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Class v. Towson Univ.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

November 13, 2015

GAVIN CLASS, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
TOWSON UNIVERSITY, Defendant - Appellant. AMERICAN MEDICAL SOCIETY FOR SPORTS MEDICINE; MARYLAND ATHLETIC TRAINERS ASSOCIATION; NATIONAL ATHLETIC TRAINERS' ASSOCIATION, INC.; NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, Amici Supporting Appellant

Argued September 16, 2015

Page 237

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Baltimore. Richard D. Bennett, District Judge. (1:15-cv-01544-RDB).

ARGUED:

Julia Doyle Bernhardt, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF MARYLAND, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant.

Steven M. Klepper, KRAMON & GRAHAM, P.A., Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Brian E. Frosh, Attorney General of Maryland, Kathleen E. Wherthey, Assistant Attorney General, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF MARYLAND, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant.

Andrew M. Dansicker, LAW OFFICE OF ANDREW M. DANSICKER, LLC, Hunt Valley, Maryland, for Appellee.

Mitchell Y. Mirviss, VENABLE LLP, Baltimore, Maryland, for Amici American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, Maryland Athletic Trainers Association, and National Athletic Trainers' Association, Inc. Philip S. Goldberg, William C. Martucci, Washington, D.C., William C. Odle, Corby W. Jones, SHOOK, HARDY & BACON, L.L.P., Kansas City, Missouri, for Amicus National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Before NIEMEYER, KEENAN, and WYNN, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 238

NIEMEYER, Circuit Judge

On August 12, 2013, as the temperature in Baltimore reached 91 ° F, Gavin Class, a Towson University student, collapsed with exertional heatstroke while practicing as a member of the Towson University football team. He was transported to the Shock Trauma Unit at the University of Maryland

Page 239

Medical Center in Baltimore, where he remained in a coma for nine days and almost died. He suffered multi-organ failure, requiring a liver transplant and numerous additional surgeries.

Following a protracted recovery involving a high level of perseverance, Class returned to classes at Towson University in January 2014 and thereafter pursued his plan to return to NCAA Division I football. Applying its " Return-to-Play Policy," however, Towson University refused to clear Class to play because the Team Physician, a board-certified sports medicine doctor, concluded that allowing Class to participate in the football program presented an unacceptable risk of serious reinjury or death. The Return-to-Play Policy gave Towson University's Team Physician " final authority" over the issue.

Class commenced this action against Towson University, alleging that its decision to exclude him from the football program amounted to a violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. He alleged that his inability to regulate his body temperature and his susceptibility to heatstroke constituted a " disability," as defined by those Acts, and that he was qualified to play intercollegiate football if Towson University agreed to his proposed accommodations. Following a one-day bench trial, the district court agreed with Class, concluding that Class' proposed accommodations were reasonable and that Towson University had violated the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. The court entered judgment against Towson University, issuing a permanent injunction prohibiting it from violating those Acts.

On appeal, Towson University contends that the district court erred in concluding (1) that Class was disabled as the term is defined by the Acts and (2) that Class was " otherwise qualified" for the football program with the accommodations he proposed. It also challenges several evidentiary rulings made by the district court during trial.

For the reasons given herein, we reverse the district court's judgment, vacating its injunction. While we recognize that the question of whether Class had a disability, as defined by the Acts, is a close one, we nonetheless conclude that Class was not " otherwise qualified" to participate fully in Towson University's football program because the University reasonably applied its Return-to-Play Policy. Giving deference to Towson University's judgment, as we are required to do, we uphold its determination. ...


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