Indiana High School Athletic Association Prevented from Declaring a Transfer Student Ineligible

Dec 4, 2009

The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld the decision of a trial court to enter an injunction prohibiting the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) from enforcing a decision to hold Jasmine Watson ineligible to participate in athletics during her senior year.
The IHSAA’s ruling came as the result of Jasmine’s mother Valerie moving her family from Elkhart to South Bend, Indiana. Although Valerie moved her family as a result of economic hardships including a notice of foreclosure on her Elkhart home, the IHSAA concluded that the move was primarily for athletic reasons and for improper undue influence. The Watsons filed for an injunction to allow Jasmine to play for the South Bend Washington High School basketball team. The trial court granted the injunction, citing the arbitrary and capricious action of the IHSAA. The IHSAA then appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals.
Although the decision from the Court of Appeals came after Jasmine played for the Washington basketball team and graduated from high school, the decision was not moot for two important reasons. First, the IHSAA had filed a counterclaim against the Watsons for damages sustained as a result of wrongful enjoinder. Second, if the trial court’s decision was reversed, the IHSAA could have applied its Restitution Rule, which could have allowed the IHSAA to require Washington to forfeit certain victories, team awards, and funds received from a tournament during the time that Jasmine competed as an ineligible student athlete. Besides these two reasons, the case involved a question of great public importance, especially the issue of student eligibility following a transfer and the specific issue of families who have to move due to financial hardship. These are issues that will continue and the Court decided that these issues alone would be enough to sustain the case even if this specific case became moot.
Jasmine Watson played basketball for Elkhart Memorial High School during her freshman through junior years of high school (2005-08). She was a star on the team and was actively recruited by multiple NCAA Division I schools. In the fall of 2007, Jasmine’s mother Valerie Watson was told that her hours at work would be reduced significantly. Then, in March 2008, a judgment was entered against Valerie resulting in garnished wages. These events led to missed mortgage payments and eventually a foreclosure complaint in June 2008. Valerie listed the house for sale and instead of waiting until November 2008 to move her family, she located to a house in South Bend and moved her family before the 2008-09 school year began. Valerie chose the house in South Bend only after being unable to locate suitable housing in Elkhart, either because she was rejected for a low credit score or to avoid unsafe neighborhoods. She looked to South Bend because she could find affordable housing and her extended family lived there.
The IHSAA generally allows students who transfer from one school to another because of a change of residence to be immediately eligible for athletic participation. But if the student transfers for primarily athletic reasons or as a result of undue influence, the student is ineligible for 365 days following enrollment at the new school. Undue influence can be anything to secure or retain a student or one or both of the parents as residents.
Valerie completed the transfer report for Jasmine in August 2008. But Elkhart Memorial did not approve the request for full eligibility, because the Elkhart Memorial coaches thought the transfer was based on athletic reasons and undue influence by the Washington coaches. The IHSAA reviewed the request and found Jasmine ineligible. The Watsons appealed the decision. During a full hearing both the Watson’s and the Elkhart Memorial coaches presented testimony and witnesses refuting each other’s story. The IHSAA concluded that Jasmine had transferred for primarily athletic reasons and undue influence by Washington coaches, and declared her ineligible for the 2008-09 basketball season. The Watsons then filed for and were granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting the IHSAA from enforcing its decision. The trial court found that the reasons the Watsons moved to South Bend were primarily for economic and family reasons, not athletic ones. The trial court also noted that the IHSAA completely ignored the actions of the Elkhart Memorial coaches, who offered to provide living arrangements or transportation to allow Jasmine to continue attending Elkhart Memorial. In conclusion, the trial court found that the IHSAA’s decision was arbitrary and capricious and entered the preliminary injunction.
On appeal, the IHSAA argued that the trial court erred in finding that the Watsons had a reasonable likelihood of success at trial, one of the required elements to obtain an injunction. (The party requesting the injunction must establish four elements: 1- a reasonable likelihood of success at trial; 2-the remedies at law are inadequate; 3- the threatened injury to the moving party outweighs the potential harm to the non-moving party from the issuance of an injunction; and 4- the public interest would not be disserved by granting the requested injunction. See Central Ind. Podiatry, P.C. v. Krueger, 882 NE 2d 723, 727 (Ind. 2008)). To decide whether the first element is met, the Court of Appeals only has to determine if the moving party has established a prima facie case, and whether the likelihood of success is so improbable as to render the trial court’s determination erroneous as a matter of law.
The Court of Appeals concluded that the evidence supported the trial court’s decision, noting that even if the Court assumed that all of the IHSAA’s evidence was true, there was still no indication that the Watson’s move took place primarily for athletic reasons and undue influence by Washington coaches. The injunction was upheld as appropriately entered and not overly broad since it was limited to issues arising out of the facts and circumstances of Jasmine’s transfer.
Indiana High School Athletic Association, INC. v. Jasmine S. Watson, et al.; Ct.App.Ind.; No. 71A03-0901-CV-25, 2009 Ind. App. LEXIS 1672; 9/24/09
Attorneys of Record: (for appellant) : Robert M. Baker III, Law Office of Robert M. Baker III, Indianapolis, Indiana. (for appellee) Jon B. Laramore, Edward A. Sullivan, Iii, Amy M. Steketee, Baker & Daniels LLP, South Bend, Indiana.
Written by Russell Romriell. Russell is a third year law student at the University of Texas School of Law


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