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Wisconsin Court of Appeals: WIAA acted arbitrarily and violated its own written appeal procedure

By: Steve Schuster, [email protected]//February 29, 2024//

Photo courtesy of the Halter family.

Wisconsin Court of Appeals: WIAA acted arbitrarily and violated its own written appeal procedure

By: Steve Schuster, [email protected]//February 29, 2024//

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The Wisconsin Court of Appeals (District II) decided Wednesday the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) acted arbitrarily and violated its own written appeal procedures regarding how an individual should serve a sanction.  The result of the decision reinstated a 2019 state wrestling title of Hayden Halter.

Halter was represented by Milwaukee-based Halling & Cayo Shareholder Stacie Rosenzweig.

“We are pleased,” Rosenzweig said, during an interview with the Wisconsin Law Journal on Wednesday. “Whenever you are appealing from something you didn’t win at the (Racine Co.) Circuit Court, it always feels uphill. We are pleased we managed to get this good result.”

“I think that this decision speaks well for the proposition that even rules pertaining to sports intended to be followed by children need to be enforced consistently and not arbitrarily, and that’s what this court decision has done,” Rosenzweig added.

Stevens Point-Attorney Brent W. Jacobsen at Anderson and O’Brien represented the WIAA.

On Wednesday, Jacobsen told the Wisconsin Law Journal he was unable to comment as the matter was still pending.

The Wisconsin Law Journal then asked Jacobsen since the Court of Appeals already reached a decision if what was pending was a further appeal before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Jacobsen responded that he was unable to confirm or deny if the case was being appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. He then deferred questions to the WIAA.

The Wisconsin Law Journal attempted to reach WIAA officials on Wednesday afternoon, but no one was available for comment prior to publication on Thursday.

According to court documents obtained by the Wisconsin Law Journal, Halter and his father, Shawn Halter, appealed a lower court judgment in favor of the (WIAA). The lower court initially ruled titles and points from a 2019 WIAA state wrestling tournament were revoked, following his suspension at a prior meet.

The dispute arose after Halter was ejected from the Feb. 2, 2019, Southern Lakes Conference meet following two unsportsmanlike conduct violations.

Rosenzweig argued the WIAA is a state actor and is bound by its own rules and that the rules then in effect did not require Halter’s penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct to be served at the next varsity meet, but rather at the “next competitive event” for which Halter was eligible.

The Halters further argued the WIAA acted arbitrarily and violated its written appeals procedures.

According to court documents, in early 2019 Halter was a sophomore at Waterford Union High School. He won a state title as a freshman and hoped to win another as a sophomore.

On Feb. 2, 2019, Halter progressed to the championship match at the Southern Lakes Conference wrestling meet at the varsity level, where he successfully defeated his opponent and won the meet. However, he received two unsportsmanlike conduct calls.

According to Rosenzweig,  the focus of the Circuit Court trial addressed the unsportsmanlike conduct allegations, while the appellate court arguments focused on other issues up for appeal, including the WIAA acting arbitrarily and violating its written appeals procedures.

During the original circuit court trial, the court addressed the first unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which was an allegation that Halter objected to a referee call in an inappropriate manner.

Rosenzweig said her client contends that he merely objected to the referee’s call, while the WIAA claimed he allegedly cursed at a referee.

The second unsportsmanlike conduct alleged by the WIAA against Halter included a claim that Halter flexed his hand to taunt and intimate fans after he won a match. Halter contends his hand gestures were not intended in that way.

Court documents noted, two days before regionals, the Halters filed a lawsuit against the WIAA in the Circuit Court. Pursuant to the Rules of Eligibility, they also filed a Notice of Appeal to the WIAA Board of Control on the same date.

After conducting an evidentiary hearing in May 2021, the Circuit Court ruled in favor of the WIAA “in all respects,” denying the Halters’ motions for certiorari, declaratory judgment and a permanent injunction, according to court documents.

The Halters appealed the Circuit Court judgment, seeking reinstatement of Halter’s 2019 wins and state title.

On Wednesday, the Court of Appeals ruled that the WIAA is a state actor with respect to this appeal because it is pervasively entwined with the state of Wisconsin.

“Accordingly, the Halters are entitled to judicial review to determine whether WIAA acted in accord with its rules and regulations and in applying the rules in a nonarbitrary manner.  We conclude that WIAA applied its eligibility and appeals rules with respect to Halter in a manner that was arbitrary and in accordance with its will and not its judgment. Therefore, the judgment of the circuit court is reversed, and we remand with instructions to enter declarations that: (1) pursuant to WIAA’s 2019 Rules of Eligibility, Halter served his suspension for unsportsmanlike conduct at the next competitive event in the sport in which the offense occurred by registering for and sitting out of the Badger Invitational junior varsity/varsity reserve wrestling meet; and (2) Halter was eligible to compete at the 2019 wrestling Regionals and any subsequent state competitions, and he is entitled to the reinstatement of any titles, wins, and points (to him and to his team) and all accompanying records and benefits therefrom. This court further concludes that Halter is entitled to a permanent injunction reinstating his 2019 WIAA Division I state wrestling title, as well as all wins and points (to him and to his team) and all accompanying records and benefits therefrom. We reverse and remand with directions to enter an injunction consistent with this opinion.”


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