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U of U wants McCluskey lawsuit tossed, claiming no legal liability ‘no matter how heartbreaking’

Posted at 10:53 AM, Sep 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-23 10:55:00-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah is asking a federal judge to dismiss a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed by the family of Lauren McCluskey, arguing that it has no liability for her killer’s actions.

“A terrible tragedy, no matter how heartbreaking, does not necessarily compel legal liability,” assistant Utah Attorney General Rachel George Terry wrote.

McCluskey, 21, was murdered on campus last year by Melvin Rowland, a man she had been dating. Rowland later killed himself. McCluskey’s family sued the U, alleging it did not do enough to listen to her complaints of harassment by Rowland, nor act on them.

In the university’s filing in U.S. District Court, it argues that the McCluskey family is suing the wrong people.

“In this case, Ms. McCluskey’s killer, Rowland, was not a University employee, student, or volunteer. He had no University affiliation whatsoever. He was a bouncer at a downtown bar, on parole, with a criminal record and a history of deception and abuse. Rowland walked onto campus not at the University’s invitation, but to harm Ms. McCluskey. Extending liability to educational institutions in situations where they lack substantial control over harassers and criminals like Rowland would constitute an unprecedented and unwarranted expansion of the implied cause of action under Title IX, which would unjustly subject all educational institutions to liability for all acts of dating-related violence occurring on campus, regardless of the parties involved,” Terry wrote.

The U also argues that similarly has no control over anyone else who walks on to campus.

“The University of Utah campus occupies more than 1,500 acres, with more than 50,000 employees and students, over a million visitors per year, and hundreds of buildings and facilities open to the public. Yet, Plaintiffs’ claims, if successful, would subject the University and its individual staff members to liability if they fail to prohibit all potentially dangerous persons from campus. The claim should be dismissed,” the filing states.

U.S. District Court Judge Howard Nielsen has not yet set a hearing on the U of U’s motion to dismiss. It is expected the McCluskey family will respond to the filing, asking to keep the lawsuit moving forward.

Read the court filing here: