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Newsletter > March 2013 > "Court Dismisses Phi Kappa Tau’s Suit Against Miami University"
Court Dismisses Phi Kappa Tau’s Suit Against Miami University
Jacklyn Olinger, Manley Burke, email@example.com
On February 4th, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio dismissed Phi Kappa Tau’s complaint against Miami University. The case stemmed from an incident that occurred in August, 2012 involving a “fireworks war” between the Phi Kappa Tau and Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternities on Miami University’s campus. When responding to investigate the fireworks incident the police found and seized a bag of marijuana and two pipes, in addition to fireworks, at the Phi Kappa Tau chapter house. The University suspended the Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity and revoked the second-year student housing exemption for the fraternity’s members, thereby requiring all second-year students living in the chapter house to move back into on-campus housing, as a result of the incident.
In response, the national fraternity’, the chapter and the local ho.use corporation filed suit against Miami University asserting various causes of action, which included a myriad of violations to their constitutional rights, including the 1st Amendment (freedom of expression and association), 4th Amendment (unreasonable search and seizure), 8th Amendment (excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishment) and 14th Amendment (due process) as well as the following state law claims: breach of contract, tortious interference with business, libel and malicious prosecution. The University filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims. The plaintiffs then filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint which would add as plaintiffs 78 members of the chapter, drop the University as a defendant and add in the University’s place several university officials, in both their individual and official capacities.
The Court granted the University’s motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ original complaint since the plaintiffs, by their own admission, abandoned their originally filed complaint, did not oppose the dismissal of their claims against the University and did not name the University as a defendant in their proposed amended complaint. The Court also denied the plaintiffs’ motion for leave to file an amended complaint because it determined that the complaint, as amended, could not withstand a motion to dismiss, for the following reasons:
• The plaintiffs’ federal and state law claims against the University officials in their official capacity were barred because the officials are entitled to immunity under the 11th Amendment to the Constitution. The 11th Amendment provides immunity to the state and its departments, including public universities like Miami University, as well as state officials sued in their official capacity.
• The Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the plaintiffs’ state law claims against the University officials in their individual capacity. Ohio law requires that, as a condition precedent to asserting a cause of action against a state employee in his individual capacity, the Court of Claims must first determine that the employee is not entitled to the immunity provided for under Ohio law. The plaintiffs presented no allegation or evidence that such a determination was made by the Court of Claims. Thus, the Court determined that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the claims.
• Finally, the Court found that the plaintiffs’ federal claims against the University officials in their individual capacity would not withstand a motion to dismiss because they did not allege facts necessary to form the basis of the claims and even if they had, the University officials would be entitled to qualified immunity.
Fraternities and sororities should keep in mind that public universities and university officials, whether sued in their official or individual capacity, are entitled to certain immunities from liability. Before filing suit against a public university and/or university official, a fraternity or sorority should determine whether these immunities can be overcome and should, in all cases, be sure to plead facts necessary to establish the claims alleged.
1 The national fraternity later voluntarily dismissed its claims, leaving the chapter and the house corporation as the two remaining plaintiffs.