Last fall, 26-year-old Florida A&M student Robert Champion died after fellow students beat him inside a charter bus as part of a marching band hazing ritual. The school has been mired in the scandal ever since, and most recently, Champion’s parents sued the school.

The school responded to the lawsuit today, saying public universities have no legal duty to protect students from dangerous off-campus activities.

Reeeeally? I’m not sure it’s that simple, Florida A&M…

In the school’s motion for summary judgment (gavel bang: WSJ Law Blog), filed by Richard Mitchell of GrayRobinson, the school argues as follows:

Since Mr. Champion’s lethal injuries arose from his participation in unlawful acts of hazing, Florida’s sovereign immunity and forcible felony-participation-defense statute absolutely bar Plaintiff’s claim against FAMU. Furthermore, the prima facie element of “legal duty” is not satisfied here because no public university or college has a legal duty to protect an adult student from the result of their own decision to participate in a dangerous activity while off-campus and after retiring from university-sponsored events.

Seriously? Isn’t that a wee bit harsh? This wasn’t some whacked-out fraternity gone rogue. It was the school’s official marching band, which, you could argue, is a semi-official representative of the university. And it wasn’t simply off-campus; the entire band was staying in a hotel in Orlando, hundreds of miles away from the main Tallahassee campus, to attend and perform at a school football game. The beating took place in the tour bus outside the hotel.

The Associated Press has more details about what happened:

Instead, the university maintains that Champion — who it says witnessed others being hazed that night on the bus — consented to the hazing ritual in order to gain respect among fellow band members.

Because of that, FAMU wants a judge to throw out the lawsuit filed against the university by Champion’s family or at least delay action on it until criminal charges against Marching 100 band members are resolved. The family also sued the owner and driver of the charter bus where the ritual took place

The university’s 23-page motion goes on to explain the nature of “Crossing Bus C,” during which Champion was fatally wounded:

14. Over the course of several months, Mr. Champion and his friend and co-Drum Major, Mr. Keon Hollis, discussed and contemplated whether to participate in acts of hazing referred to as “crossing Bus C.”

“Many people in the band were already in Bus C, so those individuals would give [Mr. Champion and Mr. Hollis] the hardest time and disrespect simply because [they] did not cross yet.”

15. “Crossing over” Bus C is a “process by which a student elects to be accepted by members of the percussion section by getting onto the bus and trying to traverse from the front of the bus to the rear of the bus. During the ‘cross over,’ members of the bus try to stop the person by holding, hitting and pushing. This process occurs when the bus has stopped and only the students are left remaining on the bus.”

Keep reading to see the university’s literal blow-by-blow of the event….


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