MSU resumes mediation in Nassar victim lawsuits

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Michigan State University has agreed to return to mediation with more than 250 plaintiffs who have filed lawsuits over Larry Nassar’s sexual assaults during medical treatments — but the university also renewed its motion to dismiss the cases.

MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said Wednesday the dismissal motion is part of the legal process.

“A dismissal filing by us does not mean that MSU is not trying to be accountable,” Guerrant said. “It does not mean we have stopped mediation efforts ... We are still very much looking to find a resolution with the survivors, something that is fair.”

But John Manly, a California-based attorney representing more than 150 victims, said that is nonsense and incongruent with MSU’s rhetoric about the victims.

“Make no mistake, they are trying to dismiss these cases without discovery and trying to prevent the survivors from getting their day in court,” he said. “It’s a patent attempt to get leverage, and it sends the wrong message.”

Additionally, Manly said, the message comes as Nassar’s onetime boss, William Strampel, was indicted on charges of using his position as the dean of MSU’s osteopathic medical school to harass, discriminate, proposition, sexually assault and solicit pornographic videos of female students.

“It sends a clear message: We don’t care about you and we intend to dismiss your cases,” Manly said.

The renewed motion to dismiss was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids by Patrick Fitzgerald, the former federal prosecutor hired by MSU to defend the university. Besides requesting to dismiss MSU, the motion included the other defendants, which include the Board of Trustees and a number of current and former MSU employees: Dr. Douglas Dietzel, Kathie Klages, Dr. Jefrey Kovan, Dr. Brooke Lemmen, Kristine Moore, Destiny Teachnor-Hauk and Strampel.

Separately, Twistars USA Inc., John Geddert and USA Gymnastics Inc., also renewed motions to dismiss.

The legal action came a day after a motion was filed Tuesday indicating that the parties have agreed upon a mediator, Layn Phillips, in the renewed effort to come to resolve the lawsuits. Phillips is a former U.S. Attorney and a former federal judge in Oklahoma.

If the parties come to a resolution, it is expected to be unprecedented and one of the largest sexual assault settlements in history, far eclipsing the agreement Penn State University reached with victims in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal. Penn State’s agreement was reached with 33 victims, whereas MSU is facing eight times more plaintiffs.

Lawsuits from victims of Sandusky ended up costing $109 million in settlements, according to the Associated Press.

The mediation motion sets a date of May 10 to reach a resolution; otherwise, litigation will continue, according to David Mittleman, one of the attorneys representing more than 100 victims in the federal lawsuits.

“Michigan State University is pleased that mediation will restart and remains committed to reaching a fair settlement with all the survivors,” MSU Interim President John Engler said in a statement. “I came to MSU with the intention of concluding the lawsuits as soon as possible in a fair and just manner. The survivors should not have to endure years of litigation.”

But many survivors and activists questioned MSU’s motives after it filed the motion to dismiss.

Plaintiffs began filing lawsuits in early 2017, a few months after the first public allegation emerged about Nassar, a former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor who sexually abused girls and women for more than two decades. He pleaded guilty and is now incarcerated.

They lawsuits include claims of Title IX violations, sexual assault, battery, negligent supervision, negligent hiring and retention, and negligent failure to warn, train or educate. The number of plaintiffs grew over time to reach more than 250 women.

MSU and the other defendants filed motions to dismiss the cases on Jan. 12, four days before sentencing hearings began in Inghan and Eaton counties that included testimony about Nassar’s abuse from more than 200 women and girls.

The dismissal claims included arguments of expired statute of limitations and immunity from liability as a state institution.

The parties began the mediation process last year, but the process broke down in early December.