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'The puck stops here': Attorneys for North Dakota University System ask to dismiss UND women's hockey lawsuit

Attorneys from the Office of the North Dakota Attorney General filed the motion to dismiss on Nov. 15. In that motion, attorneys claim that plaintiffs in the case, a group of 11 former UND women’s hockey players, lack the standing to bring the case because their claims are moot. Attorneys also argue the former players failed to state a claim for relief. The North Dakota Attorney General’s office is representing NDUS on behalf of UND.

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UND's Emma Nuuitinen and Minnesota's Megan Wolf skate to the puck during a 2016 game at Ralph Engelstad Arena. ERIC HYLDEN/GRAND FORKS HERALD

Given fresh life earlier this year, a motion has been made to dismiss a long-running lawsuit against the North Dakota University System about the defunct UND women’s hockey program.

Attorneys from the Office of the North Dakota Attorney General filed the motion to dismiss on Nov. 15. In that motion, attorneys claim that plaintiffs in the case, a group of 11 former UND women’s hockey players, lack the standing to bring the case because their claims are moot. Attorneys also argue the former players failed to state a claim for relief. The North Dakota Attorney General’s office is representing NDUS on behalf of UND.

“The Plaintiffs have not alleged an iota of fact to suggest that UND violated Title IX when it terminated the women’s ice hockey team,” the Attorney General’s Office wrote in the dismissal motion. “… Worse yet, the Plaintiffs no longer have a personal stake in the outcome of his litigation sufficient to maintain Article III standing. For all these reasons, this suit should be dismissed. The puck stops here.”

Article III of the U.S. constitution establishes the judiciary system and the provisions that govern lawsuits.

The lawsuit was first brought in 2018, after UND cut its women’s hockey program a year earlier. The group of former players claimed UND violated Title IX when it eliminated the program. Title IX is a federal civil rights law which prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools that receive federal funding.

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It was dismissed by a federal judge in 2019, but was then appealed by the former hockey players. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in August ruled the case should be sent back to the North Dakota District Court for review.

In the motion to dismiss, the Office of the Attorney General argues that the former players' claims are moot for a number of reasons.

Among those reasons, attorneys say the former players no longer have standing to bring the suit because they are no longer enrolled at UND and don’t have NCAA eligibility to compete in college athletics. Under article III, standing must “persist throughout all stages of litigation.” The fact that they can no longer play removes their standing to bring the lawsuit, and renders their claims moot, attorneys claim.

None of the individuals can revive their NCAA eligibility, according to the 29-page dismissal document. Two of the former players have turned pro, and are thus ineligible. The clock has expired on the remaining players’ eligibility.

The Attorney General's office also argues that the district court does not have jurisdiction over a moot claim. Should the court reinstate the women’s hockey team, the plaintiffs could never rejoin it, and any alleged harm they experienced could never be redressed.

In a similar fashion, the dismissal motion in part leans on a 1992 lawsuit, McFarlin v. Newport Special School District, which was also decided by the Eighth Circuit. In that case, a high school student sued her school district after she was removed from a basketball team without a hearing. The court ruled against the student and found her claim moot because she had graduated while the suit was pending.

“(This) court is simply unable to grant any effective preliminary relief for her. The court cannot place her back on the basketball team,” wrote Eighth Circuit judges at that time.

Dan Siegel, an attorney representing the former hockey players, was not available for comment. According to court records, no date has been set for a hearing on the motion, and no other documents have yet been filed in response to the motion to dismiss.

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