Lance Armstrong suffered a serious setback in federal court in Austin today.
As we reported back in July , Armstrong filed a lawsuit in federal court here complaining of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), citing them for violations of his Fifth Amendment Due Process rights, common law due process, and tortuous interference with contract. More importantly, however, Armstrong requested an injunction from the court, barring USADA from compelling him to submit to arbitration concerning doping allegations and from stripping him of any medals or other awards for cycling – specifically, his record-breaking and setting Tour de France wins.
USADA and its head, Travis Tygart, moved to dismiss Armstrong's complaint and request for an injunction against them. Today, Judge Sam Sparks granted that motion to dismiss.
In his thirty-page order, Judge Sparks recounted that the heart of Armstrong's complaint and request for relief from USADA was that the agency did not have the authority or jurisdiction to force him to fight their charges of doping against him or to strip him of his medals from cycling.
Sparks wrote that the Court found that Armstrong's due process claims lacked merit, and that this Court itself, in fact, lacked jurisdiction over Armstrong's remaining claims, or in the alternative, declined to grant equitable relief on those claims. Interestingly, the dismissal order was without prejudice. Generally, that leaves the door open for a complaining party to refile a complaint if they can introduce something new.
In today's comprehensive dismissal order, Judge Sparks rooted his finding of USADA jurisdiction over Armstrong by tracing the hierarchy of rules and governing bodies of international sport, from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) all the way down to the USADA, treating them as one integrated unit with power stemming from cross-border treaty, acts of Congress, and internal rules.
Sparks then recounted two USADA letters sent to Armstrong in June of this year. Those letters accused Armstrong of a doping conspiracy from 1999 through 2005, involving EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone, and alleged previous use starting not later than 1996. After the first letter went out in June, Armstrong was banned from any further by the World Triathlon Corporation.
Armstrong had argued that USADA's jurisdiction was barred by time and by contract, and that the proper authority to bring charges was not USADA, but rather, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).
He had also argued that his due process would be violated in any arbitration proceeding by USADA as he would not have a right to cross-examine or confront witnesses against him, he would have no right to an impartial arbitration panel, he would have no right to disclosure of exculpatory evidence, and he would have no right to disclosure of statements, agreements, or laboratory analyses, as well as no right to judicial review.
USADA had countered that the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, 36 U.S.C. §§220501, et seq., a legacy of the late Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens, preempted Armstrong's claims and that Armstrong had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.
The court ruled that Armstrong's due process claims had no merit, agreed that the Sports Act did preempt Armstrong's claims, and then added that even if they did have jurisdiction over Armstrong's remaining claims, they would rather defer to the international arbitration system, respecting their expertise and, seemingly, precedent in the field.
Other federal courts have rejected challenges to arbitration panels and processes similar to Armstrong's and Judge Sparks opted to do the same. Further, the court stated that it should not interfere with an amateur sports organization's disciplinary procedures as a general matter, and in this case where no extraordinary circumstances necessary to justify federal court intervention were presented. Armstrong had agreed by contract to accept the benefits of this regulatory sports hierarchy – to race competitively – and must now accept the detriments – their private arbitration regime.
Notably, however, Judge Sparks stated this in his conclusion:
“[T]here are troubling aspects of this case, not least of which is USADA's apparent single-minded determination to force Armstrong to arbitrate the charges against him, in direct conflict with UCI's equally evident desire not to proceed against him…The issue is further complicated by USA Cycling's late-breaking show of support for UCI, and apparent opposition to USADA's proceedings – a wrinkle which…only confirms that these matters should be resolved internally, by the parties most affected, rather than by edict of this Court.”
“As mystifying as USADA's election to proceed at this date and in this manner may be, it is equally perplexing that these three national and international bodies are apparently unable to work together to accomplish their shared goal – the regulation and promotion of cycling. However, if these bodies wish to damage the image of their sport through bitter infighting, they will have to do so without the involvement of the United States courts.”