Aldrich v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n

Decision Date30 September 2021
Docket Number1:20-cv-02310-JRS-MG
PartiesERIN ALDRICH, LONDA BEVINS, JESSICA JOHNSON, BEATA CORCORAN, Plaintiffs, v. NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, BOARD OF GOVERNORS OF THE NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Indiana

ERIN ALDRICH, LONDA BEVINS, JESSICA JOHNSON, BEATA CORCORAN, Plaintiffs,
v.

NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, BOARD OF GOVERNORS OF THE NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, Defendants.

No. 1:20-cv-02310-JRS-MG

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 30, 2021


ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS AND MOTION FOR ORAL ARGUMENT

JAMES R SWEENEY II JUDGE United States District Court Southern District of Indiana.

Unfortunately, this case is not unusual. This case is about college sports and alleged sexual abuse. Former NCAA athletes Erin Aldrich, Jessica Johnson, and Londa Bevins ("Aldrich Plaintiffs") report that during their college years, they were targeted, groomed, and abused by their track coach, John Rembao. These women saw in Mr. Rembao, a well-respected and famous track coach who assisted the United States Olympic Team, a chance to chase their dreams. He was influential. He was powerful. And from 1996 to 2000, the Aldrich Plaintiffs claim that he abused that trust and performed sexual acts on them.

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Over twenty years later, the Aldrich Plaintiffs and current Princeton rower Beata Corcoran (together with the Aldrich Plaintiffs, the "Plaintiffs") filed this action against Mr. Rembao, the NCAA, and the NCAA's Board of Governors. The claims against Mr. Rembao are not before the Court: the case at bar concerns only the NCAA and the Board of Governors ("Defendants").[1] Plaintiffs allege that Defendants failed to create regulatory safeguards to protect student-athletes from predatory coaches. Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint ("SAC"), (ECF No. 116), is over 520 paragraphs long and it brings fourteen claims against Defendants, ranging from negligence and breach of contract to vicarious liability. Defendants have moved to dismiss, (ECF No. 123), and have requested an oral argument to explain their motion, (ECF No. 125).

In assessing a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts all well-pled allegations as true and reads all inferences in a light most favorable to Plaintiffs. Vesely v. Armslist LLC, 762 F.3d 661, 664 (7th Cir. 2014); Silha v. ACT, Inc., 807 F.3d 169, 173 (7th Cir. 2015). For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, (ECF No. 123), is granted. Furthermore, Defendants' Motion for Oral Argument is denied as moot. (ECF No. 125.)

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I. BACKGROUND

The named Plaintiffs can be split into two groups. First there are the Aldrich Plaintiffs: Ms. Aldrich; Ms. Johnson; and Ms. Bevins. The Aldrich Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Rembao sexually abused them when they were student-athletes at the University of Arizona and the University of Texas. Second, there is Ms. Corcoran, a current student-athlete at Princeton University. Ms. Corcoran alleges that she faces an increased risk of sexual abuse in the future, given Defendants' alleged inaction. The Northern District of California ("Northern District") previously outlined the allegations of abuse and the Court repeats those facts as necessary throughout this opinion. Aldrich v. NCAA, 484 F.Supp.3d 779, 784-88 (N.D. Cal. 2020).

The NCAA is an unincorporated association based in Indianapolis, Indiana. (SAC ¶ 28.) They act as the governing body for college sports. (Id.) The Association is made up of over a thousand different colleges and universities, who are referred to as "member institutions." (Id. at ¶ 82.) NCAA's member institutions are organized into three levels: Division I, Division II, and Division III. (Id.)

The NCAA's highest governing body is the NCAA Board of Governors. (Id. at ¶ 30.) The Board oversees association-wide issues and is responsible for ensuring that each division of the NCAA "operates consistently with the basic purposes, fundamental policies and general principles of the Association." (Id.) The Board can set policies for the NCAA, as can the individual divisions. (Id. at ¶ 32.)

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II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The Aldrich Plaintiffs originally filed this case in the Northern District of California, against Mr. Rembao and Defendants. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) That court dismissed the claims against Defendants for lack of personal jurisdiction and transferred those claims here under 28 U.S.C. § 1406. Aldrich, 484 F.Supp.3d at 796. After the transfer, Plaintiffs filed the SAC, (SAC, ECF No. 116), and Defendants moved to dismiss and/or strike the SAC under Federal Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (Defs.' Mot., ECF 123.) Defendants also requested oral argument for their Motion. (Mot. for Oral Argument, ECF No. 125.) Plaintiffs filed a response to the Motion, (Pls.' Br., ECF No. 128), and Defendants filed a Reply. (Defs.' Reply, ECF No. 129.)

On September 8, 2021, the Court ordered the parties to file a joint jurisdictional statement (or competing jurisdictional statements if they could not agree) explaining why the Court has jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA"). 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2). The parties filed a joint jurisdictional statement on September 14, 2021, explaining how this Court has subject matter jurisdiction.[2] (Joint Jurisdictional Statement, ECF No. 150.)

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III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Defendants object to the SAC under Rule 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Objections to standing under Rule 12(b)(1) can be phrased as either facial challenges or factual challenges. Silha v. ACT, Inc., 807 F.3d 169, 173 (7th Cir. 2015). "[A] facial challenge argues that the plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged a basis of subject matter jurisdiction.” Id. (quoting Apex Dig., Inc. v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 572 F.3d 440, 443 (7th Cir. 2009)) (emphasis in original). In reviewing a facial challenge, the court must accept all well-pled factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id. Here, Defendants raise a facial challenge to the SAC. (Defs.' Br. 14, ECF No. 124.)

To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a "complaint must allege sufficient factual matter to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Firestone Fin. Corp. v. Meyer, 796 F.3d 822, 826 (7th Cir. 2015) (quoting Gogos v. AMS Mech. Sys., Inc., 737 F.3d 1170, 1172 (7th Cir. 2013) (per curiam)). The Court accepts all well-pled facts in the SAC as true and ignores the legal conclusions and threadbare recitals of the elements. Id. (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). The Court also reads all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Reed v. Palmer, 906 F.3d 540, 546 (7th Cir. 2018).

As laid out by the parties to the satisfaction of the Court, (Joint Jurisdictional Statement, ECF No. 150), the Court has jurisdiction under the CAFA. 28 U.S.C. §

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1332(d)(2). Plaintiffs have sufficiently pleaded that the class has more than 100 members and that a member of the class is a diverse citizen of Defendants. Plaintiffs have also provided a good faith estimate of the amount in controversy and have plausibly explained how that amount exceeds $5, 000, 000. See Appert v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Inc., 673 F.3d 609, 617 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing Blomberg v. Serv. Corp. Int'l, 639 F.3d 761, 763-64 (7th Cir. 2011)) (illustrating CAFA's requirements and noting that a good-faith estimate with explanation satisfies the amount in controversy requirement). (SAC ¶ 17, ECF No. 116; Joint Jurisdictional Statement, ECF No. 150.)

III. DISCUSSION

Defendants raise several arguments against the SAC. Three of the objections- standing, timeliness, and proper defendant entity-are global and apply to the entire SAC. The remaining objections are all failure to state a claim arguments under Rule 12(b)(6), each one targeting a different claim brought by Plaintiffs. The Court begins with the global arguments, and then proceeds to the 12(b)(6) arguments.

A. Standing

Defendants argue that all four Plaintiffs lack standing to pursue injunctive relief, and that Ms. Corcoran lacks standing, period. Simic v. City of Chicago, 851 F.3d 734, 738 (7th Cir. 2017) (quoting Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Env't Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 185 (2000)) ("A plaintiff bears the burden of showing that she has

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standing for each form of relief sought.") Plaintiffs have only defended Ms. Corcoran's standing for injunctive relief; they have made no arguments regarding the other named Plaintiffs or regarding Ms. Corcoran's standing for damages; namely, Counts 1-7. (Pls.' Br. 13-19; Defs.' Reply 5.) Failure to respond results in waiver, thereby conceding that she lacks standing to seek damages. See Alito v. Town of Lisbon, 651 F.3d 715, 721 (7th Cir. 2011) (waiver applies where a litigant does not respond to alleged deficiencies in a motion to dismiss).[3] Thus, the Court dismisses Ms. Corcoran's claims as they relate to Counts 1-7 and turns to the only real standing dispute: whether Ms. Corcoran has standing for injunctive relief.

Article III standing requires prospective plaintiffs to satisfy a three-part test laid down by the Supreme Court in Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992). Namely, plaintiffs are required to have "suffered an injury in fact" that is concrete, particularized, and actual or imminent, and not merely "conjectural" or "hypothetical". Id. There must also be a causal link between the injury and the conduct alleged, and it must be "likely, as opposed to merely speculative" that the injury will be remedied by a judicial decision. Id. To show an injury in fact based on

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an increased risk of future harm, there must be "certainly impending future harm." Lewert v. P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Inc., 819 F.3d 963, 966 (7th Cir. 2016) (quoting Clapper v. Amnesty Int'l USA, 567 U.S. 398, 422 (2013)). Put another way, there must be "a substantial risk that the harm will occur" and the risk cannot be too speculative. Prosser v. Becerra, 2 F.4th 708, 714, 715 (7th Cir. 2021) (quoting Dep't of Com. v. New York, 139 S.Ct. 2251, 2565 (2019)).

Ms. Corcoran does not...

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