A federal judge closed the door to the possibility of a statewide girls’ scholastic wrestling league when he denied the Pennsylvania Wrestling Club’s bid to intervene in a civil rights action filed by a junior high student who is barred from joining her school’s all-boys wrestling team.
The 12-year-old sued the Line Mountain School District last month after the school board denied her request to amend its policy prohibiting girls from joining boys’ contact-sports teams. She and her parents are now challenging that policy under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the federal Civil Rights Act as well as the Equal Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Last week, the Pennsylvania Wrestling Club, a nonprofit organization that hosts amateur tournaments, asked to intervene in the case, intending to pull the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association into the case and compel the state to create a girls’ wrestling league.
“It appears to this court that the movant is attempting to use the underlying narrow dispute between the parties as a cause célèbre to acquire relief that is substantially more expansive and significantly different than that which the plaintiff seeks,” said U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann of the Middle District of Pennsylvania in his opinion issued Wednesday denying the club’s motion to intervene.
The wrestling club is considering a suit of its own against the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA), said the club’s chairman, Peter J. Wirs. It is likely to file in the Middle District of Pennsylvania within 30 days, he said.
Neither party in A.B. v. Line Mountain School District supported the club’s entry into the case, the judge said.
It asked the court to let it intervene as a matter of right, claiming it has “an interest both in protecting A.B. from injury resulting from wrestling with boys that may derail her potential future Olympic career (a prospect the movant espouses), as well as a statutory duty given the structure of its organization to ‘protect the opportunity of any amateur athlete, coach, trainer, manager, administrator or official to participate in amateur athletic competition,’” Brann said.
However, in order to intervene in a case under Rule 24(a)(2), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit established four requirements for the movant to satisfy, the most important for this case being the club’s sufficiency of interest in the litigation, Brann said.
“The movant’s ‘interest’ in the litigation is not sufficiently specific, definite, or direct to warrant intervention as of right in this case,” Brann decided, explaining that the club “bases its request partly on the general notion that it has an interest in the wrestling skills of A.B.
“The movant seeks to protect her wrestling ability from injury so that she may fulfill the movant’s dream of ‘a promising amateur wrestling career which the Olympic movement desperately needs.’ The movant hopes A.B. will be an Olympian in the year 2024, when she will be 23 years old. This interest is substantially more remote than direct, and is not ‘a significantly protectable interest,’” Brann said.
He added in a footnote that he’s unsure if the club would have standing, given its remote relationship to the potential injury.
The club’s lawyer, Lawrence Otter, recognized that hurtle, saying, “One of the problems here is getting standing” in a new case.
The issue of allowing girls on the mat is one that should be handled on a statewide level, rather than piecemeal, district by district, Otter said, explaining, “This has to be addressed across the state to solve the problem.”
The girl in this case is seeking an injunction so that she can practice with the team and participate in matches that are slated to begin in early December, according to her brief in support of a preliminary injunction.
She had wrestled at her former school in Iowa and was on the Line Mountain youth wrestling team, which is open to elementary students through the sixth grade, after her family moved to Pennsylvania in 2012. She entered the seventh grade at the start of this school year.
“Despite the movant’s assertions, the court can ‘accord complete relief among existing parties’ and need not join PIAA to do so,” Brann said of the club’s effort to bring the PIAA into this action. “The plaintiff seeks only to wrestle on the existing wrestling team at Line Mountain—a result the court can effectuate among the current parties if the merits of the case implore that resolution.”
(Copies of the nine-page opinion in A.B. v. Line Mountain School District, PICS No. 13-3201, are available from The Legal Intelligencer. Please call the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service at 800-276-PICS to order or for information.) •