CourtesyCourt News Ohio – By Dan Trevas

(7-16-19) A Hamilton County Common Pleas Court judge can consider a Catholic high school athletic league’s challenge to the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) “competitive balance rules,” which help determine which divisions high schools compete in for state championships, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

Roger Bacon High School and the eight-member Greater Catholic League Coed (GCL Coed) filed a lawsuit claiming they are unfairly impacted by rules that went into effect for the 2017-2018 school year. In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court denied OHSAA’s attempt to block Judge Robert P. Ruehlman from further considering the schools’ challenge to the competitive balance rules.

Writing for the Court majority, Justice R. Patrick DeWine stated that the common pleas court had jurisdiction over the case because the subject matter of the dispute is within the jurisdiction of the common pleas court and no other court or government agency has exclusive jurisdiction to hear the claim. Justice DeWine cautioned that while Judge Ruehlman may consider the case, the Supreme Court is not deciding whether the common pleas court can grant the relief sought by the schools.

Last year, the Supreme Court granted OHSAA an emergency stay two weeks after the trial court granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) that  stayed application of the competitive balance rules as to the GCL Coed schools. The emergency stay effectively allowed the competitive balance rules to remain in place until today’s decision. Today’s ruling lifts the stay, leaving the TRO in effect until Judge Ruehlman decides whether to grant a preliminary injunction. If the GCL schools ultimately prevail in the trial court, OHSAA will be able to challenge that decision through the traditional appeal process.

Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, Patrick F. Fischer, and Melody J. Stewart joined Justice DeWine’s opinion.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor dissented, writing the TRO will cause “immediate harm to a large number of third parties across the state, namely, many, if not all of the 809 high schools” that are members of the association, but are not contesting the rule. She maintained that because the TRO was based on a clear misapplication of the law, and will cause widespread harm to third parties that will not be redressed by any appeal from the trial court due to the short duration of high school sports seasons, OHSAA should not be forced to go through the traditional appeal process and the trial court should not continue to hear the case.

Justice Michael P. Donnelly joined the chief justice’s dissent.