Judge sides with FSU in 'game day' gun dispute
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State University won't have to pay damages to a gun-rights group for incorrect information about firearms published in a 2015 football "game day" guide.
Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled Tuesday that the issue became "moot" because the university corrected the information shortly after receiving the complaint in September. The initial "game day" guide incorrectly included a prohibition on guns being stowed in cars.
Dodson also ruled that the school's Student Code of Conduct is correct to list stun guns and other non-lethal electric weapons as being prohibited on campus.
For FSU, the ruling ends the case. Dennis Schnittker, a university spokesman, said in an email Wednesday that "the order speaks for itself."
However, Sean Caranna, executive director of the gun-rights group Florida Carry Inc., said in an email that the group will seek to vacate the decision due to an alleged conflict by Dodson.
"This decision left us shocked and wondering what could have motivated such a clearly inappropriate ruling on summary judgment," Caranna wrote. "Our research quickly showed that Judge Dodson is a major financial donor to the university. This was not disclosed when he was assigned the case or at any time since."
Dodson, a 1976 graduate of FSU's College of Law, is listed on the school's "Consecutive Giving Honor Roll" for donating the past "16 to 20 years," according to the FSU Foundation website.
Florida Carry and Bekah Hargrove, executive director of Florida Students for Concealed Carry, filed the lawsuit in September because the FSU football "Game Day Plan 2015," a 28-page information packet sent out by campus police, advised visitors that firearms can't be stored in vehicles parked on campus.
Florida Carry and Hargrove argued the guide failed to follow a 2013 ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal that said the University of North Florida cannot prevent firearms from being stowed in cars.
The "game day" guide provides general information on parking, traffic patterns, tailgating, concessions, and other items such as banners, drones and smoking. After the lawsuit was filed, the university updated the guide and acknowledged the information hadn't been changed earlier to reflect the 2013 ruling.
The school also said that while the out-of-date language existed, nobody had been cited for having firearms or weapons legally secured in vehicles. In a proposed order filed last week, the university said it had "corrected the erroneous language" and that the lawsuit was moot.
Dodson agreed with the university in his ruling Tuesday.
"The court concludes that the claim regarding possession of a firearm in a vehicle is moot,'' he wrote. "FSU acted expeditiously after the decision in Florida Carry, Inc., v. University of North Florida … to ensure that campus law enforcement personnel were aware of the decision and complied with it. The court further concludes that the 2015 Game Day Plan containing the by then erroneous language was inadvertent and that immediately upon learning of the error when it received the complaint in this case, FSU acted promptly to correct the language."
As for the Student Code of Conduct, Florida Carry argued that students with concealed-weapons licenses are allow to possess stun guns and other non-lethal electric devices for defensive purposes as long as the weapons don't fire darts or projectiles.
Dodson ruled that under state law, an exception is not provided for electric weapons or devices.
Caranna said Florida Carry will further seek to address the stun gun issue in court.
News Service of Florida