Ole Miss files motion to dismiss in response to Houston Nutt’s lawsuit

Published 6:00 am Saturday, July 29, 2017

It’s been nearly three weeks since former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt filed a lawsuit against the school, its athletics foundation and the Institute of Higher Learning for the way the athletic department responded to the NCAA’s investigation into the football program.

The defendants have responded.

Ole Miss filed a motion to dismiss Nutt’s claims in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi on Thursday, according to court documents. The motion, filed by the defendants’ lawyers, J. Cal Mayo Jr. and Paul Stephenson III, argues the suit should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Email newsletter signup

“Nutt has attempted to create jurisdiction where none exists by misrepresenting the citizenship of the University of Mississippi and the IHL Board,” the response read. “As a court of limited jurisdiction, this Court should dismiss this action in its entirety. Alternatively, this Court should dismiss the claims against the University and the IHL Board based on their Eleventh Amendment immunity.”

Nutt’s suit, filed by Arkansas-based attorney Thomas Mars on July 12, alleges a breach of contract focusing on what he believes were false and defamatory remarks made by former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, who succeeded Nutt in 2012, athletic director Ross Bjork and Kyle Campbell, associate athletic director for communications. Specifically, Nutt is accusing the three of conspiring to spread misleading information about the extent of the NCAA violations being tied to Nutt’s tenure by pushing the narrative in off-the-record phone conversations with sports writers.

Ole Miss is facing 21 alleged rule violations with 15 of those being Level I charges, or the most serious. Only four allegations date back to Nutt’s tenure from 2008-11, though all of them are Level I.

Mars recently filed an open records request for Freeze’s phone logs, which led to the discovery of multiple calls made from Freeze’s university-issued cell phone to numbers linked to escort services. As a result, Freeze resigned July 20.

But Ole Miss argued in its response that the school and the IHL board should be free of Nutt’s suit.

“Like other public Mississippi universities, the University of Mississippi is an ‘arm of the State of Mississippi’ immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment,” the response read. “The same is true for the IHL board. For this reason, the University and the IHL Board are alter egos of the State, not ‘citizens’ for diversity jurisdiction purposes.

“Nutt alleged diversity jurisdiction as the lone basis for filing his action in this Court. Diversity of citizenship does not exist, and this Court lacks judicial authority over this dispute. This Court should dismiss this action.”