Davis et al v. National Collegiate Athletic Association et al

Filing 42

ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS, Order by Hon. William Alsup granting 24 Motion to Dismiss.(whalc1, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 6/24/2011)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 8 9 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 12 13 REGINALD DAVIS, ALLEN CHAPMAN, SUA TUALA, DANIEL MCKINNEY, RUBEN IBARRA, DEZMON EPPS, and ROBERT BURTON, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS Plaintiffs, 14 15 No. C 11-01207 WHA v. 19 NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, an unincorporated Association, MARK G. YUDOF, an individual in his official capacity as President of the University of California, et al., and also as representatives of all others similarly situated, 20 Defendants. 16 17 18 / 21 22 INTRODUCTION 23 In this purported civil-rights class action, plaintiffs challenge the enactment and 24 application of NCAA Division I Bylaw, which governs the eligibility of certain transfer 25 students for athletic scholarships and participation. For the reasons stated below, defendants’ 26 motion to dismiss the complaint is GRANTED. 27 28 STATEMENT The National College Athletic Association is an unincorporated association of public and private colleges and universities. The NCAA “markets, regulates, governs, controls, operates and 1 licenses” the athletic programs at its member colleges and universities (Amd. Compl. ¶ 13). 2 NCAA membership is classified into three divisions, of which Division I is the largest. Division I 3 “includes four-year institutions which compete at the highest level of college sports” and 4 “participate in high-profile events.” Division I is composed of 335 member institutions, two- 5 thirds of which are public colleges or universities (id. at ¶¶ 38–39). 6 Each division of the NCAA has its own eligibility rules for student-athletes. This action 7 concerns NCAA Division I Bylaw, which sets forth the eligibility requirements for 8 certain student-athletes wishing to transfer from a two-year college to a four-year Division I 9 college. At the time of matriculation from high school to college, each student-athlete is either a “qualifier” or a “non-qualifier” for Division I athletic scholarships, practice, and competition, 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 based on his or her academic performance in high school. A qualifier is someone who has 12 graduated high school, completed a certain number of core courses (including four years of 13 English and three years of mathematics), and attained a minimum grade point average and SAT 14 score. A non-qualifier is someone who has failed to meet one or more of those requirements 15 (Walters Exh. A at 163).1 16 If a non-qualifier attends a two-year college immediately after high school, but later 17 wishes to transfer to a four-year Division I school and participate in Division I athletics, his or her 18 eligibility for athletic scholarships and participation is determined by NCAA Division I 19 Bylaw This bylaw was amended in August 2009. Before amendment, it required the 20 student to have (1) graduated from the two-year college, (2) completed a minimum of 48 21 semester-hours or 72 quarter-hours of transferable degree credit, (3) spent at least three semesters 22 or four quarters as a full-time student, and (4) achieved a grade point average of at least 2.0 on a 23 four-point scale. The August 2009 amendment added the additional requirement that the 24 1 25 26 27 28 The exhibits to the Walters declaration are excerpts from the NCAA Division I, II, and III manuals in which the NCAA bylaws relevant to this action are set forth. Although these documents were not appended to the complaint, the parties agree that the complaint incorporated the text of the relevant NCAA bylaws by making extensive reference to them (Br. 5 n.1; Opp. 8). The parties are correct. “Even if a document is not attached to a complaint, it may be incorporated by reference into a complaint if the plaintiff refers extensively to the document or the document forms the basis of the plaintiff's claim. The defendant may offer such a document, and the district court may treat such a document as part of the complaint, and thus may assume that its contents are true for purposes of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” United States v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 908 (9th Cir. 2003) (internal citations omitted). 2 1 student’s transferable degree credit earned at the two-year college must include (a) six semester- 2 hours or eight quarter-hours of English credit and (b) three semester-hours or four quarter-hours 3 of math credit (Walters Exh. B at 156–57). This additional requirement generally translates to 4 two English classes and one math class. At the hearing, counsel stated that a waiver provision in 5 the NCAA rules allows the requirements of Bylaw to be waived as to specific individuals 6 in certain circumstances. wishes to participate in a Division I athletic program, his or her eligibility is determined by 9 different bylaws. To become eligible for athletic scholarships and participation, the student must 10 complete one year in residence at the four-year school during which he or she earns a minimum 11 For the Northern District of California If a non-qualifier attends a four-year college immediately after high school and later 8 United States District Court 7 amount of degree credit and achieves a minimum grade point average. No substantive curriculum 12 requirements apply (Walters Exh. A at 167–69, 172). 13 Similarly, if a qualifier attends a two-year college immediately after high school, yet 14 another set of requirements govern his or her eligibility to participate in Division I athletics upon 15 transfer to a four-year Division I school. The student must spend at least one semester or quarter 16 as a full-time student at the two-year school, and he or she must earn a minimum amount of 17 degree credit and achieve a minimum grade point average. The student, however, need not stay at 18 the two-year school long enough to earn a degree, and no substantive curriculum requirements 19 apply to the transferable credits earned there (id. at 176–77). 20 Plaintiffs seek to represent a class of non-qualifier student-athletes who enrolled in two- 21 year colleges after the August 2009 amendment to Bylaw took effect. Plaintiffs wish to 22 transfer to four-year Division I colleges and participate in their athletic programs. Plaintiffs, 23 however, have failed to satisfy the academic requirements of Bylaw and therefore are not 24 eligible to receive athletic scholarships or participate in athletic programs at Division I schools 25 (Amd. Compl. ¶ 28). 26 Plaintiffs challenge the adoption and application of Bylaw as violating both the 27 United States Constitution and the California State Constitution. Specifically, plaintiffs allege 28 that the bylaw impermissibly singles out and discriminates against non-qualifiers who attend two3 1 year colleges, in violation of both the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and 2 Article I, Section 7(a) of the California Constitution (id. at ¶¶ 53–62). Plaintiffs clarified at the 3 hearing that they challenge three aspects of the bylaw: (1) the requirement that students spend at 4 least three semesters as full-time students at the two-year college; (2) the requirement that they 5 earn an associate’s degree from the two-year college; and (3) the requirement that they take a 6 minimum number of English and math courses. Plaintiffs filed this action in April 2011, naming 7 the NCAA and individual representatives of eighteen California State Division I colleges as 8 defendants. Plaintiffs seek certification of a defendant class as well as a plaintiff class 9 (id. at ¶¶13–23). 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 All named defendants move to dismiss the amended complaint on a variety of grounds; plaintiffs oppose. This order follows full briefing and oral argument on the motion. 12 ANALYSIS 13 To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, 14 accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. FRCP 12(b)(6); Ashcroft v. 15 Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). A claim is facially plausible when there are sufficient factual 16 allegations to draw a reasonable inference that a defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. 17 Although a court “must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true,” it is “not 18 bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Id. at 1949–50 19 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). 20 The parties agree that the rational-basis review standard, rather than any heightened 21 review standard, applies to plaintiffs’ federal equal protection claim. Under that standard, any 22 state action resting upon a distinction between classes of people “must be rationally related to a 23 legitimate governmental purpose.” City of Cleburne, Tex. v. Cleburne Living Ctr., Inc., 24 473 U.S. 432, 446 (1985). The party challenging a distinction bears the burden of proving that 25 there is no reasonable basis for it. Heller v. Doe, 509 U.S. 312, 320 (1993). The reviewing court 26 defers to legislative judgment if there is at least a debatable question whether the underlying basis 27 for the classification is rational. Minnesota v. Clover Leaf Creamery Co., 449 U.S. 465, 28 464 (1981). 4 1 The Rule 12(b)(6) and rational-basis standards both govern the instant motion. In order 2 for plaintiffs’ federal equal protection claim to survive defendants’ motion, the amended 3 complaint must plead sufficient facts and inferences to make it plausible that Bylaw is 4 not rationally related to any conceivable legitimate purpose. It does not. 5 The complaint itself acknowledges that the August 2009 amendment to Bylaw 6 was proposed to “help ensure that students who were not qualifiers have the academic tools for 7 success” they would need as Division I student-athletes (Amd. Compl. ¶ 46). This goal is a 8 legitimate purpose, and the challenged requirements of Bylaw are rationally related to 9 serving it. The challenged bylaw concerns only those students who (a) emerged from high school as 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 academic non-qualifiers, and (b) proceeded to two-year rather than four-year institutions of 12 higher education. That students in this category should meet specific requirements to show they 13 are equipped to succeed as student-athletes at four-year Division I schools is rational. As 14 compared to qualifiers who initially attended two-year schools, these students had not yet proven 15 their readiness to succeed as Division I student-athletes upon departure from high school. As 16 compared to non-qualifiers who initially attended four-year schools, these students have not 17 directly shown whether they can succeed academically at a four-year institution. Instead, they 18 must prove themselves indirectly. The requirements of Bylaw serve to identify those 19 students who have done so. 20 All three challenged aspects of the bylaw are rationally related to this legitimate purpose. 21 The requirement that students spend at least three semesters as full-time students at the two-year 22 college is rationally related to preparing for the demands of being a full-time rather than part-time 23 student. The requirement that they take a minimum number of English and math courses is 24 rationally related to acquiring the skills necessary to complete academic course work at a four- 25 year college. The requirement that they earn an associate’s degree from the two-year college is 26 rationally related to building a record of credentials. 27 28 Plaintiffs vigorously attack the distinction between two-year and four-year schools, arguing that “a more expensive education is not always better” (Opp. 21). Expense, and even 5 1 quality of education, do not control the question at hand. Two-year and four-year institutions of 2 higher learning have different missions. They offer different types of degrees and training. Many 3 two-year schools are vocationally oriented, whereas four-year schools tend to be more 4 academically oriented. Many two-year schools offer part-time enrollment programs, whereas 5 four-year schools tend to require full-time study. Without attempting to compare the average cost 6 and quality of the education offered by two-year and four-year institutions, this order finds that 7 the educations they provide are different in kind, or so the NCAA could reasonably have found. 8 Defendants’ distinction between two-year and four-year schools is rational. 9 Plaintiffs also allege that the requirements of Bylaw were adopted without “consideration of any studies or other analysis” of their likely effect (Amd. Compl. ¶ 46). As 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 plaintiffs concede, however, a challenged measure need not be based on any factual findings or 12 review of evidence in order to survive rational-basis review (Opp. 19–20). Fed. Commc’ns 13 Comm’n v. Beach Commc’ns, 508 U.S. 307, 315 (noting that a legislative choice “may be based 14 on rational speculation unsupported by evidence or empirical data”). Moreover, as described 15 above, the requirements of the challenged bylaw — including the newer English and math 16 requirements — are rationally related to the legitimate purpose of ensuring that non-qualifier 17 student-athletes who transfer into Division I programs from a two-year colleges are equipped for 18 academic success. 19 Plaintiffs emphasize that the students subject to Bylaw tend to come from 20 disadvantaged backgrounds. The complaint alleges that “[f]or many young women and men — a 21 disproportionate number of whom are from communities of color or grew up in an at-risk 22 environment — athletic-based financial aid provides their only chance for obtaining a college 23 education.” Because of their financial circumstances, “enrolling at junior college is their only 24 option for continuing their education after high school and their last meaningful chance for 25 success” without an athletic scholarship (Amd. Compl. ¶ 1). According to plaintiffs, the 26 challenged bylaw places an unfair barrier between these students and a Division I 27 athletic scholarship. 28 6 1 It is true that the individuals plaintiffs describe face a difficult road to success. The Court 2 is sympathetic to the many challenges they face. Such allegations of hardship, however, do not 3 state an equal protection claim. They do not undermine the rational basis for the challenged 4 bylaw. Furthermore, the NCAA bylaws explicitly do not prevent non-qualifiers from accepting 5 need-based (as opposed to athletic-based) financial aid from Division I schools (Walters Exh. A 6 at 167). In this respect, the bylaws leave these disadvantaged individuals with the same 7 educational options as their peers who lack the good fortune of athletic talent. 8 9 Plaintiffs’ allegations fall far short of negating every conceivable rational basis for the challenged bylaw. As explained, this order rejects plaintiffs’ contention that the classifications created by the bylaw — whether students were academic qualifiers or non-qualifiers, and whether 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 they attended two- or four-year institutions immediately after high school — are arbitrary 12 (Opp. 18). Also rejected is plaintiffs’ argument that the fit between the requirements of the 13 challenged bylaw and its stated goal “is so imperfect that it undermines completely the credibility 14 of the expressed goal” (Opp. 19). Plaintiffs’ theories as to why NCAA Division I Bylaw 15 violates the equal protection clause fail. Because the challenged bylaw does not violate the equal 16 protection clause, the parties’ arguments concerning whether the NCAA is a state actor need not 17 be reached. 18 Because the federal claim fails, this district court will not exercise supplemental 19 jurisdiction over the state claim. 28 U.S.C. 1367(c)(3). Plaintiffs “acknowledge that the Court 20 would not retain supplemental jurisdiction over purely state law issues if the federal claim is 21 dismissed as to all defendants” (Opp. 3). Indeed, the balance of factors to be considered under the 22 pendent jurisdiction doctrine — judicial economy, convenience, fairness, and comity — point 23 toward declining to exercise jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claim. These factors 24 usually discourage the exercise of federal jurisdiction when all federal-law claims are eliminated 25 before trial. See Sanford v. MemberWorks, Inc., 625 F.3d 550, 561 (9th Cir. 2010). Here, the 26 federal-law claim was eliminated while the action was in its infancy and before the state-law 27 claim was considered. It is best to leave full consideration of the state-law claim to the state 28 7 1 courts. No diversity jurisdiction exists, either. The parties’ arguments concerning the state claim 2 therefore need not be discussed. 3 4 CONCLUSION For the foregoing reasons, defendants’ motion to dismiss is GRANTED without prejudice 5 to re-filing the state claim in state court. Because the federal claim fails based on plaintiffs’ 6 theory of the case (rather than the adequacy of the pleadings), amendment of the complaint 7 ordinarily would not be allowed due to futility. At the hearing, however, counsel stated that the 8 NCAA is poised to adopt yet another rule which would make the challenged requirements more 9 stringent. Given this development, plaintiffs may seek leave to re-plead. If plaintiffs so choose, they should file a motion for leave to amend the complaint within 28 CALENDAR DAYS. The 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 motion should be filed on the normal 35-day track, and a proposed amended complaint must be 12 appended to the motion. The motion should clearly explain why the proposed amendments 13 overcome the deficiencies discussed herein. If no motion is filed, or if the motion is denied, 14 judgment will be entered. 15 16 IT IS SO ORDERED. 17 18 Dated: June 24, 2011. WILLIAM ALSUP UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 8

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