The family of Chase Meola, an Ohio State student killed outside a fraternity party in 2020, sued the university in state court in the fall for failing to adequately warn Meola and other students about the potential dangers of living off campus. A judge ruled on Feb. 17 that the university, which filed the motion to dismiss, was not responsible for preventing the off-campus shooting and other violent crimes in the University District, nor was it responsible for events at the unrecognized fraternity.
“The Complaint is clear that Chase’s tragic death occurred during an altercation with an uninvited individual during a party at his fraternity’s house,” Judge Dale Shaw wrote in his ruling. “The fraternity house was not located on OSU’s campus, but rather in an adjacent Columbus neighborhood known as the University District.”
Meola, 23, died in the early hours of Oct. 11, 2020, after being shot outside the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house on East 14th Avenue. Ohio State suspended the fraternity in 2018 for hazing and other violations of the student code of conduct, but it continued to operate as a fraternity, Meola’s family claimed in a federal lawsuit against the fraternity.
In the lawsuit against Ohio State, Meola’s family argued that Ohio State and Meola – and other students – had a “special relationship,” a legal exception to state entities’ immunity from lawsuits involving the “performance or nonperformance of a public duty.” The Meola family’s attorneys argued Ohio State had a duty to protect Meola and other students from harm caused by third parties.
Filed on the two-year anniversary of their son’s death, the complaint also claimed Ohio State should have undertaken “reasonable steps” to make the University District safer for students, including by providing security patrols and mobile lighting units, teaching students about personal safety and to prepare students for transitioning from on-campus to off-campus housing. Ohio State has a joint-patrol agreement with Columbus police that allows university police to monitor off-campus areas where students live.
But the judge disagreed, noting that although Ohio State may have been liable if Meola’s death occurred on campus, the off-campus, unsanctioned fraternity house was beyond the jurisdiction or purview of the university.
“Plaintiffs plead that the University District is a de facto part of OSU, but it is off-campus housing, which is not built or maintained by OSU,” Shaw wrote. He added that precedent in Ohio courts asserts that colleges and universities do not have a duty to students beyond “university activities or premises under its possession or control.”
Within hours of Meola’s death, Columbus police arrested 18-year-old Kintie Mitchell Jr. He has pleaded not guilty to two murder charges and one charge of having a weapon under disability.
The Meola family’s lawsuit against the national fraternity and Ohio State chapter remains ongoing in federal court.