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United States Olympic Committee v. Ruckman

May 28, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolfson, United States District Judge


Defendant Gregory Ruckman removed the instant action, Civil Action No. 09-4615, brought by Plaintiff United States Rowing Association ("US Rowing") to confirm an arbitration award in its favor, to this Court. Contending that this Court does not have jurisdiction over the matter, inter alia, US Rowing now moves to remand. For the following reasons, US Rowing's motion is granted. In addition, United States Olympic Committee ("USOC") moves for dismissal as an improperly joined party. That motion is also granted. Lastly, Ruckman moves to submit an "Amended Removal Notice" and for consolidation of Civil Action No. 10-1252 with Civil Action No. 09-4618.*fn1 For reasons discussed infra, these motions are denied.


A. Facts

Per 36 U.S.C. § 220521, the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act ("the Sports Act"), US Rowing, "an amateur sports organization," is recognized by the United States Olympic Committee ("USOC") as the "national governing body for the sport of rowing in the United States." Id. at § 220521(a); Compl. ¶ 1. On March 22, 2007, Ruckman, along with other former US Rowing member athletes ("the athletes"), filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association, naming US Rowing as Respondent.*fn2 Through subsequent amendment, the athletes added USOC as a second Respondent. In that arbitration, the athletes challenged US Rowing's method of qualifying Olympic athletes. See Compl. ¶¶ 2, 14, 17.*fn3

The athletes, specifically, challenged, inter alia, US Rowing's use of a "Selection Camp" as part of the Olympic qualifying process. See Compl., Exh. A ("Demand for Arbitration") at 7. In the athletes' view, the "use [of] open trials to select the National Team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the lightweight men's four (LM4-) [division]" was "the only way to protect athlete rights ...." Id. These athlete rights, they contended, were the "opportunity to compete" and the "equal opportunity for participation," which rights are accorded by the USOC Bylaws, and the "right to compete" accorded by US Rowing Bylaws. Compl., Exh. B ("Arbitration Award") at ¶ 1. The athletes did not seek monetary damages or attorney's fees; they sought only injunctive and declaratory relief. See Demand for Arbitration at 18.

Ruckman represented the athletes, pro se, at the hearing, which took place over three days in late 2007, in Princeton, New Jersey. Arbitration Award at ¶¶ 14, 18. Indeed, Ruckman was the only athlete-petitioner to appear and testify at the arbitration hearing. See id. at ¶ 16. On March 16, 2008, the arbitration panel issued a 36-page written decision thoroughly analyzing the propriety of US Rowing's selection processes. The panel acknowledged that the "debate about whether Trials, Camps or Camps with Trials are the best manner for selecting four person boats has been going on since at least the 1980's, and is expected to continue ...." Id. at ¶ 29. The panel summarized the parties' positions as follows: the athletes "believe that crews should be selected through an open trial system or camp plus trial system where the winner of the trial is selected to go to the Olympics," while US Rowing "asserts . . . that it took proper steps to promulgate fair procedures that are well within the scope of [its] policy- making power ...." Id. at ¶ 6.

Applying a rational basis test to its review of the selection procedures, the panel concluded that "Mr. Ruckman . . . presented no evidence to refute the fact that USRowing [sic] made a reasoned policy decision in adopting the [selection procedures]." Id. at ¶ 28. The panel further reasoned that there had been "no showing of a denial of opportunity to anyone under the 2008 selection procedures." Id. at ¶ 48. In essence, the panel noted, the athletes "want to qualify in a boat with a crew of their own choosing, not one determined by the . . . Coaches at the Selection Camp." Id. "This evidence," the panel concluded, "does not demonstrate a denial of opportunity; it demonstrates a difference of opinion as to the best means of selection." Id. For these reasons, the panel affirmed the 2008 selection procedures.

There were a few aspects of the ruling that favored the athletes, however. First, although the panel concluded that the 2008 selection procedures were facially reasonable, it warned US Rowing that if the procedures were "not used rigorously . . . the [process] could end up being a meaningless rubber stamp." Id. at ¶ 50. The panel, further, noted that some of the objective criteria in US Rowing's selection process were not weighted, hence the procedures "are not as meaningful as they could be, and the transparency of the selection process may be illusory if the objective standards are not used fairly." Id. Were that to occur, the panel admonished, "the process will be a sham and a disservice to the athletes and the country." Id. The panel, further, acknowledged that the athletes had cause for concern "[b]ecause of the history of USRowing ...." Id. But, because no athlete had yet been accepted or rejected under the 2008 procedures, the panel had no basis upon which to assess US Rowing's application thereof. Second, the panel required US Rowing to "provide a suitable substitute for a cancelled 2007 . . . race." Id. at ¶ 58. Each party bore their own costs.

Id. at ¶ 65.

B. Procedural History

US Rowing then brought this suit to confirm the Arbitration Award, in March 2009, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County. US Rowing named Ruckman and the other five athletes as Defendants in the action. McNamara Decl., Exh. A ("Compl."). USOC was not named in the suit. While USOC was a party to the underlying arbitration matter, US Rowing states in its complaint that it chose not to join USOC "because complete relief c[ould] be accorded" between itself and the athletes. Compl. at ¶ 22. Further, according to the Complaint, "USOC [had] no objection to the commencement of [the] action, or to confirmation of the [Arbitration] Award, in its absence." Id. at ¶ 23. In terms of relief sought, US Rowing demanded only a judgment confirming the Arbitration Award. Id. at ¶ 23. It sought no monetary damages or other relief. Id.

Ruckman removed the action to this Court in September 2009.*fn4 Now, US Rowing moves for dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In support of its motion, US Rowing argues, first, that there is no federal question jurisdiction, and, second, that the jurisdictional amount necessary to establish diversity jurisdiction is not present here. In response, Ruckman moves for leave to file an "Amended Removal Notice," in which he challenges, inter alia, the American Arbitration Association's choice and training of arbitrators. US Rowing filed a Second Motion to Remand addressing Ruckman's "Amended Removal Notice" motion. Lastly, Ruckman moves to consolidate this removed action with a separate complaint he has filed against US Rowing, USOC, and the American Arbitration Association ("AAA"), Civil Action No. 10-1252.*fn5 This latter complaint, like the instant action, revolves around the 2008 Arbitration Award. See Compl., Civil Action No. 10-1252 at 2 (contending that the "arbitration ruling at issue in 3:09-cv-04618 was . . . unfair").


Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), a state-court action that could have been properly filed in federal court may be removed, by the defendant, to federal court. See Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1441). Federal court jurisdiction may be based upon federal question or diversity grounds. 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question); 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (diversity). In the case of the latter, each party must be of diverse citizenship from each other, and the amount in controversy must exceed $75,000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a); Grand Union Superm. of the Virgin Isl., Inc., v. H.E. Lockhart Mgmt., Inc., 316 F.3d 408, 410 (3d Cir. 2003). Whether addressing federal question or diversity, "[r]emoval statutes are to be strictly construed against removal, and all doubts are to be resolved in favor of remand." Lopienski v. Centocor, Inc., 2008 WL 2565065, *2 (D.N.J. Jun. 25, 2008) ( citing Shamrock Oil and Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 104, 61 S.Ct. 868, 85 L.Ed. 1214 (1941)); Brown v. Francis, 75 F.3d 860, 865 (3d Cir. 1996).

"It is . . . settled in th[e Third Circuit] that the party asserting federal jurisdiction in a removal case bears the burden of showing, at all stages of the litigation, that the case is properly before the federal court." Frederico v. Home Depot, 507 F.3d 188, 193 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Samuel-Bassett v. KIA Motors America, Inc., 357 F.3d 392, 396 (3d Cir. 2004)). This burden is a "heavy" one. Brown v. Jevic, 575 F.3d 322, 326 (3d Cir. 2009). "[I]n determining whether the amount in controversy reaches the threshold of $75,000, the court generally accepts the plaintiff's good faith allegations." McCollum v. State Farm Ins. Co., 2010 WL 1552809, *2 (3d Cir. Apr. 20, 2010). But where, as here, "the plaintiff has not specifically averred in the complaint that the amount in controversy is less than the jurisdictional minimum . . . the case must be remanded if it appears to a legal certainty that the plaintiff cannot recover the jurisdictional amount." Frederico, 507 F.3d at 197 (emphasis added). This analytical method is referred to as the Samuel-Basset rubric, named after the Third Circuit's decision in Samuel-Bassett v. KIA Motors America, Inc., supra.*fn6 See e.g., Goralski v. Shared Tech., Inc., 2009 WL 2460752, *4 (D.N.J. Aug. 7, 2009).

Before applying the legal certainty test, any factual disputes must be resolved. The evidentiary standard applicable to resolving factual disputes is preponderance of the evidence. Frederico, 507 F.3d at 196. In reaching this determination, I "must examine the facts as they exist when the complaint is filed." McCollum, 2010 WL 1552809 at *2. Once the factual findings are made, the court may then apply the legal certainty test. That test mandates remand "if, from the proofs, the court is satisfied to a [legal] certainty that the plaintiff never was entitled to recover [a ...

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