Federal judge once again dismisses UND women's hockey lawsuit; lawyer leaves the door open to further action
District Court Judge Daniel Hovland agreed with the former players’ motion to dismiss on Dec. 14 which, at least for now, brings to a close the long-running lawsuit that sought to bring back women’s hockey to UND.
A federal judge has again ended a discrimination lawsuit involving UND’s defunct women’s hockey team, after a lawyer representing the former players moved to voluntarily dismiss the case.
District Court Judge Daniel Hovland agreed with the former players’ motion to dismiss on Dec. 14 which, at least for now, brings to a close the long-running lawsuit that sought to bring back women’s hockey to UND. Hovland dismissed the case “without prejudice,” meaning another suit could be filed in the future, but the attorney representing the former players left the door open for potential further action down the line.
On Nov. 15, the North Dakota Attorney General’s office moved to dismiss the suit because none of the 11 former players are eligible to play college hockey, which renders their claims moot. In his dismissal order, Hovland noted that no documents had been filed by the plaintiffs in response to that motion.
When reached for comment, Dan Siegel, an attorney representing the group of plaintiffs, said he did not disagree with the Attorney General’s motion to dismiss, but he hinted that further action about women’s hockey at UND could be forthcoming.
“We dismissed the case because it is moot,” wrote Siegel in an email to the Herald. “None of the existing plaintiffs have remaining eligibility to play collegiate ice hockey, so the court cannot grant any of them meaningful relief. We have not conceded the issue, and you will hear more from us soon.”
A UND spokesperson said the university is on firm footing, should additional legal action be taken against the school by the plaintiffs, and that cutting the women’s hockey program was necessary for budgetary reasons.
“We're not surprised by the most recent ruling,” said David Dodds, spokesperson for the university. “We remain confident that UND’s decision will continue to be upheld in a court of law in the future if it comes up. The bottom line is that these actions were legally permissible, and were in the best financial interest of the university.”
This is the second dismissal of the lawsuit, which has bounced back and forth between the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The suit was filed in 2018 by the former players, after UND terminated the program a year prior. In 2019, it was dismissed by a federal judge, but the appeals court overturned that dismissal and sent the case back to district court earlier this year.
The former players alleged that UND violated Title IX in deciding to cut the program. Title IX is a set of federal laws that prohibit sex-based discrimination in schools that receive federal funding. The goal of the suit was to bring the program back to UND. The former players were not seeking financial damages, aside from covering their court expenses.
A representative from the North Dakota University System deferred comment to UND, but said system administrators are glad the litigation is over. The NDUS dealt with the lawsuit on behalf of UND, and was defended by attorneys from the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office.
“The North Dakota University System is pleased to see this litigation come to an end and appreciates the efforts of the court system throughout the process,” said NDUS spokesperson Billie Jo Lorius.