Sixth Circuit Parties Argue Whether New HISA Law Renders Anti-Constitutionality Claims Moot



Parties on both sides of a Sixth Circuit United States Court of Appeals case that seeks to reverse a lower court's decision to dismiss a constitutional challenge of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) argued via written briefs Thursday as to whether or not a pro-HISA law passed at the tail end of 2022 renders as “moot” any constitutionality claims in the under-appeal lawsuit.

The Jan. 12 briefs were filed in accordance with a Dec. 30 request from the Sixth Circuit to explain how the Dec. 29 signage of the new law (which amended the operative language of HISA) might affect the oral arguments both sides had made in the Sixth Circuit case Dec. 7.

Not surprisingly, the plaintiffs appealing the lower court's ruling–led by the states of West Virginia, Oklahoma and Louisiana–told the court that the anti-constitutionality claims are still relevant.

The defendants–primarily the HISA Authority and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)–informed the panel of judges that the new law has smoothed over any alleged constitutional issues and paves the way for HISA to move forward.

“The recent amendment to HISA addresses only one of these many constitutional problems,” stated a joint brief filed by all of the plaintiffs, which also include the Oklahoma and West Virginia racing commissions, three Oklahoma tracks, the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Association, the U.S. Trotting Association, and Hanover Shoe Farms, a Pennsylvania Standardbred breeding entity.

“All of HISA's other constitutional defects, however, remain unremedied,” the plaintiffs contended.

The HISA Authority defendants saw it differently, writing that, “Congress's response obviates the principal basis for Plaintiffs' private nondelegation claim in this case, which is predicated on a prior version of HISA that no longer exists.”

In a separate brief, the FTC defendants put it this way: “Congress's recent amendment eliminates any doubt that the private Horseracing Authority 'function[s] subordinately' to the [FTC] in satisfaction of the private-nondelegation doctrine….Congress's grant of general-rulemaking authority to the [FTC] resolves the 'core constitutional defect' plaintiffs purported to identify in support of their private-nondelegation claim….”

The underlying case that the plaintiffs are trying to get overturned via appeal dates to Apr. 26, 2021, when they alleged in a federal lawsuit that “HISA gives a private corporation broad regulatory authority.”

On June 2, 2022, that claim was dismissed by a judge in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky (Lexington) for failure to state a claim of action. The plaintiffs then appealed to the Sixth Circuit.

While that Sixth Circuit appeal was pending, the Fifth Circuit came out with its own decision in a similar case against HISA that was led by the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA).

That Nov. 18 Fifth Circuit ruling stated that HISA is unconstitutional because it “delegates unsupervised government power to a private entity,” and thus “violates the private non-delegation doctrine.” The order remanded the case back to U.S. District Court (Northern District of Texas) for “further proceedings consistent with” the Appeals Court's reversal.

But in the interim after the Fifth Circuit ruled and the Sixth Circuit heard oral arguments, Congress in late December amended the operative language of HISA to fix the alleged constitutional defect the panel had identified, and President Biden signed the measure into law as a tiny part of a vastly larger year-end spending bill.

An expected Jan. 10, 2023, mandate issuance date for the Fifth Circuit to enforce its order, has come and gone without any directive from that court that seeks to enforce its anti-constitutionality ruling against HISA. So now the next major court decision on HISA's constitutionality is expected to come when Sixth Circuit issues its order.

The plaintiffs cited specifics about why they believed the new law doesn't alter HISA's alleged unconstitutionality.

“In particular, the FTC still lacks front-end ability to veto the Authority's proposals for policy reasons, a crucial power that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) enjoys when reviewing proposed rules of the self-regulatory organizations that it supervises…” the brief stated.

“The amendment also continues to permit the Authority to exercise numerous executive powers without any supervision or control by the FTC,” the plaintiffs continued. “The Authority continues to have unfettered discretion to bring enforcement actions in federal court and expand HISA's regulatory scope to include any non-Thoroughbred horse breed.

“Finally, and crucially, the amendment does nothing to cure HISA's anticommandeering violation. HISA still pushes the costs of administering HISA onto the States by requiring them to fund the Authority's operations or lose the ability to collect fees for matters that the Authority isn't even regulating.”

The FTC brief also made a comparison between HISA and the SEC, but in a different light.

Because of the new law, the FTC brief stated, “the [FTC's] oversight power is 'now also materially identical' to that of the SEC, a statutory scheme that 'has been upheld against constitutional challenge on many occasions.'”

At a different point, the FTC wrote, “It is unclear whether plaintiffs will continue to press secondary arguments in support of their private-nondelegation doctrine claim. The government has explained either why those arguments fail on the merits, why plaintiffs lack…standing to press them, or both. If plaintiffs continue to urge their arguments despite Congress's amendment to the statute, the Court should reject them…”

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