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From left, Rae Ann Gruver and Stephen Gruver, parents of Max Gruver, arrive at the 19th Judicial District Courthouse for the start of Matthew Naquin's negligent homicide trial Monday July 8, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. Jury selection for the Max Gruver hazing death trial started Monday.

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a request from LSU to hear arguments in a lawsuit filed by the family of Max Gruver, who died in 2017 after a night of hazing and forced alcohol consumption at his fraternity house.

LSU attorneys had asked the Supreme Court to review a May decision from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which ruled that LSU was wrong in claiming that the university was immune from the Gruvers’ lawsuit under the 11th Amendment, which prevents federal courts from hearing some lawsuits filed against states. But in an order released Monday, the Supreme Court denied LSU’s petition for certiorari, which is a win for the Gruvers.

It means that the lawsuit will now move forward; discovery had largely been stalled while LSU tried to have the lawsuit tossed out of federal district court.

“LSU finally has to defend the case on the merits,” said Jonathon Fazzola, an attorney for the Fierberg National Law Group, which is representing the Gruvers in the case. “[We’re] confident that the discovery will further show the reason why LSU has fought so hard to avoid doing that.”

LSU Interim President Tom Galligan said Monday, after consultation with LSU general counsel Winston DeCuir Jr., that the lawsuit will likely move into discovery, depositions and more. David Bienvenu, Jr., who is representing LSU, declined to comment further.

LSU is already facing a torrent of criticism over its handling of sexual assault and sexual violence claims, as several students have gone public in recent weeks with allegations that the university fumbled its response to their reports of such misconduct. And while LSU has commissioned law firm Husch Blackwell to review how it has previously handled cases that fall under the federal Title IX law, which prohibits discrimination based on gender, Title IX is also key to the Gruver case.

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The Gruvers argue that men face unique dangers at LSU because fraternity hazing is policed with a much lighter touch than misconduct by female students in sororities. LSU tried to counter that the university was immune from the Title IX claims under the 11th Amendment.

But both Chief U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick of Baton Rouge and the 5th Circuit shot down LSU’s defense, citing longstanding precedent. They ruled that because LSU accepts federal money from Title IX, the university waives any immunity that it would otherwise enjoy under the 11th Amendment.

Despite Gruver's death, hazing has remained problematic on LSU's campus.

LSU police arrested a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity last month on counts of felony and misdemeanor criminal hazing, along with failure to seek assistance, after an October fraternity party led to a freshman being hospitalized with severe alcohol poisoning. Phi Kappa Psi has been suspended pending an investigation.

“These horrific events are tremendously painful, and we will not tolerate the behavior that gave rise to them," Galligan said. "As we move forward, we will not hesitate to hold any person or any organization accountable if we find that they’ve engaged in hazing activities."

The Gruvers filed their lawsuit in 2018 against the LSU Board of Supervisors, the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and several members of the fraternity. They seek $25 million in damages.


Email Andrea Gallo at agallo@theadvocate.com