MSU moves to dismiss lawsuits of 100+ Nassar victims

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

As Michigan State University students begin classes this week with a new president at the helm after the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal, the university's lawyers filed a motion seeking to dismiss the claims of 107 women who have not settled with the school.

Michigan State University is so short staffed in its dining halls that it is asking its professors to volunteer and help, especially during the evenings and on weekends.

The more than 1,000-page dismissal motion, filed late Monday, argues MSU is immune from claims, that the women's arguments failed and the claims were not filed within time limits. 

"Although Nassar’s actions were repugnant and merit the heavy criminal penalties imposed upon him, the law does not support plaintiffs’ attempts to hold the MSU defendants liable for his wrongs," the filing concludes. " ... the MSU defendants respectfully request that the court dismiss plaintiffs’ complaints in their entirety with prejudice."

The claims MSU seeks to dismiss are from women who came forward during the later stages of the sex abuse scandal and are known as the "second wave" of accusers who filed lawsuits after the university reached a historic $500 million settlement with 332 Nassar victims in May 2018.

Larry Nassar

MSU set aside $425 million for women who initially sued the university, and issued settlement checks. The remaining $75 million was earmarked for future claims, most of which are outstanding. Lawyers for second-wave victims have been seeking settlements on par with first-wave victims, believed to have received an average of $1.2 million.

Mary Pat Rosen of Royal Oak, a lawyer for a second-wave victim, said it is unfortunate that MSU continues to act in ways that harm women who were hurt by Nassar, who sexually assaulted scores of young women for decades while an MSU physician. 

"By filing this motion, MSU has again let these survivors down," Rosen said.

She said it's disappointing the university has taken this move, even as it has taken other positive steps.

Samuel Stanley

She added a few of the second-wave victims are planning to speak during Michigan State's Sept. 6 Board of Trustees meeting, the first for newly appointed President Samuel Stanley.

"He has indicated he wanted to meet with the survivors, we have followed up and asked him, yet nothing has yet been put in motion," Rosen said. "Many people believe these claims are all resolved. Maybe (university public relations) or marketing want (MSU) to be perceived as ... taking care of business."

MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said the motion was "simply a procedural step in the litigation process."

While MSU has settled with 80 claimants and is active in negotiation to settle with others, most of the cases pending in federal court were filed during 2018 and have been stayed for nearly a year, she said. 

Because MSU has not been able to reach a settlement in all cases, Guerrant said the court recently lifted the stay and ordered MSU to respond to the complaints.  

"We responded with a motion to dismiss Monday in order to preserve our defenses to the claims," Guerrant said. "Our goal remains to reach a settlement with all the Wave 2 plaintiffs who have come forward.

"The motions filed yesterday were court-ordered, and while we hope to avoid litigation in each case, it was our only opportunity to provide defenses that we may have to use if any of the cases go to litigation."

But Robert J. MacDonald, president of the Michigan Association for Justice, a plaintiffs' lawyers association, blasted the university's explanation.

“The deplorable action taken by MSU reveals the university’s true colors," said MacDonald. "After months of apologies and vows to make amends to the survivors of Nassar’s sexual abuse, MSU continues to deny its own responsibility in giving Nassar access to these young women time and time again despite very early evidence that he was an abuser. This is the ultimate in hypocrisy."

He also said, "The survivors of Larry Nassar deserve justice. Once again, we call on MSU Trustees and university leaders to do the right thing — make a full and fair resolution of all the survivors’ claims.”

The dismissal motion comes as Stanley begins his closely watched tenure and recently appointed two sexual misconduct advisers. The first day of classes is Wednesday.

Lawyer Robert Darling called the university's move to dismiss these cases an injustice as MSU seeks to start anew.

"They treated these ladies as second-class citizens," said Darling, who is based in Plymouth and is representing three of the victims. "There is no reason why wave two should be treated any differently than wave one. ... It's outrageous."