By T. D. Thornton
A federal judge on Wednesday issued a summary judgment that dismissed trainer Bob Baffert's lone remaining claim in his 15-month-old lawsuit against Churchill Downs, Inc. (CDI). The order was handed down three months after the same judge tossed out five other counts in the case that alleged civil rights violations related to the gaming corporation's two-year banishment of the Hall-of-Fame trainer.
“The Court denied Plaintiffs motion for a preliminary injunction and dismissed Plaintiffs' claims for unlawful exclusion, unlawful conspiracy in restraint of trade, unlawful use of monopoly power, tortious interference with contractual relations, and tortious interference with prospective business relations,” wrote Judge Rebecca Jennings of United States District Court (Western District of Kentucky) in her May 24 order. “Defendants now move for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' only remaining claim–breach of due process.”
Back on Mar. 14, CDI had argued that, “Because Baffert's due process claim fails as a matter of law…the Court should grant Defendants summary judgment and dismiss Baffert's complaint in its entirety.”
Jennings wrote May 24 that CDI's suspension of Baffert from CDI-owned tracks and the 2022 and 2023 GI Kentucky Derbies did not “devalue” his training license in a manner that amounted to “an indirect deprivation of a property interest.”
“[Baffert's] license was not suspended or revoked by the issuing entity, meaning he must demonstrate an indirect loss in the value of his Kentucky trainer's license. For Plaintiffs to demonstrate that this indirect injury amounted to a violation of due process, they must prove that Baffert's license was rendered valueless…
“Here, the undisputed evidence demonstrates that Baffert's license is not valueless,” Jennings wrote. “While suspended from racing at CDI racetracks, Baffert conceded that he has 'raced horses all around the world with enormous success.'
“The Court cannot find that Baffert's Kentucky trainer's license was rendered valueless when he used it to win over $1 million racing horses in the Commonwealth [at Keeneland]….Therefore, Plaintiffs cannot demonstrate that they were deprived of a property interest–a necessary element of their due process claim,” Jennings wrote.
“Plaintiffs have failed to produce specific evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact that would allow a reasonable jury to find in their favor at trial,” Jennings wrote.
“Because Plaintiffs cannot prevail on the first element of their due process claim, the Court will not continue to examine additional arguments,” Jennings wrote.
CDI first imposed its ruling-off of Baffert in June 2021 because of a string of drug positives in horses Baffert trained, including two in CDI's most prominent races, the 2020 GI Kentucky Oaks and the 2021 Derby.
“Judgment is entered in favor of Defendants with respect to the claims brought in this matter,” Jennings wrote.
“This is a FINAL and APPEALABLE Judgment,” Jennings wrote. “The Clerk of Court is directed to strike this matter from the Court's active docket.”
Note: This is an updated version of a previously published story that contained an error describing the ruling. TDN regrets the mistake.
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