Appeals Court Hears Oral Arguments In Maximum Security Disqualification Case

The United States Appeals Court for the Sixth District heard oral arguments Tuesday from attorneys in the civil lawsuit over the disqualification of Maximum Security from the 2019 Kentucky Derby. Attorneys for owners Gary and Mary West and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and its stewards presented their cases during a telephonic hearing.

The Wests were appealing a ruling from United States District Judge Karen Caldwell in November dismissing their case on the basis that stewards’ disqualifications are not subject to judicial review.

Attorneys for both sides touched on two different Kentucky laws in their arguments, and disagreed about whether the stewards’ decisions met the state definition of a “final order.” Final orders handed down by state agencies may be reversed in whole or in part in court under certain conditions.

Jennifer Wolsing, representing the commission, referred to Kentucky regulations that specifically forbid appeals of stewards’ decisions. Without those regulations, she pointed out, every losing owner could tie up race results in court for months.

“Importantly, the Wests previously agreed to Kentucky’s rules,” said Wolsing. “As a condition of licensing and for the privilege of participating in horse racing, the Wests agreed to abide by the commission’s regulations, including the provision that the stewards’ determinations are final. This rule is here for a reason. The rule otherwise would turn the most exciting two minutes in sports into two years of protracted litigation.”

Final orders, Wolsing argued, are the outcome of an administrative hearing, which per Kentucky law are formal proceedings conducted by a state agency head where it’s expected impacted parties will be represented by counsel. Stewards’ deliberations, as in the Maximum Security case, do not fit the bill because the stewards are not agency heads and their deliberations are not formal and open to the public. They also do not hear arguments from all affected parties (like owners) through attorneys.

Ronald Riccio, attorney for the Wests, believes that state statute which guides the process of administrative hearings and defines “final orders” should supersede the commission’s regulations stating stewards’ decisions are not subject to appeal. Riccio argued, among other points, that the stewards’ decision was a “final order” and the decision-making process they went through was an administrative hearing during which they collected and reviewed evidence – albeit, he questioned how they did so. Because it was a hearing conducted by state agency employees, Riccio claims the decision should be subject to reversal by a judge.

“The fact that the stewards did what they did in only 22 minutes, and did it as we allege, in derogation of the substantive decision-making criteria that was supposed to be applied, and rendered an opinion which was terribly inconsistent in terms of their oral opinion saying one thing and their written opinion saying another thing — that doesn’t mean that the proceeding was not an administrative proceeding subject to the ‘final order’ of KRS13.150,” said Riccio.

Both attorneys agreed there was relatively little existing case law in Kentucky that addressed this question, outside of one case from 2013 in which an owner/trainer appealed a stewards’ disqualification based on careless riding. In that case, a Kentucky appeals court ruled that stewards’ decisions were not subject to judicial review.

Judges did not provide a projected timeframe for issuing their ruling.

The post Appeals Court Hears Oral Arguments In Maximum Security Disqualification Case appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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