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Dolan v. United States Equestrian Team Inc.

Decided: June 25, 1992.

DEBORAH DOLAN AND SAGAMORE FARMS, INC., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
UNITED STATES EQUESTRIAN TEAM, INC., A NEW YORK CORPORATION; AMERICAN HORSE SHOWS ASSOCIATION, INC., A NEW YORK CORPORATION; WILLIAM STEINKRAUS, FRANK CHAPOT, LINDA ALLEN AND GEORGE MORRIS, INDIVIDUALLY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Somerset County.

J.h. Coleman, Bilder and Keefe. The opinion of the court was delivered by Bilder, J.A.D.

Bilder

BILDER, J.A.D.

This is an appeal by an amateur horse rider from an order of the Chancery Division dismissing a suit against two non-profit amateur athletic associations, defendants United States Equestrian Team, Inc. and American Horse Shows Association, Inc. (AHSA) and the officers of AHSA, essentially for their failure to choose her as a member of the American team which competed at the 1990 World Equestrian Championship in Stockholm. In a seven count complaint, plaintiffs Deborah Dolan and her horse farm, Sagamore Farms, Inc., charge violation of the federal Amateur Sports Act, 36 U.S.C.A. § 371, et seq.; false representations with respect to the selection procedures and criteria; negligent representations with respect to the selection procedures and criteria; breach of promise with respect to the selection procedures and criteria; breach of promise to permit her to compete as a member of the team after she had been selected; and fraudulent actions by the officers of the defendant United States Equestrian Team, Inc. (defendants William Steinkraus, Frank Chapot, Linda Allen and George Morris) to deprive her of her selection as a member of the team and malicious interference by those officers with her contractual right to compete as a member of the team.

The matter came before the trial Judge on a series of motions by the different defendants which taken together essentially sought a dismissal for failure to state a cause of action, see R. 4:6-2, and/or a summary judgment as a matter of law, there being no genuine dispute as to any material facts, see R. 4:46-1. Although some argument is raised by plaintiffs as to the procedural propriety of the consideration of the motions as brought under both rules, we are satisfied that the court was procedurally correct in its interpretation of the moving papers and that, in any event, plaintiffs were not unfairly surprised or prejudiced by those rulings. See State v. Kociolek, 23 N.J. 400, 428, 129 A.2d 417 (1957).

In an oral opinion of January 28, 1991, the trial Judge dismissed the complaint on alternative grounds: (1) whether viewed under R. 4:6-2(e) or under R. 4:46-2, Ms. Dolan*fn1 has no cognizable cause of action citing Rutledge v. Gulian, 93 N.J. 113, 124, 459 A.2d 680 (1983); Higgins v. American Society of Clinical Pathologists, 51 N.J. 191, 202, 238 A.2d 665 (1968); and Loigman v. Trombadore, 228 N.J. Super. 437, 449-450, 550 A.2d 154 (App.Div.1988), i.e., the complaint failed to allege a cause of action; (2) there was a failure to exhaust her administrative remedies; and (3) there was a failure to join an indispensable party, Ms. Kursinski.*fn2

Because we are satisfied that plaintiffs' claims are barred by a failure to exhaust administrative remedies, we do not consider the other grounds upon which the trial court based its decision nor other contentions raised by the parties.

Participation in international sports competitions on behalf of this country is governed by the federal Amateur Sports Act, 36 U.S.C.A. § 371 et seq. The Act and its legislative history have been exhaustively examined and carefully analyzed by a number of federal Courts of Appeal. Behagen v. Amateur Basketball Ass'n of U.S., 884 F. 2d 524 (10th Cir.1989), cert. den., 495 U.S. 918, 110 S. Ct. 1947, 109 L. Ed. 2d 310, (1990); Oldfield v. Athletic Congress, 779 F. 2d 505 (9th Cir.1985); Michels v. United States Olympic Committee, 741 F. 2d 155 (7th Cir.1984); also Devereaux v. Amateur Softball Ass'n of America, 768 F. Supp. 618 (S.D.Ohio 1991). Any further comment in this regard by us would be mere redundancy. It is sufficient to understand that an important feature of the Act is its provision for the use of administrative procedures to resolve disputes.

The prompt resolution of disputes was a principal purpose of the Act. See Michels v. United States Olympic Committee,

supra, 157; Oldfield v. Athletic Congress, supra, 506-507; also San Fran. Arts & Athletics, Inc. v. U.S.O.C., 483 U.S. 522, 544, 107 S. Ct. 2971, 2985, 97 L. Ed. 2d 427, 453 (1987) ("The Amateur Sports Act was enacted 'to correct the disorganization and the serious factional disputes that seemed to plague amateur sports in the United States'"). One of the enumerated purposes of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), the vehicle created by Congress to coordinate amateur athletics and national governing bodies, was to

provide for the swift resolution of conflicts and disputes involving amateur athletes, national governing bodies, and amateur sports organizations, and protect the opportunity of any amateur athlete, coach, trainer, manager, administrator, or official to ...


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