An appeals court in California has rejected a request from trainer Jeff Mullins that it overturn a lower court’s ruling in favor of the California Horse Racing Board in connection with a suspension levied the trainer in 2008.
Mullins was suspended for 90 days in January 2008 as a result of a positive test on a Mullins-trained horse for the prohibited Class 2 drug mepivacaine in 2006. The CHRB ruling provided that Mullins serve 20 days of the suspension, with the remaining 70 days stayed for a one-year probation term.
Before the suspension took effect Feb. 15, 2008, Mullins filed a court petition requesting a review of the board’s decision and a stay of the suspension, according to documents in the case. After the court rejected the request for a stay, Mullins sent a letter to then CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro requesting a three-day stay of the 20-day suspension so he could run horses through Feb. 17.
According to the documents, Mullins’ letter concluded, "After this time, I will start my 20 day suspension period on Monday, Feb. 18, 2008, as required by the CHRB ruling. I will waive my right to any appeal as far as this suspension is concerned."
On behalf of the board, Shapiro granted the three-day stay and Mullins served the 20-day suspension, beginning Feb. 18.
A motion by the CHRB requesting that Mullins’ court petition asking for a review of the suspension be dismissed, attorneys for the trainer objected, stating that Mullins did not waive his right to maintain the petition, according to the court records. A trial court upheld the dismissal, leading to Mullins’ appeal, which was rejected March 24 by the Second District, Division Seven of the California Court of Appeals.
"Mullins submits that applying the rules of interpretation of agreements, he did not intend by his last sentence in his request for a stay to waive his entire pending appeal," the Court of Appeals ruling stated. "Rather, his intention was only to waive his right to appeal the 20-day portion of the board’s order. The board submits that the letter clearly indicates that Mullins agreed to waive his entire portion. We agree with the board.
"The outward manifestations are clear," the ruling continued. "Mullins asked for a three-day stay, was given a three-day stay and waived his rights to pursue the pending petition. The language of the agreement concludes with the words, ‘I will waive my right to any appeal as far as this suspension is concerned.’ When Mullins signed the letter, there was only one appeal pending: his petition to review and reverse the ruling suspending his license."
The appeals court said that even if the letter was susceptible to two interpretations, "the extrinsic evidence supports the trial court’s decision."
A spokesman for the CHRB said the appeals court ruling means that the sanctions in the February 2008 ruling against Mullins "stand in their entirety."
CHRB spokesman Mike Marten also said that another CHRB complaint against Mullins in connection with a violation of the state’s threshold levels of TCO2 in a horse raced by Mullins in August of 2008 is still pending.
Marten said the recommendation from a hearing officer in that case could be heard in executive session by the CHRB as early as the board’s April 15 meeting.