Judge Sides with School in Case Involving Athlete’s Claim that Her Due Process Rights Were Violated When Scholarship Was Not Renewed

Oct 25, 2019

By Rachel A. Moore
A federal judge granted a motion to dismiss filed by Southeastern Louisiana University in a suit brought by a former volleyball player, who alleged the school’s athletic department failed to provide due process concerning the non-renewal of her athletic scholarship.
Chloee Holden received an athletic scholarship from the Southeastern’s head volleyball coach, James Smoot, for the period of August 2016 to May 2017. Holden’s athletic scholarship was renewed for the period of August 2017 to May 2018. In the Fall of 2017, Holden and other teammates scheduled a meeting with Southeastern’s Athletic Director, Jay Artigues, to discuss Smoot’s alleged “emotionally abusive conduct.”
Shortly after the scheduled meeting, Artigues notified Holden her scholarship would not be renewed and on November 1, 2017, Artigues emailed Holden’s mother stating the decision was final. Holden appealed the decision to Justin Bice, but her request was denied. On November 7, 2018, Holden filed suit in the 21st Judicial District Court for the Parish of Tangipahoa. The suit was filed collectively against Alejandro Perkins, Chair of the Board of Supervisors for the Louisiana System; John L. Crain, President of Southeastern University; Justin Bice; James Smoot; and Jay Artigues. The defendants removed the suit to federal court and filed a motion to dismiss under 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
First, Holden claimed the defendants violated the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution under the Fourteenth Amendment because they failed to provide adequate notice and a hearing concerning the non-renewal of Holden’s scholarship. The court notes to establish the Due Process Clause, Holden must establish she was deprived of a protected property interest and the deprivation occurred without due process. The Supreme Court explained that under the due process clause, “protected property interest requires more than a person’s abstract need, desire, or unilateral expectation of it; one must instead have a legitimate claim of entitlement to the property interest.” Bd. of Regents of State Colls. v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577, 92 S. Ct. 2701, 33 L. Ed. 2d 548 (1972).
In the present case, the court found that there is no protected property interest in a year-to-year scholarship. The fact that Holden’s expectation her scholarship would be renewed because she did not violate Southeastern’s Student-Athlete Code of Conduct or fail to meet the academic requirements does not constitute a claim in property interest. The court cited a Firth Circuit Court decision that “[t]he [United States Supreme] Court has not held college academic decisions implicate property or liberty interests, entitling a student to constitutional due-process protections … our court has followed suit.”Smith v. Davis, 507 F. App’x 359, 362 (5th Cir. 2013).
Even if there was precedent to support Holden’s claims in property interest, the court found that since she was not barred from transferring and was invited back to attend school without a scholarship, Holden was not deprived of an education. The court stated that liability would only be imposed when a person’s constitutionally secured rights were deprived, “not for breach of contract.” Braden v. Texas A & M University System, 636 F.2d 90, 92 (5th Cir. 1981). Finding that Holden did not meet the requirements of her allegation, the court dismissed the claim.
Next, Holden alleged that the defendants failed to enforce the NCAA bylaws through the Southeastern Athletic Director which violated her Equal Protection Rights under the Constitution. Holden specifically quotes NCAA Bylaw 15.3.7 which states “a student athlete must receive written notice of a hearing opportunity if aid is reduced or cancelled during the period of award for any reason,or not renewed for the following academic year.” Holden relied on the “class of one” theory because she did not claim to be discriminated against on the basis that she was a member of a particular class. According to the court, a “class of one” claim must prove “she was treated differently from others similarly situated and there was no rational basis for the disparate treatment.” Holden v. Perkins, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 138071.
Holden alleged she did not receive notice or have a chance to be heard, despite the fact that the right was afforded to other student-athletes. However, Holden failed to reference any particular person, which the court found the lack of evidence was conclusory in nature and failed to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007).
Holden further claimed the actions taken against her were vindictive, but again the court found otherwise. The email from Artigues to Holden’s mother “suggests a rational reason why Defendants may have denied Plaintiff an opportunity for notice and a hearing prior to advising her of the decision not to renew her athletic scholarship.”Holden v. Perkins, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 138071. Southeastern Louisiana University asserted the reason her athletic scholarship was not renewed was because of her athletic ability, her ability to be coached, her attitude, and her ability as a teammate. Therefore, the court also dismissed the Equal Protection claim.
Lastly, Holden urged the court to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state claims in the event the court dismissed her Due Process and Equal Protection claims. The court held that since Holden originally filed suit in state court and ended up in Federal court as a result of the defendants’ actions, the Federal court would not hear the remaining issues. Moreover, the issues remaining after the dismissals were only state issues that could be resolved in a state court.
The court granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss and remanded the case to the state court for further resolution.
Moore is a 1L at University of Oklahoma School of Law.


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