Judges Deny MDL Request for Cheerleader Sex Abuse Lawsuits in Federal Court

The ruling means each cheerleader sex abuse lawsuit will proceed as an individual claim in its originating court district.

A panel of federal judges has rejected a request to establish centralized pretrial proceedings for all cheerleader sex abuse lawsuits filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide, finding that the litigation involves too many varied defendants and unique claims to warrant formalized coordination before one judge as part of an MDL, or multi-district litigation.

At least a dozen different complaints have been filed against cheerleading 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.

Most of the sex abuse 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.

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 were 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.

JPML Denies Cheerleader Sex Abuse Lawsuit Consolidation Request

Following oral arguments presented in late May, the U.S. JPML issued an order denying transfer (PDF) last week, determining that consolidation would not be efficient for these claims.

In the order, the JPML acknowledges the cases have common factual questions, and many common defendants, but sided with defendants’ arguments against consolidation.

Defendants argued that there were too many unique factual issues concerning the particular abuse experienced by each plaintiff, as well as not only the wide variety of defendants, but the wide variety of types of defendants. The defendants include individual coaches and staff, professional gyms, some of which are franchises, cheerleading organizations and sports businesses.

“While the eight common defendants are named in all actions, there are approximately 30 individual coaches, gyms, and choreographers named as defendants in these actions. Most are named in just one action, and none are named in more than one district,” the judges wrote. “Discovery regarding each individual defendant’s conduct and their relationship to and interactions with the common defendants will not overlap. Therefore, any efficiencies to be gained by centralization may be diminished by unique factual issues.”

Cheerleader Sex Abuse Lawsuits

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 claim 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 suppressed, 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.

The JPML ruling means that, at least for the time being, each case will continue through its own individual pretrial proceedings and resolution, either through a judgement, trial verdict or cheer leader sex abuse lawsuit settlement.


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