- Pennsylvania Federal District Court Dismisses Case Regarding Hazing
- High Profile Suicide Raises Concerns About University Discipline and Student Mental Health
- Virginia Poised to Adopt New Anti-Hazing Law, The Adam Oakes Law
- Third Circuit Finds University Owed Student Title IX Protection Against Non-Student Offender
Newsletter > March 2022 > "Pennsylvania Federal District Court Dismisses Case Regarding Hazing"
Pennsylvania Federal District Court Dismisses Case Regarding Hazing
Timothy M. Burke, Fraternal Law Partners, firstname.lastname@example.org
A Federal District Court in Pennsylvania dismissed a case against Bucknell University, essentially finding that the University had no duty to prevent a fraternity hazing incident that resulted in alcohol poisoning and a concussion. The injured party had sued the University, as well as the chapter, national fraternity, and several of the chapter members.
The Court had originally dismissed the case against Bucknell, but did so in a manner that gave the Plaintiff the opportunity to amend his Complaint in order to make a second try at stating a claim against the University. However, the Court found that even the amended Complaint failed to state facts that, if proven, would demonstrate the University’s liability. In trying to make his case, Plaintiff claimed that the University had disciplined the fraternity chapter for a hazing incident a decade earlier and alleged that Bucknell created “a permissive campus environment for fraternity life” that resulted in students drinking on a regular basis “in the open, out in the street, on campus, within full view of campus security and admissions officials.” But, as the Court pointed out, the Complaint did not even claim that Bucknell either knew about the event where the injury occurred, or had approved the event (or in any way promoted or funded it).
The original Complaint did cite four alleged hazing incidents between 2015 and 2019. One of those involved the men’s swimming and diving team, another involved an all-male acapella singing group, and only two involved fraternity groups, which were not parties to this litigation. In dismissing the original Complaint, the Court had ruled that imposing the higher duty of care Plaintiff’s sought would “create a massive burden on the University’s resources and capabilities, explaining that ‘beyond shuttering every fraternity suspected of or disciplined for hazing, or requiring direct supervision of any such fraternity, it is not clear how Bucknell would be able to meet this duty.’”
The Court went on to point out that the additional facts pled in the amended Complaint did not change the conclusion, pointing out that Plaintiff’s allegations about “hazing conducted by non-Greek organizations—specifically, men’s and women’s school-sponsored sports teams and an acapella group— imposing on Bucknell a heightened duty ‘owed to students related to hazing’ would effectively require the absolute prohibition of all student groups or, at the very least, student group gatherings without direct university supervision.”
The Court also considered Plaintiff’s argument that under the relatively new Pennsylvania Timothy Piazza Anti-Hazing Law, the University “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly promotes or facilitates” hazing. The Plaintiff essentiality argued that Bucknell made it easier to engage in hazing and therefore violated Pennsylvania’s criminal law against hazing. The Court responded, saying:
It is difficult to conceive of any act or omission by a university bearing on its student organizations that could not be characterized as ‘making it easier’ for hazing to occur. Allowing student organizations to gather outside the presence of a university employee would arguably ‘make it easier’ for hazing to occur. Indeed, merely allowing student organizations to exist would ‘make it easier’ for hazing to occur. Endorsing this interpretation would thus institute a dramatic shift in public policy, effectively imposing on colleges and universities an in loco parentis duty—something the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has explicitly rejected for more than 30 years.
This case would have been entirely different had there been facts showing that the University had some advance knowledge that hazing would take place and failed to act. The logic the court used in dismissing the University may well be applied in the defense of national fraternal groups that have rules against—and training to prohibit—hazing, but that lack any advance knowledge of a hazing incident about to take place against those rules and training.
 Jean v. Bucknell Univ., No. 4:20-CV-01722, 2021 WL 4145055 (M.D. Penn. Sept. 9, 2021).
 Id. at *1.
 Id. at *6.
 Id. (Emphasis in original.)
 Id. at *8.