Four days after Tennessee-based Varsity – the behemoth of the American cheerleading industry – lost its bid to be dismissed from several federal lawsuits, the founder of the company received similar news.
Attorneys for Memphis-based businessman Jeff Webb received a ruling from senior U.S. district judge Henry M. Herlong, Jr. on Monday, June 26, 2023. While Herlong dismissed several claims against Webb – including a RICO allegation – he found there was a plausible claim against the billionaire for gross negligence as it related to his alleged enabling of the culture of sex abuse within the American cheerleading industry.
The Cheer Incorporated lawsuits – most of which were filed by the Columbia-based Strom Law firm – accused a host of defendants of participating in a “scheme to anoint specific coaches and disregard safety protocols.” This alleged conduct was part of an “elaborate plan to create a pipeline of young athletes, each of whom represented a significant stream of revenue … worth billions of dollars.”
Key components of that pipeline? Drugs, alcohol and sex between adults and underage athletes …
Varsity – which sells cheerleading apparel and organizes dance camps and competitions across the country – was one of the named defendants in the lawsuits. So was Webb. Also named in the lawsuits were two companies which purchased ownership interests in Varsity within the last decade – Charlesbank Capital Partners and Bain Capital, a Boston-based investment firm co-founded by U.S. senator Mitt Romney.
On December 19, 2022, attorneys for Webb argued the court should dismiss the claims against him in their entirety – stating the court could not exercise personal jurisdiction over him. Webb’s attorneys insisted those suing him “failed to show that he has purposefully availed himself of the privilege of doing business in South Carolina.”
Plaintiffs’ attorneys argued personal jurisdiction should be established over Webb based largely on his roles with Varsity. Webb was the president and chief executive officer of the company “from its inception until stepping down from the CEO role on March 3, 2016.” He continued serving as the chairman of Varsity’s board of directors until July 2018, and “continued to be employed by Varsity until December 2020.”
Webb “exercised control over all aspects of All-Star cheer, including rule-making,” according to the lawsuits, and was “at the forefront of the conception and execution of the alleged unlawful conspiracy.” The suits further alleged the All-Star competition environment was Webb’s “brainchild” – and that he used the competitions “as a mechanism for his companies to establish dominance in the cheer markets.”
Despite an affidavit by Webb claiming few ties to South Carolina, plaintiffs’ attorneys maintained he had significant contacts in the Palmetto State – including Scott Foster, the founder and owner of Greenville, S.C.-based Rockstar Cheer.
Rockstar became the epicenter of the Cheer Incorporated scandal on August 22, 2022 when Foster died by suicide. The day after Foster’s death hit the news, this news outlet reported the 49-year-old coach was staring down “a multi-jurisdictional investigation into (among other things) allegations of sexual misconduct with underage girls.”
We quickly learned it wasn’t just girls. And it wasn’t just Foster. And most importantly … it wasn’t just Rockstar.
(Click to view)
Varsity conducts several events in South Carolina every year, has a registered agent in South Carolina, and employs multiple sales representatives as well as a “dedicated advisor” in the Palmetto State.
Varsity’s connections with Scott Foster are also well-documented. In 2006, Varsity purchased Foster’s company, World Spirit Federation – and hired him in 2011as a brand manager for a new cheer competition dubbed “Cheerlebrity.” Foster utilized a Varsity-provided email address and his cell phone number was listed on the Cheerlebrity website. He also led several sessions at a Varsity gym owners conference in Las Vegas in 2012.
“Considering that Webb was not only Varsity’s founder, CEO, and chairman but also the alleged architect of the All-Star cheerleading industry, the court finds that jurisdictional discovery is appropriate at this stage on the extent of Webb’s involvement in Varsity’s contacts with South Carolina and Foster,” Herlong wrote.
While the civil conspiracy claim was dismissed, the gross negligence claim against Webb was determined to have sufficient merit to proceed …
“Gross negligence is the intentional conscious failure to do something which it is incumbent upon one to do or the doing of a thing intentionally that one ought not to do.”Etheredge v. Richland Sch. Dist. One,
Under South Carolina law, “there is no general duty to control the conduct of another or to warn a third person or potential victim of danger.” However there are multiple exceptions to that rule, two of which the plaintiffs have met as it relates to being permitted to proceed with their case against Webb.
“The court finds that Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that Webb owed her (the plaintiffs) a duty based on the third and fourth exceptions to the general ‘no duty to protect’ rule,” Herlong wrote. “Specifically stating a duty may arise when “a defendant creates ‘a situation that [it] knew or should have known posed a substantial risk of injury’ to a plaintiff.’”
Count on FITSNews to keep our readers informed of the latest developments in all of the narratives we are tracking related to the ongoing cheerleading sexual abuse lawsuits. Also, please remember we have an open microphone policy which affords these named defendants – and anyone with an intelligent perspective on these matters – the opportunity to share their views with our audience.
THE ORDER …
(Via: U.S. District Court)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at [email protected].
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