Chung v. Wash. Interscholastic Activities Ass'n, CASE NO. C19-5730-RSM

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Washington)
Writing for the CourtRICARDO S. MARTINEZ, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Parties CHUNG, et al., Plaintiffs, v. WASHINGTON INTERSCHOLASTIC ACTIVITIES ASSOCIATION, Defendant.
Docket NumberCASE NO. C19-5730-RSM
Decision Date10 May 2021

538 F.Supp.3d 1170

CHUNG, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
WASHINGTON INTERSCHOLASTIC ACTIVITIES ASSOCIATION, Defendant.

CASE NO. C19-5730-RSM

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, at Seattle.

Signed May 10, 2021


538 F.Supp.3d 1175

Charles Raymond Steinberg, Steinberg Law Firm PS, Wenatchee, WA, Eric S. Baxter, Pro Hac Vice, Joseph C. Davis, Pro Hac Vice, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

Steven A. Rockey, Rockey Stratton PS, Seattle, WA, Thomas C. Stratton, Rockey Stratton PS, Lake Forest Park, WA, for Defendant.

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

RICARDO S. MARTINEZ, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. #53. Defendant Washington Interscholastic Activities Association ("WIAA") opposes Plaintiffs’ Motion. Dkt. #57.1 The Court has determined it can rule on this Motion without oral argument.2 Having considered Plaintiffs’ Motion, WIAA's Response, Plaintiffs’ Reply, the declarations and exhibits attached thereto, and the remainder of the record, Plaintiffs’ Motion is DENIED.

II. BACKGROUND

Joelle Chung and her brothers J.N.C. and J.D.C., and their teammates A.H.B. and A.A.B., bring this action against the WIAA under the Free Exercise Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Washington State Constitution, and RCW § 28A.600.200 for failure to accommodate Sabbath observers in its scheduling and administration of high school tennis state championship tournaments. Dkt. #34. Plaintiffs are current and former students at William F. West High School ("W.F. West") and Seventh-day Adventists who observe the Sabbath each week. Id. at ¶¶ 1-11. Observing the Sabbath requires that Plaintiffs rest from work and refrain from competitive sports from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday every week.

The WIAA is an organization authorized under Washington state law to schedule and oversee interscholastic sports and activities

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in the state. Dkt. #59 at ¶ 3. Through its thirteen-member Executive Board and Representative Assembly, the WIAA establishes and interprets rules for interscholastic sports in Washington, including the sites, dates and rules for postseason play for WIAA member schools. Id. Before the postseason state championship, competitions are organized by individual leagues and schools around the state. In Washington, over 400 public and private high schools are members of the WIAA. Id. at ¶ 4.

Each tennis season, the top performers from the boys’ and girls’ tennis teams at W.F. West are selected to compete in postseason competition culminating in a state championship tournament. Tennis postseason includes sub-district, district, and finally, state. Dkt. #34 at ¶¶ 44-45. The top three girls, boys, and doubles teams from W.F. West are selected to advance to state. Id. at ¶ 46. Under former WIAA Rule 22.2.5, each member school certified that for postseason competition, "barring injury, illness, or unforeseen events, the team or individuals representing the school will participate in every level of competition through the completion of the state championship event." Dkt. #54-24 at 49. In turn, WIAA Rule 22.2.6 provides that "[a]ny withdrawal and intentional forfeiture shall be considered a violation of WIAA rules and regulations, and shall be subject to penalties as determined by the WIAA Executive Board." Id.

During the 2017-2018 season, Joelle was selected for postseason competition. Dkt. #5 at ¶ 11. After advancing from sub-districts, she had to withdraw from the district tournament because it was scheduled on Saturday. For the 2018-2019 season, because Joelle expected to qualify again for postseason, she and the Chung family preemptively asked WIAA for an accommodation. Specifically, the Chungs asked that WIAA "change rule 22.2.5 to allow religious observances as a valid reason to drop out of the tournament" so Sabbatarians "can play as far as they are able until Sabbath becomes an issue." Dkt. #54-1 at 10. Additionally, they asked that WIAA "move the 2A state tennis tournament" to weekdays. Id. Joelle qualified for postseason competition. However, while the sub-district and district competitions were scheduled outside the Sabbath, the state tournament was scheduled for Friday and Saturday. Consequently, if Joelle advanced to the state championship, she would not have played the final day.

On April 23, 2019, WIAA rejected Joelle's request to preemptively withdraw from the state tournament in the event that she advanced to the final round. Dkt. #54-1 at 18. WIAA stated that withdrawal based on an anticipated Sabbath conflict would "violate [ ] specific WIAA rules and cannot be granted." Id. WIAA explained that withdrawal due to Sabbath conflict would be (1) unfair to athletes who would have qualified but for the withdrawing athlete, and (2) create a competitive advantage for the athlete scheduled to play the athlete who forfeited. Id.

On August 6, 2019, the Chungs filed this lawsuit on behalf of Joelle and J.N.C. seeking compensatory and nominal damages for WIAA's failure to accommodate Sabbath observers in scheduling postseason tournaments and in their application of Rules 22.2.5 and 22.2.6 regarding withdrawal from postseason play. Dkt. #1. Plaintiffs also sought declaratory and injunctive relief requiring WIAA to permit religious withdrawals under Rule 22.2.5 and to schedule the 2A tennis tournament to accommodate Sabbath observance.

On August 27, 2019, WIAA amended Rule 22.2.5 to permit withdrawals for "religious observance." Dkt. #27 at ¶ 5. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on December

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20, 2019, adding minor Plaintiffs J.D.C., A.A.B., and A.H.B. Dkt. #34. The amended complaint claims that WIAA violated Plaintiffs’ free exercise and equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution for (1) scheduling the 2A tennis tournament on Plaintiffs’ Sabbath; and (2) prohibiting Joelle from withdrawing from postseason play for religious reasons under Rules 22.2.5 and 22.2.6. It also claims violations of art. 1 § 11 of the Washington State Constitution and RCW § 28A.600.200(1). Plaintiffs seek an award of compensatory damages and $100 in nominal damages to Joelle, a declaration of Plaintiffs’ rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the Washington Constitution, and RCW § 28A.600.200, and a permanent injunction barring WIAA from scheduling any 2A Boys State Tennis matches on Saturday for which any of the minor Plaintiffs qualify and barring WIAA from enforcing its rules to prohibit Plaintiffs’ withdrawal from postseason competition due to religious observance.

On September 29, 2020, Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment on their claims under the Free Exercise Clause, the Washington State Constitution, and RCW § 28A.600.200. Dkt. #53. Plaintiffs’ Motion also contains a cursory reference to their Equal Protection claims. See id. at 20, n.6. WIAA opposes Plaintiffs’ motion in its entirety. Dkt. #57.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) ; Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202, (1986). Material facts are those which might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Id. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505. In ruling on summary judgment, a court does not weigh evidence to determine the truth of the matter, but "only determine[s] whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Crane v. Conoco, Inc., 41 F.3d 547, 549 (9th Cir. 1994) (citing Federal Deposit Ins. Corp. v. O'Melveny & Myers, 969 F.2d 744, 747 (9th Cir. 1992) ).

On a motion for summary judgment, the court views the evidence and draws inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505 ; Sullivan v. U.S. Dep't of the Navy, 365 F.3d 827, 832 (9th Cir. 2004). However, the non-moving party must make a "sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof" to survive summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Where the non-moving party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address the moving party's assertions of fact, the Court will accept the fact as undisputed. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). As such, the Court relies "on the nonmoving party to identify with reasonable particularity the evidence that precludes summary judgment." Keenan v. Allan , 91 F.3d 1275, 1278–79 (9th Cir. 1996) (quotation marks and citations omitted). The Court need not "comb through the record to find some reason to deny a motion for summary judgment." Carmen v. San Francisco Unified Sch. Dist. , 237 F.3d 1026, 1029 (9th Cir. 2001).

B. Standing for Minor Plaintiffs

As a threshold issue, WIAA argues that the minor Plaintiffs lack standing to challenge WIAA's future scheduling of Saturday tournaments....

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