Southern University is not liable for a former student band leader’s off-campus hazing activities that sent two marching band members to the hospital in fall 2008, a Baton Rouge state judge ruled Thursday.
But the school may still be on the hook for alleged on-campus hazing activities involving band members that occurred earlier that year.
A lawsuit filed against Southern and Jeremy Dixon, a former student section leader in the band in 2008, is set for trial May 4.
The November 2008 hazing incident, which took place at private East Baton Rouge Parish residences before that year’s Bayou Classic football game, was part of an unsanctioned initiation into the band’s unofficial French horn fraternity — Mellow Phi Fellow. The hazing involved band members being struck by 2-by-4-inch boards.
Attorneys for Marcus Heath and Cameron Taylor, the two former band members hospitalized following the off-campus hazing, said they will ask the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal to reverse state District Judge Tim Kelley’s ruling Thursday.
Thomas Flanagan, one of Southern’s attorneys, argued during a hearing Thursday that Dixon’s actions were not done in the course and scope of his duties as a section leader and that Dixon had no authority to haze anyone because the band expressly forbade such conduct.
“The entire affair was prohibited,” he told the judge.
Flanagan also argued the university took steps to try to eliminate hazing in the marching band, including having members sign an anti-hazing pledge.
But Corey Hebert, an attorney for Heath and Taylor, pointed out that the honorary band fraternity Kappa Kappa Psi was suspended earlier in 2008 by its national chapter after it was learned the fraternity had taken part in hazing activities at Southern. Those activities are part of the civil case.
“We’re not liable for that either,” Southern attorney Winston DeCuir Sr. said outside the courtroom.
Hebert argued in court that Dixon’s duties were to keep order.
“Jeremy Dixon used the power he was given ... to facilitate all of the hazing that occurred,” he argued.
Dixon, of Natchez, Mississippi, and six other former Southern marching band members pleaded no contest in 2009 to charges of criminal conspiracy to commit second-degree battery and misdemeanor hazing. Each was put on probation and ordered to perform community service.
A no contest plea has the same effect as a guilty plea in criminal court but cannot be used as an admission of guilt in civil court.
The long-running case has featured several appeals along the way, some reaching the Louisiana Supreme Court.