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Ohio frat in fireworks battle loses $10 million suit

CINCINNATI – A federal judge on Monday dismissed a fraternity’s $10 million lawsuit accusing Miami University of acting with “malice, hatred and ill will” by suspending it after it had a fireworks battle with another fraternity.

U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott dismissed Phi Kappa Tau’s lawsuit against the southern Ohio university with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled.

The judge said the fraternity failed to submit any facts that supported its claims the public university violated its constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure and due process.

She also denied the fraternity’s request to refile the complaint removing the university from the case but adding top university officials. That request came after the university’s attorneys pointed out that the fraternity could not legally sue it because they are both state entities.

The judge said in her order the university officials also are immune.

University officials have said that by suspending the fraternity they acted in the best interest of student safety and followed written policy.

The university suspended Phi Kappa Tau and another fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, after police said the fraternities shot fireworks at each other on Aug. 19. That led to the discovery of a baggy of marijuana and a couple pipes, police said.

Phi Kappa Tau officers said that the items seized by police involved between two and four members, not the entire 80-plus-member chapter, and that those responsible would be held accountable.

As part of the suspension, the 16,000-student university, whose main campus is in Oxford, made the fraternity’s youngest members, all sophomores, move into university housing.

The lawsuit said that the absence of sophomore members from the fraternity house will cost the fraternity at least $130,000 and that statements made by university officials have embarrassed fraternity members and ruined their reputations.

Besides the $10 million, Phi Kappa Tau was asking for a jury trial and had asked the judge for a temporary order forcing the university to lift the suspension while the case was pending. The judge denied that request.

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