A federal judge has ruled in favor of horse owner Michael Gill in his long-standing battle with the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission, saying a suit filed by Gill should not be dismissed.
In the March 10 ruling, U. S. District Judge Sylvia H. Rambo rejected motions filed by the state seeking dismissal of the suit brought by Gill and trainer Anthony Adamo against the commission after they were ejected from Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in February 2010.
According to the court record, plaintiffs Gill and Adamo were ejected from the track by the PHRC on Feb. 2, 2010, due in part to complaints from several jockeys that “all Michael Gill’s horses, trained by Adamo and other trainers, were somehow fundamentally unsound in a way that endangered the safety of all jockeys riding in a race against them.”
The racing commission ordered Gill and Adamo to remove Gill’s horses from Penn National within 48 hours. Adamo requested a hearing with the commission over the ejection, and that the ejection be suspended pending a hearing. A hearing was never rescheduled, and on March 10 Adamo’s ejection was rescinded.
On May 18 of last year, Gill requested the commission rescind his ejection or hold a hearing on the matter. On July 6, the commission stated that Gill’s ejection was final, that no hearing would be held, and that the owner was barred from Penn National.
Gill’s attorney argued that his right of due process and ability to pursue his livelihood were violated by the commission’s ejection of him and failure to conduct a hearing.
In motions supporting a request for the court to dismiss Gill’s lawsuit against the PHRC, attorneys for the state argued there were no “property rights” associated with holding a racing license since the license was a privilege and not a right. Also, state attorneys argued that Gill’s due process rights were not violated as a result of the ejection from Penn National because he was free to continue to pursue his livelihood at other tracks in Pennsylvania.
“Although nothing in the record indicates that (Gill and Adamo) are barred from racing at other racetracks, it seems intuitive that the ejection will likely affect plaintiffs’ livelihood to some extent,” Rambo wrote. “In an event, defendants’ attempt to minimize the effect that the ejection has had (or will have) on plaintiffs’ livelihood does not warrant dismissal of plaintiffs’ due process claims.”
Rambo said the Supreme Court has “fully and finally” rejected the distinction between “rights” and “privileges” that once governed applicability of procedural due process rights. Finally, Rambo said state statutes regarding rights guaranteed a licensee facing ejection provides for a process that includes a hearing.
Rambo cited this portion of state statute: “At the time of or immediately following ejectment of or denial of access to a licensee, the association or commission agents acting therein shall advise the licensee in writing of his right to demand a hearing. If an ejectee shall timely file a demand for a hearing, the hearing shall be scheduled within 48 hours of the time of receipt of the demand or as soon thereafter as possible.”
Following his ejection from Penn National, Gill, an Eclipse Award-winning owner, told The Blood-Horse he would quit the Thoroughbred industry in part because of the “arrogance of racetrack owners.” From late winter to early spring 2010, he began dispersing his racing stock.
Gill, who had 49 stalls at Penn National, said he got the stalls in 2009 by agreeing to give an agent’s jockeys “first call” on his horses. Gill said when he became dissatisfied with the rides, he made changes. Six weeks later, the jockeys refused to ride his horses or in races in which he had horses.
A grand jury investigation involving racing at Penn National ensued in 2010.