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Newsletter > January 2021 > "Gruver Lawsuit Against LSU May Finally go to Trial"
Gruver Lawsuit Against LSU May Finally go to Trial
Tim Burke, Fraternal Law Partners, firstname.lastname@example.org
Max Gruver died as a result of hazing fueled by alcohol poisoning in 2017. But the civil case brought by his parents has yet to even be scheduled for trial. Now it certainly appears to be finally headed in that direction. In addition to naming the usual suspects, the active organizers of the hazing, the chapter, house corporation, and the fraternity, Phi Delta Theta (the “Fraternity”), the Gruver’s counsel also named Louisiana State University (“LSU”). It is LSU’s claim that it was immune from suit that has kept the case from going to trial.
The Fraternity, which is now working with the Gruvers on anti-hazing measures, the Chapter, and House Corporation, as well as five (5) of the individual members named as defendants, have all settled with the Gruvers and the claims against them have been terminated.
Uniquely, LSU was accused of having violated Title IX, which prohibits universities from discriminating on the basis of sex in the provision of educational programming. The Gruver Complaint sets forth the argument that LSU more rigorously applied its policy prohibiting hazing against women’s groups and much more leniently on men’s groups. LSU filed an early Motion to Dismiss the claim against it, but the federal district court judge, in denying that Motion, summarized the Gruver’s argument as follows:
As a result of LSU’s policy and practice, responding differently to the hazing of male students than the hazing of female students, the hazing of female Greek students is “virtually non-existent,” while the hazing of male Greek students is “rampant.”
Note that, when considering a Motion to Dismiss, a court is required to consider the facts stated in a complaint as true. However, the facts of the different treatment of the hazing by men and women still remain to be proven at trial.
The trial court’s denial of LSU’s Motion to Dismiss was issued on July 19, 2019, just two days after Matthew Naquin, the alleged ringleader of the “bible study” hazing that lead to Gruver’s death, was convicted of negligent homicide. Naquin was sentenced to five years in jail, two and a half years of which were suspended. He remained free on bond until he dropped his appeal and entered prison on January 17, 2020. But as a result of good behavior and other programs available to him, he served less than three months, and was released from jail on April 14, 2020. He now is subject to three years of supervised probation. Naquin is one of the five members who have been terminated from the Gruvers’ civil suit.
In the meantime, LSU appealed the denial of its Motion to Dismiss to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. As reported in the July 2020 issue of Fraternal Law, the appellate court denied LSU’s argument that it was entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.In sum, the Court noted that LSU cannot both accept federal educational dollars and simultaneously reject the conditions attached to those dollars. Therefore, the immunity LSU sought, which might otherwise exist if LSU had not been taking federal funds for over thirty years, did not apply.
LSU refused to accept the logic of that position and sought to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. But on December 7, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider LSU’s appeal, making no comment on the merits of the argument but rejecting the appeal out of hand.The Supreme Court did not even request a response to LSU’s appeal from the Gruvers.
Trial may still be many months away. But the trial court has set a Scheduling Conference for January 28, 2021, and the parties are to provide the Court with status reports by January 14th. Whether there will actually be a trial remains to be seen. Perhaps LSU and the other remaining defendants may find it wiser to settle rather than to risk a jury verdict.
Gruver v. Louisiana, 401 F. Supp. 3d 742, 745 (M.D. La. 2019).
Gruver v. La. Bd. of Supervisors for the La. State Univ. Agric. & Mech. Coll., 959 F.3d 178 (5th Cir. 2020).
Bd. of Supervisors of La. State Univ. v. Gruver, No. 20-494, 2020 U.S. LEXIS 5859 (Dec. 7, 2020).
For more information about this case, see Timothy M. Burke, Jury Convicts Matthew Naquin of Negligent Homicide in the Death of Max Gruver, 160 Fraternal L.1 (July 2019); Micah Kamrass, LSU loses Motion to Dismiss Over the Gruver Estate’s Title IX claims, 160 Fraternal L.2 (July 2019); Tim Burke, Lawsuit Over Max Gruver’s Death Will Continue Against LSU, 1605Fraternal L.22 (July 2020).