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Boat Club lawsuits postponed, appealed

Teresa Fralish | Wednesday, September 24, 2003

For the 200 Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students who thought their brush with the law would soon be over, many found out Tuesday that they may have to wait several months longer to see their cases resolved.

Of the 200 lawsuits filed against students cited in the Jan. 24 raid on The Boat Club, about 40 that were previously dismissed will be appealed and the rest will likely be delayed until April.

The students are being sued by Millennium Enterprises, the company that owns Boat Club, in small claims court for fraudulently representing themselves. The suit demands $3,000 in damages from each student.

In August, St. Joseph County Magistrate Richard McCormick dismissed about 40 of the suits on grounds that no legal precedent existed in Indiana for such claims and that the bar could not claim underage drinkers were solely responsible for damages it might incur.

Mitchell Heppenheimer, an attorney representing Millennium Enterprises, said the company will appeal all of the lawsuits dismissed earlier to the Indiana Court of Appeals in Indianapolis. Heppenheimer refused to comment on why the cases were being appealed or what he thought about the chances for the appeals’ success.

Millennium Enterprises is also requesting that all remaining suits be postponed until April 20, when the results of the appeals will likely be known.

Because the suits are identical, any ruling made by the Indiana Court of Appeals will likely apply to the other cases as well.

Attorney John Hamilton will represent Millennium Enterprises in the appeals process, and Heppenheimer will continue to represent the client for the postponed cases.

Attorney Ed Sullivan, who represents all the students whose cases were dismissed, said he believed he would win on appeal.

“We think we have a good case,” he said.

Hamilton said the process will most likely take several months. The Boat Club will have 30 days to file its appeal, followed by 30 days for the defendants with the possibility of an additional month for Millennium Enterprises to respond.

“Then the [appeals] clerk must certify the record,” Hamilton said.

After all briefs are filed, Hamilton said he believed it would probably take about six weeks for the appeals court, a panel of three judges, to reach a decision.

The students whose cases were scheduled for Tuesday were faced with three choices; they could pay the requested damages, agree to the continuance or set a trial date for the Small Claims Court.

At the courthouse, students had to wait in a corner of the lobby to speak with Heppenheimer, who presented them with the three options.

The bailiff told students they could not speak with the judge at that time because of the large number of cases on the court’s schedule for Tuesday.

Several Notre Dame students who had not hired attorneys and did not wish to be identified said they were confused by the process and did not feel they had a clear grasp of their legal options. However, all the students eventually decided to sign the continuance.

“It’s a waste of time. I think [Heppenheimer is] trying to intimidate us,” said Gillian Poppe, a sophomore at Indiana University-South Bend.

Students who had retained attorneys did not have to be present Tuesday and many other students whose cases were scheduled did not appear.