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Newsletter > September 2005 > "VOLUNTEER PROTECTION ACT SAVES FRATERNITY VOLUNTEERS"
VOLUNTEER PROTECTION ACT SAVES FRATERNITY VOLUNTEERS
Robert Manley, Manley Burke
McDaniel Brookman was a prospective member of Alpha Eta Delta of Chi Psi Fraternity at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. He was standing on the balcony of the fraternity house when the balcony collapsed. Brookman was injured and he sued to recover for his injuries. His claims were against Chi Psi Fraternity, a Michigan corporation; Alpha Eta Delta Chapter of Chi Psi Fraternity, an unincorporated association; Alpha Eta Delta Chi Psi Educational Foundation; Chi Psi Alumni Association; and David Waterfall and Bill Stephens, officers and trustees of Chi Psi Association of Alpha Eta Delta, an Oregon nonprofit corporation which owns the fraternity house.
The Complaint alleged that the National Fraternity and the Foundation were responsible for the mismanagement of reconstruction work on the balcony. Brookman targeted the two officers and trustees of the Chi Psi Association of Alpha Eta Delta, the house corporation, because they were responsible for the way in which the balcony was repaired in their capacity as volunteer officers and trustees of the house corporation.
After pretrial discovery, the defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment to have the National Fraternity and the Foundation dismissed because they had not been involved in the day-to-day oversight of the management of the house and the chapter. Defense counsel also moved to have the two individual trustees dismissed because they are protected by immunity granted by the Volunteer Protection Act, 42 U.S.C. §14501 et. seq. and to dismiss the Chi Psi Alumni Association because it does not exist. All of these requests were granted by the Court.1
There have been many cases where national organizations have been dismissed from tort claims because of the fact that they are not involved in the day-to-day operation of the chapter.2 The remarkable thing about the case is that while Mr. Stephens and Mr. Waterfall were alleged to have been responsible for the negligent repairs on the balcony for their roles as officers and trustees of the house corporation, they were declared to be immune from liability because of the federal Volunteer Protection Act, 42 U.S.C. §14501, et. seq. This statute provides, among other things, “no volunteer of any nonprofit organization or governmental entity shall be liable for harm caused by any act or admission of the volunteer on behalf of the organization or entity if – * * * the volunteer was acting within the scope of the volunteer’s responsibility in the nonprofit organization or governmental entity at the time of the act or admission” and the volunteer was performing the services without compensation. The statute defines a nonprofit organization as “any not-for-profit organization which is organized and conducted for public benefit and operated primarily for charitable, civic, educational, religious, welfare or health purposes and which does not practice any action which constitutes a hate crime referred to in (b)(1) of the first section of the Hate Crimes Statistic Act (28 U.S.C. §534).”
All Greek organizations depend upon volunteers to function. This decision should provide reassurance to the tens of thousands of fraternity volunteers who work as chapter advisors and work as officers and trustees of national fraternities, foundations and house corporations.
In the well-crafted “named insured clause” of a National Fraternity’s insurance program, all of these volunteers should be included as named insureds. This decision should lead to a reduction of liability insurance charges since such a large class of people in the “named insured clause” are clearly protected by the Volunteer Protection Act adopted by Congress. This decision should also make it easier to recruit volunteers for house corporation boards and other fraternity positions.
1 Brookman v. Chi Psi Association of Alpha Eta Delta, et. al., Case No. 160323014, Circuit Court of the State of Oregon (2005).
2 See, e.g., Stein v. Beta Rho Alumni Association Inc., 49 Or. App. 965, 973, 621 P.2d. 632 (1980); Garofalo v. Lambda Chi of Alpha Fraternity, 616 N.W.2d. 647, 654 (Iowa 2000); Walker v. Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, 706 So.2d. 525, 529 (La. App. 1 Cir. (1997)); Colangelo v. Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity, 205 Mich.App. 129, 517 N.W.2d. 289 (1994); Moyer v. Lehigh University, et al., 1990 WL 76601 (ED Pa); Coghlan v. Beta Theta Pi Fraternity, 133 Idaho 388, 399, 987 P.2d. 300 (1999); Beach v. Univ. of Utah, 726 P.2d. 413, 418 (Utah 1986); and Bradshaw v. Rowlings, 612 F.2d. 135, 141 (3rd. Cir. 1979).