Judge grants dismissal of Houston Nutt’s lawsuit against Ole Miss; lawyer plans to refile ‘with more details’

Published 5:41 pm Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Houston Nutt’s lawsuit against Ole Miss, its athletic foundation and the IHL board has been dismissed, but the legal dispute between the Rebels’ former football coach and his former employer doesn’t sound like it’s over.

Judge Neal Biggers Jr. on Wednesday granted Ole Miss’ recent motion to dismiss the case in U.S. District Court for the North District of Mississippi, citing a lack of jurisdiction. Ole Miss argued in its motion that the school and the IHL board are arms of the state and not “citizens” for the purpose of diversity jurisdiction.

“In response to the instant motion, the plaintiff concedes that the defendants’ argument is meritorious and asserts ‘it is agreed that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction,'” the order read. “The court points out that the claims filed by the plaintiff involve no federal statutes or U.S. Constitution claims and are all state law claims, and therefore, since the issues are not between ‘citizens of different states,’ the federal court lacks jurisdiction under the pleadings as presented.”

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But Thomas Mars, Nutt’s attorney, said in a statement to USA Today that the case could’ve remained in federal court by dropping Ole Miss and the IHL board from the lawsuit. Mars added that he wanted to make sure the school and athletic director Ross Bjork had a chance to participate in the lawsuit.

Mars said he asked the court to grant the motion to dismiss and will file an updated lawsuit in state court next week “with more details than those that were known to us when we first filed suit.”

Nutt filed his lawsuit July 12, suing the defendants for a breach of contract and defamation in response to what he believes were false remarks made by former coach Hugh Freeze, athletic director Ross Bjork and Kyle Campbell, associate athletic director for communications. Specifically, Nutt accused the three of conspiring to spread misleading information about the extent of rules violations related to the football program’s NCAA investigation 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 rules violations, including 15 Level I charges. Four of those include academic fraud and impermissible benefits provided to recruits by two of Nutt’s former staff members, David Saunders and Chris Vaughn.

Nutt, now an analyst for CBS, also claimed the damage done by Ole Miss played a part in him not getting another job since being fired following a 2-10 season in 2011. He was seeking damages for lost wages, emotional distress, embarrassment, attorneys’ fees and punitive damages.

In an effort to prove his client’s claim against Freeze, Bjork and Campbell, Mars filed an open records request last month for Freeze’s university-issued cell phone records, which led to the discovery of calls placed by Freeze to numbers tied to escort services. Freeze was forced to resign July 20.