Federal Judge Neal Biggers has granted a motion to dismiss Houston Nutt’s defamation lawsuit against Ole Miss and related parties on jurisdictional grounds.
No word yet from his lawyer, Tom Mars, if he’ll now seek to move the action to state court. Nutt had complained that Ole Miss officials blamed him wrongly for current problems with the NCAA over recruiting violations. He wants an apology, he says, not money. The suit led directly, however, to the firing of coach Hugh Freeze after the discovery of a phone call he’d made to what’s reportedly the number of an escort service.
Judge Biggers said in a ruling issued in Oxford, Miss.:
This cause comes before the court upon the defendants’ Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction. Defendants argue that jurisdiction is lacking because both the University of Mississippi and the Board of Trustees for Institutions of Higher Learning are arms of the state of Mississippi and, consequently, are not “citizens” of any state for purposes of diversity jurisdiction.
In response to the instant motion, the plaintiff concedes that the defendants’ argument is meritorious and asserts “it is agreed that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.” The court points out that the claims filed by the plaintiff involve no federal statutes or U.S. Constitution claims and are all state law claims, and therefore, since the issues are not between “citizens of different states,” the federal court lacks jurisdiction under the pleadings as presented.
UPDATE: Here’s a statement from Mars:
All the lawyers in this case know we could have easily avoided this jurisdictional defense and stayed in federal court by just suing the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation and dropping Ole Miss and the Board from the lawsuit. However, we wanted to make sure that Ross Bjork and the university had a chance to fully participate in this lawsuit.
Between Bubba Morrison saying I’d read too many John Grisham novels and the University’s recent decision to fire Hugh Freeze, I concurred with Bubba’s suggestion that we just oblige Ole Miss, ask the court to grant their jurisdictional motion, and file an updated state court lawsuit next week with more details than those that were known to us when we first filed suit.
We’d both like to congratulate the Ole Miss lawyers and hope they’ll give some more thought to our settlement proposal before we refile in state court next week.