Duke settles federal case with former lacrosse players

Feb. 27, 2013 @ 06:05 PM

Duke University and 38 members of its 2005-06 men’s lacrosse team notified a federal judge on Wednesday that they’d settled the players’ lawsuit out of court.

One of the players’ attorneys, Durham lawyer Bill Thomas, joined Duke chief spokesman Michael Schoenfeld in confirming the settlement and that neither side would discuss its terms.

“The terms are confidential,” Thomas said.

“The extent of Duke’s comment on this will be that the lawsuit has been resolved,” Schoenfeld said.

The move pared to one the lawsuits Duke faces from members of the team that was caught up in a public controversy after a stripper, Crystal Mangum, falsely claimed to have been raped at a team party in 2006.

Still pending against the university is a suit from three former players represented by Durham lawyer Bob Ekstrand. But on Wednesday, Duke’s lawyers filed a motion asking U.S. District Court Judge James Beaty Jr. to further narrow that case.

Duke in 2007 previously settled out of court with three players – David Evans, Colin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann – who’d been indicted and then exonerated on charges of raping Mangum. The 2007 settlement forestalled a move by the three to sue the university.

They and the other groups of players did, however, sue the city over the way police handled the case. Those cases remain pending.

Notably missing from Wednesday’s filing and press comments afterward was the sort of formal statement both sides issued after the 2007 settlement.

Duke in 2007 said it had welcomed the exoneration of Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann and deeply regretted “the difficult year they and their families” had endured. The three players, in turn, called Duke a “very special place” and said they hoped the agreement would “begin to bring the Duke family back together again.”

Wednesday’s settlement ended all claims by the 38 players involved against Duke, the Duke University Health System and an array of campus officials that included President Richard Brodhead, Executive Vice President Tallman Trask, Provost Peter Land and Duke Health CEO Victor Dzau.

Also included were the then-leaders of the campus police and the nurse, Tara Levicy, who helped examine Mangum after Durham police brought her to Duke Hospital.

Beaty in 2010 had narrowed the case to one that turned mostly on the question of whether Duke officials had tried to cover up their role in giving Durham police information on where each of the players was on the night of the party, and whether Brodhead and Trask had breached confidentiality promises.

In settling, the players gave up not only those claims, but also their right to ask appellate courts to overturn Beaty’s 2010 decision and reinstate their other allegations against the school.

The dismissal was filed “with prejudice,” meaning the players involved can’t sue Duke again over the events of 2006. The deal, struck by the two sides the week before, also stipulated that each side will shoulder its own legal bills and that federal judges based in Greensboro will retain the power to enforce the deal.

Though they continue, the three lawsuits against the city were sharply narrowed by a ruling in December from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said players couldn’t pursue federal civil-rights claims against Durham’s government.

The court allowed Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann to continue a malicious-prosecution charge against the two detectives who investigated the case. Unindicted players, including the 38 who settled Wednesday with Duke, were left mostly with a claim alleging violations of due process rights guaranteed by the state constitution.

The players have the option of appealing the 4th Circuit’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. If they go they route, they have to petition the high court’s nine justices sometime in March.