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Graham v. Illinois Racing Board

OPINION FILED JUNE 9, 1986.

JERRY GRAHAM, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES, CROSS-APPELLANTS,

v.

THE ILLINOIS RACING BOARD, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, CROSS-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Albert S. Porter, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE CAMPBELL DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

This is an appeal from an order of the circuit court of Cook County affirming in part and modifying in part a decision of defendant, the Illinois Racing Board (the Board), that found plaintiffs guilty of violating harness Rule 21.19 (Rule 21.19) which requires every owner, trainer, groom or caretaker to guard each horse owned, trained, or attended by him in a manner to prevent anyone from administering illegal chemical substances to his horses. As a result of its findings, the Board suspended for life the occupation license of plaintiff, Jerry Graham, owner/trainer; declared Graham ineligible for future licensing; and permanently excluded Graham from all race tracks under the Board's jurisdiction. Plaintiffs then filed an action in the circuit court for administrative review of the court's order. Following a hearing, the circuit court affirmed the Board's findings and reduced the penalty imposed of Graham. The Board appeals the circuit court's modification of the penalty and plaintiffs cross-appeal the circuit court's affirmance of the Board's findings.

The issues presented for review are: (1) whether the circuit court erred when it failed to find that the Board's alleged violation of its own rules and the prosecution of plaintiffs under those rules was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and a denial of due process; (2) whether the circuit court erred when it failed to find Rule 21.19 unconstitutional; (3) whether the circuit court erred when it failed to find that the Board's findings of fact were against the manifest weight of the evidence; (4) whether the Board's penalty was unreasonable and arbitrary; and (5) whether the circuit court erred in modifying the sanctions imposed by the Board. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court; vacate the penalties imposed by the Board and the court; and remand the cause to the Board for imposition of a penalty consistent with the views expressed herein.

The record presents the following facts pertinent to this appeal. Plaintiff, Jerry Graham, has owned, trained and raced standardbred horses since 1960. The remaining plaintiffs have ownership interests in the horses which are the subject of this action. During the summer of 1978, Graham brought several horses to Sportsman's Park Race Track (the track) to compete in various races. The horses were lodged in barn K at the track and were the sole responsibility of caretakers, grooms, trainers and other helpers employed by plaintiffs.

Between July 20 and September 19, 1978, five horses owned by plaintiffs raced and either won or placed in 10 parimutuel races at the track. Pursuant to track procedure, a urine sample was collected by track personnel from the top horses in each race for analysis to determine the presence of any illegal drugs. It is undisputed that analysis of the urine samples taken from plaintiffs' five horses after the 10 races in question revealed the presence of the drug, desproprionyl fentanyl, commonly known as sublimaze. It has been stipulated that the administration of sublimaze to a horse participating in a race would be a violation of the rules and regulations of harness racing.

Based upon the urine test results, charges were brought against all plaintiffs as owners, and specifically against Graham, as owner and trainer. On October 21, 1980, the track stewards held a hearing on the charges and determined that Graham had failed to "guard or cause to be guarded" the horses in question in violation of Rule 21.19. As a result, the stewards ordered the return of all purses; imposed a fine of $7,500; suspended Graham's occupation license for the remainder of 1980; recommended that Graham not be eligible for a Board license until January 1, 1984; and denied Graham the privileges of all race tracks under the Board's jurisdiction during the suspension period.

Graham appealed the stewards' ruling to the Board which, in turn, affirmed the ruling and imposed a harsher penalty upon Graham. In addition to a return of the purses and the fine, Graham's occupation license was suspended for life; he was declared permanently ineligible to apply for a license; and he was excluded from all race tracks under the Board's jurisdiction for life.

Plaintiffs then filed an action seeking administrative review of the Board's findings and conclusions, and relief from the penalties imposed. Following extensive hearings, the circuit court affirmed the Board's findings and modified the penalty on the grounds that the Board's penalty was overly harsh, unreasonable and unjustified. In reaching its decision, the court stated:

"The Board was justifiably outraged at the drugging, but in my opinion was overly influenced by the fact that drugging was involved when they penalized Jerry Graham for failure to employ guards.

[T]he life sentence was too harsh and unjustified, especially in light of the fact that his record was clean for twenty seven years, I think that sentence was improper."

The court's modified penalty suspended Graham's occupation license as trainer and owner for one year; suspended his occupation license as a driver for six months; and excluded him from all race tracks for six months. Defendant's appeal and plaintiffs' cross-appeal followed.

In the interests of sequential clarity, we will first address the issues raised on cross-appeal. Initially, plaintiffs contend that the circuit court erred in failing to find that the Board's alleged violations of its own rules and the prosecution of plaintiffs under those rules was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and a denial of due process. Specifically, plaintiffs allege that: (1) the Board is precluded from enforcing Rule 21.19 against them because, at the time in question, the Board itself violated the rules which govern the guarding of the urine-collection process; and (2) the urine catchers violated rules which prohibit them from betting on races with which they are involved.

In support of their contention that, based upon the aforesaid allegations, the Board's prosecution was arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable, plaintiffs rely on Heavner v. Illinois Racing Board (1982), 103 Ill. App.3d 1020, 432 N.E.2d 290. In Heavner, the race track stewards withheld the second place purse from plaintiff, a horse owner, on the ground that, in violation of Rule 12.21, no entry ticket for plaintiff's horse had been found in the entry box for the race in which plaintiff's horse had finished second. Plaintiff alleged that his trainer had properly entered the horse and requested a hearing before the Board. At the hearing, plaintiff alleged, inter alia, that the Board had waived strict compliance with Rule 12.21 because the stewards had violated the same rule by their failure to be present when the entry box was opened. Without making any findings as to the alleged violations by the stewards, the Board upheld the stewards' decision. The circuit court reversed the Board's decision, holding that the Board's failure to make any specific findings concerning the violations of its own rules was "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable and an abuse of its discretion." On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the circuit court on the ground that "the question of entry was the whole question at issue" and the Board could not enforce part of the rule governing the entry process and ignore the other part.

• 1 We find Heavner distinguishable from the present case and unpersuasive of plaintiffs' position. As stated, in Heavner, the stewards violated the same rule that the horse owner was accused of violating. As a result, the enforcement of the rule by the Board against one violator and not the other was clearly arbitrary, capricious and manifestly prejudicial to plaintiff. By contrast, in the present case the alleged rule violations by the Board govern the urine collection process and not the guarding of the horses. Although the charge against plaintiffs is predicated upon the discovery of drugs in the urine samples of the horses, there is no issue regarding tampering of the samples before this court. Instead, the issue is whether plaintiffs properly guarded their horses so as to prevent someone from drugging the horses. As stated by the Heavner court, "A violation of administrative rules which does not prejudice the plaintiff and has no effect on the issues involved may be disregarded." (Heavner v. Illinois Racing Board (1982), 103 Ill. App.3d 1020, 1026, 432 N.E.2d ...


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