Where is the part of the Constitution where it says I get to play first base?

Near the end of its 18-page decision in favor of Denison ISD, its superintendent, A.D., and baseball coach, the court sums things up nicely:

While the Court understands that these actions were not petty to Plaintiff, it is the normal course of events in organized athletics that players (and their parents) will disagree with coaching decisions and believe they have been treated unfairly by such decisions.  However, not every unfair or unpleasant experience is actionable.

I think that’s a judicious way of saying: “Get over it, kid.”  The plaintiff alleged that the coach had made some inappropriate remarks about the player’s mother. Then there was what the court described as “the Vaseline Incident.”  According to the player, the coach instructed him to put Vaseline on his glove while he was pitching. This would enable the kid to throw a doctored baseball, which is cheating.  The player alleged that he and his parents reported these improprieties to the superintendent, and that the retaliation followed that.

So we have the outline of a possible First Amendment retaliation claim: I spoke truth to power and power smacked me down.  There is a lot more legalese in First Amendment retaliation cases than that, but that’s the essence of it.

The court tossed the case out because “Plaintiff has not suffered an actionable constitutional harm.”  The student was not jailed, sent to DAEP, or suspended from the team.  He just didn’t get to play first base.  He also alleged that the coach did not talk to him anymore.  Citing an earlier case, the court noted that “some retaliatory actions….are too trivial or minor to be actionable.”

The court emphasized that a First Amendment case involving the operation of a public school has to take into account “the special characteristics of the school.” Coaches will be pleased to hear that the judge was reluctant to “micromanage” the baseball team:

If education and faculty appointments are ill suited for federal court supervision, disputes involving playing time, coaching decisions, and interactions between players and coaches at the high school level are even less suited.

Bottom line:

…the Court finds that Plaintiff’s allegations of retaliation, even if true, are at most, trivial matters common to interaction between coaches and players—especially as it relates to disagreement with coaching decisions—and therefore, as a matter of law, do not give rise to an actionable First Amendment retaliation claim.

Case dismissed.  But let’s address one other issue. This all began with allegations that the coach did some things he should not have done.  The district denies that anything improper happened, and the court did not rule on it one way or the other. The point of the decision here is that allegations like that can be properly handled through administrative channels, and do not need to be clogging up the dockets of our federal courts.

The case is Wright v. Denison ISD, decided by the federal court for the Eastern District of Texas on August 20, 2018.  I’m proud and pleased to report that the excellent lawyering in this case was done by the Walsh Gallegos law firm.  Meredith Walker of our Irving office took the lead, with able assistance from Craig Wood and Laura McLean.


Tomorrow: We turn from baseball to basketball.