Judge dismisses Kent State U. paper from student’s invasion of privacy lawsuit

OHIO — A county court has dismissed parts of a KentState University student’s invasion of privacy lawsuit, includingthe naming of the student newspaper and several of its staff membersas defendants.

D’Andra Mull was running for executive director of the studentsenate in spring 2001 when the Daily Kent Stater receiveda tip that she had misrepresented her grade point average in astory the paper did on the candidates.

A school employee informed the Stater that while Mullhad given her average as 2.92, school records showed a 2.68 averageat the time. Stater reporters confirmed that the loweraverage was correct according to the university’s computers andran a story, said Tim Smith, the paper’s legal adviser.

Mull contested the average — which was still adequate to meetelection criteria — as being outdated, but went on to win theelection regardless, Smith said. Mull was also later voted homecomingqueen.

In January, Mull sued the university, the employee who gavethe tip, the Kent Stater, its editor, the reporter whowrote the story, Smith and adviser Carl Schierhorn for invasionof privacy and violations of the federal Family Educational Rightsand Privacy Act.

Under FERPA, also commonly known as the Buckley Amendment, publicly funded colleges and universities facethe loss of funding if they release student education recordswithout prior written consent of the students.

Smith said two additional stories the Stater ran onMull, alleging she cheated on tests and was charged with drivingwithout a license, were "the last straw" that led herto sue.

But in early January the Portage County Court of Common Pleasdismissed the case "without prejudice," since it hasno jurisdiction over state agencies, Smith said.

When Mull re-filed in the Ohio Court of Claims in late January,the court dismissed all individual parties from the lawsuit, alsostriking from the record punitive damages Mull was seeking. Theclaims court only has jurisdiction over state agencies as defendantsand cannot award damages.

Mull’s case will proceed in the claims court with only theuniversity as a defendant, Smith said.