Interest in Playing Interscholastic Sports Is Unprotected by Due Process Clause

Jul 4, 2008

A district judge from the Northern District of Florida has accepted the recommendation of magistrate judge and dismissed the claim of a woman, who argued that the Florida High School Athletic Association violated her daughter’s right to due process when it effectively denied her application for a hardship exemption.
The court found specifically that “under the settled law of the circuit, a student’s interest in playing interscholastic sports is not protected by the due process clause.”
The plaintiff filed the lawsuit on behalf of her daughter, who was “a high school basketball player of considerable ability,” according to the court. The player had applied to the FHSAA for a hardship exemption that would have allowed her to play during her senior year. When her application was denied, the plaintiff pointed to the fact that two of the coaches who voted to deny the application coached for opposing teams.
There was a conflict of interest, she suggested. The plaintiff went on to assert claims under the due process clause and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended. The court wrote that “the plaintiff has suggested no factual basis for any Title IX claim. The only significant issue is whether the plaintiff has stated a claim under the due process clause.”
The court supported its conclusion that “a student’s interest in playing interscholastic sports is not protected by the due process clause” by citing the following case law: Davenport v. Randolph County Bd. of Educ., 730 F.2d 1395, 1397 (11th Cir. 1984) (“This court has held that ‘[t]he privilege of participating in interscholastic activities must be deemed to fall … outside the protection of due process.’”) (quoting Mitchell v. La. High Sch. Athletic Ass’n, 430 F.2d 1155, 1158 (5th Cir. 1970)); Walsh v. La. High Sch. Athletic Ass’n, 616 F.2d 152, 159 (5th Cir. 1980) (“A student’s interest in participating in a single year of interscholastic athletics amounts to a mere expectation rather than a constitutionally protected claim of entitlement.”); Parish v. NCAA, 506 F.2d 1028, 1034 (5th Cir.1975) (rejecting challenge to athletic association’s academic-eligibility rule and concluding that the privilege of participating in interscholastic athletics is not protected by the due process clause), overruled on other grounds by McCormack v. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 845 F.2d 1338, 1345 (5th Cir. 1988). See also James ex rel. Singleton v. Tallassee High Sch., 907 F. Supp. 364, 366-367 (M.D. Ala. 1995) (“[A] majority of the federal courts addressing the question have determined that a student does not have a cognizable property interest in participating in extracurricular activities at public institutions.”); Stewart v. Bibb County Bd. of Educ., No. 5:04 CV 365, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9217, 2006 WL 449197, (M.D. Ga. Feb. 23, 2006) (unpublished) (“Because Plaintiffs had no constitutionally protected right to participate in interscholastic sports, they had no protectable property or liberty interest to establish a due process claim.”)
“Davis,” wrote the court, “is an Eleventh Circuit decision that of course must be followed in this case.” Walsh, Parrish, and Mitchell are also binding. See Bonner v. City of Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206, 1207-08 (11th Cir. 1981).
Mary E. Gates v. Board of Directors of the Florida High School Athletic Association, et al.; N.D. Fla.; CASE NO. 4:07cv231-RH/WCS, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38086; 5/9/08


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