A U.S. District Court judge made a surprise ruling Tuesday in dismissing all claims by driver/owner Jeremy Mayfield in his lawsuit against NASCAR over a May 2009 drug test that NASCAR said was a positive for methamphetamines.
NASCAR filed a motion last November for U.S District Judge Graham Mullen to rule on the case based on the pleadings already submitted, and Mullen issued his ruling Tuesday afternoon in favor of NASCAR. There was no hearing on the motion, and the ruling can be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
“The U.S. District Court’s ruling is a powerful acknowledgment and affirmation of NASCAR’s rulebook and its ability to police the sport,” NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said. “NASCAR has been very clear with its competitors as to its policies and what is expected of them. NASCAR’s comprehensive substance abuse policy, which is among the best and toughest in all of sports, serves the safety of our competitors and fans.”
There was no immediate comment from Mayfield’s legal team.
Mullen sided with NASCAR on three key elements:
• Because Mayfield signed the waivers that are part of the NASCAR-driver agreement a driver signs to compete in NASCAR, Mullen ruled Mayfield cannot sue NASCAR for negligence, defamation and deceptive trade practices over how it implements its drug-testing policy.
• Although NASCAR says that its labs must be ones that are certified by government agencies, Mullen ruled that NASCAR does not have to follow drug-testing guidelines that regulate federal agencies.
• Although NASCAR’s policy did not at the time have a list of banned drugs, Mullen ruled its stipulation that drugs that adversely affect the safety and well-being of competitors covers an illegal drug such as methamphetamine.
“Plaintiffs [Mayfield] agreed to release Defendants [NASCAR] from all claims arising under a negligence theory or otherwise; Plaintiffs thereby waived their right to pursue their claims for defamation, unfair and deceptive trade practices, breach of contract, and negligence,” Mullen wrote in his order. “Plaintiffs also failed to allege facts to support each of their claims. … Plaintiffs claims are hereby dismissed.”
Mayfield, who was indefinitely suspended from NASCAR on May 9, 2009, had sued NASCAR for breach of contract, discrimination and defamation in an attempt to get back on the track and for financial damages. He won an injunction to participate in NASCAR in July but never got back on track.
The injunction was later stayed, pending appeal, and Mayfield – the only driver suspended since NASCAR implemented random drug testing in 2009 – eventually asked for the court to drop the injunction so the case could proceed more quickly toward trial. A trial was scheduled for September 2010 at the earliest.
The 40-year-old Mayfield, who has 433 career starts with five Cup victories and two Chase For The Sprint Cup appearances, qualified for five of the first 11 races of the 2009 season before being suspended. He has denied using methamphetamines and contended the drug-test findings that prompted his suspension resulted from a combination of prescription drug Adderall, which is used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and over-the-counter Claritin-D allergy medicine. He also argued that NASCAR must follow guidelines that regulate federal agencies. NASCAR denied that Aegis Sciences Corp., which conducts the NASCAR drug-testing program, must follow those regulations, and Mullen agreed.
“[Mayfield’s] argument assumes that NASCAR and Aegis were required to follow the [federal] guidelines. … They were not,” Mullen wrote. “This Court is not required to accept [Mayfield’s] unsupported and unreasonable interpretation of the guidelines.”
Part of the Mayfield case argued that because NASCAR’s policy did not have a list of banned drugs at the time of his suspension, NASCAR could illegally decide any amount of any drug could result in a suspension at any time. Mullen addressed that in his ruling:
“[Mayfield does] do not however allege that NASCAR decided to ban methamphetamines after Mr. Mayfield submitted his sample,” Mullen wrote. “Methamphetamines are an illegal drug, and it goes without saying that they ‘may affect adversely the safety and well-being’ of all those involved.”
Mayfield also questioned the procedures taken during his test – the sample cup had been resting upon a non-sterile and cluttered table, the restroom was not secure and not sterile, and he did not see the technician affix his label to his sample cup.
“A lack of sterility could alter the specimen, but there is no allegation that the sample cup was unsterile or that the specimen was contaminated,” Mullen wrote.
Mullen also ruled that Mayfield does not have a defamation claim because the facts do not show actual malice – that Mayfield could not prove that neither NASCAR Chairman Brian France nor Aegis’ David Black knew the facts were false or acted with reckless disregard to whether the facts were false. Mullen wrote that France relied on what Black told him, and Mayfield did not prove that Black should have had serious doubts about the results.
As far as Mayfield’s claim that NASCAR violated the North Carolina Persons with Disabilities Protection Act, Mullen ruled that Mayfield is not a NASCAR employee nor a person with a disability under the PDPA. Mayfield drove for his own team (not NASCAR), decided what to do with race winnings and twice signed NASCAR forms stating that he was not forming an employee relationship, Mullen ruled.
Mayfield’s legal teams, beginning with prominent Charlotte attorney Bill Diehl and currently with nationally known Mark Geragos, also had argued that the waivers a driver signs in conjunction with the substance-abuse policy cannot be enforced because that would mean that a sample could be spiked or someone could change the urine samples.
“This Court acknowledges – in accordance with Florida law – there is a point when public policy would dictate that a release goes too far in its language or application,” Mullen wrote. “That instance is not before us.”
After Mayfield filed his lawsuit against NASCAR, NASCAR filed a counterclaim against Mayfield for breach of contract and fraud for violating the substance-abuse policy. Poston said NASCAR attorneys are weighing their options of pursuing those claims, which might have to be decided on prior to an appeal being filed.
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