Little League fighting judge’s decision on the removal of two tournament teams over COVID test results

WILLIAMSPORT — The Little League World Series has been over nearly a month but a legal battle over the disqualification of two teams in a regional tournament continues.

Little League Baseball Inc. has asked Lycoming County Judge Eric R. Linhardt to reconsider his finding that the decision to remove Needville, Texas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, from the Southwest Region tournament in early August was arbitrary and capricious.

It contends that its COVID-19 mitigation procedures announced in advance of the regional tournament were made carefully, in an even-handed manner and agreed to in writing by the league presidents and team managers.

Little League cited decisions in other jurisdictions in which a court ruled actions taken due to COVID-19 protocols were not arbitrary or capricious.

Needville and Tulsa were disqualified from the tournament in Waco, Texas, after a coach and the manager, respectively, tested positive for COVID-19.

The two adults took additional tests on their own, the results of which were negative, leading to claims the ones given by Little League resulted in false positives.

Linhardt denied the requests by Needville and Tulsa for an injunction that would have placed them in the world series but he took issue with the manner in which Little League implemented its COVID-19 mitigation plan in Waco.

Concerns cited in his opinion included:

— Several dozen 12-year-olds were permitted to self-administer the saliva test in close quarters in Waco without medical supervision.

— Testing occurring in the same hotel conference room that later served as a dining facility.

— Social distancing not enforced in common areas of the hotel and coaches and managers were left to self-police the COVID-19 protocols within their teams.

— Although the judge found the self-administration of tests by 12-year-olds was troubling, Little League pointed none of the players on either team tested positive.

It accuses Linhardt of disregarding evidence from experts that the saliva testing used in Waco was approved for self-administration.

It would be a clear error in the application of the law and the facts of the case to suggest that Little League’s conduct rose to the level of arbitrary and capricious, the court filing argues.

Little League’s COVID-19 mitigation plan was created and approved by medical professionals familiar with coronavirus containment protocols, it points out.

Managers of both teams and the league presidents had executed agreements before the tournament that stated their team could be removed for the inability to field nine players due to isolation or quarantine requirements, the document states.

Little League cites in support of its disqualification decision state Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control guidelines related to retesting and quarantining.

Little League’s effort to have Linhardt change his arbitrary and capricious finding will be fought by the two teams, their lawyer Justin A. Tomevi said Monday.

Also still pending in the litigation filed Aug. 13 is the demand for monetary damages by Needville and Tulsa.


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