A federal judge on Tuesday sent back to New Jersey state court a wrongful death suit filed against the National Collegiate Athletic Association and a Massachusetts college by the family of a football player who died of a cardiac arrest at the end of a practice.
U.S. District Judge Anne Thompson, sitting in Trenton, said the federal court, where the case had been removed by the school, now-defunct Mount Ida College in Newton, Massachusetts, lacked jurisdiction.
The lawsuit, Estate of Mazza v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, originally was filed by the family of the 20-year-old student, New Jersey native Michael Mazza, in Monmouth County Superior Court.
Both the NCAA and the Mazza family sought to have the lawsuit remanded to state court.
Citing financial pressures unrelated to the lawsuit, the college closed its doors last May 17.
“Plaintiffs are citizens of New Jersey,” Thompson said in her order Tuesday. “Defendant NCAA is an unincorporated association. For the purpose of subject matter jurisdiction, an unincorporated association is deemed a citizen of every state where its members are citizens.
“NCAA has many members in New Jersey … making NCAA a citizen of New Jersey,” Thompson said.
The lawyer for the NCAA, Alan Schoenfeld of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr in New York, declined to comment on the remand.
Neither the family’s attorney, John Tatulli, a Shrewsbury solo; nor Mount Ida’s lawyer, Jeffrey Bell of Golden, Rothschild, Spagnola, Lundell, Levitt & Boylan in Bridgewater, returned calls seeking comment on the remand.
According to the complaint filed last April, Mazza died after a two-hour practice at Mount Ida in February 2016, with “probable cardiac dysrhythmia” listed as the cause of death. The practice was an official team activity and was supervised by the school’s athletic director and the team’s assistant coach, according to the suit, in which his parents seek compensatory and punitive damages from the school and the NCAA for negligence and infliction of emotional distress, as well as payouts from insurance companies that issued policies on student-athletes.
The complaint said the NCAA knows that sudden cardiac death due to training or competition in a team activity is “the most common non-traumatic cause of death among college athletes.” Mazza’s death occurred just as a multidisciplinary task force convened by the NCAA was studying the cardiovascular health of student-athletes, publishing a report in June 2016 calling for better cardiac screening of athletes and improvements to colleges’ plans for treatment of cardiac arrest, the suit said.
Mazza, who was from Ocean Township, had never showed signs of a heart problem before his death, according to the suit.
Mount Ida’s athletic program had competed in Division III of the NCAA and was a member of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference.
Mount Ida is set to be taken over by the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, and some Mount Ida students are expected to enroll at that school.