In recent years several high profile national cases have brought hazing to the forefront in American society as a real issue and a problematic one at that. According to recent statistics from the University of Maine, 1.5 million high school students are hazed each year. Of the athletes who have reported hazing, 40% have reported that a coach or advisor was aware of the activity. 22% report that the coach was actually involved in the activities. (Allan & Madden, 2008). Moreover, 36% of students say they would not report hazing primarily because “there’s no one to tell,” and 27% feel that officials or coaches won’t handle the situation right. In additional research a survey was conducted in which coaches were questioned about whether they believe that hazing goes on in their community; 50% responded yes, that hazing was in fact going on. Of the coaches who responded 25% admitted that they themselves were hazed in some form at a younger age (“InsideHazing”, 2010). In light of these findings, the question of who should be responsible is raised. Specifically, it brings up the legal question of “whether a coach has a valid qualified immunity defense to a student athlete’s constitutional rights violation claim when the student is involved in a hazing incident.”
Hazing is defined as “any activity expected of someone joining a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.” (Rosner & Crow, p. ). While most states have enacted anti-hazing legislation criminalizing the act of hazing, the application of these statutes is still quite rare. Id. at 277. Most lawsuits filed for reported hazing incidents are still reviewed under federal law claims for violations of constitutional rights and most often under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment . Id. at 282. Thus, coaches—acting as public officials—can often utilize the doctrine of qualified immunity to escape liability for hazing activities conducted by their student athletes. The doctrine of qualified immunity was created by the Supreme Court in 1967 to provide protection to public officials from harassment, distraction and liability so they can perform their duties. (Alan K. Chen). Qualified immunity is defined by the Court as protection of “officials from constitutional tort claims so long as ‘their conduct does not violate clearly established . . . constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. The Court developed the following two-part test to aid in determining whether an official could be entitled to qualified immunity: (1) do the facts allege a violation of a constitutional right? (2) Is the right as issue “clearly established” at the time of the misconduct? Travis v. Stockstill, 1:12CV173 HSO-RHW, 2013 WL 5204669 (S.D. Miss. Sept. 16, 2013). Once an official or coach pleads qualified immunity, the burden then shifts to the plaintiff, who must rebut the defense and negate...