A federal judge has dismissed three separate lawsuits against North Carolina State University involving allegations of sexual abuse by the school’s former sports medicine director. One of the suits can proceed only against the man accused of abuse.
US District Judge Louise Flanagan issued her rulings Monday in all three cases. In the first, brought by former Wolfpack soccer player Benjamin Locke in August 2022, the judge ruled that the lawsuit could continue against defendant Robert Murphy Jr. But Locke cannot proceed with his suit against the university.
The other two cases, filed this year, both involved anonymous plaintiffs listed as John Doe. In both cases, the university was listed as the only defendant. Flanagan dismissed both of those lawsuits and issued final judgments favoring NC State.
Locke alleged in the original lawsuit that Murphy had touched his genitals improperly during 75 to 100 massages between August 2015 and May 2017. Locke said he later believed those massages lacked “legitimate” medical necessity. Locke’s suit also alleged that former soccer head coach Kelly Findley told a senior athletics official in February 2016 that Murphy was engaging in contact “consistent with ‘grooming behavior.’” The suit alleged that the school took no follow-up action.
“Defendant Murphy does not include any legal arguments in his motion to dismiss; instead, he references a supporting memorandum that has not been filed,” Flanagan wrote in the order addressing Locke’s case. “In the absence of a legal argument, Defendant Murphy has not carried his burden to show that he is entitled to dismissal. Accordingly, his motion is denied.”
As for the university, “Defendant NCSU argues, and plaintiff concedes, that sovereign immunity bars intentional tort claims against the state. … The court agrees that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction to decide these claims,” Flanagan wrote.
Flanagan also ruled that she lacked jurisdiction to hear Locke’s complaint that NC State provided “negligent training and supervision.” The judge also rejected a Title IX claim against the school. “Defendant NCSU argues that plaintiff’s Title IX claim fails for failure to allege facts that, if true, would support an inference that it received actual notice of the abuse. The court agrees.”
Findley’s statements about possible “grooming” did not amount to a report of a specific instance of sexual harassment that would have given NC State “actual notice” under legal standards, Flanagan ruled. The judge also rejected Locke’s argument that Murphy’s reassignment to an administrative role in 2017 led to an “inference of actual notice.”
In the second case, filed in February by a “male student-athlete” who sought treatment from Murphy for hip pain in 2015, Flanagan ruled again that the plaintiff had failed to show that NC State had received “actual notice” of the alleged abuse. In that case, the university was the only defendant.
“Plaintiff asserts that ‘it is overwhelmingly likely that the coaches’ used the euphemistic language of ‘grooming behavior’ ‘out of embarrassment and reticence in formal settings.’ According to plaintiff, the coaches ‘surely must have known, and communicated, more particulars, if they were impelled to report the problem.’ … These statements are speculations, not ‘factual matter,’ and the court is not bound to accept plaintiff’s hypotheses about what the coaches ‘must have’ known or communicated,” Flanagan wrote.
The third case, filed in April, involved a “male student-athlete” identified as John Doe 2 who sought treatment from Murphy for hip and groin pain in 2021. As in the previous cases, Flanagan determined that the plaintiff failed to show that NC State had actual notice of the alleged abuse.
Because the two suits from anonymous plaintiffs named only the university as a defendant, Flanagan ordered both cases closed.
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