University of Vermont AAHS

Morgan v. Wyant

U.S. Distinct Court, Michigan
2000 WL 246603
February 15, 2000

Summary of Opinion

Plaintiff Morgan was a principal in a harness racing investment corporation that sought unsuccessfully for a license to produce harness racing at a particular track. Defendant Wyant is the acting racing commissioner for the State of Michigan.

After a license for the 1999 season was issued to a competing group to put on thoroughbred racing, plaintiff and others filed this lawsuit claiming their constitutional rights were violated because defendant discriminated against them because of gender.

In this opinion, the District Court dismisses the sex discrimination claim on the ground there is no evidence that gender entered into the commissioner’s decision to award the license to the competing group.

Text of Opinion

I. Introduction

This is a purported gender discrimination case with pendent state claims. Plaintiffs are Dr. Sharon Morgan (Morgan), Patricia Meyer (Meyer), Bonnie S. Miller (Miller), Pamela A. Novak (Novak), Judy Lincoln (Lincoln), Barbara Thornber (Thornber), and Heritage Harness Park, Inc. (HHP). Morgan, Meyer, Miller, Novak, Lincoln and Thornber are citizens of Michigan and allegedly "parties in interest" in HHP, a Michigan corporation. Defendants are: Dan Wyatt (Wyatt), the Acting Racing Commissioner for the State of Michigan, James Bowes (Bowes), Deputy Racing Commissioner, Thomas Dorsey (Dorsey), Deputy Racing Commissioner, Kenn Christopher (Christopher), Executive Secretary of the Racing Commission, Donald McGehee (McGehee), an assistant attorney general, Thomas Beaudoin (Beaudoin) a citizen of Michigan, Jerry Campbell (Campbell), a citizen of Michigan and a principle in defendant Great Lakes Downs, Inc. (GLD), a Michigan corporation, Fruitport Township, a township located in Muskegon County, and Muskegon County.

In general terms, this action arises out of the fact that the Michigan Office of the Racing Commission (MORC) denied HHP's application for harness horse racing at the Muskegon County Race Course (MRC) for the 1998 and 1999 racing season, and granted GLD's application for thoroughbred racing at the MRC for the 1999 season. Plaintiffs contend that defendants' actions constitute gender discrimination. Plaintiffs' complaint makes the following claims: (1) violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; (2) intentional interference with a business relationship; (3) violation of 42 U.S.C. 1985; (4) gross negligence; (5) violation of the Michigan Constitution; (6) violation of 42 U.S.C. 1983; (7) violation of Michigan's Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act; and (8) intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Before the Court are defendants' motions for summary judgment. As the Court indicated at a status conference held on September 21, 1999, if plaintiffs could not prevail on their federal claims, then the Court will not keep the case. Accordingly, the Court will rule only on plaintiffs' federal claims.

II. Summary judgment

Summary judgment will be granted when the moving party demonstrates that there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). There is no genuine issue of material fact when "the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

The Court must decide "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." In re Dollar Corp., 25 F.3d 1320, 1323 (6th Cir.1994) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251- 52 (1986)). In so doing, the Court "must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Employers Ins. of Wausau v. Petroleum Specialties, Inc., 69 F.3d 98, 101 (6th Cir.1995).

III. Analysis

This is a horse case

As the Court indicated during oral argument, this case is not about gender discrimination. It is about the business of horse racing. It is about the fact that the MORC granted GLD's 1999 application [FN1] for thoroughbred racing at the MRC and denied HPP's application for harness horse racing. There is no evidence that gender was a factor in the MORC's decision denying race dates to HHP. In fact, the MORC's reasons for denying HHP's application appear to be sound. HHP's applications lacked, among other things, evidence of contract to purchase the lease on the land where the MRC is located, [FN2] nor did HHP have a binding contract for a supply of horses, [FN3] both of which were required by the MORC. For its application, GLD, on the other hand, had a binding contract to purchase the lease on the MRC and also had a horse supply contract. The Court also notes that HHP also never appealed the denial of either its 1998 or 1999 application pursuant to the Horse Racing Law of 1995, P.A.1995, No. 279, codified at M.C.L. 431.301, et seq., or voiced any objections to GLD's 1999 application at the hearing.

FN1. GLD did not apply for race dates in 1998.

FN2. HHP had only an option to purchase the lease.

FN3. HHP had only a tentative contract with the Michigan Harness Horsemens Association to supply harness horses.

The only aspect in this case relating to gender is the fact that all of the named plaintiffs are women. However, with the exception of plaintiffs Morgan and Meyer, the Court cannot discern the role that any of the named plaintiffs played in the application process, or in HHP, despite plaintiffs' allegations to the contrary. Indeed, as set forth more fully below, all of the evidence before the Court indicates that HHP is comprised of both men and women.

During the 1998 application process, HHP, through its attorney, first informed the MORC that Morgan was the principle investor of HHP and its registered agent. HPP later informed the MORC that "the investors in HHP, Inc. are Sharon Morgan, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, and Robert Sullivan (of Grand Rapids). Mr. Sullivan is the new President of HHP, Inc. and Sharon Morgan, D.V.M. is the new Vice President."

During the 1999 application process, the front of HHP's application stated that Dr. Sharon Morgan, Pat Meyer, and Wally (Wallace) Kobe may be contacted for further information. Although the application stated that the names of vice president, secretary and treasurer of HHP "will follow," these names did not appear anywhere in the application. The application also stated that HHP is comprised of "25 private investors, None more than 10%," but did not name those investors.

The 1999 application also contained a number of attachments, which included the following: (1) a letter from the Michigan Harness Horsemen Association (MHHA), which stated that Wallace Kobe had asked the MHHA to clarify its agreement with HHP for supplying horses; (2) a letter to Wallace Kobe from Muskegon County corporate counsel regarding the current lessee's indebtedness on the MRC; [FN4] (3) a "List of Workers" for HHP which lists 13 men and 7 women.

FN4. Muskegon County owns the land upon which the MRC is located. Muskegon County leased the land to corporate entitles owned Frank and Kathryn Marotta and Dominick and Concetta Marotta (Marottas), who apparently built the MRC. The Marottas gave both HHP and GLD an option to purchase the lease, and eventually contracted with GLD.

At the hearing on all of the 1999 applications, HPP had a consultant/lobbyist, Mr. Mickey Knight, speak on its behalf. Plaintiff Meyer also spoke at the hearing and identified herself as "working with Dr. Morgan." Her remarks seemed to indicate that HHP and GLD were discussing the feasibility of having both thoroughbred and harness horse racing at the MRC, a plan which apparently never came to fruition.

Thus, although plaintiffs proffer the affidavits of Robert Sullivan and Wallace Kobe indicating that their role in HHP was supervisory, thereby implying that HHP was comprised of all women, the evidence simply does not support this implication. As far as the defendants were concerned and as the evidence before the Court demonstrates, HHP is a corporation comprised of both men and women. It therefore appears to the Court that plaintiffs were named in an attempt to obscure the true nature of the relevant events. Moreover, it is clear that only HHP, not the named plaintiffs, was the interested party in the 1998 and 1999 application processes, and, as plaintiffs conceded at oral argument, any action against HHP, a neutral corporate entity, cannot form the basis for any gender discrimination.

Finally, plaintiffs argue that the 1998 amendment to the Horse Racing Law of 1995, P.A.1998, No. 408, codified in M.C.L. 431.310, which provides that "applications for 1999 racing dates may be filed at any time," was an attempt at gender discrimination. This argument is meritless. To the extent that there was any discrimination at all in this case, with respect to the amendment or otherwise, it pertained to harness horse racing versus thoroughbred racing, which is, quite obviously, not actionable.

Defendants have provided the Court with persuasive legal arguments in support of their motions. It is, however, axiomatic that a gender discrimination case must be about gender. Therefore, the Court need not address defendants' arguments except as indicated below.

B. Plaintiffs' federal claims

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires "that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike." City of Cleburne, Texas v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc., 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985). A claim of sex discrimination under the equal protection clause requires a finding of gender- based discrimination. Geduldig v. Aiello, 417 U.S. 484, 494 (1974). As plaintiffs have failed to offer any evidence of gender discrimination, this claim must fail. Because plaintiffs' 1983 claim appears to be based on a Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim grounded in gender-based discrimination, it too must fail.

As to plaintiffs' conspiracy claim under 42 U.S.C. 1985, in Griffin v. Breckenridge, 403 U.S. 88 (1970), the Supreme Court established that a necessary element of 1985(3) claim is the existence of "some racial, or perhaps otherwise class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus behind the conspirators' action." Although the Sixth Circuit has held gender discrimination is actionable under 1985(3), Volunteer Medical Clinic, Inc. v. Operation Rescue, 948 F.2d 218, 244 (6th Cir.1991), plaintiffs claim fails in the absence of any evidence of discrimination.

IV. Conclusion

Accordingly, defendants' motions are GRANTED. Plaintiffs' federal claims, brought pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment, 42 U.S.C. 1983, and 42 U.S.C. 1985 are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Plaintiffs' state law claims are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

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