Suspended Miami University fraternity files lawsuit against university

OXFORD, Ohio - A fraternity at Miami University in southern Ohio has sued the school for $10 million, arguing that university officials acted with "malice, hatred and ill will" by suspending the organization for having a fireworks battle with another fraternity house, which led police to find marijuana.

The lawsuit, filed by the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati on Tuesday, said university officials violated members' constitutional rights by suspending the fraternity without providing an appeal process and despite the fact that police had not filed charges.

University spokeswoman Claire Wagner said the school acted in the best interest of student safety and followed written policy by suspending the fraternity, which included forcing its youngest members -- all sophomores -- to move back into on-campus housing.

"Any activity that so readily may cause harm to people or their homes, we have to be aware of and do our best to protect those students," Wagner said.

The university suspended Phi Kappa Tau and another fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, last week after police said the two fraternities shot fireworks at each other on Aug. 19. That led to the discovery of a baggie of marijuana and a couple pipes, police said.

Oxford police Sgt. John Varley said Wednesday that charges were pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation.

Steve Hartman, chief executive officer of the national fraternity, said in a statement that items seized by police involved between two and four members, not the entire 80-plus-member chapter, and that those responsible will be held accountable.

"The fraternity shares the concern of the university for the importance of student safety and providing living environments that are conducive to student learning and development," he said.

In the lawsuit, Phi Kappa Tau alleges that the absence of sophomore members from the frat house will cost the fraternity at least $130,000, and that statements made by university officials have embarrassed fraternity members and ruined their reputations.

In addition to $10 million, Phi Kappa Tau is seeking a jury trial and had asked Judge Susan Dlott for a temporary order forcing the university to lift the suspension while the case is pending. Dlott denied the latter request Tuesday.

The Cincinnati Enquirer first reported about the lawsuit Wednesday.

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