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Newsletter > March 2019 > "Navigating Louisiana’s Max Gruver Act"
Navigating Louisiana’s Max Gruver Act
Arthur F. Hodge III, Mee Mee Hodge & Epperson, LLP, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Enacted in 2018, Louisiana Rev. Stat. § 14:40.8 addresses “Criminal hazing.” It provides certain penalties if persons and/or organizations covered by the statute “knew and failed to report to law enforcement that one or more of the organization’s members were hazing another person.” It might also require the inter/national organization to complete any investigation within fourteen days of receiving a report of hazing as defined in the statute. The law is known as the Max Gruver Act, named for the LSU student who died in 2017, reportedly from alcohol poisoning following a ritual described as hazing.
Duty to report to law enforcement. The duty to report under the Act includes any person serving as a representative or officer of an organization, including any representative, director, trustee, or officer of any “national” organization covered by the Act. Organization includes fraternities and sororities. “Hazing” is defined in the Act.
The Act provides for fines, forfeiture of public funds received by the organization, and forfeiture of rights to operate at “the educational institution” for a period of time as determined by a court.
There are legal considerations for organizations who become aware of a report of hazing. They include the potential for a libel claim by the person who is the subject of any report. There is no clear immunity for, or privilege attached to, any statement or allegation made to a law enforcement agency under Louisiana law.
There is also the question of to what “law enforcement” should a report be made?
The location where the alleged act of hazing occurred will be within the jurisdiction of a law enforcement agency. If the asserted act occurred at a chapter facility, check to see if it is on university land and pursuant to a long–term ground lease. If so, the applicable law enforcement agency may be the university police department.
The Act does not require the name of the person or persons alleged to have committed a hazing act to be included in the report to law enforcement.
Care should be taken in any report made under the Act to not state more than what the reporting organization actually knows. What the inter/national organization knows is often based on what has been reported to it. It typically has no firsthand knowledge. What someone did or did not do, in many instances, can be the subject of disagreement and debate. In such situation, the notice could advise that the inter/national organization has received information that members of its chapter may have committed acts that constitute hazing as defined in Louisiana Rev. Stat. § 14:40.8. The notice could also provide the names of persons and their contact information. If a report on the incident has been provided to the inter/national organization and/or to the university, those reports could be noted and a copy enclosed with the letter.
Send the written notification by certified mail, return receipt requested, providing evidence it was sent and received.
A report sent for a chapter should cover all chapter officers who have information or knowledge of an act that might be hazing as defined in the Act. An example notification could include, “Please be advised that officers of the * Chapter of * * Fraternity, Inc. (and which chapter is associated with * University) received information that one of its members may have committed acts that constitute hazing as defined in Louisiana Rev. Stat. § 14:40.8. Based on information received by Chapter officers pursuant to an investigation, it is believed that a member of the chapter may have . . . .”
It would be wise to have legal counsel review draft notices before they are finalized and sent to (1) ensure that they do what is required by the Act and (2) avoid overstating what is known by the reporting party (inter/national organization and the chapter).
Investigation by the inter/national organization within 14 days. The Act provides that the national organization “may conduct a timely and efficient investigation to substantiate or determine the veracity of the allegations prior to making a report to law enforcement”. An investigation is not required by the Act as it uses the term “may.” If the inter/national organization does conduct an investigation, the Act requires it to be completed within fourteen days after the organization receives the report of hazing. There is no penalty provided in the Act for not completing the investigation within fourteen days. The Act also does not expressly state by when a report to law enforcement required by the Act must be made. Given these provisions in the Act, it might be interpreted by a court as requiring a report by the inter/national organization to be made to law enforcement within fourteen days of notice to the inter/national organization.