Sports Organization Loses Bid for Access to Fields

Aug 17, 2007

A federal judge from the Northern District of California has granted summary judgment to the City of San Carlos in a case in which a youth sports organization alleged that the city had violated its civil rights by failing to grant them field space on its athletic fields and by preventing them from posting signs about tryouts.
In so ruling, the court noted that the plaintiffs, the San Andreas Youth Soccer Organization (SAYSO), were not based in San Carlos, and thus did not have the same right as the other organizations that used the fields.
The judge began the opinion by noting that the “plaintiffs spin a yarn alleging a vast conspiracy involving soccer-moms, the City Planning Board, the City Attorney, the City Council, and two non-profit soccer leagues, all of whom purportedly acted in concert to deprive (the) plaintiff of the use of playing fields … and to keep SAYSO from advertising its soccer tryouts in San Carlos.”
Central to the defendants’ argument on the field-use permits was the city’s requirement that to have priority, a great majority of the participants in a league be residents of the city. The court noted that only 14 percent of SAYSO’s participants were residents.
While acknowledging that they did not meet the above requirement, the plaintiffs maintained that they were entitled to an exception.
“Specifically, plaintiffs point out that the City issues special permits for tournaments, which include out-of-town teams, and also allows a city-run non-profit organization, ‘Kidz Love Soccer,’ to use the field without permits,” wrote the court.
“It is difficult to see why plaintiffs believe SAYSO is similarly situated to the applicants who received permits under these exceptions, and plaintiffs present no affirmative argument that it is. Accordingly, this argument fails to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether SAYSO has been treated differently from other similarly situated applicants.”
The court also addressed the city’s A-Frame sign ordinance requiring that organizations have greater than 50 percent San Carlos resident membership in order to post signs. The plaintiffs argued that the ordinance “operates as an unconstitutional prior restraint on SAYSO’s constitutionally protected speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, § 2 of the California Constitution.”
The court was non-plussed, noting that the plaintiffs “had an explicit administrative remedy available to challenge the City’s denial of SAYSO’s application for a temporary Community Activity Sign permit, but chose not to pursue it. Under section 18.132.010 of the San Carlos Municipal Code, SAYSO had the right to appeal the denial to the Planning Commission. Ponzo Decl. at Exh. E. Under section 18.132.030, SAYSO would have received a hearing before the commission and would have had the right to be heard. Id. Under section 18.132.030 of the San Carlos Municipal Code, the decision of the Planning Commission could have been appealed to the City Council, where again a hearing would be held. Id.
“Under the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies, a party may not seek judicial review of an adverse administrative decision until the party first pursues all possible relief within the agency. Young v. Reno, 114 F.3d 879, 881 (9th Cir. 1997).
“Because the Court finds that summary judgment may be granted on procedural grounds, it does not reach the merits of plaintiffs’ constitutional claim. See Escambia County v. McMillan, 466 U.S. 48, 51, 104 S. Ct. 1577, 80 L. Ed. 2d 36(1984) (constitutional questions should be avoided if there are narrower grounds for making a decision).”
Turning to the plaintiffs’ allegations of violations of the equal protection rights afforded by Article 1, § 7 of the California Constitution and violations of the free speech protections afforded by Article 1, § 2 of the California Constitution, the court wrote that “California Courts (also) adhere to both the doctrine of the exhaustion of administrative remedies, see, e.g., Mountain View Chamber of Commerce v. City of Mountain View, 77 Cal. App. 3d 82, 93, 143 Cal. Rptr. 441 (1978).”
San Andreas Youth Soccer Organization et al. v. City of San Carlos et al.; N.D. Cal.; No. C 06-03155 SBA, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34818; 5/9/07
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiffS) W. Stephen Wilson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Tobin & Tobin, San Francisco, CA.; Daniel C. Zamora, Attorney at Law, San Francisco, CA. (for defendants) Benjamin P. Fay, LEAD ATTORNEY, JARVIS, FAY & DOPORTO, LLP, Oakland, CA.


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