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D.M. v. Minnesota State High School League

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 6, 2019

D.M., a minor, by Bao Xiong, the mother, legal guardian, and next friend of D.M.; Z.G., a minor, by Joel Greenwald, the father, legal guardian, and next friend of Z.G. Plaintiffs - Appellants
v.
Minnesota State High School League; Bonnie Spohn-Schmaltz, in her official capacity as President of the Board of Directors for the Minnesota State High School League; Erich Martens, in his official capacity as Executive Director of the Minnesota State High School League; Craig Perry, in his official capacity as an Associate Director of the Minnesota State High School League; Bob Madison, in his official capacity as an Associate Director of the Minnesota State High School League Defendants - Appellees Missouri State High School Activities Association; Arkansas Activities Association; Nebraska School Activities Association; North Dakota High School Activities Association; National Federation of State High School Associations Amid on Behalf of Appellee(s) League-Member School Enrollments and Athletes by Gender Year League Members Enrollment Boys League Members Enrollment Girls League Athletes Boys League Athletes Girls Under-represented Sex

          Submitted: December 12, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota

          Before LOKEN, MELLOY, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.

          MELLOY, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         In 2018, two boys sued their state's high school athletic league and several of its officers for declaratory and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The boys alleged that the league violated their rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-88 ("Title IX"). Specifically, they claimed that the league unlawfully discriminated against them on the basis of sex through its rule prohibiting boys from participating on high school competitive dance teams. The district court denied the boys' motion for a preliminary injunction, and they appealed. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1), we reverse and direct the district court to enter a preliminary injunction.

         I.

         Appellants D.M. and Z.G. are sixteen-year-old boys who attend high school in Maplewood and Minnetonka, Minnesota, respectively. Both are in the eleventh grade. Both are passionate about dance and have participated in various dance classes and programs. Both want to dance on their schools' competitive dance teams but, for reasons explained below, have been prohibited from doing so.

         Appellee Minnesota State High School League (the "League") is a non-profit corporation that is a voluntary association of high schools. The League exercises authority delegated to it by the high schools to control high school extracurricular activities and sports throughout the state. To obtain and maintain such control, the League passes bylaws and rules that set forth the standards member schools use to regulate and supervise those activities and sports.

         The League's Bylaw 412 limits participation on a school's competitive dance team to females. The League claims that the reason for this limitation is that girls' "overall athletic opportunities have previously been limited," whereas boys' have not. To support its claim, the League points to data compiled by Amicus National Federation of High School Athletic Associations ("NFHS"). The League also relies on Minnesota law, which allows for gender-based, athletic limitations in certain circumstances. See Minn. Stat. § 121A.04, subdiv. 3 ("[I]n athletic programs operated by educational institutions or public services and designed for participants 12 years old or older or in the 7th grade or above, it is not an unfair discriminatory practice to restrict membership on an athletic team to participants of one sex whose overall athletic opportunities have previously been limited."). Pursuant to Bylaw 412, neither D.M. nor Z.G. have been allowed to participate on their schools' competitive dance teams.

         D.M. and Z.G. sued the League in July 2018 for allegedly violating Title IX and their rights to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Shortly thereafter, the boys moved for a preliminary injunction of Bylaw 412 as it pertains to boys and competitive dance teams. The district court denied the motion. Despite finding that the boys suffered irreparable harm and that "the balance of harms may favor" them, the district court concluded that the injunction was not warranted because the boys were not likely to prevail on the merits. The district court also concluded that the public interest, as reflected in Minnesota Statute section 121A.04, favored denying the injunction. The court explained that "[t]he girls-only dance team rule is substantially related to an important governmental objective"-namely, "increasing girls' athletic opportunities." Moreover, the court said that Title IX permits the League to create girls-only athletic teams such as dance teams. The boys timely filed a notice of appeal.

         II.

         We review "the denial of a preliminary injunction for abuse of discretion." Gresham v. Swanson, 866 F.3d 853, 854 (8th Cir. 2017). A district court abuses its discretion when it "rests its conclusion on clearly erroneous factual findings or erroneous legal conclusions." Jones v. Kelley, 854 F.3d 1009, 1013 (8th Cir. 2017) (per curiam). "We will not disturb a district court's discretionary decision if such decision remains within the range of choice available to the district court, accounts for all relevant factors, does not rely on any irrelevant factors, and does not constitute a clear error of judgment." Richland/Wilkin Joint Powers Auth. v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs, 826 F.3d 1030, 1035 (8th Cir. 2016) (quoting PCTV Gold, Inc. v. SpeedNet, LLC, 508 F.3d 1137, 1142 (8th Cir. 2007)). We review a district court's legal conclusions de novo. Barrett v. Claycomb, 705 F.3d 315, 320 (8th Cir. 2013).

         When determining whether to issue a preliminary injunction, the district court considers: "(1) the threat of irreparable harm to the movant; (2) the state of balance between this harm and the injury that granting the injunction will inflict on other parties litigant; (3) the probability that [the] movant will succeed on the merits; and (4) the public interest." Dataphase Sys., Inc. v. C L Sys., Inc., 640 F.2d 109, 114 (8th Cir. 1981) (en banc). Generally, no one of these factors is determinative. Id. at 113. However, "the absence of a likelihood of success on the merits strongly suggests that preliminary injunctive relief should be denied." Barrett, 705 F.3d at 320 ...


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