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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. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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