Judge rules against IU frat in sexual assault negligence case

A fraternity that knows or should know about prior sexual assault allegations against a member has a duty to protect social guests from sexual assault by that member, a district court judge ruled Wednesday. The ruling comes in a case involving a complaint against an Indiana fraternity accused of not protecting guests from one of its members.

Indiana University student Jane Doe sued the Beta Alpha chapter of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity for negligence after she was allegedly sexually assaulted by a DTD member, John Enochs. Doe’s negligence case stems from an April 2015 party at the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house, but traces back to October 2013, when Enochs was first accused of assaulting another student.

While attending a social event hosted by DTD and the Delta Zeta sorority in October 2013, Enochs and his date, M.S., walked with friends from the fraternity house to the sorority house and ended up in M.S.’s room. M.S. has alleged she blacked out while still at the fraternity house and has no memory of any events that occurred before she woke up later that evening. However, one of M.S.’s friends, Erika Twer, has alleged she saw Enochs having sex with M.S. in her room while M.S. appeared to be “dead weight” and “asleep.”

When M.S. was informed of what Twer allegedly saw, she told another friend, Brook Clodfelter, that she had been sexually assaulted. Clodfelter then allegedly informed four Delta Tau Delta members — Jake Demetros, Sam Sanders, Garrett Johnson and Carl Kiess — about the allegations, though Indiana Southern District Court Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson wrote Wednesday in a footnote that each of those members except Johnson have testified Clodfelter did not inform them of the sexual assault allegations.

Flash forward to April 2015, when Doe had been drinking both before and during a party at the fraternity house, which Enochs, Kiess, Demetros and Sanders each attended. Another student, Stephanie Paley, saw Doe enter the house with Enochs during the party, then later found Doe crying in the bathroom.

Doe returned to her dorm and called the police to report a sexual assault, and Enochs eventually pleaded guilty to Class A misdemeanor battery. In exchange for the plea, a rape charge was dismissed and Enochs was sentenced to one year of probation, which ended in June 2017. Online court records show Enochs filed a petition to expunge his arrest and conviction records late last month.

Doe’s civil complaint against the fraternity, Jane Doe No. 62 v. Delta Tau Delta Beta Alpha Chapter, 1:16-cv-01480, alleges the fraternity breached its duty to protect her from sexual assault while a guest at its house. Specifically, she sued the fraternity for negligent retention and supervision, premises liability, general negligence and willful, wanton, and reckless misconduct.

 Magnus-Stinson granted summary judgment to the defendants on the negligent retention and supervision claim in April, but denied summary judgment without prejudice on the remaining claims so that the federal court could certify four questions to the Indiana Supreme Court, including:

  • “Under the standard articulated in (Rogers v. Martin, 63 N.E.3d 316) and (Goodwin v. Yeakle’s Sports Bar & Grill, Inc., 62 N.E.3d 384), may a court consider the actual knowledge of a defendant in determining the foreseeability of any event in the context of a duty analysis? If so, does it properly do so by framing either the class of plaintiff or the harm in terms of that knowledge?”
  • “Under Indiana law, does a fraternity owe a duty to a female social invitee to protect her from sexual assault by a member of the fraternity during a fraternity-sponsored event?”
  • “Does the analysis change where there is evidence that prior to the event some fraternity members were told by a third party that the fraternity member had on an earlier occasion sexually assaulted a female?”
  • “Is the analysis impacted by evidence that the female social invitee may have been under the influence of alcohol, most of which was consumed off premises, at the time of the sexual assault?”

The justices declined to certify those questions in June, so Magnus-Stinson analyzed the duty question presented in the instant case under Indiana Court of Appeals precedent in Hamilton v. Steak 'n Shake Operations, Inc., 92 N.E.3d 1116 (Ind. Ct. App. March 7, 2018) and Certa v. Steak 'n Shake Operations, Inc., 2018 WL 2407594 (Ind. Ct. App. May 29, 2018).

Both Steak ‘n Shake cases relied on the test developed in Goodwin and Rogers – which calls on courts to define the broad type of plaintiff and the broad type of harm – to find the restaurant had a duty to protect its patrons from injuries resulting from escalating conflicts on the restaurant premises. Both inquiries also considered the defendants’ actual knowledge of the escalating tension in the analyses, Magnus-Stinson said.

“While the Hamilton and Certa courts framed their analyses slightly differently – one incorporating the defendant’s knowledge into the definitions of the plaintiff and type of harm, and the other considering the defendant’s knowledge as a second step – the result was the same: the defendant’s knowledge was a relevant consideration in determining the existence of a duty.”

Here, Magnus-Stinson defined the broad type of plaintiff as “an invitee to a social fraternity event” and the broad type of harm as “sexual assault by a member previously alleged to have committed sexual assault, where the fraternity knew or should have known of the prior allegations.”

“DTD argues that even if it did have knowledge of the prior sexual assault allegations, those allegations were either too attenuated or too stale to constitute knowledge relevant to this particular incident,” the chief judge wrote. “But this Court declines to determine as a matter of law that information received eighteen months prior to an incident is per se insufficient to constitute relevant knowledge, particularly when the information is an allegation of sexual assault.”

Magnus-Stinson then acknowledged the genuine dispute of material fact as to whether DTD knew or should have known of the allegations against Enoch and, thus, denied summary judgment to the fraternity on each of Doe’s remaining negligence claims. She instructed Magistrate Judge Debra McVicker Lynch to discuss a “possible agreed resolution” to the case as soon as possible.

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