JPML To Consider Cheer Sex Abuse Lawsuits Consolidation Request At Hearing This Month
The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation is scheduled to hear oral arguments on May 25, over whether to consolidate all cheer sex abuse lawsuits filed against a number of different coaches, gyms and other organizations in the competitive cheerleading industry before one judge for centralized pretrial proceedings.
At least a dozen different complaints have been filed against coaches, choreographers, gym owners, uniform manufacturers and gymnastic federations nationwide, each raising similar allegations that former cheerleaders were sexually abused as minors, while participating in competitive cheer. The lawsuits name Varsity Brands, LLC, as the main defendant, but also include claims that the All-Star Federation and others in the industry orchestrated years of abuse cover up efforts.
The plaintiffs, often listed only as John Doe in the complaints, are primarily young male cheerleaders, who indicate they endured systemic coercion, sexual abuse and exploitation. However, female cheerleaders have filed complaints as well.
Many of the coaches accused in the lawsuits, such as Dominick Frizzell, Jason McCartney and Scott Foster, were considered “Cheerlebrities,” with large social media followings and television appearances. Foster, the owner of Rockstar Cheer gym, in South Carolina, committed suicide in August, after allegations were presented in a lawsuit.
The lawsuits and allegations of widespread cover ups have shaken the cheerleading industry, which involve similar actions to those uncovered in recent abuse claims brought against the Catholic church and Boy Scouts of America, which have resulted in billions in child sexual abuse settlements and verdicts at trial.
The cheer sex abuse lawsuits indicate that a number of different companies and entities profited by ignoring obvious signs of sexual misconduct involving minors for years, and credible claims of abuse were often supressed, while protecting and enabling known perpetrators. These plaintiffs seek to hold the cheerleading industry as a whole responsible, after companies continued raking in large profits as a direct result of the conduct, by forcing parents to pay for hotels, equipment, lessons and transportation; often at inflated prices.
Given common questions of fact and law raised in the athlete sex abuse lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system against Varsity Spirit and other cheer industry entities, a group of plaintiffs filed a motion for transfer with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) on March 1, calling for all of the cases filed in federal courts nationwide to be consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.
According to the motion, there are at least 12 different cheerleader sexual abuse lawsuits pending in seven different districts, representing 21 plaintiffs. The lawsuits also include claims Varsity Brands and other defendants violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. However, it is ultimately expected that the size and scope of the litigation will continue to grow in the coming months and years.
On April 14, the U.S. JPML issued a Notice of Hearing Session (PDF), indicating it will hear oral arguments over whether the cases should be consolidated for coordinated pretrial proceedings on May 25 at the James A Byrne U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Plaintiffs, who want the cases centralized in the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, say consolidation will allow the streamlining of the pretrial process, including discovery, pretrial motions and dispositive motions, and will minimize the inconvenience to witnesses, as well as reduce the risk of conflicting rulings.
If the cases are centralized, it is expected that the presiding judge will begin a process of preparing certain cases for “bellwether” early test trials, which could help the parties reach a cheerleader abuse lawsuit settlement agreement.
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