A Texas appeals court has affirmed a lower court’s decision to grant a temporary injunction, reversing the decision of the state’s high school athletic association, which had found two student-athletes ineligible because they had moved from one school district to another for “athletic purposes.”
Unusual because appeals courts are typically hesitant to interfere with a decision of an athletic association, this particular appeals court showed sympathy for the plaintiffs. For example, it found merit in the plaintiffs’ argument that the move from district to district was made to “preserve their family relationships and provide a better educational environment for their children.”
Plaintiffs C.J. and Mathew Hatten spent the 2002-2003 school year attending and participating in the athletic programs of Celina Independent School District in Texas. In the spring of 2003, the boys and their family moved from Celina ISD to Pilot Point ISD. To be eligible to compete the next year, the boys had to obtain approval from the AD at Celina ISD that the move was not being made for athletic purposes. The AD was unwilling to make such a declaration.
The UIL district executive committee affirmed his decision. The Hattens appealed, but the UIL state executive committee affirmed as well. The Hattens responded by filing suit in Travis County district court in October of 2003, claiming that they have a due process interest under the Texas Constitution because of the “stigmatizing effect of the UIL’s actions and in turn have been deprived of the full evidentiary hearing to which they are entitled.”
The district court issued temporary restraining orders and later temporary injunctions barring the UIL from enforcing its decision. The court also set the case for trial on May 24, 2004. The UIL appealed the temporary injunction orders, which the appeals court is currently considering.
The UIL’s argument rested on three assertions: (i) the Hattens’ allegations are legally insufficient; (ii) they have received all of the process that they were due; and (iii) they have an adequate remedy at law.
The appeals court was careful to note that it would grant great deference to the district court – “we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court’s order, indulging every reasonable inference in its favor, and determine whether the order was so arbitrary as to exceed the bounds of reasonable discretion.”
The UIL’s first assertion rested on the belief that “the Hattens do not have a constitutionally protected interest to participate in extracurricular activities.” See In re University Interscholastic League, 20 S.W.3d 690, 692, 43 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 788 (Tex. 2000) (“right to participate in extracurricular activities is not a fundamental right”).
However, the court wrote the plaintiff was mischaracterizing the plaintiff’s argument, which was instead that “the stigmatizing effect of the UIL’s actions” violated its “due process interest under the Texas Constitution.”
While “reputation alone” is not a protected liberty, the plaintiff’s claim “implicates their ability to make decisions about child rearing, education, and family relationships without government intrusion,” which is a liberty interest protected by the state Supreme Court. Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65, 147 L. Ed. 2d 49, 120 S. Ct. 2054 (2000), according to the appeals court.
Noting that “the Hattens presented evidence that they moved to preserve their family relationships and provide a better educational environment for their children,” the appeals court overruled the plaintiff’s first argument.
Turning to the second assertion, the court noted that the Hattens were not allowed to present any non-athletic reasons for the move, giving the district court reason to conclude that “the Hattens have a probable right to recover on their claim that they were denied sufficient procedural due process.” Thus, the appeals court overruled the second argument.
Turning to the final assertion, the appeals court found that the district court could have reasonably concluded “that the Hattens would likely suffer irreparable injury and that the nature of the Hattens’ losses would make damages incapable of calculation.” Finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion, the appeals court overruled the UIL’s final argument.
“Without intruding on the merits of the underlying cause of action, from the record before us at least some basis exists upon which the district court could have properly held that the Hattens were entitled to temporary injunctions pending the final hearing,” wrote the court in its conclusion. University Interscholastic League et al. v. C. J. Hatten, Jr. et al.; NO. 03-03-00691-CV
Ct. App. Tex, 3d Dist.; 4/15/04