Court Finds that Missing a Game Does Not Constitute ‘Irreparable Harm’

May 8, 2009

A federal judge has denied a request for an injunction, which would have allowed a plaintiff to participate in a playoff basketball game, finding that the plaintiff and the co-plaintiff school district failed to articulate the “irreparable harm” she would suffer if her suspension was left in place
The court also admonished the attorneys representing the plaintiffs for failing to introduce case law that might have supported the claim that the player would suffer irreparable harm by not participating in the next day’s game.
The impetus for the claim was Brittany Benedetto’s ejection from a girls’ basketball game on February 11, 2009. The official, who was sanctioned by the defendant Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, Inc., ejected Benedetto with 14 seconds remaining in overtime after she had an altercation with a player from the opposing team. Per PIAA rules, a player ejected from a contest by a registered official for unsportsmanlike conduct or flagrant misconduct is disqualified from participating in the remainder of the competition as well as the next day of competition. The next day, Benedetto was scheduled to participate in a playoff game.
Benedetto and the co-defendant, Sharon City School District, filed a complaint and petition for preliminary injunction in the Court of Common Pleas of Mercer County, Pennsylvania. The defendants, PIAA and Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District 10, removed the Complaint to this Court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 and § 1446.
“Benedetto and the School District contend that the lack of a procedural appeals process for an ejection based upon unsportsmanlike conduct or flagrant misconduct constitutes a violation of the Procedural Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution,” wrote the court.
“In addition, the plaintiffs urge that the penalty imposed upon Benedetto is ‘arbitrary and capricious’ because she never engaged in the alleged conduct and, as such, the penalty constitutes a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution. Benedetto and the School District seek an entry of preliminary injunctive relief consisting of a suspension of the remaining penalty – missing the game on February 21, 2009.”
Before offering its analysis, the court noted the following factors that need to be in place to grant injunctive relief:
“(1) the likelihood that the applicant will prevail on the merits;
(2) the extent to which the applicant will suffer irreparable harm absent injunctive relief;
(3) the extent to which the defendant will suffer irreparable harm if relief is granted; and
(4) the public interest.
Dziewa v. PIAA, Civ. No. 8-5792, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3062, 2009 WL 113419 at * 3 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 16, 2009), quoting, S&R Corp. v. Jiffy Lube Int’l. Inc., 968 F.2d 371, 374 (3d Cir. 1992). ‘Courts will issue a preliminary injunction only where four factors weigh in favor of this extraordinary measure… .’ Id”
The defendants challenged, among other things, Benedetto’s and the School District’s ability to demonstrate “irreparable harm.”
“To establish ‘irreparable harm,’ the applicant must ‘demonstrate potential harm which cannot be redressed by a legal or an equitable remedy following a trial.’ Dziewa, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3062, 2009 WL 113419, quoting, Acierno v. New Castle County, 40 F.3d 645, 653 (3d Cir. 1994). The complaint does not identify the nature of the irreparable harm. Nor during the two conferences held to discuss the requested relief did the plaintiffs precisely articulate the nature of the irreparable harm.
“Nevertheless, it is well established that ineligibility for participation in interscholastic athletic competitions alone does not constitute irreparable harm. See Dziewa, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3062, 2009 WL 113419 at * 7; Revesz v. PIAA, 798 A.2d 830, 837 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2002) (stating that ‘the loss of an opportunity to play interscholastic athletics for one year does not constitute irreparable harm.’); Sahene v. PIAA, Civ. NO. 99-902 (W.D. Pa. July 19, 1999) (holding that ‘plaintiff will not suffer irreparable harm if he is not permitted to participate in interscholastic athletic competition during the 1999 or 2000 school year. Although Christopher Sahene is not eligible to play football, defendant does not bar him from practicing with Fox Chapel’s teams or coaching in the sport in which he is interested. Plaintiff is also free to participate in intramural activities as well as non-school-related athletic events.’); Fortson v. Shaler Area School District, Civ. NO. 92-2462 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 6, 1993) (holding the same); and Brownlee v. PIAA, Civ. NO. 7-32 at Docket NO. 18 (stating that ‘Plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunctive relief was denied for failure to demonstrate imminent irreparable harm’) and transcript of proceedings, p. 99 (stating, ‘I cannot find, based on the record presented here this morning, that by missing less than half of this season the plaintiff will sustain immediate irreparable harm.’) (citing, Sahene and Fortson); Cruz v. P.I.A.A., Civ. No. 00-5594, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17521, 2000 WL 1781933 at * 1 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 15, 2000) (denying a request for preliminary injunctive relief because ‘[n]ot being able to play on game day is certainly a disappointment but does not in my judgment constitute the type of harm warranting the extraordinary remedy of injunctive relief.’).
“Benedetto and the School District admit that they have no case law to counter that cited above. To the extent that the plaintiffs contend that the ‘irreparable harm’ consists of something other than the denial of an opportunity to participate in the February 21, 2009 game, the plaintiffs failed to coherently identify what the irreparable harm would be. Certainly the possibility that the School District may lose a playoff game if Benedetto does not compete cannot constitute ‘irreparable harm.’ Further, the School District has no underlying property interest in its ‘reputation’ which would merit the granting of injunctive relief. See Adamek v. PIAA, 57 Pa. Commw. 261, 426 A.2d 1206, 1208 n. 2 (1981) (stating that ‘[t]he interest of a school district in preserving its good reputation is not a property interest.’). To the extent that Benedetto would argue that her reputation would be irreparably harmed if forced to miss tomorrow night’s game, I find that argument unconvincing. Should Benedetto ultimately prevail and the suspension be reversed, her reputation will be restored because those interested will understand that her involvement in the altercation was based solely upon self-defense. To the extent that Benedetto contends she will suffer embarrassment and humiliation if forced to miss the game, she can be compensated for such pain and suffering should she ultimately prevail.
“Because Plaintiffs failed to identify any irreparable harm, I need not hold a hearing prior to issuing an order denying injunctive relief. See Rottmann v. PIAA, 349 F. Supp.2d 922, 928 (W.D. Pa. 2004) (stating ‘[a] district court is not obliged to hold a hearing when the movant has not presented a colorable factual basis to support the claim on the merits or the contention of irreparable harm.’ See Bradley v. Pittsburgh Bd. Of Ed., 910 F.2d 1172, 1176 (3d Cir. 1990)).”
Sharon City School District and Brittany Benedetto v. Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, Inc. and Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District 10; W.D.Pa.; Civil Action No. 9-213, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13037; 2/20/09
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiffs) Patricia R. Andrews, LEAD ATTORNEY, Andrews & Price, Pittsburgh, PA. (for defendants) Alan R. Boynton, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, McNees, Wallace & Nurick, Harrisburg, PA.


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