Penn State was sued Wednesday by the family of Joe Paterno and their supporters that include four university trustees as they modified their lawsuit against the NCAA to reverse the sanctions for the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
The Paternos’ attorney, Wick Sollers, referred to Penn State as a “nominal defendant” for only the claim of breach of contract in the lawsuit. The judge presiding over the case, John Leete, said in an order in October that the count could not be part of the lawsuit unless the university participated, so the plaintiffs decided to sue the university.
“We do not seek any monetary damages from Penn State, nor do we ask that the court order Penn State to take any action,” Sollers said. “We ask only for a declaration that the plaintiffs have rights under the NCAA rules that were violated, and that the consent decree imposed by the NCAA is null and void.”
The addition of Penn State was among two changes made in the amended complaint filed in Centre County Court. The other change expands on claims that two plaintiffs, former coaches Bill Kenney and Jay Paterno, could not find jobs in coaching because of the NCAA’s decision to sanction Penn State.
The lawsuit seeks the reversal of the sanctions that include a $60 million fine, scholarship reductions, a bowl ban and the erasing of Joe Paterno’s 111 wins from 1998 to 2011.
The trustee plaintiffs in the suit are Alvin Clemens, Anthony Lubrano, Ryan McCombie and Adam Taliaferro. Clemens is the only trustee to have served on the board before the Sandusky scandal, and Lubrano has been among the most vocal pro-Paterno voices in the university community since the scandal and the beloved coach’s firing in November 2011.
Penn State officials blasted the decision by the Paternos, the trustees and their supporters, saying the university was “deeply disappointed” to be forced into the dispute between them and the NCAA.
“The board (of trustees) has not authorized the individual trustee plaintiffs to sue as trustees or to bring claims on behalf of the university,” the university said in a statement. “Due to concerns with serious conflicts of interest that already exist, board leadership urged the trustee plaintiffs to end their involvement in the lawsuit.
“Instead, these conflicts of interest and the harm to the university have been made worse by the actions of the four trustee plaintiffs and others in seeking to force the university to be a party in this litigation.”
The statement said Penn State will remain committed to complying with the NCAA’s consent decree and an athletics integrity agreement.
In a statement released by the NCAA, chief legal officer Donald Remy said the plaintiffs’ decision to sue Penn State is “yet another step backwards” against the university, and he vowed to fight the lawsuit to uphold the consent decree.
“It should be clear what the plaintiffs have just done,” he said. “They have sued the very school they say they want to protect, asking for relief that Penn State itself has not sought.”
The Paternos and their supporters sued the NCAA to reverse the sanctions, claiming that the national sports organization’s leaders bypassed their rulebook when they penalized Penn State for a criminal matter that was being prosecuted in court. That’s the basis for the breach of contract claim.
The lawsuit also claims the NCAA’s consent decree defamed Clemens, Kenney and Jay Paterno and hurt the Joe Paterno name and reputation.
Last month, the plaintiffs scored a victory when the judge on the case denied many of the NCAA’s objections to the claims made in the lawsuit. The judge’s ruling allowed the lawsuit to proceed to the discovery phase.
“This lawsuit is extremely important to everyone who wants to know the truth about the mishandling of the Sandusky matter by the NCAA and the university,” said Sollers, the Paterno lawyer, on Wednesday. “In short order we expect to gain access to the documents and records in this case and begin deposing the key parties. We welcome the opportunity to explore the record in a full, fair and transparent manner.”