NC State asks federal court to dismiss athletics sex abuse case

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  • N.C. State University is asking a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that the university did nothing about alleged sexual abuse within the athletic department in 2015.
  • The suit, filed by a former student-athlete identified as John Doe, was the second alleging misconduct by former sports medicine director Robert Murphy Jr.
  • The university argues it never knew about the alleged abuse regarding Doe before the suit was filed. N.C. State also argues that Doe waited too long to file suit.

N.C. State University is asking a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit from an unidentified former student-athlete. The athlete claims he was sexually abused by the school’s former sports medicine director during treatment in 2015.

The student, identified in court papers as John Doe, filed suit earlier this year. He was the second former Wolfpack athlete to bring a legal complaint against Robert Murphy Jr. Former soccer player Benjamin Locke filed the first suit last August.

Locke had accused Murphy of improperly touching Locke’s genitals during 75 to 100 massages between August 2015 and May 2017. The earlier suit also alleged that N.C. State took no action after a coach warned a senior athletics official in February 2016 that Murphy was engaging in conduct consistent with sexually “grooming” student-athletes.

Doe’s suit cited two cases of improper touching. “Doe contends that it was not until September 2022, after a different plaintiff filed a complaint in a different case pending before this Court, that he discovered that NC State’s ‘actions and inactions’ had harmed him,” the university’s attorneys wrote in a memorandum Friday supporting their motion to dismiss Doe’s case.

“Doe asserts violations of Title IX for deliberate indifference and hostile educational environment against NC State based on alleged misconduct that occurred in 2015,” N.C. State’s lawyers argued. “Doe has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Additionally, Doe’s claims for conduct that occurred more than seven years ago are untimely under the applicable statute of limitations for Title IX.”

The memorandum references the two allegations of inappropriate contact. “This conduct prompted Doe to ‘doubt’ whether Murphy’s conduct was within the confines of ‘professionally acceptable athletic training technique[s] for a licensed athletic trainer,’ and, thereafter, Doe refused to ‘allow Murphy to treat him when he needed assistance from the Sports Medicine Department trainers.’”

“The Complaint includes no allegation that Doe reported the alleged inappropriate touching
that caused him to refuse to work with Murphy,” according to the N.C. State memorandum. “Doe alleges only that, in 2016, the head soccer coach told the Senior Associate Athletic Director that Murphy was ‘engaging in what he suspected was sexual grooming of male student-athletes.’ Significantly, Doe does not allege that Murphy engaged in any inappropriate conduct directed towards Doe after the report to the Senior Associate Athletic Director in 2016 or even that Doe was still enrolled as a student at NC State at the time of the alleged report.”

Doe read Locke’s complaint in September 2022, according to university attorneys. “Doe
alleges that reading Locke’s complaint informed Doe that NC State’s ‘actions and inactions’ had harmed Doe.”

The university could not have addressed misbehavior that Doe never reported, according to the memorandum. “Despite Doe’s ‘doubts’ about Murphy’s behavior, Doe does not allege that he ever reported the sexual harassment to anyone at NC State.”

Doe should have brought his complaint within three years of the alleged assault, N.C. State’s lawyers argued. That’s the applicable statute of limitations.

The university counters a possible argument about a similar case involving Ohio State University in 2022. “The court allowed 110 plaintiffs’ Title IX claims arising out of decades-old misconduct to proceed, noting allegations of a decades-long cover up that included the university’s knowledge and concealment of the misconduct, destruction of records, and misleading of students by telling them that no one had previously complained,” according to the N.C. State memorandum. “In contrast, Doe does not allege a cover-up of any kind by NC State.” The Ohio State plaintiffs “also alleged that they did not know that they had been abused. In contrast, Doe’s Complaint includes allegations that he had knowledge that Murphy had behaved inappropriately.”

As the university seeks to have Doe’s case dismissed, the Locke case sits before U.S. District Judge Louise Wood Flanagan. Flanagan issued an order in February dismissing Chancellor Randy Woodson, former Athletic Director Debbie Yow, and former Associate Athletic Director Lester Clinkscales from the Locke suit.