On July 19, 2012, the United States Anti-Doping Agency ("USADA") and Travis Tygart (the chief executive officer of USADA) filed a motion to dismiss Lance Armstrong's Complaint in the Western District of Texas for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In order for a case to be heard in federal court, the court must have personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction. Personal jurisdiction refers to jurisdiction over the parties, that is whether the individuals in the lawsuit have "sufficient minimum contacts" with the state the court sits in to allow the court to issue a judgment that will bind the parties. There is no question that the Western District of Texas has personal jurisdiction over Armstrong, USADA and Tygart. In addition to personal jurisdiction a court must also have subject matter jurisdiction. Subject matter jurisdiction is the authority of the court to hear a specific type of case or a specific subject matter (for example the only place you can file a bankruptcy case is in federal bankruptcy court). If a court finds that it does not have personal or subject matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the case.
In their motion to dismiss, USADA and Tygart argue that the Western District of Texas (or any federal or state court) does not have subject matter jurisdiction over Armstrong's Complaint because the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act (the "Sports Act") requires that any dispute related to athlete eligibility in an Olympic sport (such as cycling or triathlon) be arbitrated rather than litigated in court. The USADA and Tygart also argue that even if the court determines that the Sports Act does not apply, the court should dismiss Armstrong's Complaint because Armstrong's licenses with USA Cycling and USA Triathlon require that any claims be arbitrated rather than litigated in federal or state court.
Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act
USADA and Tygart's main argument has two parts -- first that when Armstrong became a member of USA Cycling and USA Triathlon, he agreed to submit any "eligibility dispute, including disputes concerning anti-doping rule violations" to arbitration and second that the Sports Act requires that all disputes about eligibility be sent to arbitration. The first part is difficult to analyze. Without having copies of Armstrong's USA Cycling, UCI and USA Triathlon licenses, its difficult to determine exactly to what Armstrong may or may not have agreed and whether there were conflicting provisions in the various licenses. For example, it appears that there may be a conflict between the language in the UCI license and the language in the USA Cycling license with regard to who has jurisdiction over a doping violation. Without having the licenses to compare, however, its difficult to come to any conclusion. In addition, Armstrong held a UCI license prior to the creation of USADA, so a question exists as to which organization has jurisdiction prior to the creation of USADA.
The second part of USADA and Tygart's main argument is that the Sports Act requires that all eligibility disputes be arbitrated. In support of that argument, USADA cites cases from various federal and state courts, which state that Congress gave the US Olympic Committee and the governing organizations such as USA Cycling and USA Triathlon exclusive jurisdiction over eligibility for competitions (essentially saying that if USA Cycling and USA Triathlon want to arbitrate, the athlete needs to arbitrate). What is interesting is that while USADA and Tygart cited case law, they didn't cite directly to the Sports Act. The language of the Sports Act is narrow and does not require all eligibility disputes to be arbitrated. Here is the actual language of 36 U.S.C. Section 220509 (the statutory provision concerning resolution of disputes):
"The corporation shall establish and maintain provisions in its constitution and bylaws for the swift and equitable resolution of disputes involving any of its members and relating to the opportunity of an amateur athlete, coach, trainer, manager, administrator, or official to participate in the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games, the Pan-American Games, world championship competition, or other protected competition as defined in the constitution and bylaws of the corporation. In any lawsuit relating to the resolution of a dispute involving the opportunity of an amateur athlete to participate in the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games, or the Pan-American Games, a court shall not grant injunctive relief against the corporation within 21 days before the beginning of such games if the corporation, after consultation with the chair of the Athletes' Advisory Council, has provided a sworn statement in writing executed by an officer of the corporation to such court that its constitution and bylaws cannot provide for the resolution of such dispute prior to the beginning of such games."
Essentially the statue states that the US Olympic Committee and the various governing organizations must set up a process, such as arbitration, for resolving disputes about whether an individual can participate in various competitions. In addition, the language of the Sports Act requires arbitration in specific circumstances when the dispute involves whether an athlete can participate in the "Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games, or the Pan-American Games" and the injunction would be entered within 21 days of any of those events. As Armstrong is not seeking to participate in the "Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games, or the Pan-American Games," it does not appear that the Sports Act applies to Armstrong's Complaint.
In conjunction with the argument that the Sports Act requires arbitration, USADA and Tygart also argue that Armstrong has "failed to exhaust the administrative remedies under the Sports Act" and that Armstrong's complaints about the arbitration process must be arbitrated rather than litigated. There is a general principle of law that when a federal statute provides for administrative remedies, the affected party must go through the administrative remedies before filing a case in court. The USADA and Tygart are correct that Armstrong chose to file a Complaint in federal court rather than agreeing to participate in USADA's arbitration process. While it is highly unlikely that the USADA’s arbitration process is a mandatory administrative procedure, it is possible that a court will determine otherwise (generally speaking when there is a mandatory administrative procedure, the statue must explicitly state that the procedure is mandatory). As previously discussed, the Sports Act only requires that specific disputes be arbitrated. The Sports Act does not require that all disputes be arbitrated. Barring judicial expansion of the Sports Act, it does appear that Armstrong would need to exhaust the administrative remedies provided by the Sports Act before being able to file a lawsuit in federal court. USADA and Tygart also argue that Armstrong's Complaints about the arbitration process such as the alleged bias of the arbitrator pool, the limitations on discovery and the limited judicial review should be arbitrated rather than litigated. These arguments are a red herring. If the Court determines it has subject matter jurisdiction, it will hear these arguments, if the Court determines that it does not have jurisdiction, Armstrong will undoubtedly raise these arguments before the arbitration panel. It appears that USADA and Tygart included these arguments to respond to the due process allegations made in Armstrong's Complaint.
Federal Arbitration Act
In addition to the main arguments concerning the Sports Act, USADA and Tygart also argue that the Federal Arbitration Act (the "FAA") requires that the Court either stay or dismiss the case pending the outcome of arbitration. Under the FAA, courts may determine whether or not a valid arbitration agreement exists. If the Court determines that a valid arbitration agreement exists, it must not rule on the dispute. In certain situations, such as when the parties agree that arbitration is mandatory for all possible aspects of the dispute, the court should refrain from determining whether a valid arbitration agreement exists. USADA and Tygart argue that the USADA protocol (which is incorporated into the USA Cycling and USA Triathlon licenses) requires that the arbitration panel, rather than a court, rule on whether the arbitration panel has jurisdiction. In short, USADA and Tygart are saying that Armstrong contractually agreed to arbitrate every potential facet of the dispute, including whether the dispute should be arbitrated at all. As with the argument concerning whether Armstrong agreed to submit his disputes to arbitration in the first place, the FAA argument hinges on what contracts control. Armstrong has, and will continue to, argue that his contract is with UCI its terms control. Once again, without having access to all of the relevant contracts, it is impossible to determine how the argument will play out in court.
Now that USADA and Tygart have filed a motion to dismiss, Armstrong will file an opposition prior to the August 10, 2012 hearing. At the hearing itself, the Court will determine any jurisdiction issues before getting to the underlying merits of the dispute.
[Kelly Burns Gallagher is a a graduate of Dartmouth College and Emory University School of Law who is currently employed as a labor and employment litigator. She's a four-time Ironman finisher with at PR of 11:26 who very much loves both triathlon and pro cycling—especially Mark Cavendish.]