Judge Rules Parts of Paterno-NCAA Lawsuit Have Standing

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The family of Joe Paterno had a partial victory today as Judge John Leete, ruling over its lawsuit against the NCAA, permitted parts of it to move forward. The family, along with various former coaches, trustees, and players, brought forth a lawsuit challenging various aspects of the NCAA’s sanctions against Penn State and their effects on the community.

The judge ruled that the plaintiffs couldn’t pursue breach-of-contract claims over the NCAA because of Penn State’s binding agreement with the NCAA. Penn State has shown it wants nothing to do with this lawsuit and is not a party, and the judge ruled that the Paterno group is not an indispensable party to the claim. This means that any hope of invalidating the consent decree is probably out the window.

However, the judge ruled the defamation, conspiracy, commercial disparagement tort claims can move forward. The Paterno group claims that the Freeh report, and in turn, the NCAA, made libelous remarks against the Board of Trustees and former Penn State assistant coaches.

For example, the consent decree said that “some coaches administrators, and football program staff members ignored the red flags of Sandusky’s behaviors and no one warned the public about him.” The judge ruled that this was a restricted enough group to move forward with the defamation complaint. As college football coaches are public figures, the plaintiffs will need to prove malice on the part of the NCAA.

The commercial disparagement claim as also ruled to have standing — for both the Paterno estate and former coaches — based on the Freeh report and consent decree’s various malicious statements against Paterno, such as “Paterno concealed Sandusky’s activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community, and authorities.” These potentially false statements have damaged the value of Paterno’s estate, and so that claim will move forward as well.

Ultimately, any standing the Paterno group has should be seen as a victory. The NCAA has not had to answer for its extortion over Penn State to get President Rodney Erickson to sign the consent decree in any public way. If the NCAA is eventually forced to turn over evidence, things could get interesting. The Paterno side has 30 days to file an amended complaint.

“The ruling by Judge Leete today allowing the critical claims in our lawsuit against the NCAA to move forward is a significant victory,” said Paterno family attorney Wick Sollers. “We are gratified by the Judge’s decision confirming that key defamation, commercial disparagement and civil conspiracy claims can proceed. This is a case that deserves transparency and due process. It is a case that can never be resolved until the full truth is known. With this ruling the bright light of legal discovery will finally shine on the facts and records of all parties involved.”

By the way, the Paterno brothers are deservedly happy:

 

 

 

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About Author

Kevin Horne was the editor of Onward State from 2012-2014, and currently holds the position of Managing Editor Emeritus. He graduated from Penn State with degrees journalism and political science in 2014 and is currently seeking his J.D. at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. A third generation Penn Stater from Williamsport, Pa., Kevin is a director of the Nittany Valley Society 501(c)(3) and is involved in student government.

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