By T. D. Thornton
In two separate court filings Thursday, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) Authority and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) both sharply criticized the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (NHBPA)'s decision to seek an injunction that would delay the May 22 implementation of the Anti-Doping and Medication Control (ADMC) program.
What stood out was that neither the HISA Authority nor the FTC shied from trying to link the NHBPA's desire to maintain the “status quo” to the grim headlines that have dominated the sport over the past week.
“Seven horses died in the lead up to last weekend's [GI] Kentucky Derby,” the FTC's opening line in the May 11 filing stated. “Reporters, not mincing words, observed that the accidents 'overwhelmed' the [D]erby with 'the stench of death.' Congress passed HISA in 2020 to protect horses and prevent these kinds of tragedies, but the Horsemen Plaintiffs have repeatedly challenged the statute and the FTC's implementing rules.”
Drawing similarly from recent adverse events, the HISA Authority's response referenced a May 9 New York Times story that broke the news of Forte's failed New York State Gaming Commission drug test that ran under the sub-headline, “Horse racing is again caught up in a controversy.”
The HISA Authority alleged that, “Plaintiffs' request for 'state regulation' to forestall the federal regulatory scheme Congress mandated would plunge the industry back into the 'existential crisis' of inconsistent regulation [and] recent headlines provide fresh reminders…”
United States District Court Judge James Wesley Hendrix of the Northern District of Texas (Lubbock Division) will now have to weigh those assertions against those filed by the NHBPA in its May 5 request for the ADMC injunction.
The lawsuit initiated by the HBPA to try and derail HISA on alleged anti-constitutionality grounds is now past the two-year mark. The thrice-delayed ADMC is on target to begin in 10 days.
On Mar. 15, 2021, the NHBPA and 12 of its affiliates sued the FTC and HISA Authority personnel, seeking to permanently enjoin the defendants from implementing HISA, bringing claims under the private-nondelegation doctrine, public nondelegation doctrine, Appointments Clause, and the Due Process Clause.
Judge Hendrix dismissed that suit on Mar. 31, 2022. But the NHBPA plaintiffs appealed, leading to a Fifth Circuit Court reversal on Nov. 18, 2022, that remanded the case back to the Lubbock Division. In the interim, an amended version of HISA was signed into law Dec. 29, 2022. That fix was designed to make HISA compliant with the constitutional defects the Fifth Circuit had identified.
On May 6, 2023, Hendrix validated the newer version of HISA as constitutional. Now the NHBPA is planning another appeal back to the Fifth Circuit, and it wants the ADMC's rollout stopped while that process plays out.
The May 5 filing by the NHBPA explained the reasoning behind its request:
“An injunction is necessary because the industry cannot endure 'seismic change' in the short term that is undone shortly thereafter. The courts should not put the industry on a roller-coaster where the ADMC rules are in effect from May 22 to [some future date when] they go out of effect again if the Fifth Circuit finds the amended law unconstitutional.”
Hendrix, in a May 8 order, told the HISA Authority and the FTC that they had to reply to the NHBPA's motion for an injunction within 72 hours, signaling that he did not plan to let this decision linger.
“Plaintiffs are neither entitled to that relief nor to any other remedy,” the FTC's May 11 filing stated. “And the equities–both equine and otherwise–point decidedly against Plaintiffs.”
The FTC alleged that it “makes no difference that Plaintiffs previously prevailed on their nondelegation challenge before Congress amended HISA. And they do not argue about their chance of success on any of their other theories…. Because Plaintiffs stand almost no chance of success, their motion for a stay should be denied on that basis alone.”
The HISA Authority's filing put it this way: “Congress, the Executive, and both federal courts [have] come to the same correct conclusion: the Act is now constitutional. The HBPA Plaintiffs nevertheless ask for the extraordinary relief of an emergency nationwide injunction pending appeal…
“While Plaintiffs' speculation about irreparable harm from the ADMC rules is at best conflicted, an injunction of the ADMC rules would inflict certain injury on Defendants and the public interest,” the HISA Authority's filing stated.
“These final two factors weigh heavily against halting a federal regulatory scheme that has long been planned and that enjoyed substantial compliance in its brief initial rollout…”
“Because Plaintiffs have not shown that their appeal has substantial merit (let alone a likelihood of success) and have not demonstrated that the balance of equities tilts in their favor at all (let alone heavily), the Court should deny Plaintiffs' motion for an injunction pending appeal,” the HISA Authority's filing stated.