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Judge moves referee’s suit against Kentucky Sports Radio from Nebraska to Kentucky

Kentucky head coach John Calipari argued a call with referee John Higgins in the first half of the South Regional final game against North Carolina in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Memphis, Tenn., on March 26.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari argued a call with referee John Higgins in the first half of the South Regional final game against North Carolina in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Memphis, Tenn., on March 26. AP

A Nebraska judge has moved a lawsuit filed by NCAA Basketball official John Higgins against Kentucky Sports Radio, Matt Jones and Drew Franklin from Nebraska to Kentucky.

U.S. District Judge Robert Rossiter said the court “clearly lacks jurisdiction over the defendants” and transferred the case to federal court in the Eastern Kentucky district.

“While Nebraska does have an interest in providing a forum for the plaintiffs and is a more convenient forum for the plaintiffs because it is where the claimed damages occurred, these secondary factors are not the primary focus of the requisite personal jurisdiction analysis, nor can they alone satisfy due process,” Rossiter said. “Unless there are additional reasons for specific jurisdiction, the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over the defendants.”

The lawsuit accuses KSR founder Jones and its managing editor Franklin of encouraging the harassment of Higgins, who was a member of the officiating crew when UK lost to North Carolina in the 2017 Elite Eight.

Higgins filed the lawsuit in October and accused Jones and Franklin of sharing Higgins’ contact information and enticing fans to use it, according to court documents. Higgins’ roofing company, Weatherguard, allegedly received 3,000 phone calls the two days after the game, with 75 percent originating from Kentucky area codes, according to court documents.

The Google star rating for Weatherguard plummeted from 4.8 out of 5 to 1.2 out of 5 following the game. Some individuals left false reports against Weatherguard at the Better Business Bureau, court documents show.

But Rossiter says the only alleged actions taken directly by Jones and KSR were simply criticizing Higgins’ officiating, mentioning Weatherguard and sharing a video on its website consisting primarily of Higgins’ officiating.

“Posting news and describing it as ‘amusing,’ no matter how much it may be in poor taste or have caused harm, is not the same as actively soliciting such behavior,” Rossiter said.

Rossiter added that the UK fans who anonymously threatened Higgins, his family and his business are not named in the lawsuit.

“While the anonymous actions are, at best, reprehensible and cowardly, none of those actors are parties to this lawsuit,” he said.

Jones and Franklin sought for the dismissal of the lawsuit in November. In a Twitter post in October, Jones called the lawsuit “frivolous and without any legal merit whatsoever.”

Rossiter did not dismiss the suit, but instead left the decision up to U.S. District Court in Eastern Kentucky.

“We are pleased with the favorable ruling from the federal judge in Nebraska,” said attorney Griffin Sumner, who represents KSR.

Mike Stunson: 859-231-1324, @mike_stunson

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