This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
G.H., a Minor, by and through his parents, Mr. and Ms. H.,
Minnesota State High School League,
Filed October 1, 2002
Hennepin County District Court
File No. CT-01-4606
Cynthia M. Stange, 2803 Lincoln Drive, Suite 300, Roseville, MN 55113-1312 (for appellant)
Robert J. Fowler, 2300 U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray Plaza, 444 Cedar Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge,* and Stoneburner, Judge.
Appellant G.H. challenges the district court’s grant of summary judgment to respondent Minnesota State High School League, dismissing his lawsuit seeking damages and reinstatement of his eligibility to participate in League-sponsored activities. Because there are no genuine issues of material fact and the district court did not err in its application of the law, we affirm.
Respondent Minnesota State High School League (League), a non-profit corporation, is a voluntary association of high schools in Minnesota and governs the extracurricular activities of all member schools. Minn. Stat. § 128C.01 (2000). Appellant G.H. is a high-school student who was expelled from Rockford High School on or about September 1, 2000, for the 2000–01 school year, based on a finding by the school board that appellant had “sexually assaulted” another student. G.H. appealed his expulsion to the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning. The commissioner affirmed the school board’s decision to expel appellant.
On or about September 5, 2000, appellant was notified that he had lost his eligibility to participate in League-sponsored activities due to violation of League bylaw 209, which provides that a student who engages in sexual violence shall lose eligibility for the next 12 calendar months. Appellant, who had transferred to a new school, appealed his loss of eligibility pursuant to League’s “Fair Hearing Procedure – Student Eligibility” policy set out in its official handbook. The appeal was heard by an independent hearing officer, who concluded that the school did not meet its burden of proof to sustain ineligibility for a violation of bylaw 209 and that appellant was immediately eligible for League-sponsored activities. Appellant remained eligible until League’s board of directors rejected the hearing officer’s recommendation at their January 8, 2001, meeting.
Based on the “record as a whole,” including the commissioner’s affirmance of appellant’s expulsion, League’s board determined that appellant was not “in good standing within the meaning of the State High School League rules” and therefore was not eligible to participate in League activities for the 2000–01 school year. League’s board based its decision on bylaw 206, which provides (1) in order to be eligible for League sponsored activities, a student must be “in good standing”; and (2) “[a] student who transfers from one school to another and is not in good standing shall be ineligible until the penalty has been satisfied.” It is undisputed that an expelled student is not a student “in good standing.”
Appellant obtained review of the commissioner’s expulsion decision from this court, but was denied certiorari review of League’s determination of ineligibility because League is not an agency within the meaning of the Minnesota Administrative Procedure Act. G.H. v. Rockford Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 883, No. C6-01-101 (Minn. App. Feb. 7, 2001) (order opinion). In an unpublished opinion, this court affirmed the commissioner’s expulsion decision, concluding that the record before the commissioner supported the determination that there was substantial evidence that G.H. engaged in serious misconduct. In re Expulsion of G.H. from Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 883, C1-00-2201 (Minn. App. July 10, 2001), review denied (Minn. Oct. 16, 2001). We also concluded that G.H. failed to demonstrate that his constitutional rights were violated and failed to preserve other issues for review. Id.
On March 23, 2001, appellant brought an action in district court claiming that League (1) violated his right to substantive and procedural due process; (2) acted arbitrarily and capriciously in determining he was ineligible, and, (3) committed sex discrimination by failing to take action against the other student involved in the underlying incident. The district court granted League’s motion for summary judgment, and this appeal followed.
When reviewing an appeal from a summary judgment, an appellate court must address whether the district court erred in its application of law and whether there are any genuine issues of material fact. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). No genuine issue of material fact exists “[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party.” DLH, Inc. v. Russ, 566 N.W.2d 60, 69 (Minn. 1997) (citation omitted). When material facts are not in dispute, the review of the district court’s application of the law is de novo. Hubred v. Control Data Corp., 442 N.W.2d 308, 310 (Minn. 1989).
Issues of Material Fact
Appellant argues that summary judgment was not appropriate in this case because the issue of whether he committed sexual misconduct, the basis for his expulsion, is in dispute. We disagree. League’s independent hearing officer’s determination that the school district had failed to prove sexual violence does not affect the validity of the school district’s decision to expel. Despite appellant’s challenge to the facts as found by the school board and commissioner, his expulsion has been affirmed at every level. The League’s determination of ineligibility was based on the undisputed fact that because of the expulsion, appellant was not a student “in good standing” within the meaning of League’s bylaw 206, not on whether the events occurred exactly as found by the commissioner. That appellant was expelled is undisputed, and there are no other material fact questions.
Appellant argues that League violated his Fourteenth
Amendment due process rights. A
“[p]rerequisite to a possible violation of the 14th Amendment is state action
or involvement.” Hickman v. Group
Health Plan, Inc., 396 N.W. 2d 10,
13 (Minn. 1986) (citing Shelly v. Kramer, 334 U.S. 1, 13, 68 S. Ct. 836,
842 (1948)). It is well established in
Minnesota that League acts under the color of state law in its decision-making
capacity. See Brenden v. Indep. Sch.
Dist. 742, 477 F. 2d 1292 (8th Cir. 1973) (deciding issue of equal
protection in high-school interscholastic activities); Striebel v.
Minn. State High Sch. League, 321 N.W.2d 400 (Minn. 1982) (deciding issue of gender-based discrimination in establishing separate seasons of play for high-school athletic teams). The League’s regulatory activity likewise involves state action because of the involvement of state school officials in the structure of the association. Brentwood Acad. v. Tenn. Secondary Sch. Athletic Ass’n, 531 U.S. 288, 291, 121 S. Ct. 924, 927-28 (2001). The rules governing League members are promulgated pursuant to a procedure that involves member school districts. Brenden, 477 F.2d at 1295. League rules and regulations govern eligibility of students to participate in League-sponsored activities, therefore League’s determination of appellant’s eligibility involved state action for the purposes of analysis of his due-process claim.
In addition to state action, a person must also show an entitlement to a constitutionally protected interest to establish a due-process violation. There is a split of authority on the issue of whether participation in interscholastic activities is a constitutionally protected interest, and there is no Minnesota decision on this issue. But we need not reach the issue in this case, because even if appellant had a protected interest in participating in League-sponsored activities, he received all the process he was due.
Procedural due process has been satisfied if a student received oral or written notice of the charges and a hearing at which the student had an opportunity to present “his side of the story.” Zellman ex rel M.Z. v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 2758, 594 N.W.2d 216, 221 (Minn. App. 1999) (citing Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 581, 95 S. Ct. 729, 740 (1975), review denied (Minn. Jul. 28, 1999)). Appellant received written notice of his ineligibility under bylaw 209 and a hearing before an independent hearing officer where he prevailed. Although the League did not afford all the process it promised regarding a bylaw 206 violation, the process that resulted in appellant’s expulsion withstood appellant’s due-process challenge in another forum. Because it is undisputed that appellant was not “in good standing,” and therefore ineligible under bylaw 206, there were no factual disputes for a hearing officer to consider on this issue. We conclude that the League board’s eligibility determination based on appellant’s lack of good standing did not deprive appellant of due process.
Substantive due process requires that the ultimate determination on the merits not be arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. Id. “A decision is arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable if it is ‘willful and unreasoning, without consideration of the facts and circumstances.’” Id. (quoting Brown v. Wells, 288 Minn. 468, 472, 181 N.W.2d 708, 710-11 (1970)). Appellant argues that the ineligibility decision was arbitrary and capricious because League’s board disregarded the recommendations of the independent hearing officer.
Appellant agrees that League’s board is not bound by the independent hearing officer’s decision but argues that the hearing officer’s findings of fact cannot be set aside without justification. But justification existed in this case, given the affirmation at all levels of the school board’s decision to expel. The record is very clear that League’s board reached its decision based on bylaw 206, a valid eligibility rule proscribing participation in League-sponsored activities by any student who is not in “good standing.” The decision of League’s board was not arbitrary, and appellant was not denied substantive due process. The district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the League.
* The Honorable Daniel F. Foley, one of the founding members of this court, who continued to serve by appointment order from the supreme court after his retirement, fully participated in the consideration of this appeal. Due to Judge Foley’s untimely death before the filing of the opinion, Chief Judge Toussaint has been assigned as a substitute, and now joins the panel in issuing this decision.
 Appellant challenges not only the determination that he committed sexual misconduct but also the process that led to the determination, alleging that the school district discriminated against him on the basis of sex in that process. That process has already been examined in our review of the commissioner’s decision and will not be reexamined in this case.