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Venue transfer hinges on type of organization

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of a motion to change venues because the Indiana High School Athletic Association didn't meet its burden as a governmental organization needed under Indiana Trial Rule 75 to affirm the motion. The opinion also tackled the issue of how to define the IHSAA for purposes of the trial rule.

In Indiana High School Athletic Association, Inc. v. Angel Garcia, No. 45A03-0706-CV-290, the IHSAA appealed the trial court's denial of its motion to transfer venue from Lake County to Marion County. Garcia transferred to East Chicago High School from another school where he played varsity sports and wanted to play varsity basketball. The IHSAA granted him only limited eligibility to play for a period of 365 days from the date of his enrollment at the school.

Garcia filed a complaint against IHSAA, which included seeking a temporary restraining order and a declaratory judgment allowing him to fully participate in varsity athletics at East Chicago. The trial court issued the temporary injunction against the IHSAA and a temporary restraining order. The IHSAA filed a counterclaim and motion to transfer to Marion County. After hearing arguments on the motion to transfer, the trial court denied the motion.

Judge Michael Barnes wrote in the opinion that no prior cases have determined whether IHSAA is a "defendant organization" or a "governmental organization" for purposes of Indiana Trial Rule 75. Defining the IHSAA as one would determine whether it had grounds to ask for transfer of venue. If a complaint is filed in a county of preferred venue, the trial court doesn't have the authority to transfer the case based solely on the preferred venue in one or more other counties.

The IHSAA asserts because it is a Marion County-based not-for-profit corporation, the preferred venue is in Marion County, according to Indiana Trial Rule 75(a)(4). Garcia argues the IHSAA should be considered a "governmental organization" pursuant to the trial rule, leaving Lake County as a preferred venue.

In order to rule on the issue, the court turned to previous Indiana Supreme Court rulings on the issue - Indiana High School Athletic Association v. Carlberg, 694 N.E.2d 222 (Ind. 1997) and Indiana High School Athletic Association v. Reyes, 694 n.E.2d 249 (Ind. 1997). In those cases, the Supreme Court issued principles to be followed in reviewing cases involving the IHSAA, including common law "will treat the IHSAA as analogous to a government agency with respect to challenges to its rules and enforcement actions brought by students and other non-IHSAA members with standing to do so."

The Carlberg court likened IHSAA decisions to government agency decisions and determined an arbitrary and capricious standard of review was proper, Judge Barnes wrote. If the IHSAA is a "state actor" for purposes of students' constitutional rights, then it can be concluded it is also a "governmental organization" for purposes of Indiana Trial Rule 75. It would also be unfair to force students to litigate adverse rulings of the IHSAA in Marion County.

The IHSAA did not meet its burden of proof so the burden did not shift to Garcia to show that Lake County was a county of preferred venue.

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