Boise State seeks dismissal of Big City Coffee lawsuit

Boise State University is asking a judge to throw out a multimillion-dollar lawsuit over a campus coffee shop contract.

Lawyers for Big City Coffee have failed to show how the contract dispute violated the business owner’s First Amendment rights, Boise State’s legal team said in a motion filed Thursday.

Instead, Boise State’s attorneys say, the university tried to walk a fine line. While Big City displayed “Thin Blue Line” flags to show its support for law enforcement, others view those same flags as a sign of support for a system “that continues to perpetuate systemic marginalization of minority communities,” Boise State’s attorneys say.

“(Boise State) is now being sued for not stifling the debate in Big City Coffee’s favor,” said Trudy Hanson Fouser, one of Boise State’s outside attorneys, in a 30-page filing supporting the motion to dismiss. “Boise State refused to favor one viewpoint at the expense of another.”

The filings represent Boise State’s first substantive response to the Big City lawsuit, filed on Oct. 1.

Big City is seeking at least $10 million in damages. Business owner Sarah Jo Fendley, the fiancé of a former Boise police officer who was shot and paralyzed in the line of duty, maintains that she was pushed off of campus because of her vocal support of law enforcement. She also says the university failed to inform her of a “firestorm” of criticism surrounding her campus coffee shop, while she continued to spend and borrow money to open the shop.

Boise State has said it never forced Fendley off campus. “Big City Coffee made the decision to leave campus when the university refused — as it is obligated to do by law — to prohibit students from lawfully exercising their First Amendment right to disagree with the owner’s viewpoints,” the university said in a statement.

In Thursday’s court filing, the university says its administrators were not obligated to tell Big City that it had opponents on campus — and suggested Fendley knew this herself.

The Big City dispute has factored into the Statehouse blowback over Boise State’s politics — a dispute that came to a head this spring, when lawmakers cut $1.5 million from this year’s university budget.

The next chapter in the legal battle is scheduled for Dec. 2, when District Judge Cynthia Yee-Wallace will hold a hearing on Boise State’s motion to dismiss the case.

Kevin Richert

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television; and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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