Duke Lacrosse Players File Suit

The fallout from the fraudulent prosecution of three former Duke University men’s lacrosse players on bogus rape charges continues. The Associated Press reports that today, 38 of the unindicted members and former members of the squad filed a federal lawsuit against Duke, the City of Durham and a host of other entities and individuals. In their 237 page complaint, the players assert claims for, among other things, intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy based upon what they say were the defendants’ deliberate acts of ignoring, suppressing and actively discrediting evidence that would have exonerated the members of the lacrosse team, of standing idly by while team members were harassed on campus.

I have been involved in a number of cases where claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress have been alleged. Such claims, under Pennsylvania law, at least, are extraordinarily difficult to establish. At first blush, then, one might conclude that the players’ claims are perhaps not all that strong. The Duke case, however, presents a set of facts that, in my view is unprecedented. Virtually every adult in a position of responsibility not only abdicated their responsibility to act fairly and to safeguard these young men’s rights but, in many cases, took affirmative steps that had the result of harming these players notwithstanding mounting objective evidence that no rape ever occurred. This may be one of the very, very few cases I have ever seen that likely satisfies Pennsylvania’s standard for such claims (note, however, that North Carolina law applies to these claims). With powerhouse Washington lawyer Chuck Cooper representing them, these young men have a very  good chance of obtaining a significant recovery. The lacrosse affair is a matter that will forever besmirch the administration of Duke President Richard Brodhead and his subordinates. Let’s hope that the young men who were their victims can find some measure of justice in federal court.

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