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A moving party is entitled to summary judgment only when the evidence indicates that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). An issue of fact is "material" only when the dispute is over facts that may affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. The requirement of a "genuine" issue of fact means that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Thus, the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties does not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment. The court must consider factual inferences tending to show triable issues in the light most favorable to the existence of those issues. The court must also consider the record in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. The language of Rule 56(a) mandates the entry of summary judgment against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.
Plaintiff black football players, who were recipients of athletic scholarships, claimed that the defendants, university and officials, treated them in a racially discriminatory manner. The plaintiffs boycotted team practices, and the defendants removed them from the team. The plaintiffs brought an action against the defendants in which the plaintiffs claimed that the defendants infringed upon their free speech, liberty, and property rights in violation of 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983. Specifically, the plaintiffs argued that they had a property interest in contractual rights to play football, and that by breaching their scholarship contracts, the defendants have deprived them of a property right without due process. Moreover, the plaintiffs argued that the defendants infringed upon their liberty interests in pursuing a college football career when the defendant coach told another football team that the plaintiffs were lazy and were troublemakers. The plaintiffs also argued that the defendants violated their first amendment right to free speech by removing them from the team after they protested racial mistreatment. The plaintiffs also claimed that the defendants violated 42 U.S.C.S. § 1981 and breached a contract. The plaintiffs argued that they were promised that they would be allowed to play football during the 1986-87 season. The defendants asked for summary judgment on all the players' claims.
1) Yes, but only with respect to plaintiffs’ free speech claim.
The court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ free speech claim. According to the court, if the facts were to establish that the plaintiffs were disciplined for protesting racial mistreatment, defendants may have infringed upon plaintiffs' first amendment rights. As regards plaintiffs’ other claims, the court ruled in favor of the defendants, and granted summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ claims of property and liberty deprivation and on the players' breach of contract claim. With respect to the plaintiffs’ property rights claim, the court held that the only interests created by the scholarship agreements were interests in receiving scholarship funds. According to the court, in order to have a property interest in a benefit, a person clearly must have more than an abstract need or desire for it. He must have more than a unilateral exception of it. He must, instead, have a legitimate claim of entitlement to it. In this case, the court averred that any other terms plaintiffs attempted to read into the scholarship agreements were, without supporting evidence, no more than unilateral expectations. With regard to the plaintiffs’ claim of liberty deprivation, the court held that under the well-established Tenth Circuit law, plaintiffs had no right to pursue a college football career; and, as such, no tangible liberty interests could be found in this case. Anent the plaintiffs’ breach of contract claim, the court noted that the scholarship contracts signed by the plaintiffs only promised that the players would receive money. Since the defendants complied with the terms of the scholarship agreements, no breach of contract occurred.