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Z.T. v. Minnesota State High School League

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

November 18, 2016

Z.T., a minor child by and through his Parents and guardians R.T. and L.T., Plaintiff,
v.
Minnesota State High School League, and Craig Perry, Defendants.

          James T. Smith, Esq. and Huffman, Usem, Crawford & Greenberg, PA, counsel for plaintiff.

          Kevin M. Beck, Esq. and Kelly & Lemmons, PA, counsel for defendants.

          ORDER

          David S. Doty, Judge

         This matter is before the court upon the motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) or preliminary injunction by plaintiff Z.T., by and through his parents R.T. and L.T. The court denied the motion from the bench with this written order to follow.

         BACKGROUND

         This civil-rights dispute arises from the determination by defendants Minnesota State high School League (MSHSL) and MSHSL Associate Director Craig Perry that Z.T. is ineligible to compete in varsity interscholastic hockey competition until January 10, 2017.

         Z.T. currently attends Winona High School in Winona, Minnesota. L.T. Aff. ¶ 2. He commenced his ninth-grade year at Winona High School in the fall of 2014. Id. ¶ 3. On January 10, 2015, Z.T. transferred from Winona to the Outdoor Academy, a semester school that combines academics with a focus on the environment. Id. ¶ 4, Ex. A. The Outdoor Academy does not have an athletic program and is not a member of the MSHSL. Id. ¶ 4. Z.T. attended the Outdoor Academy until June 2015 and transferred back to Winona High School in August 2015. Id. ¶ 5.

         Under MSHSL bylaws, a transfer student is eligible for participation in varsity competition if (1) “the student was in good standing on the date of withdrawal from the last school the student attended” and (2) one of the provisions under bylaw 111.00 Subsection B is met.[1] Smith Aff. Ex. A at 21. If these conditions are not met, the transfer student is ineligible for a period of one year beginning with the first day of attendance at the new school. Id. at 22. If, during the one-year suspension, the student again transfers to another school and none of the conditions for eligibility are met, the student will serve another one-year suspension immediately following the first suspension. Id.

         Pursuant to the bylaws, MSHSL determined that Z.T. was ineligible for varsity competition until January 10, 2017. In January 2016, L.T., Z.T.'s father, emailed Perry requesting that MSHSL reconsider Z.T.'s eligibility for varsity competition because Winona did not have enough players to field a junior varsity hockey team. L.T. Aff. Ex. B. L.T. also stated his belief that there was no further appeals process available. Id. Perry responded that MSHSL had correctly determined Z.T.'s eligibility and that he could not grant varsity eligibility. Id.

         In the summer of 2016, L.T. learned that he could appeal MSHSL's eligibility determination, and the Winona High School activities director submitted Z.T.'s appeal. Id. ¶¶ 11-12. MSHSL responded by providing a notice of fair hearing to be held on August 31, 2016. Id. ¶ 13. At the hearing, the officer supported MSHSL's determination that Z.T. was ineligible for varsity competition. See Smith Aff. Ex C. Subsequent to the hearing, Z.T., through counsel, made a request to speak to the MSHSL eligibility committee, which was granted. Perry Aff. ¶ 45. After the discussion, the eligibility committee voted unanimously to adopt the hearing officer's recommendation, and the MSHSL board of directors adopted the recommendation on October 6, 2016. Id.

         On October 28, Z.T. filed suit in Minnesota district court alleging deprivation of property without due process, breach of contract, and negligent misrepresentation. Defendants timely removed. See ECF No. 1. On November 4, Z.T. filed this motion for a TRO or preliminary injunction requiring MSHSL to allow him to compete at the varsity level immediately. See ECF No. 7. The court denied the motion from the bench. In so ruling, the court relied on the four factors in Dataphase Sys., Inc. v. C.L. Sys., Inc., 640 F.2d 109, 114 (8th Cir. 1981). The court provides further analysis for its decision here.

         DISCUSSION

         A TRO or a preliminary injunction is an extraordinary equitable remedy, and the movant bears the burden of establishing its propriety. Watkins Inc. v. Lewis, 346 F.3d 841, 844 (8th Cir. 2003). The purpose of such injunctive relief is to “preserve the status quo until the merits [of the case] are determined.” Dataphase, 640 F.2d at 113. In determining whether a TRO or preliminary injunction should issue, the court considers: (1) the threat of irreparable harm to the movant in the absence of relief; (2) the balance between the harm to the movant in the absence of relief and the harm that the relief may cause the non-moving party; (3) the likelihood of the movant's ultimate success on the merits; and (4) the public interest. Id. at 114.

         A. Likelihood of ...


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