11/21/2011 6:12PM

Charles Town: Court rules for jockeys in exclusion case

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A West Virginia court has ruled that a group of jockeys who were suspended by the state's racing commission and barred by Charles Town Races had the right to return to the racetrack after an appeals court granted an injunction of the bans.

The ruling, by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, weakens the ability of racetracks to exclude persons from their grounds, a subject that has been argued in a number of jurisdictions, including before the U.S. Supreme Court. Under the ruling, the court said that Charles Town had no right to ban the jockeys from the grounds until their appeals were heard by the West Virginia Racing Commission.

The West Virginia court cited previous decisions on racetracks' rights to exclude patrons to argue the case, but it drew a distinction between customers of a racetrack and "permit holders" who are licensed by the state.

"It is important to note that the issue before the Court does not concern an exclusion of a mere patron from a racetrack," the court wrote.

The ruling relied in part on a statute passed by the West Virginia legislature that specifically grants license-holders a right to appeal before the commission, making it unclear if the ruling would affect cases in other states.

"To allow a racing association, such as [Charles Town], to eject a permit holder, such as the jockeys in the instant case, notwithstanding any measures taken by the racing commission upon an appeal of the permit holder, would render the legislative rule meaningless," the court wrote.

The case was brought by seven jockeys at Charles Town who were handed 30-day suspensions in March 2009, after being sanctioned by the racing commission for tampering with weigh-ins after races. Charles Town attempted to ban the riders after the jockeys were granted stays of the suspensions, citing its right to exclude.

The jockeys went back to court and were granted an injunction that prevented Charles Town from excluding the jockeys. Charles Town, which is owned by Penn National Gaming Inc., then appealed that court's decision. At that point, the West Virginia Racing Commission joined with the Jockeys' Guild in filing a brief on the riders' behalf.

The guild welcomed the decision.

"The appeals court concluded that [Penn National's] efforts to exclude these Charles Town jockeys would deprive them of a meaningful opportunity for judicial review of the commission-imposed penalties," said Terry Meyocks, the national manager of the Guild, in a release. "We think this is a national problem in which licensed jockeys have been unfairly prevented from riding at tracks without any due process, and this decision helps clarify that our members cannot be unfairly excluded."