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Brigid Colvin v. United States Equestrian Federation, Inc.

New York County

No. 158964-2015

Article 78 Filing

Petitioner, Brigid Colvin, brings this special proceeding seeking relief pursuant to

NYCPLR Article 78 because respondent, United States Equestrian Federation, Inc. (“USEF”)
acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in effectively banning her from the equestrian sport
for seven months and assessing her with a monetary fine.

Because the USEF’s ban against Mrs. Colvin will begin to run on September 1, 2015, she
simultaneously seeks immediate, temporary relief from that ban. If such temporary relief is not
granted and maintained while the Court reviews and rules on the merits of this Article 78
petition, Mrs. Colvin will have been deprived of the opportunity to challenge the suspension, as
she will have served some or all of it during the very pendency of the proceeding itself.

This requested relief is the subject of a motion for a stay pursuant to C.P.L.R. § 7805, which is being
filed herewith.

 

INTRODUCTION

This proceeding pertains to a decision rendered by the Hearing Committee of the USEF.
The Hearing Committee considered a claim brought against Mrs. Colvin and another individual by the USEF’s Drugs and Medication Program, the gist of which was that one or both of the defendants was responsible under the USEF’s strict liability rule of “trainer responsibility” for the fact that a horse called “Inclusive” tested at above-expected levels for anaturally-occurring substance after competing in a USEF event. After the hearing, the Hearing Committee ruled that both Mrs. Colvin and the other individual were responsible as the “Trainers” of the horse, and it levied dramatic, seven-month, bans from all USEF events as well as monetary fines against both
defendants. l

The Hearing Committee’s decision as to Mrs. Colvin is arbitrary and capricious because,
as demonstrated by the Findings and Decision itself, it is not based on any evidence that could
support a conclusion that Mrs. Colvin was the “Trainer” of the horse. Indeed, the USEF’s own
prosecutor conceded during his closing argument, “I do not think that based on the testimony she
fits the definition of a trainer,” 2 and went on to note that “she’s got opportunity and motive if
you are looking at this thing from 30,000 feet given all that is going on with these people.” The
Hearing Committee abandoned its duty to make evidence-based findings and instead rendered a
decision apparently based on a view from 30,000 feet away, essentially concluding that because
it could not determine which individual was the actual “Trainer” of the horse at issue, it would penalize both. This is a textbook case of an arbitrary and capricious action, and it should not be condoned under the laws of New York (the body of law chosen by the USEF for disputes such as this) or any other jurisdiction.

PARTIES, JURISDICTION, AND VENUE

1. Mrs. Colvin is and was at all times relevant to this litigation a resident of Florida.
2. The USEF is and was at all times relevant to this litigation a New York, nonprofit
corporation, registered with the Kentucky Secretary of State and authorized to transact
business in Kentucky, with headquarters located in Lexington, KY.
3. Jurisdiction and venue are proper in this Court because the USEF is a New York
corporation. Moreover, the USEF should be judicially estopped from challenging jurisdiction
or venue in this Court, as it sought dismissal of the claims raised in this proceeding when Mrs.
Colvin filed them in the Circuit Court for Fayette County, Kentucky, arguing that jurisdiction
and venue properly lie here rather than in Fayette County, Kentucky. Ex. A, USEF Motion to
Dismiss Fayette County Action.3

BACKGROUND/STATEMENT OF FACTS

4. The USEF is recognized by the United States Olympic Committee as the
designated National Governing Body of the equestrian sport in the United States. The USEF is
the regulatory body in the United States for 28 breeds and disciplines, including the United States’ international teams competing in the disciplines of dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, para-equestrian, reining, show jumping, and vaulting. The USEF annually licenses virtually every significant horse show—thousands of competitions nationwide. The USEF promulgates rules and governs all aspects of competition, including education and licensing of all judges, stewards, and technical delegates who officiate horse shows.
5. Brigid Colvin is the mother of junior equestrian competitor Vi (“T “)
C , who is seventeen years old. T will turn 18 on , 2015.

T C , and Brigid Colvin’s Role in T Equestrian Life
6. T C is one of the most highly successful and highly recognized junior
riders of all time. She has been described as an equestrian prodigy. She has won virtually every
significant national competition title available to a junior rider, and she is considered a serious
contender for future Olympic teams. She has competed nationally and internationally. Most of
the horses she rides are owned by others, as her “services” as a rider are highly sought-after and
she regularly competes (successfully) against professional riders significantly her senior. She
has been a major competitive force in the hunter/jumper discipline since at least the age of 14,
when she won her first Grand Prix show jumping competition.

7. Last year, T won the most coveted junior championship of equestrian sport: the
“Maclay”.
8. 2015 is T ‘s last year competing as a junior rider. She is the favorite to win the
three remaining junior championship titles in which she is eligible to compete: the “Medal” (the
Pennsylvania National Horse Show), “the United States Equestrian Team Talent Finals”, and
the “Washington” (Washington International Horse Show). In addition to these major events,
T will be competing in horse shows nearly every week during the circuit this fall. Her
committed schedule is as follows:

September 2 — 6 HITS on the Hudson VIII, Saugerties, NY
September 9 — 13 American Gold Cup, North Salem, NY
September 28 —October 4 Capital Challenge, Upper Marlboro, MD
October 2 — 5 USET Talent Finals, Gladstone, NJ
October 8 — 17 Penn Nat’l Horse Show, New Cumberland, PA
October 20 — 25 Washington Int’1 Horse Show, Washington, DC
October 27 — Nov. 1 CP National Horse Show, Lexington, KY

9. The USEF’s equestrian competition circuit, in which Tori Colvin competes, operates
year-round at venues all over the country.
10. Equestrian competitions, and particularly those in the “jumping over fences”
disciplines such as hunter/jumper (where T competes), are by their very nature dangerous. 4
11. Given the nomadic nature of the horse show circuit, and given the inherent
physical danger of the sport, it is important to Brigid Colvin, as T ‘s mother, to be present at
T ‘s competitions. Being T ‘s mother means that Mrs. Colvin is also her constant
chaperone, cheerleader, team member, and chauffeur.

12. In addition, Mrs. Colvin is a coach to T and a necessary member of T ‘s
team. Her presence at T ‘s horse shows is critical to T s continued success. Indeed, T
has never competed without Mrs. Colvin being present.
13. In fact, due to the demands of T ‘s competition schedule, Mrs. Colvin has not
maintained any kind of regular, paid employment since T was a young child.

 

The USEF’s Definition of Who is a “Trainer” of a Horse

14. The USEF has adopted rules restricting the administration of certain medications
and substances to competition horses.
15. Under the USEF’s rules, a “Trainer” of a horse is the absolute insurer of its
condition, and is strictly liable for any violation of the medication rules. As extreme as this
condition is, Mrs. Colvin does not in this Petition challenge the USEF’s decision to impose
strict, or absolute, liability on true Trainers. Rather, Mrs. Colvin takes issue with the Hearing
Committee’s conclusion that she was a “Trainer” of the horse Inclusive.
16. Indeed, a finding that Mrs. Colvin was a “Trainer” of Inclusive, given the dearth
of evidence to support such a finding, would point to the fact that the USEF’s definition of
“Trainer” must be untenably vague, necessarily leading to arbitrary and capricious results.
17. The USEF’s rules provide only the following guidance as to who will be
considered a “Trainer” of a horse:

GR1 47 TRAINER 1. ANY ADULT, OR ADULTS WHO HAS
THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE CARE, TRAINING,
CUSTODY OR PERFORMANCE OF A HORSE. 2. SAID
PERSON MUST SIGN THE ENTRY BLANK OF ANY
LICENSED COMPETITION WHETHER SAID PERSON BE AN
OWNER, RIDER, AGENT AND/OR COACH AS WELL AS
TRAINER. 3. WHERE A MINOR EXHIBITOR HAS NO
TRAINER, A PARENT OR GUARDIAN MUST SIGN AND
ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY OF TRAINER. 4. THE NAME OF
THE TRAINER MUST BE DESIGNATED AS SUCH ON THE
ENTRY BLANK. SEE ALSO GR404.

Tori Colvin ‘s Actual Trainers

18. Until just before the horse show at issue in this proceeding, T C worked
with a team of two actual Trainers, Scott Stewart and Ken Berkley. Indeed, T worked
primarily with these gentlemen from the age of eight (8) until July 2014.
19. During the latter period of T ‘s tenure with Messrs. Stewart and Berkley, Brigid
Colvin served as what can best be described as Mr. Stewart’s personal assistant. Without pay,
she performed whatever tasks he directed her to do, including but not limited to, assisting in the
management of the horses in his care.
20. In many media interviews, Mrs. Colvin was referred to as an invaluable member
of Mr. Stewart’s “team.” The primary reason for Mrs. Colvin’s extensive involvement with Mr.
Stewart was her constant presence in accompanying T everywhere.
21. Assisting Mr. Stewart was an implied condition of Mr. Stewart and Mr. Berkley
continuing to support T ‘s riding career.

22. Many of the horses competed by T were owned by Messrs. Stewart and
Berkley.

Messrs. Stewart and Berkley Sever Their Relationship With T C and Mr.
Stewart Turns on Brigid Colvin

23. In July 2014, Messrs, Stewart and Berkley ended their relationship with Tori and
Mrs. Colvin.
24. After ending his relationship with the Colvins, Mr. Stewart apparently began a
smear campaign directed at Brigid Colvin. Most critically, Mr. Stewart allegedly informed
T ‘s main sponsor, Dr. Betsee Parker (“Dr. Parker”) of Middleburg, VA, and Dr. Parker’s salaried employee, Steve Rivetts, that the reason for the severance was Mrs. Colvin’s unwanted interference with the management of the horses in Mr. Stewart’s care, particularly as it related to the purported administration of banned substances. See Ex. C, Hearing Transcript 55:11 — 56:15.

25. To this day, Brigid Colvin has never been charged by the USEF or any other body
with the administration of a banned substance to a horse or any other animal. The present
proceeding is the first time Brigid Colvin has been charged with any Drugs and Medication
violation, and the charge against her here was not that she administered a drug to a horse, but
rather that she “exhibited the horse …after it had been administered and/or it contained in its
body” a naturally-occurring substance measured by the USEF at a level it contends is above a
normal physiologic level. Ex. D, Official Charge Form.
26. According to Mr. Rivetts, Mr. Stewart suggested that Mrs. Colvin should not be
allowed to participate in the management or preparation of Dr. Parker’s horses in any manner.

Ex. C, Hearing Transcript 56:10-15.

27. According to Mr. Rivetts, Mr. Stewart’s comments prompted Dr. Parker to
instruct Mr. Rivetts that Mrs. Colvin was not to be allowed near her horses, including Inclusive,
and was to be supervised at all times so as to prevent her surreptitious administration of any
illegal, performance-enhancing substances to any of Dr. Parker’s horses. Ex. C, Hearing
Transcript 56:16-18; see id. at :60:2-5.
28. Mrs. Colvin was advised of these restrictions and told something to the effect of
“stay out of the barn.” Not wanting T to lose the opportunity to ride Dr. Parker’s horses,
Mrs. Colvin agreed to comply with this directive.

29. Despite this directive, Dr. Parker suggested to Mrs. Colvin that Mrs. Colvin might
sign as the “Trainer” of the horses T was scheduled to compete. Mrs. Colvin was confused by
this suggestion. Ex. C, Hearing Transcript 59:6-22.

The Horse Show at Issue in this Proceeding —the “Derby Finals”

30. The first horse show after the termination of her relationship with Mr. Stewart, in
which T was to compete a horse of Dr. Parker’s, was the show at the center of this dispute—
the USHJAS “Derby Finals.” T rode the horse Inclusive in this show.
31. The 2014 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, “Derby Finals,”
was held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY, August 14-16th. The USEF has its
headquarters on the same property as the Kentucky Horse Park.
32. As the Hearing Committee noted in its Findings and Decision, Mr. Rivetts
acknowledged that, at the Derby Finals, “in reality, [Brigid] Colvin functioned as more of a
coach for her daughter than a trainer for the horse.” Ex. E, Findings and Decision at 3.
33. The USHJA entry for Inclusive properly lists Dr. Parker as the owner, Mr. Rivetts
as the “Trainer”, and T as the rider.
34. Mrs. Colvin did not sign the entry, nor is her name listed on the entry in any capacity.

35. In accordance with the directive that she “stay out of the barn,” Mrs. Colvin did
little more than chauffeur her teenage daughter, T , to and from the show grounds, and wait
near the competition ring to glimpse her daughter competing.
36. On August 15th, 2014, T was scheduled to compete Inclusive late in the order
of the first round, or “class,” of the Derby finals.
37. The class started on or about 8:00 AM, and Inclusive did not compete until on or
about Noon.
38. Mrs. Colvin dropped T at the show grounds around 7:30 AM, and then
returned to her hotel to do laundry.
39. She returned to the show grounds a few hours later and stationed herself near the
competition arena and began watching the competition around 10:00 AM.
40. At around 11:30 AM,T joined her mother in the schooling area adjacent to the
competition arena and waited for a groom to bring Inclusive to her.
41. At around 11:45 AM, the groom arrived with Inclusive and T mounted.
42. T warmed up and competed on Inclusive on or about Noon.
43. T won the first round of that finals competition.
44. Upon exiting the competition arena, a drug tester approached Mrs. Colvin and
informed her that Inclusive had been selected for drug testing.
45. Mrs. Colvin engaged in a lengthy, social conversation with the drug tester. Mrs.
Colvin was completely cooperative with the drug tester and it has never been suggested
otherwise.

46. The drug tester asked Mrs. Colvin who the horse’s “Trainer” was, and Mrs.
Colvin said she did not know, having just been through the professional separation with
Inclusive’s “Trainer,” Mr. Stewart.
47. Mrs. Colvin spent 10-15 minutes telling the drug tester about the separation from
Mr. Stewart, and finally relented by saying something to the effect of, “I don’t know. I guess
put me down as trainer.”
48. The drug tester put Mrs. Colvin’s name on the sample identification card as
“Trainer.”
49. Mr. Rivetts then accompanied the horse and the drug tester back to the stable area
to complete the sample collection.
50. Mrs. Colvin was not asked to accompany the drug tester to test the horse, nor did
she believe she had a duty or obligation relating to the testing of Inclusive.
51. As a result, Mrs. Colvin stayed in the general vicinity of the competition arena.
52. The next day, Tori Colvin and Inclusive competed in the second round of the Derby
Finals and placed third overall.

53. Inclusive was again selected for drug testing.
54. Mrs. Colvin did not communicate with the drug tester.
55. Rather, the sample identification card indicates that Mr. Rivetts identified Mrs.
Colvin as the “Trainer” of the horse and the drug tester again put Mrs. Colvin’s name on the
sample identification card. Ex. C, Hearing Transcript 50:18-21; Ex. F, Equine Sample
Identification Document.

56. Later that day, Mr. Rivetts went to the horse show office and requested that the
show secretary remove his name from Inclusive’s entry and substitute Mrs. Colvin’s name as
“Trainer.” See Ex. C, Hearing Transcript 60:6-8.
57. The show secretary refused to accommodate Mr. Rivetts’s request. Ex. C,
Hearing Transcript 60:17-20.
The Charges Against Mrs. Colvin and Mr. Rivetts and the Hearing on those Charges
58. The sample taken from Inclusive on August 15`” (the first of the two tests) tested
for a naturally-occurring substance, gamma-aminobutyric acid (“GABA”), at a level considered
by the USEF to be above the level that is naturally produced by a horse’s body.
59. The USEF issued a notice of violation to Mr. Rivetts and Mrs. Colvin as
“Trainers” of the horse, and to Dr. Parker as “Owner,” on November 18, 2014.
60. The USEF issued a “Notice of Charge” on March 18, 2015, alleging that “Steven
Rivetts, as trainer, Brigid Colvin, as trainer, Dr. Betsee Parker, as owner, violated Federation
Rules …. The Charge includes allegations that on or about August 15, 2014, they exhibited
the horse, INCLUSIVE, in the Classic Hunter Round after it had been administered and/or
contained in its body gamma-aminobutyric acid in excess of normal physiologic levels; and gamma- aminobutyric acid in excess of normal physiologic levels was detected in the blood
sample.” Ex. G, Notice of Charge at 1.
61. After the USEF refused to dismiss the charges or offer any plea agreement, a
Notice of Hearing was issued on April 13, 2015, setting the matter for hearing before USEF’s
Hearing Committee on May 20, 2015, at USEF’s offices in Lexington, KY.

62. Mr. Rivetts and Mrs. Colvin both attended the hearing, represented by separate
counsel.
63. The evidence submitted by Mrs. Colvin supported her contention that she was not
the “Trainer” of the horse either pursuant to the Federation’s rules or for any practical purpose,
and that she had merely chaperoned T in her capacity as T ‘s mother.
64. In fact, all credible evidence presented at the hearing was that Mrs. Colvin had
been actively denied any access to or participation in the preparation of the horse, as a result of
the statements and warnings Mr. Stewart had given to Dr. Parker and Mr. Rivetts.
65. In his closing argument, the USEF’s prosecutor conceded that Mrs. Colvin did not
meet the definition of “Trainer”:

As far as who is the trainer …. I do not think based upon the
testimony [Mrs. Colvin] fits the definition of a trainer, I guess
she’s got opportunity and she’s got motive if you are looking at
this thing from 30,000 feet given all that is going on with these
people. But she would have had to administer GABA to this horse
sometime between the time this horse left the tent for the schooling
ring to the Rolex ring. It’s that simple…. So I think the dilemma
that you have is trying to figure out how the GABA got into the
horse and who are the responsible parties.

Ex. C, Hearing Transcript 104:17-105:9.

 

The Findings and Decision

66. Despite the prosecutor’s judicial admission that the evidence did not support a
finding that Mrs. Colvin was the “Trainer” of the horse, the Hearing Committee determined
“that both Mr. Rivetts and Mrs. Colvin were properly charged in this instance.”
67. In its written, nine-page Findings and Decision, the Hearing Committee explained
why it found Mr. Rivetts was the “Trainer” of the horse. It specifically found that “Mr. Rivetts fit the traditional description of trainer as he was in charge of the daily care, custody and control
of this horse ….” Ex. E, Findings and Decision at 5. The Hearing Committee reached no such
decision with respect to Mrs. Colvin. In fact, it did not set forth what evidence, if any, it relied
upon to support its determination that Mrs. Colvin was a “Trainer” of the horse.
68. The Hearing Committee apparently reached its decision, at least with respect to
Mrs. Colvin, at least in part as a result of its frustration at the lack of evidence adduced at the
hearing. It wrote, “the written submissions and live testimony in this case left much to be
desired” and “the testimony left the panel with the distinct impression that there was more than
meets the eye in this situation.” Ex. E, Findings and Decision at 2.
69. In the end, the Hearing Committee plainly was unable to conclude that one person
or another administered an improper substance to Inclusive. It commented that Mrs. Colvin had
the “knowledge, and if Mr. Rivetts is to be believed, the opportunity” to administer the
substance to the horse. Ex. E, Findings and Decision at 6. But it also indicated its doubt about Mr. Rivetts’s testimony, passim, and—crucially—it never found that Mrs. Colvin or Mr. Rivetts
administered the substance. Ex. E, Findings and Decision, passim.
70. Rather, the Hearing Committee reverted to the actual charge, which was that Mr.
Rivetts and Mrs. Colvin were the “Trainers” of a horse that was entered in a competition while
it had an improper level of a substance in its body. Ex. E, Findings and Decision at 6. But in so
doing, the Hearing Committee cited no evidence and did not even offer an explanation as to how it concluded that Mrs. Colvin could be classified as a “Trainer” of the horse at the relevant
show.
71. The Hearing Committee sanctioned Mr. Rivetts and Mrs. Colvin by suspending
them each for a term of seven months, commencing July 1, 2015, and ordering each to pay a
$7,000 fine.

view full petition 

View Brigid Colvin Petition

Brigid Colvin Exhibits

A – USEF Motion to Dismiss Fayette County Action

B – USEF’s Rule GR147 Definition of “Trainer”

C – USEF v Colvin Hearing Transcript   – Brigid Colvin and Steve Rivetts testimony at USEF Hearing

D – Official Charging Form

E – USEF Hearing Findings and Decision

F – Equine Sample Identification Document

G – Notice of Charge

H- Injuries Associated with Horseback Riding

MEMORANDUM OF LAW IN SUPPORT

Notice of Motion for Admission Pro Hac Vice – Samuel William Silver, Esq.

USEF’s Opposition to Order to Show Cause

USEF Exhibits

1 – Colvin complaint filed in Kentucky

2 – Colvin reply to USEF Memoranda of Law

3 – Email from Krysia Nelson, Esq. to USEF

4 – USEF Hearing Committee Ruling on Request for Review

5 – Letter from Alan Foreman to USEF Hearing Committee 

Order – temporary stay of Brigid Colvin’s suspension until oral hearing on September 17 

USEF’s Affidavit in Opposition to Brigid Colvin’s Application for Preliminary Injunction, Support of Dismissal of Petition  

USEF Verified Answer

 

Exhibit 1 – Charge Form (see above)

 Exhibit 2 – Notice of Charge (see above)

Exhibit 3 – GR617 & Dismissal Request Notification

Exhibit 4 – GR617 & Dismissal Ruling, Notice of Hearing

Exhibit 5 – GR410 Equine Drug Rules

Exhibit P1 – USEF’s Evidence File

Exhibit P2 – Letter from Julie Bernier from Alan Forman 3/30/2015

Exhibit P4 – Email and Affidavits

Exhibit P5 – Analytical Data

Exhibit R5 – Letter and Attachments from Colvin’s attorney to Forman

Exhibit R6 – Letter and Attachments from Betsee Parker’s attorney

Colvin’s Reply Memorandum of Law  

ORDER   

Notice of Appeal Filed             

 

Colvin issued a temporary stay by the appellate court.

 


November 17, 2015

NY Appeals Court Upholds Brigid Colvin’s GABA Suspension   

Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, First Judicial Department –

Brigid Colvin, Petitioner-Appellant, Index No. 158964/15

vs.

United States Equestrian Federation, Inc., Respondent-Respondent.

Brigid Colvin’s Appeal Denied   View Court’s Finding