Attorneys for former racecar driver Jeremy Mayfield are asking a federal appeals panel to reinstate his lawsuit against NASCAR over his suspension for failing a random drug test at Richmond International Raceway in 2009.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond heard arguments on Tuesday over whether a lower court judge erred in dismissing Mayfield's suit in 2010 because Mayfield had twice — as a driver and an owner — signed documents in order to race that waived his right to sue. At issue also was the district court's refusal to let Mayfield amend his complaint to bolster his case.
Following Mayfield's 2009 suspension, he sued NASCAR, its owner, Brian Zachary France, and the drug testing company for defamation, unfair and deceptive trade practices, breach of contract and negligence.
Mayfield has argued that a combination of over-the-counter allergy medication Claritin-D and the prescription medication Adderall for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder led to the positive test in 2009, that NASCAR's testing system was flawed and that it did not follow federal guidelines in its testing methods. He won an injunction to continue racing during his appeal, but the 4th Circuit reinstated the suspension after Mayfield failed a second random drug test.
But the arguments Tuesday focused on whether the terms of the contract are enforceable in this case and whether contract law broadly exempts any causes of action.
"If you start carving out terms, then I don't know what you're left with. That's not a contract, your honor," Mayfield attorney Tillman Finley told the judges.
David Boies, an attorney for NASCAR, said Mayfield consented to the NASCAR contract and when somebody consents, they "can't complain saying they were defamed."
Boies added that there is a "clear public interest" in whether a driver tests positive for drugs, saying that in making the test results public, NASCAR was trying to protect fans, drivers and the sport itself.
In November, Mayfield was arrested in North Carolina and charged with possessing methamphetamine. He was arrested following a raid on his rural mansion in which police found 1.5 grams of meth, 69 guns and $100,000 in goods that authorities claim were stolen from at least two businesses. Authorities have said Mayfield may face more charges.
An attorney for Mayfield has said he denies those claims. That case is pending in North Carolina Superior Court.
After the hearing, Mayfield commented briefly, saying that he's glad he was able to get his time in court on this issue, that he's working his way through his North Carolina case and is looking forward to "seeing what happens." France did not comment after the hearing.
Since being suspended, Mayfield has faced judgments against him in excess of $2 million for failing to pay bills, and he owes another $109,000 in property taxes. Mayfield also faces foreclosure on his 388-acre property.
Mayfield was the first Sprint Cup driver suspended for failing a random drug test. NASCAR argues its policy is needed so that it can police the sport.
NASCAR originally countersued Mayfield, but it dropped the suit so the appeal could move forward.
The appeals court panel usually takes several weeks to issue a ruling.
Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum.