BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has turned away an appeal from Louisiana State University, which spent years arguing that it should be immune from a lawsuit filed by the parents of a fraternity pledge from Georgia who died of acute alcohol poisoning.
The court announced Monday that it won’t review a May appellate ruling that LSU can’t claim immunity from a lawsuit filed by Stephen and Rae Ann Gruver, whose son Maxwell Gruver died after a Phi Delta Theta fraternity party in 2017, The Advocate reported.
LSU will now “finally have to defend the case on the merits,” said the Gruvers’ attorney, Jonathon Fazzola. He said he’s confident that compelling the university to present testimony and evidence in the discovery phase “will further show the reason why LSU has fought so hard to avoid doing that.”
LSU attorney David Bienvenu Jr. declined to comment.
The lawsuit, which seeks $25 million, alleges that LSU responded with “deliberate indifference” to allegations of hazing at fraternities. It also said Phi Delta has “a long history of dangerous misconduct at universities across the country.”
The university claimed sovereign immunity, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that because LSU accepts federal funding under Title IX, it waives immunity from lawsuits claiming sexual discrimination.
The suit said LSU discriminates by policing sorority hazing incidents more strictly than hazing at fraternities — a higher tolerance of wrongdoing on the male side of Greek life that exposes young men to greater risk of injury.
Max Gruver, from the Atlanta suburb of Roswell, Georgia, had been at LSU for a month when he died. He had a blood alcohol level of 0.495%.
Matthew Naquin, 21, of Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas was convicted of negligent homicide and sentenced in November 2019 to five years in prison, but a judge suspended all but 2½ years.
LSU also has been criticized recently for its handling of sexual assault cases. And in November, Phi Kappa Psi member Terry Pat Reynolds II was charged with criminal and misdemeanor hazing of a student who was dropped off at a hospital and immediately put on life support with a blood alcohol level of 0.451% — nearly six times the level considered legal proof of intoxication. That victim survived.