Fenwick v. Illinois High School Association


Dykema’s David Bressler (Picture), representing the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), a long-time firm client, successfully argued against a Temporary Restraining Order sought by Fenwick High School after Fenwick was denied a berth in the state championship football game as a result of an admittedly erroneous call by a game official. Bressler was ably assisted by firm attorneys Melanie Chico and Jon Ibarra.

Leading 10-7 with just seconds remaining in the state semi-final game against Plainfield North High School, Fenwick’s quarterback threw the ball away on fourth down as time expired. The referee called an intentional grounding penalty against Fenwick, but mistakenly gave Plainfield North an untimed down, even though the rules clearly state that the game should have been over. On the untimed play, Plainfield North converted a field goal attempt to tie the contest, and went on to win in overtime 17-16. As a result of its win, Plainfield North went to the state football championship game.

IHSA by-laws state that decisions of game officials are final and cannot be reviewed. Consistent with that rule the IHSA Board of Directors determined it could not hear Fenwick’s appeal seeking to have the game result overturned. Fenwick then filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County on November 21, seeking an emergency injunction which would have declared the game over when time expired (with Fenwick the winner, thereby giving it a berth in the state championship game for the first time ever). Among other things, Fenwick argued that like the IHSA’s By-Laws, the rules of the game, which had been adopted by the IHSA, were contractual and that it was only seeking to enforce the terms of the contract. Fenwick also argued that there was IHSA precedent for the relief it was seeking.

After distinguishing the claimed precedent, Bressler acknowledged the referee’s error and admitted that on that basis, Fenwick should have been awarded a berth in the championship. However, he argued, Illinois and Federal law, as well as the contract Fenwick agreed to when it agreed to and adopted the IHSA’s by-laws, do not permit the decision to be reviewed, and on that basis Fenwick had no legal right to participate. In announcing her decision, Judge Kathleen Kennedy agreed, holding that Fenwick could not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits. The emergency injunction request was thus denied.

Involved fees earner: David Bressler – Dykema Gossett ; Melanie Chico – Dykema Gossett ; Jonathan Ibarra – Dykema Gossett ;

Law Firms: Dykema Gossett ;

Clients: Illinois High School Association;

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Author: Ambrogio Visconti