Bucknell, Plaintiffs settle civil rights case

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LEWISBURG, Pa. — The attorney representing students that sued Bucknell University for conducting an unlawful search and seizure  four years ago announced a settlement has been reached in the case. Devon Jacob, noted civil rights attorney, represented several students that claimed the searches of Kappa Sigma Alpha Phi and another student residence were illegal. The suit was filed against the school and Montour and Union Counties. The lawsuit alleged that in February of 2012, a fire alarms were pulled at 64 University Avenue and 23 University Avenue, Lewisburg. While the students were outside, Bucknell University officials, working with K-9 officials from Montour and Union Counties, searched their residences and belongings for about three hours.

A small amount of marijuana and paraphernalia was found and some students were disciplined, although no criminal charges were filed.

The school argued the searches were permitted under a housing agreement signed by the students. After two years of litigation, Bucknell University has agreed to pay $75,000 to settle the case. Both sides are claiming victory in the settlement.

In a statement issued by Chief Communications Officer Andy Hirsch, the school maintains it has the authority to conduct administrative searches of its residence halls. Bucknell says the case was settled not because they would not have ultimately won, but because it would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and taken up hundreds of hours of staff time. They call the settlement a business decision, not an admission of guilt.

“Prior to seizing and entering the buildings, officials (1) did not have a valid arrest or search warrant, (2) did not possess probable cause that a crime was being committed and exigent circumstances that necessitated an immediate entry, and (3) were not provided with valid voluntary consent to enter,” said Jacob, citing the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

“Bucknell University and the Counties spent a small fortune trying to defeat a meritorious lawsuit,” commented Jacob. “Justice has now been served.”

Bucknell University’s full statement:

As we’ve asserted from the beginning of this case, Bucknell has the authority under its Student Handbook to conduct administrative searches of its residence halls. Such searches are not intended to result in the filing of criminal charges. This particular administrative search was conducted because the University received information regarding possible drug activity in two of its residence halls.

While Bucknell is confident that a jury ultimately would have ruled in its favor, the reality is that going to trial would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and taken up hundreds of hours of staff time. In fact, we’ve already invested significant financial and human resources, largely due to the conduct of Mr. Jacob, who was recently sanctioned by the court for a series of transgressions in his pleadings. The University’s settlement of this case is not an admission of liability, but rather a good business decision. This settlement is a victory for Bucknell.