Sedlacek v. South Dakota Teener Baseball Program, s. 16246

CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota
Citation437 N.W.2d 866
Docket Number16262 and 16263,16248,Nos. 16246,s. 16246
PartiesIn the Matter of the Charge of Laura SEDLACEK, Charging Party and Appellee, v. SOUTH DAKOTA TEENER BASEBALL PROGRAM; South Dakota Commission of Human Rights, Appellant.
Decision Date22 March 1989

Page 866

437 N.W.2d 866
In the Matter of the Charge of Laura SEDLACEK, Charging
Party and Appellee,
Commission of Human Rights, Appellant.
Nos. 16246, 16248, 16262 and 16263.
Supreme Court of South Dakota.
Argued Nov. 29, 1988.
Decided March 22, 1989.

Jane L. Wipf of Lynn, Jackson, Schultz & Lebrun, Rapid City, for charging party and appellee.

Jeffrey P. Hallem, Asst. Atty. Gen., Pierre, for appellant South Dakota Com'n of Human Rights; Roger A. Tellinghuisen, Atty. Gen., Pierre, on brief.

Jane M. Farrell and Patrick M. Ginsbach, Hot Springs, for South Dakota Teener Baseball Program.

MORGAN, Justice.

This decision is the final phase of an administrative appeal from a decision of the Human Rights Commission (Commission) dismissing a complaint filed by Laura Sedlacek (Sedlacek) against the South Dakota Teener Baseball Program (Teener), 1 charging Teener with sexual discrimination in public accommodations in the conduct of the annual Teener Baseball tournament, wherein girls are ineligible to participate. Commission dismissed the complaint on the grounds that SDCL 20-13-22.1(2) exempted Teener from the provisions of the Human Rights Act, SDCL ch. 20-13. On appeal, the circuit court decided that the statutory exemption 2 was an unconstitutional deprivation of equal protection under the provisions of both the South Dakota and the United States Constitutions and directed that Sedlacek be permitted to play on any team for which she was otherwise qualified. Teener and Commission appeal. We reverse.

A brief factual background regarding Sedlacek's activities is necessary. At the time of the filing of the complaint in May, 1987, Sedlacek was a fifteen-year-old female who resided with her family in Edgemont, South Dakota. In 1986, for some reason not explained in the record, she began playing baseball for the team in Provo, some eight miles distant, rather than the Edgemont team. She played in the 1986 Teener Tournament under protection of a temporary restraining order. Her complaint was filed when she was told again, in April 1987, that she could not play on the Provo team because she was a girl.

Sedlacek appealed the dismissal of her complaint to the Circuit Court for the Seventh Judicial Circuit, Fall River County. The Circuit Court determined that the statutory exception applicable to Teener is unconstitutional under both state and federal constitutions on equal protection grounds alone. Sedlacek raised other constitutional arguments, but the trial court chose to base its decision on equal protection grounds.

The trial court, applying the reasonable basis test, was "unable to discern any reasonable basis for allowing veteran sponsored sports activities to discriminate against girls, while prohibiting the same type of conduct by other organizations." The trial court further determined that "[t]here is no reason to treat the two groups differently and a statute that does so is necessarily unreasonable and arbitrary."

Based on the findings of fact and conclusions of law, the trial court entered judgment reversing the decision of the Commission, declaring SDCL 20-13-22.1(2) unconstitutional, and directed that Sedlacek be allowed to compete on any Teener baseball team for which she otherwise qualifies.

On appeal, Commission and Teener raised three issues:

1. Whether the trial court erred in holding SDCL 20-13-22.1(2) unconstitutional.

Page 868

2. Whether the trial court erred in not remanding the case to Commission.

3. Whether Sedlacek has standing to file a charge of discrimination (Teener alone).

Sedlacek, by notice of review, also raises the issue whether SDCL 20-13-22.1(2) violates South Dakota's prohibition against special legislation (Art. III, Sec. 23(9)). None of the parties have raised any issue as to whether the Teener program constitutes a public accommodation, so we leave that question for another day when it is briefed and argued.

We first address the standing issue. Teener argues that since Sedlacek played in the 1986 tournament, and since she was probably precluded from playing in the 1987 tournament because Edgemont did not have sufficient players to field a team, she sustained no injury. In our opinion, this is a non-issue. Sedlacek had to obtain a court order to participate in the 1986 tournament. Teener failed to develop the record on whether she could or did play in the 1987 tournament so we deem that issue abandoned.

Nor are we persuaded that it has been rendered moot by the passage of time while the case was in the legal system. As we have previously said, "appellate opinions are not given for the purpose of settling abstract or theoretical questions but only to decide actual controversies which have injuriously affected the rights of a party to the litigation." Rapid City Journal v. Circuit Court, Etc., 283 N.W.2d 563, 565 (S.D.1979). A well-recognized exception to the mootness rule is the case where "the underlying dispute between the parties is one 'capable of repetition, yet evading review.' " Id. (Citation omitted.) We have also held that there is a public interest exception to the mootness rule under exceptional circumstances and have repeatedly held that to qualify for that exception, the following three criteria must be met: general public importance, probable future recurrence, and probable future mootness. Wheeldon v. Madison, 374 N.W.2d 367 (S.D.1985).

We determine that the issue is not moot for several reasons. First, absent a review by this court, a statute, or portion thereof, would be considered to be unconstitutional, at least in the Seventh Judicial Circuit, thus injuriously affecting Teener's programs in that area of the state. Again, it is an issue that is capable of repetition, yet evading review, as the program is carried on throughout the rest of the state. Finally, it meets the public interest criteria of that exception. Thus, although there is strong precedent to avoid the determination of a constitutional issue if the decision can be made on other grounds, we will proceed to examine the constitutional issues.

We first examine the equal protection issue. As we have previously noted, the trial court applied the rational basis test in arriving at its decision. On appeal, Sedlacek argues that this court should give the statute heightened or intermediate scrutiny because its effect is to promote gender-based discrimination. We note that her notice of review did not claim any error on the part of the trial court in this regard. However, we do not have to reach that argument.

In our opinion, the trial court made two significant errors in arriving at the decision below. First, the trial court gave no heed to the long-standing admonition:

There is a strong presumption that the laws enacted by the legislature are constitutional and that presumption is rebutted only when it clearly, palpably and plainly appears that the statute violates a provision of the constitution.

Oien v. City of Sioux Falls, 393 N.W.2d 286, 289 (S.D.1986); Matter of Certain Territorial Elec. Boundaries, Etc., 281 N.W.2d 65 (S.D.1979). Further, the party challenging the constitutionality of a statute bears the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the statute violates a state or federal constitutional provision. Id. at 69.

In this instance, the trial court viewed subsection (2) out of context from the balance...

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26 cases
  • Benson v. State, 23492.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • January 24, 2006
    ...and heavy burden. Meinders v. Weber, 2000 SD 2, ¶ 10, 604 N.W.2d 248, 254 (quoting Sedlacek v. South Dakota Teener Baseball Program, 437 N.W.2d 866, 868 (S.D.1989) (quoting Oien v. City of Sioux Falls, 393 N.W.2d 286, 289 (S.D.1986))). There is a strong presumption that a statute is constit......
  • Meinders v. Weber, 20689.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • January 5, 2000
    ...reasonable doubt that the statute violates a state or federal constitutional provision. Sedlacek v. South Dakota Teener Baseball Program, 437 N.W.2d 866, 868 (S.D.1989) (quoting Oien v. City of Sioux Falls, 393 N.W.2d 286, 289 (S.D.1986) (other citations [¶ 11.] Meinders asserts that South ......
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    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
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