The court's decision was issued on procedural grounds and reverses the earlier dismissal of the fraternities' lawsuit by U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Pooler in April 1996. In their written ruling, the panel of appeals court judges emphasized that they expressed no opinion on the merits of the fraternities' claim that the college's residential life policy violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. The appeals court simply found that Judge Pooler prematurely dismissed the fraternities' lawsuit without giving them their day in court.
"We are disappointed that the Court of Appeals did not uphold the District Court's decision, but we are confident that as the proceeding moves forward the college's residential policy will be upheld fully," said Hamilton President Eugene M. Tobin.
The case has now been sent back to the U.S. District Court in Syracuse. Judge Pooler had found that the fraternities failed to allege any claim against the college that is recognized under the federal antitrust laws.
The college's residential life policy was adopted by its Board of Trustees in March 1995, after more than two years of extensive review. In adopting the policy, the Board reaffirmed the college's commitment as a residential college, at which students live and dine together in a variety of residential and social spaces and settings, and where all students would have equal access to all residential and social options.
Tobin said the decision by the appeals court will have no immediate effect on the college's operation.
"The impact of the trustees' residential life policy has been extremely positive," Tobin said, "and the college will continue to defend its position vigorously. In the two years since the new policy was adopted we have enrolled our strongest first-year class in a decade and set records for alumni giving. The residential life policy is clearly having the impact we had hoped it would."
Hamilton College is a private, coeducational liberal arts college of approximately 1,650 students. It was chartered in 1812.
The four fraternities that brought suit against the college are Alpha Delta Phi, Psi Upsilon, Sigma Phi and Delta Kappa Epsilon.