Ming Qu and Ying Wu
A Los Angeles judge dismissed a wrongful-death lawsuit this month, filed against USC by the parents of two Chinese graduate students who were slain off campus. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson agreed with university attorneys that the case lacked sufficient legal arguments to move forward. He said there was no connection between the killings and Internet statements in which USC touts the measures taken to protect students.
“Causation is an insurmountable issue for the plaintiffs,” Johnson said.
Wanzhi Qu and Xiaohong Fei, the father and mother of Ming Qu, and Xiyong Wu and Meinan Yin, parents of Ying Wu, filed the suit May 16 in Los Angeles Superior Court. Wu and Qu, both 23-year-old electrical engineering students, were shot during a downpour about 1 a.m. last April 11 while sitting in Qu’s recently purchased 2003 BMW, which was double-parked off-campus in the 2700 block of Raymond Avenue. Plaintiffs’ attorney Alan Burton Newman said he will appeal. He also said that his clients likely would have agreed to drop their lawsuit if campus officials agreed to change the website statement, which states that USC public safety officers provide 24-hour law enforcement “on the University Park and Health Science campuses, as well as in surrounding neighborhoods.”
USC attorney Debra Wong Yang said the language remains the same because it is accurate. She said the men accused in the killings of the USC students were on a crime spree, but that none of the incidents occurred on campus. Bryan Barnes and Javier Bolden, both 20, are awaiting trial on murder charges for the slayings, which authorities say occurred during a botched robbery. The charges include special circumstance allegations that make the accused eligible for the death penalty if they’re convicted. USC lawyers outlined in their court papers why they believed the school was not responsible for the killings.
“The students’ deaths at the hands of third-party criminals were tragic, but USC is not the appropriate target of plaintiffs’ grief,” the defense attorneys’ court papers state. “This case and others like it expose a victim’s damage suit for what it is … an artificial scheme designed not to fairly assess culpability, but to reach into the deepest pocket.”
The USC court papers state that the parents’ lawyers never presented any evidence showing the school is responsible for off-campus crimes committed by people with no connection to the university.
“Boiled down to its core elements, (the) complaint is nothing more than an attempt to try to hold USC financially responsible for damages inflicted on its students by the criminal behavior of third parties unrelated to USC,” the defense court papers stated.
Wu was found in the passenger seat and Qu on the steps of a nearby house where he collapsed while trying to summon help, Los Angeles police said. According to the suit, USC “actively solicits international students particularly from China for its graduate studies program for which it receives a substantial sum of money from tuition to help fund the university.”
The USC website “extols the virtues of USC” and states the university “is ranked among the safest of U.S. universities and colleges, with one of the most comprehensive, proactive campus and community safety programs in the nation,” according to the suit.
However, USC does not provide patrols in the area where the students were killed and the campus is in a high-crime area, the suit stated. But according to the USC court papers, the parents did not show how the statements were allegedly misleading.
“The students attended USC for well over a year before they were killed off campus by two criminals who had no connection to USC,” the university’s court papers state. “And plaintiffs make no attempt to explain how the alleged misrepresentations … could have caused the students’ deaths.”
Viewed in their totality, the parents’ legal theories make little sense, according to the USC court papers.
“By plaintiffs’ logic, USC would be liable to any student for any safety- or crime-related harm that might occur after the students matriculated at USC, from automobile break-ins on streets outside the university gates to identity theft from connection to an unsecured wireless network at a nearby coffee shop, merely because the student would not have come to Los Angeles without USC’s allegedly false and misleading misrepresentations,” the USC court papers stated.