A federal judge in the Northern District of Indiana has dismissed the claim of a high school student athlete who, after being suspended from participating in extracurricular sports for a violation of his high school’s code of conduct, claimed that the school’s policies, procedures and practices violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Article I of the Indiana Constitution and various Indiana statutes and common law.
The central argument of the plaintiffs (the student athlete and his parents) was that “once an interscholastic athletics program has been provided, it must be administered in a reasonable manner.
“In other words, participants have a non-constitutional privilege that the program, which has been offered, be administered in accordance with due process protections of the Fourteenth Amendment. See, e.g., Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 262, 90 S. Ct. 1011, 25 L. Ed. 2d 287 (1970) (holding limited to welfare entitlements).”
The defendants, the Penn High School and Penn Harris Madison School Corporation, initially moved to dismiss the claims “for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted.” They subsequently moved to dismiss the athlete’s complaint as moot because he graduated from high school.
Ordinarily, the court would have immediately granted the motion since there was no longer a “live controversy.” However, the plaintiffs also sought monetary damages resulting from the alleged constitutional violations, which triggered the court’s consideration.
“The plaintiffs contend that many of Penn High School’s ‘policies, procedures, and practices’ relating to its athletics program are ‘arbitrary, capricious, and fraudulent’ in violation of 14th Amendment,” wrote the court. “They say the policies and procedures ‘encourage parents to communicate confidentially with school officials concerning substance abuse, and then sanction them for doing so,’ ‘suggest that an appeals process may provide relief, yet then rule that their rules provide for no relief,’ result in ‘cases decided by a panel comprised of individuals picked by and subject to the influence of appellants’ prosecutor, thus denying (the student athlete) his due process right to have his case judged by an impartial tribunal,’ and have ‘denied (the plaintiffs’) right to have appropriate punishment considered in light of relevant facts and circumstances.”
The court, however, pointed out that “Indiana law hasn’t recognized a right to participate in interscholastic athletics. Indiana High Sch. Ath. Ass’n v. Carlberg by Carlberg, 694 N.E.2d 222, 241-242 (Ind. 1997) (the participation in interscholastic sports is not a right protected by procedural or substantive due process).”
It then turned to the plaintiff’s aforementioned argument that an ongoing program triggers certain protections, relying on three cases for the proposition that Indiana recognizes such a protected interest.
“Jordan By and Through Jones v. Indiana High School Athletic Ass’n, Inc., 813 F. Supp. 1372, 1380-1381 (N.D. Ind. 1993), held that the court could set aside a voluntary association’s arbitrary and capricious decisions. The court’s holding, however, addressed judicial review of a voluntary association’s decision under Indiana common law–a method of analysis inconsistent with constitutional analysis under federal due process. IHSAA v. Carlberg, 694 N.E.2d at 228 (some courts have incorrectly merged the “arbitrary and capricious” analysis with constitutional analysis). The Jordan v. IHSAA decision thus is unhelpful in determining if D.N. has a protected interest under the Fourteenth Amendment.
“In Haas v. South Bend Comm. School Corp., 259 Ind. 515, 289 N.E.2d 495, 498 (Ind. 1972), the Indiana Supreme Court held that an athletics program, once provided, must be administered in a manner that doesn’t deny equal protection to female students as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The court didn’t say, however, that students participating in an athletics program have a property right that would trigger any due process protections under the Fourteenth Amendment to an appeals process or particularized disciplinary reporting methods. The plaintiff’s reliance on Haas v. South Bend for the right to have a program that provides fair proceedings under due process is misplaced. See, e.g., Robbins by Robbins v. Indiana High School Athletic Ass’n, Inc., 941 F. Supp. 786, 791 (S.D. Ind. 1996) (Haas taught that once an interscholastic athletic program is provided, it ‘must be administered without violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, at least if the case involves an equal protection claim arising from gender-based discrimination’).
“The court in Butler v. Oak Creek-Franklin School Dist., 172 F. Supp.2d 1102, 1119-1121 (E.D. Wis. 2001), held that ‘rules and decisions governing participation in high school athletics must satisfy constitutional principles as applied and may not impinge on due process.’ This decision, though, was based on Wisconsin law, and is inapplicable as to whether Indiana provides an interest protected under the Fourteenth Amendment.
“The plaintiffs rely upon cases that do not support their claim of a protected interest. They ask this court to recognize property rights that Indiana courts haven’t recognized. The plaintiffs’ complaint, therefore, doesn’t state a claim under due process for which relief can be granted and should be dismissed. See, e.g., Phelan v. City of Chicago, 125 F. Supp.2d 870, 873-874 (N.D. Ill. 2000) (‘Because Plaintiff has not alleged that he was a career service employee and has pleaded no other alleged basis for a protected property right in his job, he has not established a basis of entitlement to his position as Ward Superintendent within the meaning of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.’).”
Finally, the court held that the proffered state law claims should be decided by an Indiana state court.
D.N. a minor b/n/f Kim Huff v. Penn Harris Madison School Corporation and Penn High School; N.D. Ill.; CAUSE NO. 3:05-CV-716RM; 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 70605; 9/18/06
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiffs) Stephen R Bachmann, Granger, IN. (for defendants) Thomas E Wheeler II, Locke Reynolds LLP, Indianapolis, IN.