MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The future of a lawsuit accusing Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant of assaulting a teenager during a pickup basketball game hinges on whether Morant will be allowed to say that he was acting in self-defense and can receive immunity under Tennessee law.
A judge on Wednesday ruled that Morant’s lawyers can proceed for now with their argument that Morant was acting in self-defense when he punched Joshua Holloway during a game at the All-Star player’s Memphis-area home in July 2022.
Morant’s lawyers have acknowledged he punched Holloway one time after Holloway threw a basketball at Morant and the ball hit Morant in the chin. In a July 26 motion, the player’s lawyers said he should be immune from liability under the state’s “stand your ground” law, which allows people who feel threatened at their homes to act with force in certain situations.
Circuit Court Judge Carol Chumney said the next step would be to hear from lawyers in the case, including those representing the Tennessee Attorney General, about whether the law can be applied to the case under the state Constitution.
Morant’s accuser was 17 when the lawsuit was filed. It accuses Morant and friend Davonte Pack of assault, reckless endangerment, abuse or neglect, and infliction of emotional distress. An amended complaint identified the plaintiff as Holloway, who is now 18.
Morant filed a countersuit accusing Holloway of slander, battery and assault.
No criminal charges have been filed against Morant.
The lawsuit has led to complicated legal arguments, including disagreement about whether the state’s “stand your ground” law can be used to support Morant.
In a hearing Monday, Holloway’s lawyer Rebecca Adelman argued Morant has waived his claim to immunity and that the self-defense claim under the state law can’t be a reason to dismiss the civil case, partly because there is no ongoing criminal investigation against Morant.
Adelman said the self-defense and immunity arguments came too late in the process. She called it a “Hail Mary of Hail Marys.”
Will Perry, Morant`s lawyer, argued there are ways for the “stand your ground” law to apply in civil cases and that Morant is entitled to immunity. He said the motion was timely because the trial is not scheduled until 2024.
Outside court on Wednesday, Adelman told reporters that she was disappointed in the judge’s decision to allow the immunity claim to continue, but she was pleased that the court is allowing arguments on the constitutional challenge to the law`s application in the case.
“These are … very important issues to everyone,” Adelman said.
Chumney, the judge, has issued a stay in the case, which means depositions, subpoenas, exchanging of evidence and other steps in the lawsuit are on hold. She set an Oct. 12 hearing on the matter.
The NBA suspended Morant for 25 games when the upcoming season starts after a second video of him flashing a handgun was posted online. The video of Morant showing a gun while sitting in the passenger seat of a car was posted after he finished serving an eight-game suspension in March for a video in which he flashed a handgun in a Denver-area strip club.
Morant apologized for both videos.
On Monday — a year after the pickup game at Morant’s house in Eads — authorities issued an arrest warrant on a misdemeanor assault charge for Pack in connection with the fight.