717 S.E.2d 859 (W.Va. 2011), 10-4001, State ex rel. West Virginia Secondary School Activity Com'n v. Webster

Docket Nº:10-4001.
Citation:717 S.E.2d 859, 228 W.Va. 75
Opinion Judge:McHUGH, Justice:
Party Name:STATE of West Virginia ex rel. the WEST VIRGINIA SECONDARY SCHOOL ACTIVITY COMMISSION, et al., Petitioners v. Honorable Carrie WEBSTER, Judge of the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, Tyler Harris, Laura Stephens, Pierria Henry, Maria Reese Terrill, Trevond Reese and Emerson Gagnon, Respondents. Brooke County Board of Education, Intervenor.
Attorney:William R. Wooton, The Wooton Law Firm, Beckley, WV, for the Petitioners. David F. Cross, Wellsburg, WV, Michael G. Simon, S. David Wilharm, Frankovitch, Anetakis, Colantonio & Simon, Weirton, WV, Michael E. Nogay, Sellitti, Nogay & McCune, Weirton, WV, for the Intervenor, Brooke County Board of ...
Case Date:February 24, 2011
Court:Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia
 
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Page 859

717 S.E.2d 859 (W.Va. 2011)

228 W.Va. 75

STATE of West Virginia ex rel. the WEST VIRGINIA SECONDARY SCHOOL ACTIVITY COMMISSION, et al., Petitioners

v.

Honorable Carrie WEBSTER, Judge of the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, Tyler Harris, Laura Stephens, Pierria Henry, Maria Reese Terrill, Trevond Reese and Emerson Gagnon, Respondents.

Brooke County Board of Education, Intervenor.

No. 10-4001.

Supreme Court of West Virginia.

February 24, 2011

Submitted Dec. 7, 2010.

Page 860

[228 W.Va. 76] Syllabus by the Court

1. " In determining whether to entertain and issue the writ of prohibition for cases not involving an absence of jurisdiction but only where it is claimed that the lower tribunal exceeded its legitimate powers, this Court will examine five factors: (1) whether the party seeking the writ has no other adequate means, such as direct appeal, to obtain the desired relief; (2) whether the petitioner will be damaged or prejudiced in a way that is not correctable on appeal; (3) whether the lower tribunal's order is clearly erroneous as a matter of law; (4) whether the lower tribunal's order is an oft repeated error or manifests persistent disregard for either procedural or substantive law; and (5) whether the lower tribunal's order raises new and important problems or issues of law of first impression. These factors are general guidelines that serve as a useful starting point for determining whether a discretionary writ of prohibition should issue. Although all five factors need not be satisfied, it is clear that the third factor, the existence of clear error as a matter of law, should be given substantial weight." Syl. Pt. 4, State ex rel. Hoover v. Berger, 199 W.Va. 12, 483 S.E.2d 12 (1996).

2. " As a general rule courts should not interfere with the internal affairs of school activities commissions or associations." Syl. Pt. 2, State ex rel. West Virginia Secondary School Activities Comm'n v. Oakley, 152 W.Va. 533, 164 S.E.2d 775 (1968).

3. Decisions properly within the purview of the legislative grant of authority to the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission under West Virginia Code § 18-2-25 (2008), such as the application of WVSSAC Rules and the review of calls or rulings made by game officials, are not subject to judicial review.

William R. Wooton, The Wooton Law Firm, Beckley, WV, for the Petitioners.

David F. Cross, Wellsburg, WV, Michael G. Simon, S. David Wilharm, Frankovitch, Anetakis, Colantonio & Simon, Weirton, WV, Michael E. Nogay, Sellitti, Nogay & McCune, Weirton, WV, for the Intervenor, Brooke County Board of Education.

C. Benjamin Salango, Preston & Salango, PLLC, Charleston, WV, for the Individual Respondents.

Patrick J. O'Reilly, South Charleston, WV, Amicus Curiae, Pro Se.

McHUGH, Justice:

Petitioners The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission (" SSAC" or " WVSSAC" ) sought a writ of prohibition in

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[228 W.Va. 77] connection with the November 30, 2010, issuance of a preliminary injunction by the Circuit Court of Kanawha County through which Respondents, four South Charleston High School football players,1 were declared eligible to participate in the AAA state championship game.2 By its grant of extraordinary relief, the trial court prevented the implementation of a one-game suspension that the SSAC had imposed against the respondent football players for engaging in unsportsmanlike conduct in violation of SSAC rules.3 Given the need for a prompt resolution of the matter,4 this Court issued a writ of prohibition on December 7, 2010, through which we announced our decision that the lower court had exceeded its authority in issuing extraordinary relief to the respondent players. We now address these issues in full.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

With only fourteen seconds left in a AAA football playoff game on November 19, 2010, a player for South Charleston High School (" South Charleston" ) intercepted a pass thrown by the Hurricane High School (" Hurricane" ) quarterback. Immediately after the interception, a Hurricane player threw several punches at a South Charleston player and then a number of players from both teams joined the melee on the field. Despite the remaining time on the clock, a decision was made to call the game 5 due to the undeniably charged atmosphere and a resultant concern for the safety of everyone involved.6

Following the decision to call the game and when everyone was still on the field, the coaches made repeated inquiries of the game officials to identify which players were ejected because of the fighting incident. David Hume, the back judge on the officiating crew, responded to the coaches by stating that he had South Charleston players number 1 and 15 noted as ejected on his card. At this point, law enforcement officials ordered the officials to exit the field and go to their locker room for safety reasons.7

When the officials convened in their locker room, David Hume rechecked his game card and realized that he had misread the number 7 on his card for a 1. In explanation of this mistake, he stated that he read the numeral incorrectly due to the chaos of the pepper spraying 8 and because it was written over a preprinted horizontal line on the game card. He immediately advised his fellow officials that he had ejected South Charleston player number 7 and not number 1. On the game card of the referee, Keith DeVault, he listed numbers 5, 7, 11, and 12 (the respondent players) as the South Charleston players he had ejected for fighting. In the special report that the game officials jointly sent to the SSAC at 10:21 a.m. on Saturday, November 20, 2010, the four respondent football players (Nos. 5, 7, 11, and 12) were identified as the South Charleston players ejected from the game for their involvement in the fight. 9

Based on the special report submitted by the game officials, the SSAC suspended the respondent players from the next football game to be played— the AAA semifinal game against Brooke High School on Saturday,

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[228 W.Va. 78] November 27, 2010. In response to the SSAC suspension, the respondent players sought a temporary restraining order from the circuit court.10 As support for the requested relief, the South Charleston players argued that the officials improperly identified the players to be suspended after the game had ended and, further, that the SSAC ruling was arbitrary and capricious and in violation of statutory authority.

Following an ex parte hearing on November 23, 2010, the circuit court granted a temporary restraining order with regard to the SSAC's suspension of the subject football players. Through its ruling, the trial court directed that " Tyler Harris, Pierria Henry, Trevond Reese, and Emerson Gagnon shall remain eligible to participate in interscholastic athletics until further order of the Court and until this matter may be fully heard." The SSAC filed a motion to dissolve the temporary restraining order on November 26, 2010. On Saturday, November 27, 2010, the respondent football players participated in the AAA semifinal game when South Charleston played and defeated Brooke High School by a score of 29-28.

On Monday, November 29, 2010, the circuit court held an evidentiary hearing on the respondents' request for injunctive relief.11 Testimony was taken from numerous witnesses, including two of the officials from the November 19, 2010, football game. Based on its conclusion that the game officials violated SSAC rules by failing to eject the subject football players during the football game, the circuit court granted a preliminary injunction by order entered on November 30, 2010.12

In a separate but related matter, the Circuit Court of Brooke County granted a temporary restraining order on November 30, 2010, directing that the " State Championship football game for the AAA division of the State of West Virginia shall not be played until such time as the disciplinary action against South Charleston High School by the WVSSAC be considered final and that all legal action concerning this matter be legally concluded." Prohibiting the SSAC from canceling the 2010 Class AAA state football championship game, the Brooke County Circuit Court directed that the game be rescheduled " as soon as practicable following the conclusion of all of the litigation and disciplinary actions of the WVSSAC."

On December 2, 2010, the SSAC filed a petition with this Court through which it sought a writ of prohibition to prevent enforcement of the preliminary injunction issued by the Circuit Court of Kanawha County. Based on the ruling issued by the Brooke County Circuit Court postponing the AAA state championship game pending final resolution of the SSAC's suspension decision, the Brooke County Board of Education sought to intervene in this matter.

By order entered on December 7, 2010, this Court issued a writ of prohibition against the circuit court judge to prevent enforcement of the temporary restraining order and the preliminary injunction at issue after determining that both of those rulings were an improper exercise of the trial court's authority. Allowing the Brooke County Board of Education (" Board" ) to intervene in the matter, we declared that upon this Court's grant of extraordinary relief to the SSAC the actions initiated by the respondent players to prevent enforcement of the SSAC's disciplinary action became final. We further ruled that " [a]ny determination as to whether a forfeiture is required in connection with the participation of the South Charleston High School football players subject to this matter in the playoff game held on November 27, 2010, must be resolved solely by the governing body, the WVSSAC, and is clearly outside...

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