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Pritchard v. Florida High School Athletic Association, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

August 1, 2019




         This matter comes before the Court on review of defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. #44) filed on May 31, 2019. Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition (Doc. #45) on June 14, 2019, defendant filed a Reply (Doc. #49) on June 27, 2019, and plaintiff filed a Sur-Reply (Doc. #52) on July 5, 2019. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.[1]


         A. Parties

         When this action commenced, plaintiff Thomas Pritchard was an eighteen-year-old high school senior at the Canterbury School in Fort Myers. (Doc. #40, p. 2.) Defendant Florida High School Athletic Association, Inc. is a non-profit corporation and the athletic administrative organization that regulates student participation in Florida high school athletic programs. (Id.) As part of this regulation, defendant adopts and publishes bylaws relating to student-athlete eligibility. (Id. p. 3.) One such bylaw provides the following:

9.5.1 High School Student Has Four Years of Eligibility. A student is limited to four consecutive school years of eligibility beginning with school year he/she begins ninth grade for the first time. This does not imply that the student has four years of participation. After four consecutive school years, the student is permanently ineligible.

(Doc. #40-1, p. 30.)

         B. Factual Background

         According to the Amended Complaint, plaintiff participated in high school athletics during his ninth and tenth grade years in Virginia before transferring to Florida and attending Canterbury. (Doc. #40, pp. 4-6.) Based on a pre-enrollment assessment, Canterbury administrators recommended plaintiff repeat the tenth grade, which he did. (Id. p. 6.) Plaintiff competed in the school's various sports during his tenth and eleventh grade years. (Id.) During plaintiff's eleventh grade year, Canterbury staff recommended a psychologist test plaintiff's learning ability. (Id. pp. 6-7.) A full psychoeducational evaluation concluded plaintiff possessed a learning disorder with impairment in reading and comprehension. (Id. p. 7.) Canterbury administrators also identified a previous injury to plaintiff's hand as a physical disability that adversely affected his math proficiency. (Id.)

         Under defendant's Bylaw 9.5.1, eleventh grade was the final year of plaintiff's eligibility to participate in interscholastic competition because it was his fourth consecutive year in high school. In August 2018, Canterbury filed a request with defendant to accommodate plaintiff's disabilities by waiving Bylaw 9.5.1 and allowing a fifth year of eligibility. (Id. p. 8.) Defendant's Sectional Appeals Committee held a hearing on the matter on September 6, 2018 and ultimately denied the request for a waiver.[2](Id. p. 9.) A second hearing was held on October 4, 2018 with the same result. (Id. p. 10.) Plaintiff appealed the Committee's decision to defendant's Board of Directors, which conducted a hearing on October 28, 2018 and upheld the Committee's decision. (Id. pp. 10-11.)

         C. Procedural History

         On February 13, 2019, plaintiff filed a three-count Verified Complaint against defendant, alleging the following: (1) disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”); (2) disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and (3) disparate impact discrimination under the ADA. (Doc. #1, pp. 12-16.) On March 6, 2019, defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. #16) that was granted in part, and Counts One and Two were dismissed without prejudice and with leave to amend.[3] (Doc. #38.)

         On May 20, 2019, plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint reasserting the previous three claims, as well as alleging a violation of Section 1006.20, Florida Statutes, as Count Four. (Doc. #40, pp. 12-26.) Plaintiff also seeks a declaratory judgment that Bylaw 9.5.1 was discriminatory as applied to him. (Id. p. 11.) On May 31, 2019, defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss arguing (1) plaintiff's claims are moot and (2) the claims should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. #44, pp. 6-22.) The Court will address these arguments in turn.


         A. Mootness

         i. Legal Standards

         Article III of the Constitution “restricts the power of federal courts to ‘Cases' and ‘Controversies.'” Chafin v. Chafin, 568 U.S. 165, 171 (2013). There is no case or controversy, and a suit becomes moot, “when the issues presented are no longer ‘live' or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.” Id. at 172 (citation omitted). “Put another way, ‘[a] case is moot when it no longer presents a live controversy with respect to which the court can give meaningful relief.” Fla. Ass'n of Rehab. Facilities, Inc. v. State of Fla. Dep't of Health & Rehab. Servs., 225 F.3d 1208, 1217 (11th Cir. 2000) (quoting Ethredge v. Hail, 996 F.2d 1173, 1175 (11th Cir. ...

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