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Justices affirm judgment in favor of national fraternity in wrongful death action

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A national fraternity assumed no duty to protect local chapter pledges and is not vicariously liable for the negligence of local chapter officers and representatives, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. The justices affirmed summary judgment for Delta Tau Delta in a wrongful death action brought by a deceased pledge’s family.

Johnny Dupree Smith, a freshman pledge of the Beta Psi Chapter of Delta Tau Delta, died of acute alcohol intoxication after drinking heavily at the fraternity house at Wabash College. His parents sued the national fraternity, the local chapter, Wabash College and others. The trial court granted the national fraternity’s motion for summary judgment, and the Court of Appeals affirmed in part but reversed the grant of summary judgment.

The justices examined the issues brought by Smith’s family in light of its recent decision in Yost v. Wabash College, 3 N.E.3d 509 (Ind. 2014).

The Smiths argued two claims on appeal: that certain evidence designated by Delta Tau Delta should be stricken and there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether the national fraternity assumed a duty to protect the local chapter pledges and whether it is vicariously liable for the negligence of local chapter officers and representatives.

The justices decided that they may consider the affidavit of the executive vice president of the national fraternity but not the purported interview transcripts by police in evaluating Delta Tau Delta’s motion for summary judgment.

The Supreme Court, citing previous cases dealing with national fraternity liability for local chapter activities, including Yost, found there is no designated evidentiary material showing Delta Tau Delta had a right to exercise direct day-to-day oversight and control over the activities of the local fraternity and its members, Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote. Just as in Yost, the specific duty undertaken in regard to the policies on hazing and underage and irresponsible drinking was an educational one without any power of preventative control.

The justices also found as a matter of law that an agency relationship does not exist between the national fraternity and the Wabash chapter or its members.

“Although subject to remedial sanctions, in their choice of conduct and behavior, the local fraternity and its members were not acting on behalf of the national fraternity and were not subject to its control,” he wrote. “The national fraternity is not subject to vicarious liability for the actions of the local fraternity, its officers or its members.”

The case is Stacy Smith and Robert Smith, Individually and as Co-Personal Representatives of the Estate of Johnny Dupree Smith, Deceased v. Delta Tau Dalta, Inc. and Beta Psi Chapter of Delta Tau Delta, et al., 54S01-1405-CT-356.
 

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  1. From his recent appearance on WRTV to this story here, Frank is everywhere. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, although he should stop using Eric Schnauffer for his 7th Circuit briefs. They're not THAT hard.

  2. They learn our language prior to coming here. My grandparents who came over on the boat, had to learn English and become familiarize with Americas customs and culture. They are in our land now, speak ENGLISH!!

  3. @ Rebecca D Fell, I am very sorry for your loss. I think it gives the family solace and a bit of closure to go to a road side memorial. Those that oppose them probably did not experience the loss of a child or a loved one.

  4. If it were your child that died maybe you'd be more understanding. Most of us don't have graves to visit. My son was killed on a state road and I will be putting up a memorial where he died. It gives us a sense of peace to be at the location he took his last breath. Some people should be more understanding of that.

  5. Can we please take notice of the connection between the declining state of families across the United States and the RISE OF CPS INVOLVEMENT??? They call themselves "advocates" for "children's rights", however, statistics show those children whom are taken from, even NEGLIGENT homes are LESS likely to become successful, independent adults!!! Not to mention the undeniable lack of respect and lack of responsibility of the children being raised today vs the way we were raised 20 years ago, when families still existed. I was born in 1981 and I didn't even ever hear the term "CPS", in fact, I didn't even know they existed until about ten years ago... Now our children have disagreements between friends and they actually THREATEN EACH OTHER WITH, "I'll call CPS" or "I'll have [my parent] (usually singular) call CPS"!!!! And the truth is, no parent is perfect and we all have flaws and make mistakes, but it is RIGHTFULLY OURS - BY THE CONSTITUTION OF THIS GREAT NATION - to be imperfect. Let's take a good look at what kind of parenting those that are stealing our children are doing, what kind of adults are they producing? WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS TO THE CHILDREN THAT HAVE BEEN RIPPED FROM THEIR FAMILY AND THAT CHILD'S SUCCESS - or otherwise - AS AN ADULT.....

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