An Ada County judge handed down decisions in the case of Big City Coffee versus Boise State University last week, with each side notching wins and losses.
On April 22, Fourth District Judge Cynthia Yee-Wallace ruled parts of the coffee shop’s lawsuit against Boise State could proceed and dismissed others. She dismissed allegations against the university and President Marlene Tromp but allowed Big City to continue bringing a case against three high-level administrators.
This ruling is the latest in the court case that began with a $10 million tort claim from Big City Coffee owner Sarah Jo Fendley against Boise State last year. The claim alleges the university and top administrators violated her First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, the Idaho Consumer Protection Act, and interfered with her contract with campus food vendor Aramark.
The suit follows the closure of the Big City Coffee satellite location on campus. The Albertsons Library coffee shop closed after some students objected to the business’ use of the Thin Blue Flag at its downtown location and its support of law enforcement after Black Lives Matter protests broke out worldwide following the death of George Floyd in June 2020.
Boise State filed a motion to discuss the case in its entirety in November, and oral arguments were held in January. After last week’s decision about what parts of the case can move ahead and what cannot, Fendley’s attorney Michael Roe will have until May 27 to file an amended complaint to move the case ahead. Boise State must respond to the new complaint by June 24.
Roe did not respond to requests for comment by the deadline for this story. BSU spokesperson Mike Sharp told BoiseDev the university does not comment on pending litigation.
Who can be sued, and who can’t?
The case named several defendants, including the university, Tromp, Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Leslie Webb, Vice President for University Affairs and Chief of Staff Alicia Estey, and Vice President for Equity Initiatives Francisco Salinas.
Yee-Wallace dismissed claims for monetary damages against Boise State itself and the administrators because they cannot be sued for monetary damages in their official capacities. The Eleventh Amendment gives governments immunity from certain lawsuits unless they waive their immunity.
“This court finds that Boise State is an arm of the state and is therefore not a ‘person’ that can be sued,” Yee-Wallace wrote.
The judge also dismissed Tromp from the suit in all capacities. Yee-Wallace found several of Big City’s allegations Tromp didn’t pass muster. The allegations included that Tromp is “fully committed to the social justice movement,” that activists sent her a letter opposing Fendley’s support of police and that she placed calls to Boise Mayor Lauren McLean and BPD Chief Ryan Lee in an attempt to silence Fendley’s supporters. Yee-Wallace said these allegations don’t prove Tromp was involved in any potential violations of Fendley’s rights to free speech.
“However, plaintiffs’ arguments and allegations are insufficient to state a claim against Tromp because there are no allegations that could be construed as Tromp having either participated in or caused the alleged constitutional violations at issue,” the ruling read.