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Court rules in favor of fraternity in lawsuit following assault

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed summary judgment in favor of a fraternity whose members lived in a Terre Haute private residence where a man visiting for a party was assaulted. The victim claimed the fraternity should be liable because members of the college chapter hosted the party.

Andrew Rogers traveled from Northwestern University to Terre Haute to attend a birthday party at the home of defendants Ancil Jackson, Brian Mifflin Jr. and Joshua Kearby. They were members of Sigma Chi, but did not live in a Sigma Chi-owned property because the chapter’s house was repossessed. All members lived on campus or in private residences. Some items from the fraternity were stored at the defendants’ home to be used during meetings at an on-campus location.

While at the party, Rogers, who was intoxicated, was punched in the eye by Dana Scifres. The defendants weren’t home when the assault took place. Rogers is appealing the grant of summary judgment in favor of Sigma Chi International, its Terre Haute chapter and Jackson, Mifflin Jr. and Kearby.

On appeal, he argued that Sigma Chi had a duty to protect him under premises liability principles because the chapter had possession of the premises where he was injured; the defendants had a duty to protect him under negligence principles because the assault was foreseeable or because the defendants assumed such a duty; and the International fraternity was vicariously liable for the acts of everyone at the residence because it had apparent authority over them as Sigma Chi’s agents.

The Court of Appeals rejected all of his claims in Andrew J. Rogers v. Sigma Chi International Fraternity, Theta Pi of Sigma Chi, Ancil Jackson, Brian Mifflin, Jr., and Joshua Kearby, 84A04-1305-CT-224. Sigma Chi did not control the premises, so summary judgment was appropriate, the court held. The party invitation explicitly said the party was not a rush event and non-fraternity brothers lived in the house. Chapter business was not conducted there.

The attack on Rogers was not foreseeable, so the defendants had no duty to protect him, Judge Melissa May wrote. Another roommate threw the party and invited both Rogers and his attacker, Scifres. Rogers even admitted he didn’t think anyone could have anticipated the assault would occur. The defendants also did not assume a duty to protect Rogers against an attack.

And regarding his claim to Sigma Chi’s vicarious liability, “We decline to hold the presence of fraternity materials in a private residence amounts to a manifestation by an international fraternity that the tenants of that residence are acting as the fraternity’s agents. Summary judgment for the defendants on that ground was not error,” May wrote.
 

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