Beta Theta Pi Disputes Case Dismissal, Accuses Penn State Of Unlawfully Attempting To Take Property

Now-banned Penn State fraternity Beta Theta Pi filed a brief opposing the university’s motion to dismiss an earlier allegation that claimed it used the hazing death of pledge Tim Piazza to reacquire the fraternity’s chapter house.

The original complaint, filed in June by the Penn State’s chapter of Beta Theta Pi and the house corporation of the chapter, accused the university of covering up its own alleged failures in Piazza’s death by deflecting blame onto the fraternity. President Eric Barron, Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims, and Senior Director of the Office of Student Conduct Danny Shaha were also included as defendants in the case.

The brief claims that the original case’s complaint was not against the revocation of the chapter’s university recognition as stated by the dismissal, but instead Penn State’s attempt to “force the sale of the private property” that currently hosts the fraternity house.

Piazza died after falling down the basement steps of the chapter house and sustaining fatal brain injuries and a ruptured spleen after taking part in hazing activities. The chapter was banned in March 2017.

The brief, filed in U.S. Middle District Court, reiterates the complaint’s initial allegation that Penn State is attempting to “surreptitiously trigger a deed provision” that will allow it to purchase the fraternity property, if it is not hosting the chapter house, “at below-market rates, in order to convert such real estate for its own purposes.”

The deed for the property on which Beta Theta Pi house rests, signed in 1928, allows Penn State to repurchase the property if it is no longer used as a fraternity house.

The complaint argues that Penn State’s motion to dismiss its initial suit claims that the university officially revoked the chapter’s recognition on March 30, 2017 in a press release. Therefore, the university reportedly argues, the complaint does not come within the required two-year window that begins when action is first taken, and the suit is time-barred.

The plaintiffs, however, argue that the university only officially revoked the chapter’s recognition when it announced that its rights to purchase the property were triggered in August 2018 as a result of the fraternity’s failure to use the house as a fraternity house.

The original suit argues that by “taking” the property without allowing the fraternity to challenge its decision, the university has “effectively prevented the House Corp. from generating income, which constitutes the taking of private property without due process.”

“The intent of Penn State’s disparate treatment of the Chapter, and by
extension the House Corp., was not to attempt to fix the drinking culture permeating Penn State, as stated in the media,” the complaint reads, “but rather to repurchase the Beta house which is situated in a valuable location in the middle of campus.”

The Piazza family filed a pending wrongful death lawsuit against 28 fraternity brothers in February, and reached an undisclosed settlement with the university.

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About the Author

Jim Davidson

Jim is a junior English and history major and the features editor for Onward State. He, like most of the Penn State undergraduate population, is from 'just outside Philadelphia,' and grew up in Spring City, Pennsylvania. He covers a variety of Penn State topics, but spends nine months of every year waiting for the start of soccer season. You can reach him via email at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @messijim.

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