University of Vermont AAHS

Figueroa v. Massachusetts State Racing Commission

Massachusetts Court of Appeals
UNPUBLISHED, 2003 WL 56030
January 7, 2003

Summary of Opinion

Plaintiff Figueroa is a licensed race horse trainer who was suspended when his horse tested positive for cocaine.  He sought review of the decision by the defendant Commission imposing a sanction on him.  His defense is that he had no knowledge of the administration of the banned substance.  In this opinion, the Court of Appeals upholds the sanction under the trainer responsibility rule.  Proof of personal participation or knowledge is not required.

Text of Opinion

The plaintiff, a licensed horse trainer, appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court affirming a decision of the Massachusetts State Racing Commission (Commission) to uphold disciplinary sanctions imposed upon him, by the Suffolk Downs Board of Stewards, pursuant to 205 Code Mass. Regs. ss 4.32(8) (1998) and 4.32(2) (1998), after one of the horses he trained tested positive for cocaine following a race.

The plaintiff contends that the Commission's decision was not based upon substantial evidence, because there was no proof that he administered the cocaine or had any knowledge of how the drugging was accomplished. Although the plaintiff is correct that there was no evidence to suggest that he was involved in or aware of the drugging of the horse, he nevertheless remained subject to disciplinary action. Under the Commission's regulations, direct involvement or knowledge need not be shown to make out a violation of 205 Code Mass. Regs. s 4.32(8), which, particularly when read in conjunction with s 4.36(9) (1998), imposes strict liability upon a trainer for the condition of his horse. "The rule may do injustice to a trainer innocent of wrongdoing; but it serves to protect the public." Fioravanti v. State Racing Commn., 6 Mass.App.Ct. 299, 305 (1978).

A trainer also may be disciplined under 205 Code Mass. Regs. s 4.32(2), for failing to properly protect a horse in his charge and to guard it against the administration of banned substances. Here, there was evidence that the plaintiff lived in and commuted from New Hampshire, that he could not always be present to check on the horses in his care, and that, at night, he relied upon only two employees to sleep in the barn and watch over approximately thirty horses. Although these facts are not overwhelming evidence of dereliction of duty, the evidence was sufficient, when coupled with the undisputed, positive results of the drug test, see Martinez v. State Racing Commission, 10 Mass.App.Ct. 909 (1980), to support the Commission's determination that the measures taken by the plaintiff to protect his horse from the administration of drugs were inadequate.

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