 meeting, in favor of HCPS entering into a retainer agreement with the California-based Frantz Law Group, which is representing multiple school systems in 22 states as they seek redress.

“Juul use among teenagers and students has increased substantially over the last few years,” said HCPS general counsel Patrick Spicer.


Spicer noted school districts have been affected by vaping “in terms of increased staff time being devoted to monitoring, counseling and sometimes disciplining students for Juul use.”

Spicer presented the retainer agreement to the board with Frantz Law Group attorney William Shinoff and attorney Andrew Scott of PK Law in Towson in attendance during the meeting, held via teleconference. Scott is serving as a liaison to Maryland school districts which want to join the lawsuit, according to Spicer.

The Harford school system would participate in a “mass action” lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the northern district of California. Attorneys are seeking recovery for “damages that can be quantified, with respect to staff time that was required to be devoted to addressing and ameliorating Juul usage by students, and also any devices or materials we’ve had to purchase with respect to those same undertakings,” Spicer said.

The school system would not be responsible for any costs if the lawsuit is not successful, but it would pay should damages be awarded following a trial or if there is a settlement. The school system would be responsible for “out-of-pocket” legal costs as well as a fee covering 20% of damages or a settlement if the case is resolved before Dec. 31 — the fee increases to 25% if there is a resolution after Jan. 1, according to Shinoff, Spicer and the agreement.

“Not only is [the lawsuit] seeking compensation for any harm that the system has suffered up to this point, but also, it is looking ahead to make sure that your school system has enough funding to be able to deal with this issue in the future,” Shinoff told school board members.

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Hennigan, the student services director, expressed his support for the legal action, citing the increase in the number of students vaping in recent years. He also touched on how HCPS has implemented “some great restorative practices” in an effort to educate students about vaping.

“I think this is definitely a worthy cause and could bring us some much-needed relief,” he said.

Harford County Public School’s health curriculum includes lessons on vaping offered in fifth- through eighth-grade classes. In September 2019, the school system created an online class to offer students as a disciplinary action for violating the HCPS Tobacco-Free and Inhalant-Free School Environment policy, in response to the continual increase in use of electronic cigarettes in schools.


Juul sells an electronic vaping device, which includes a USB connector to charge the vaporizer’s battery and a mouthpiece that is removed to insert a Juul “pod” that contains nicotine e-liquid, according to the Juul website.

The product is designed as an alternative to cigarettes for “adult smokers.” The website includes a warning on the home page that nicotine is an addictive substance — people must be 21 or older to purchase tobacco and vaping products in Maryland.

Juul has been accused of running marketing campaigns that make vaping attractive to teenagers, however, and selling e-liquids with candy and fruit flavors.

The financial cost to school districts has ranged from tens of thousands of dollars to more than $1 million as officials handle disciplining students caught with vaping devices, monitoring parts of schools to ensure students are not vaping and educating students about the dangers of the practice. Families also have struggled with children addicted to vaping, Education Week reported in February.