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Penn State Football Poised To Fight Through More Adversity With New Lawsuit (updated)

Beez’z Law Buzz must mean the offseason is here!

Funny picture, right?

So Penn State University, Penn State University Nittany Lions Head Coach James Franklin, and Penn State football player Damion Barber are being sued in federal court. The gist of the lawsuit is that several PSU players, including Yetur Gross-Matos, Micah Parsons and Jesse Luketa, harassed and hazed former PSU player Isaiah Humphries, that Humphries and his father reported the hazing to PSU coaches including Franklin, that Franklin and PSU did nothing to stop the hazing, and that other PSU coaches retaliated against Humphries for reporting the hazing.

First, and most importantly, here’s a link to the complaint (the document filed by the Plaintiff/person suing that lays out the claims and allegations) filed by Humphries. Go read it. If you don’t read it and you come in here guns-a-blazin’ with your PSU lawsuit hot takes, you will of course win many recs and OTE prizes, but I will know you didn’t read it and you’ll have to live with that shame.

Note: Legendary OTE commentor and reader dbl5030 pointed out that the lawyer who filed this lawsuit is the same who filed suit against James Franklin and PSU on behalf of a whistleblowing team doctor. That suit is...still pending?

With this, as with any lawsuit, you need to keep two things in mind:

1. This is, by design, only half the story and it’s the most inflammatory version of the story possible, in theory without making accusations that are obviously false or solely designed to get media attention.

2. The primary (practical) goal of a complaint is to make sure the complaint doesn’t get thrown out. This means the plaintiff has to allege things that, if true, would get him money. What’s “true” comes later.

Unimportant but helpful legal information: In many state courts, all a Plaintiff has to do is allege enough facts that (a) give the person he’s suing enough information to show up and defend him or herself, and (b) if true, would entitle the Plaintiff to SOMETHING. Money, a court order, etc... If it doesn’t do one of these two things, any non-garbage defense lawyer will get the case thrown out. If you’re looking for the phrase “on a technicality” at this phase, it’ll probably pop up in reference to (a). Part (b) is still a procedural defense, in that the Plaintiff doesn’t get the chance to be heard, but it’s much more merit-based, because it gives the Plaintiff 100% the benefit of the doubt. Part (b) is important because as I’ll say if you ever ask me, yes you can sue anyone for anything, but you won’t get close to winning if the thing you’re suing for isn’t against the law. This is called “notice pleading,” because it simply gives the Defendant notice of what the case is about.

Unimportant but helpful legal shade-throwing disguised as legal information: In federal court, you have to do MUCH more than (a) and (b) to survive. Back during the Bush Administration, the Supreme Court wanted to give John Ashcroft and others cover for very obviously and intentionally discriminating against brown people with Middle Eastern-sounding names. As a result, SCOTUS invented a new threshold for people filing lawsuits, requiring them to make specific allegations of specific wrongdoing, very often in situations where, by design, the Plaintiff doesn’t and can’t get access to the information, sometimes because the Defendant is hiding it! But hey, John Ashcroft didn’t get in trouble for treating everyone darker than a sheet of 8 1/2x11 paper as a potential terrorist in need of surveillance.

Now to the Complaint: It is not good. How’s that for hashtag analysis? I should clarify. The lawsuit itself seems just fine in terms of satisfying (a), (b), and the SCOUTS-Ashcroft racism protection standard set out above. When I say “It is not good” I mean the allegations are horrific.

It accuses several players of repeatedly physically and sexually harassing Humphries. Threatening to make him their bitch, threatening to fuck him, and alleging that Jesse Lekuta threatened to “Sandusky” Humphries. Jesus fuck, guys. Read literally any room for the last ten years.

Here’s another fun snippet: the hazing “included the participants putting their penises between the cheeks of the buttocks of lower classmen, such as the plaintiff, while naked in the locker-room shower.” Man, you high-level athletes just GET fun on a level that us normals don’t.

The lawsuit alleges multiple PSU coaches knew about the hazing and/or saw it happen. It alleges Humphries AND HIS DAD told Franklin about it and Franklin did nothing.

It also alleges Humphries was retaliated against by PSU coaches for reporting the hazing, in the form of lack of playing time, intentionally too-difficult drills designed just for Humprhies and just so he would fail and lose playing time, etc…

And honestly, most shocking to me personally, it alleges that after Humphries reported the hazing, Lekuta threatened to make sure Humphries was “gunned down” if Humphries ever visited Lekuta’s hometown in Canada. Yikes to the max.

Here’s the Complaint again. Please go skim it. If you’re worried about the boring parts, just skip to page 17.

So some terminology: “Negligence per se” is alleged in the first three counts. The easiest way I can explain negligence is by analogy. If you’re driving and you get a text and turn your head to read it, run a stop sign, and t-bone another car. You were negligent. You were behaving in a way contrary to norms and in a way that a “reasonable person” would not have done. You’re on your own in the journey to understanding what “reasonable person” means.

Negligence per se simply means that the act of doing whatever you did is negligence without context. Almost always this means you violated a statute or broke a law. If that’s the case, the starting point assumes that you were negligent because you took the violative action, and it’s on you to explain how that wasn’t really negligence. In this lawsuit, it appears that Pennsylvania has some anti-hazing statutes that Humphries believes PSU and Franklin violated.

“Infliction of emotional distress” appears twice, once as negligent, once as intentional. That’s what it sounds like. Negligent infliction of emotional distress basically means that you took actions that you knew, or should have known, would cause someone else emotional harm or distress. This can include being careless or simply not paying attention to what you were doing and your actions harming someone else. Intentional is the same thing, but you did it on purpose because you’re a dick.

Finally, civil conspiracy is a thing you see in a lot of lawsuits that really doesn’t mean much of anything. Oh and “assault and battery” is generally a tamer form in civil cases than the same phrase is in criminal cases.

UPDATE: Penn State issued the following statement in response to the suit:

“The University has established processes in place for responding to claims of potential misconduct. In accordance with our processes, the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response and the Office of Student Conduct carried out investigations of the plaintiff’s claims independent from Intercollegiate Athletics. In addition, Penn State police investigated related allegations and forwarded the results of that investigation to the Office of the Centre County District Attorney (DA). The DA reviewed the case and decided that no charges would be pursued.”

That’s it for discussing the Complaint. There are a couple other things worth discussing that will 100% be brought up repeatedly in connection with this suit. Before that, though, two reminders:

1. This is, by design, only half the story and it’s the most inflammatory version of the story possible, in theory without making accusations that are obviously false or solely designed to get media attention.

2. The primary (practical) goal of a complaint is to make sure the complaint doesn’t get thrown out. This means the plaintiff has to allege things that, if true, would get him money. What’s “true” comes later.

As helpful PSU fans have pointed out, there was a criminal investigation that probably is related to these allegations. Here’s the 247 sports summary of that piece:

The investigation was primarily fueled, according to a draft police report obtained by WJAC, by one football player who claimed he was harassed, hazed and assaulted by other players.

“Numerous team members, and others associated with the football program, were interviewed and overwhelmingly they disclaimed, or flat out denied the allegations, with most saying it was just locker-room horseplay, or teammates joking around, and they felt that the original complaint came from a player looking for a quick transfer to another school,” the report from WJAC writes.

One of the players accused was even given a lie detector test which he passed.

Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna reviewed the police report and declined to file any charges.

Some things to keep in mind here:

  1. The standard of proof is very different in criminal and civil worlds. In the civil world, you win if you can prove that “more likely than not,” a thing entitling you to money or relief happened. No joke, when I am explaining to the jury, the analogy I use is that the Plaintiff, Humphries in this case, simply has to get the ball across the 50 yard line and he wins. A juror only has to be 51% sure that what Humphries is saying happened, order for Humphries to win. In criminal, it’s “beyond a reasonable doubt” which, as with “reasonable person” above, is the wishy-washiest thing on the planet. All you need to know is it’s way higher.
  2. The standard for convicting someone and bringing criminal charges is different. I don’t know the exact terminology for the proof necessary before filing criminal charges, but it’s lower than conviction. In theory*, though, you’re not charging someone if you don’t think you can convict.

*theory not applicable to really any prosecutor’s office, as they know, and very, very frequently use, the threat of conviction to get people to plead guilty to shit they either didn’t do or that would be hard to convict on. The CJ system is a fucking disaster and bail should be abolished.

3. Lie detectors are worthless. Worthless for convicting, worthless for exonerating, worthless. The only thing they’re good for is scaring people into taking plea deals or confessing to crimes they didn’t commit. They aren’t even admissible in court, and criminal courts will admit even the junkiest of science as “evidence.” If you can’t get your “scientific” “evidence” into a criminal trial, it’s beyond worthless.

One last thing. Assuming this case goes forward even a little bit, you’ll probably see stories about “victories” for one side or the other in the legal battle. If you don’t know your way around the civil legal system, take any reporting about it or framing of a particular outcome with a gigantic grain of salt. Status of the case, party seeking relief, consequences of the order, timing, and a million other things all matter in judging the impact of a noteworthy step in the legal process, and it’s complicated.

If you have questions about specific stuff in the lawsuit, like counts, terms of art, etc... ask away in the comments! I have no knowledge of the factual allegations and won’t guess at them, but I’ll gladly offer what are hopefully mostly correct explanations of other stuff.

Okay so my take: This is a very specific lawsuit with very specific, easily provable or un-provable allegations, and it does not look good. That said, it’s only a Complaint so far and there’s a long way to go. Also, hazing is weird, but dick-related hazing is even fucking weirder. I’m glad people feel comfortable with their bodies, and joking around is fun, but the placement of dicks on other people who don’t want the dicks there is fucking weird.



This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Good and helpful!
    (15 votes)
  • 22%
    The worst. How is it not free? It’s public info!
    (42 votes)
  • 69%
    What’s PACER?
    (130 votes)
187 votes total Vote Now