Denial of Emergency Petition for Temporary Injunction Involving the Eligibility of a Student Athlete Affirmed on Appeal


Rumberger Kirk & Caldwell attorney J. David Marsey represented Escambia County Superintendent of Schools Malcolm Thomas in an emergency hearing seeking to reinstate a high school student athlete following the Florida High School Athletic Association’s determination of ineligibility. The student alleged that the determination of his ineligibility violated his due process rights. Mr. Marsey argued in the trial court that the student athlete was not entitled to a temporary injunction because he failed to exhaust statutory administrative remedies, that he did not have fundamental right to participate in interscholastic athletic competition, that the loss of the possibility of a future scholarship did not constitute irreparable injury and that the FHSAA’s administrative appeals process established the only the appropriate recourse. 

The disputed facts suggested that the student’s family misrepresented his residency status in order to attend Escambia High School to play football after becoming disillusioned with his prior football team. This alleged falsification and allegations of improper recruiting by the football coach resulted in an intensive internal investigation, after which the District self-reported possible violations of athletic eligibility rules to the FSHAA who provides administrative oversight of high school athletics. The trial court denied the student’s petition agreeing that the student’s loss of the ability to play high school football did not constitute an irreparable injury and that the District’s substantial compliance with its rules did not violate the student’s right to due process. The student appealed the decision to the First District Court of Appeal. The appellate court conducted a new review of the applicable law and Mr. Marsey renewed his trial court arguments in an expedited briefing schedule. The appellate court affirmed the denial of the injunction finding, without rendering a separate written opinion, that the trial court judge properly applied the law.

This successful appeal reaffirms well-settled law that despite the potential for harsh results, a determination of ineligibility to participate in high school athletic competition does not violate a constitutional or statutory right, that the court system should not intervene in the internal decision-making processes of an association, like the FHSAA and that the Association’s due process protections are sufficient to protect the interests of student athletes. This second-level judicial review also reestablished the propriety of the School District’s internal investigation.

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