Attorney James Keller argues to visiting Judge Peter Handwork that a lawsuit alleging hazing at the University of Dayton should be dismissed. Handwork ruled that the case should proceed.
Photo: MARK GOKAVI/Staff
Photo: MARK GOKAVI/Staff

Judge denies UD’s motion to dismiss ‘hazing’ lawsuit

Max Engelhart’s lawsuit will move forward to the discovery phase

A visiting judge on Friday “denied in total” the University of Dayton’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging hazing brought by an ex-football player who said he suffered a brain injury after hard drinking during the 2014 “Mad Dogs” event for freshman team members.

Judge Peter Handwork from Lucas County heard arguments from Max Engelhart’s attorneys and lawyers representing UD before immediately ruling against all of the university’s arguments. Handwork ruled all counts in the case should move forward.

RELATED: ‘Hazing statute does not go far enough,’ lawmaker says

“At this point in time, I am not prepared on any of the claims suggested to grant a motion of the defendants,” Handwork said, adding that as far as determining whether Ohio’s anti-hazing laws are correctly applied in the lawsuit, “I don’t find any appellate decisions that will assist this court at all, or control this court, in determining this question, at this stage.”

Handwork ordered the university to answer Engelhart’s amended complaint within 30 days to get the discovery process rolling.

Handwork said he wanted to have a teleconference to set dates for various deadlines and was that he was leaning toward a spring 2018 trial if the case proceeds past summary judgment.

RELATED: UD fights hazing lawsuit; law differs from school policy

Engelhart claims he was forced to chug high-alcohol drinks like Four Loko as part of a “Mad Dogs” or “Mad Caps” initiation to the UD football team. Defendants include UD football coach Rick Chamberlin, strength coach Jared Phillips and others.

Engelhart, then a 6-foot-1, 270-pound offensive lineman, said he woke up Dec. 8, 2014, covered in his own vomit, feces and urine and with a headache later diagnosed by UD’s team physician as a concussion.

Engelhart claims he quit football, left the university and has been prescribed a medicine typically given to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

RELATED: UD asks judge to dismiss alleged hazing lawsuit

UD attorney James Keller — who along with co-counsel Christina Riggs works at a Philadelphia law firm — argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed for several reasons.

Keller’s first point was that because Ohio’s hazing statute only covers activities as part of an initiation into a group and that the alleged activity was after Engelhart was a team member.

Keller also said other states’ statutes define hazing as something that can happen after a person is a member of an organization, but that Ohio’s does not. “It’s very precise,” Keller said. “It’s not just initiation at any time. It’s initiation into a student organization.”

READ: State-by-state hazing laws

Keller cited a Dayton Daily News article quoting state lawmakers saying that Ohio’s hazing statute may be too narrow as written. Both sides also cited the Merriam-Webster definition of the word initiation.

Keller also cited a case against the University of Toledo in which a freshman player was hurt before the season and a judge ruled against that player’s suit.

One of Engelhart’s attorneys, Scott Jones, said he signed a letter of intent and played football his freshman year at the University of Virginia.

RELATED: UD sued for alleged 2014 hazing incident

“Under Dayton’s position, as of my signing that contract in February 1991, I could not be hazed by any member of the football team at the University of Virginia because I was already a member of the team,” Jones said. “That would seem to make no sense, your Honor.”

Jones also argued that UD’s own hazing policy defines the alleged behavior as hazing and that people quoted in UD police reports said Mad Caps was a yearly hazing ritual.

Handwork referenced the allegation that Phillips supposedly warned freshmen football players that Mad Caps was coming and that they should get ready for it as a reason why a negligence claim should move forward.

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