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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. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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