West v. Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, No. 19-6333 (6th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
In 144 years of the Kentucky Derby, only one horse to cross the finish line first had been disqualified. No winning horse had ever been disqualified for misconduct during the race itself. In 2019, at the 145th Derby, “Maximum Security,” the horse that finished first, was not declared the winner. He would come in last, based on the stewards’ call that Maximum Security committed fouls by impeding the progress of other horses. His owners, the Wests, were not awarded the Derby Trophy, an approximate $1.5 million purse, and potentially far greater financial benefits from owning a stallion that won the Derby.
They filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the individual stewards, the individual members of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, an independent state agency, and the Commission, claiming that the regulation that gave the stewards authority to disqualify Maximum Security is unconstitutionally vague.
The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The decision to disqualify Maximum Security was not a “final order of an agency” under KRS 13B.140(1) and is not subject to judicial review. The owners had no constitutionally-protected right. Kentucky law provides that “the conduct of horse racing, or the participation in any way in horse racing, . . . is a privilege and not a personal right; and ... may be granted or denied by the racing commission or its duly approved representatives.”