Regent University in Virginia has sued the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia over the name.
U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall issued an order Tuesday that denied the Virginia university’s attempt to prevent Georgia from asserting a government’s right to sovereign immunity.
The U.S. Constitution prohibits federal lawsuits against state governmental entities under most circumstances.
There are a few exceptions, including a legal precedent that says sovereign immunity cannot shield a government if there is a continual violation of federal law; in this case, copyright infringement.
The Virginia university filed suit Sept. 20 contending the Board of Regents’ chosen name for the merger of Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University violated its copyright on the name “Regent University.”
The Board of Regents first voted on the new name Aug. 7 and gave final approval Jan. 7.
In the order issued Tuesday, Hall wrote that federal law disfavors any motion to prevent a defendant in a civil case from using whatever defensive argument it chooses, unless it is clearly worthless.
Although the legal precedent the Virginia university invokes can break sovereign immunity, appellate court rulings complicate the issue. The federal appeals court for Georgia has issued opinions that set different standards for determining how to connect a governmental entity to a specific act.
The attorneys representing Georgia contend the Virginia university cannot win on the motion because it cannot prove the Board of Regents is clearly responsible for the alleged copyright infringement.
Hall agreed with Georgia’s argument, and he declined to strike Georgia’s sovereign immunity defense at this time.
The lawsuit remains open, however.