Penn State

Judge says Beta Theta Pi can keep renting rooms

A motion for injunction that would have stopped unzoned use of the Beta Theta Pi house at 221 N. Burrowes Street was denied Nov. 20.
A motion for injunction that would have stopped unzoned use of the Beta Theta Pi house at 221 N. Burrowes Street was denied Nov. 20. Centre Daily Times, file

Beta Theta Pi members can keep using the shuttered house on Burrowes Street and drinking in the basement bar where Timothy Piazza sustained a fatal brain injury and internal bleeding.

For now.

On Nov. 20, Centre County Judge Katherine Oliver denied a motion for injunction from Donald Abbey against the Alpha Upsilon chapter of Beta Theta Pi.

Abbey is a Penn State and Beta Theta Pi alumnus who is suing the fraternity for money he says needs to be returned to him for breach of contract.

Abbey says he provided millions off dollars to the fraternity for repairs to the house and other needs under a contract that said the group had to maintain its standing as a Beta Theta Pi chapter and uphold the fraternity’s “Men of Honor” program. Those terms, he says, were broken when the chapter was banned at Penn State following Piazza’s death after a fall at a pledge party.

In September, the chapter’s housing corporation started offering football weekend accommodations with available food and drink to members with the proceeds going to defray legal expenses. The chapter and 26 student members are charged criminally in the wake of the February party.

Abbey’s attorneys said the house was not zoned for that use and it potentially damaged his case, as the house is the fraternity’s only real asset. Fraternity attorneys said the use was legal. State College borough, however, cited the fraternity for violations.

Oliver said Abbey “failed to meet his burden of proof” for an injunction, placing part of that on the fact that Abbey himself did not appear at the Oct. 27 hearing for the motion and no witnesses were called to support the attorneys’ claims. She recognized the four zoning citations as going to support a finding of irreparable harm, but said it wasn’t enough.

“...Any relationship between the alleged unlawful activity and injury to plaintiff in the present case is tenuous at best,” she wrote.

Abbey’s attorneys followed that up Monday with a motion to compel the fraternity to respond to interrogatories and requests for documents and depositions.

According to the motion, the two sides participated in two months of back and forth on the issues, culminating in a Nov. 22 request from the housing corporation for a protective order “with respect to all discovery in this matter,” saying it was “probably a good idea for both of our respective clients.”

Abbey refused, and says the housing corporation then indicated it would not allow discovery without it.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce