181 F.3d 840 (7th Cir. 1999), 99-1003, Washington v. Indiana High School Athletic Accoc.

Docket Nº:99-1003
Citation:181 F.3d 840
Party Name:ERIC WASHINGTON and CENTRAL CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. INDIANA HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, INCORPORATED and ROBERT B. GARDNER, Commissioner of the Indiana High School Athletic Association, Incorporated, Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:June 23, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Page 840

181 F.3d 840 (7th Cir. 1999)

ERIC WASHINGTON and CENTRAL CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL, Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

INDIANA HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, INCORPORATED and ROBERT B. GARDNER, Commissioner of the Indiana High School Athletic Association, Incorporated,

Defendants-Appellants.

No. 99-1003

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

June 23, 1999

Argued February 22, 1999

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. No. 98 C 58--Allen Sharp, Judge.

Page 841

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Before BAUER, RIPPLE and DIANE P. WOOD, Circuit Judges.

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.

Eric Washington and Central Catholic High School obtained a preliminary injunction in the district court enjoining the Indiana High School Athletic Association ("IHSAA") from denying Mr. Washington athletic eligibility for the second semester of the 1998-99 school year. The IHSAA appeals. We affirm the district court's decision to grant the preliminary injunction.1

I

BACKGROUND

A. Facts

Mr. Washington is a learning disabled student at Central Catholic High School ("Central Catholic") in Lafayette, Indiana. Throughout elementary school, he had been allowed to advance to the next grade despite academic insufficiency. He was held back, however, in the eighth grade. During the first semester of the 1994-95 academic year, while he was repeating the eighth grade, he continued to receive failing grades. School officials then decided that he might do better if he stayed with his class, and they therefore advanced him to the ninth grade at Lafayette Jefferson High School at the beginning of the second semester during the 1994-95 academic year. In this new environment, Mr. Washington continued to fail during that semester and throughout the following academic year. Early in the 1996-97 academic year, a school counselor suggested that Mr. Washington drop out of high school. Mr. Washington took that advice.

In the summer of 1997, Mr. Washington participated in a three-on-three basketball tournament sponsored by Central Catholic. At the tournament, Mr. Washington met the coach of the Central Catholic basketball team, Chad Dunwoody. Mr. Dunwoody was also a teacher at the school. After conversations with Dunwoody, Mr. Washington decided to attend Central Catholic. Mr. Washington entered school and began playing basketball. Mr. Dunwoody, who also became Mr. Washington's academic mentor at Central Catholic, suggested that Mr. Washington be tested for learning disabilities. Although Mr. Washington had previously been tested and found not to be learning disabled, a January 1998 test indicated that he was in fact learning disabled.

The IHSAA has a rule that limits a student's athletic eligibility to the first eight semesters following the student's commencement of the ninth grade ("the eight semester rule"). The purposes of that rule, according to the IHSAA, include discouraging redshirting,2 promoting competitive equality, protecting students' safety, creating opportunities for younger students and promoting the idea that academics are more important than athletics. Under the rule in question, because Mr. Washington entered the ninth grade during the second semester of the 1994-95 academic year, he would no longer be eligible to play basketball in the second semester of the 1998-99 year (nine semesters after he began the ninth grade).

Central Catholic applied for a waiver of the eight semester rule for Mr. Washington.

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It requested that the IHSAA not count the semesters that he was not enrolled in any high school for purposes of eligibility under the eight semester rule. It requested a waiver under IHSAA Rule C- 12-3, which allows an exemption "if a student is injured which necessitates the student's complete withdrawal from the school or prohibits enrollment in the school for that semester, and the student does not receive any academic credit for that semester." R.15, Ex.5. Central Catholic also requested a waiver under IHSAA Rule 17-8, referred to by the parties as "the hardship rule." That rule allows the IHSAA not to enforce a rule if strict enforcement in the particular case would not serve to accomplish the purpose of the rule, the spirit of the rule would not be violated, and there is a showing of undue hardship in the particular case. Even though it had granted waivers for physical injuries in the past, the IHSAA denied Mr. Washington's application. Mr. Washington appealed the denial to the IHSAA Executive Committee, which denied the appeal.

Mr. Washington will be ineligible to play high school basketball during the 1999-2000 school year because his participation will violate another eligibility rule that limits the maximum age at which a student athlete may compete ("the age limit rule"). No challenge is made to that rule in this lawsuit. Rather, the focus is exclusively on the eight semester rule; it is challenged on the ground that failure to grant a waiver of the eight semester rule in this case violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. sec. 12132.

B. The District Court's Order

The district court granted a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of the Rule against Mr. Washington.

The court first addressed the issue of irreparable harm and stated:

This court has no difficulty determining that this plaintiff will suffer irreparable harm for which he has no adequate remedy at law if this injunction is denied. The loss of the remainder of the basketball season, and with that, most likely the loss of any future playing opportunities and the loss of the desire to continue academically, are harms which cannot be repaired, for which Eric cannot be adequately compensated.

R.17 at 4.

The court next considered whether the plaintiffs had demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits with respect to its claims under sec. 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. sec. 794(a),3 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. sec. 12132. The court then noted that there are three requirements that are identical to both claims: (1) Mr. Washington must suffer from a disability, (2) he must be "otherwise qualified" to participate in athletics, and (3) he must demonstrate that he is being excluded from playing basketball by reason of his handicap.

The first of these prongs was not at issue. The IHSAA did not dispute that Mr. Washington suffers from a disability.4 Addressing the second and third prongs together, the district court took the view that they combine into an inquiry of whether the requested relief constitutes a reasonable modification of the IHSAA's rule. The district court then discerned two approaches to this issue in the case law--one focusing on whether the rule itself,

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without reference to a particular individual, is generally fundamental and essential, and another focusing on whether the individual waiver requested would do damage to the purposes behind the rule. Choosing to apply the second approach, the court held that waiver of the rule in Mr. Washington's case would be a reasonable modification because there would be no conflict with the purposes behind the eight semester rule. The court pointed out that there was no redshirting in this instance and that, to the extent that the Rule was intended to emphasize the primacy of academics, the record supported the conclusion that Mr. Washington's participation in the athletic program had increased his self-esteem and, consequently, his academic achievement. Safety and competitive equality concerns, continued the court, were adequately addressed by the age rule that still applied to Mr. Washington.

After holding that the plaintiffs had established a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, the court then held that the potential harm to the IHSAA would be insignificant if the preliminary injunction were granted. It rejected the IHSAA's argument that the IHSAA would be flooded with cases; Mr. Washington was the first student with a learning disability in at least fourteen years to bring such a waiver request. The court also believed that the fact that another student would be displaced by Mr. Washington's presence on the basketball team did "not over-balance the scale against the well-documented harm to Eric if his eligibility is terminated." R.17. Moreover, the court noted that the public's interest in maintaining a level field of competition would not be overly affected.

Subsequent to the district court's decision granting the motion for preliminary injunction, Mr. Washington's basketball season ended.

II

DISCUSSION

A.

Although neither party has briefed the issue whether the completion of Mr. Washington's basketball season renders moot all issues in the lawsuit, we must address this issue because it is jurisdictional. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 1012, 1020-21 (1998). There must be an actual controversy at all stages of this court's review. See United States Parole Comm'n v. Geraghty, 445 U.S. 388, 397 (1980); Jordan v. Indiana High Sch. Athletic Ass'n, 16 F.3d 785, 787 (7th Cir. 1994).

We hold that an actual controversy still exists despite the end of the basketball season because Central Catholic is still a party to the litigation.5 Under IHSAA Rule 17-6:

[The IHSAA may] impose retroactive penalties on student athletes (and their schools) who are declared ineligible by the IHSAA but are permitted to participate in interschool competition in accordance with a court restraining order or injunction. If the injunction is subsequently vacated, stayed or reversed, the IHSAA may strike individual and team records, require...

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