8th Circuit Takes 4-H to Task
(NPN) – By a 2 to 1 decision, the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld an injunction allowing a Brule County teenager to continue competing in livestock shows after being accused of cheating by the 4-H.
In the Eighth Circuit’s decision issued Sept. 25, 2013, the court found for “B.K.”—Bayley Kroupa–the daughter of Greg Kroupa, a livestock breeder in Brule County. The defendants are Peter A. Nielsen, assistant director of 4-H youth development and Rod Geppert, Brule County extension 4-H representative.
The split decision upholding the U.S. District Court’s preliminary injunction allowing Bayley Kroupa to continue competing in 4-H livestock completion, the majority often had harsh words for the defendants’ actions.
“Giving no notice or opportunity to be heard,” the opinion begins, “a secret committee of the South Dakota State University Cooperative Extension Service barred B.K., a 15-year-old member of the South Dakota 4-H program, from further showing livestock at 4-H exhibitions.”
The ban stemmed from accusations that Bayley Kroupa “misrepresented the ownership” of her trained, belted barrow swine named “Moe.” Following the 2011 State Fair where “Moe” won reserve grand honors, other 4-H competitors accused B.K. of showing a different swine than “Moe” at the fair. The accusations escalated into online harassment against Bayley Kroupa.
After Greg Kroupa reported the harassment to Geppert, Geppert said, according to court documents that he would get back to Kroupa. About a month later, Kroupa received a letter from Nielsen stating that Bayley Kroupa was barred from S.D. 4-H exhibitions because of the “ownership” issue surrounding “Moe.”
Then in 2012, Greg Kroupa filed a federal civil rights action against SDSU and the defendants, with the U.S. District Court later dismissing SDSU from the case.
The appellate court found that B.K. had a protected interest in being able to compete for money in the 4-H exhibitions, which was exacerbated by the accusations of dishonesty. The Eighth Circuit majority also agreed with the lower court that since Bayley Kroupa had a protected interest under the Fifth or 14th Amendments, the defendants failed to give her any due process to protect that right.
“Given the statutory purpose and federal funding,” the majority wrote, “we think it fair to infer that 4-H membership and participation is a “right or status” open to all South Dakota children interested in a career in agriculture, subject to reasonable, non-discriminatory terms,” the court found.
However, in a footnote, the appeals court said it was not condoning “cheaters.”
“We readily acknowledge the public interest in enforcing rules that prevent cheaters from receiving 4-H-sponsored awards and prize money,” the majority wrote. “But that interest is served by excluding true cheaters, not by punishing those who are falsely accused or suspected of cheating.”
The court added that the defendants’ ban against Bayley Kroupa deprived her “of the opportunity to participate in a public program that was important to her education and career development and from which she had obtained significant personal income.”
In fact, the appellate court noted that Bayley had earned more than $20,000 in prize money, with one reserve champion steer alone winning her $22,000. She said she planned to use the prize money to go to college then run her family’s livestock operation.
In contrast, the minority opinion argued that Bayley Kroupa did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of the lawsuit regarding “irreparable harm.” It also countered that competing in 4-H programs is not a protected liberty and more akin to participating in high school sports or activities, which are not constitutionally protected.
The majority also noted that the defendants could still give Bayley Kroupa “whatever ‘process is due’” to lift the injunction rather than having the U.S. District Court proceed to the merits of the case.