BY JAMES HARPER
The judge hearing the lawsuit against Bethune-Cookman University and other plaintiffs pertaining to the death of a student who died while pledging a fraternity has refused to dismiss the case.
Thomas died in a car accident on Feb. 10, 2012, after returning from a pledging activity.
On behalf of her son, Marcus Thomas, Michelle Thomas also is suing Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America, Inc.; B-CU employee Lamar D. Bryant; and Marcus Allen, a B-CU student and “big brother’’ to the pledges. Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America is a fraternity for music students.
His mom’s complaint alleges that hazing activities were conducted both on and off campus.
‘Some of the pledging activities involved pledges dressing in all black where they would be physically assaulted and battered. During the pledging process, pledges would be forced to be on a “Pledge diet,” where they were not allowed to eat. Also pledges were required to stay up all night and into the early morning hours, memorizing and reciting fraternity history and facts, clean fraternity members houses and run errands for the members,” the lawsuit states.
Present during a July 1 hearing were the lawyers representing the estate of Marcus Thomas – Darryl Lewis of Miami along with local attorneys William Chanfrau Sr. And Kelly Chanfrau.
Lewis is with the law firm of Searcy, Denny, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley.
The lawyer representing Bethune-Cookman at the hearing was Emmet J. Schwartzman.
Representing Phi Mu Alpha Fraternity at the hearing was Jeffrey Hurcomb. Jeremy Palma represented Allen.
The fraternity filed a motion to dismiss the case arguing, among other things, that the national fraternity could not be held responsible for the actions of members in the local chapter of the fraternity.
Fraternity to blame?
Lewis argued successfully to Judge Terrence Perkins that the national fraternity could be held liable for the acts of the members in its local chapter.
“It is our belief that it clearly strengthens our case because the court ruled that under the existing law, the national fraternity could potentially be held liable for the wrongful and illegal conduct of the people in the local chapter at Bethune-Cookman,” Lewis told the Daytona Times.
Although B-CU did not specifically ask that the case be dismissed, the university took the position that there was “surplus language not needed in the complaint.”
“The court ordered, and we agreed, that we would file an amended complaint. This ruling did not strengthen or weaken anyone’s position in the case,” Lewis concluded.
Statue, code cited
Thomas’ lawsuit, which was filed last year, states that as a B-CU student and pledge of a fraternity, Thomas was protected by Florida Statue 1006.63 and protected by the B-CU Greek Life Policy on Hazing and its Statement on Hazing and Student Code.
“Both recognize the inherent dangers of hazing, defined as any action or situation that recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student as part of an organization’s initiation or affiliation process and attempt to protect students from those dangers,’’ the suit states.
Bryant, a B-CU employee, is being sued because he was the assistant dean of students and director of Student Involvement and Coordinator of Greek Life at the university.
According to the lawsuit, Bryant was responsible for monitoring, oversight, advising, discipline and risk management for the fraternities and sororities on campus. He was responsible for communicating with the fraternity regarding all issues arising out of the fraternity’s affiliation with B-CU.
B-CU, Phi Mu and Bryant are being charged with negligence. The fraternity and Marcus Allen also are being sued for breach of fiduciary duty. In addition, the fraternity is being accused of default on obligations.
The mother is seeking damages in excess of $15,000.
The lawsuit states that Thomas, as surviving mother, has suffered lost support and services from the date of death, with interest and continuing in the future, mental pain and suffering. The estate of Marcus Thomas sustained economic losses in the form of funeral and medical bills and expenses as well as loss of net accumulations.