Skater on Thin Ice After |Court Rebuffs Lawsuit

     TRENTON, N.J. (CN) — An ice skater who was among the first to represent Israel in the Olympics now wants to compete for the United States internationally, but she may not be able to do so, according to New Jersey’s appeals court.
     In the decision, the New Jersey Appellate Division wrote that courts should stay out of deciding sporting disputes and that the skater must rely on the international skating union for any release, even if it means missing a deadline to skate internationally that is a week away.
     Andrea Davidovich, a 19-year-old skater with both U.S. and Israeli citizenship, had skated with partner Evengi Krasnopoloski in international pairs competitions in 2013 before representing Israel in the pairs event at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia. The pair, who ultimately placed fifteenth in Sochi, Russia, were the first figure skating pair to ever represent Israel in the Olympics.
     Following the international event, the pair split up over training disagreements and Davidovich claims the Israeli Ice Skating Federation — for whom she skated in the Olympics and a defendant in the lawsuit — began disparaging her shortly thereafter.
     She tried to skate with American skaters and requested a release from the Israeli federation, which was rebuffed. The federation claimed in letters that Krasnopoloski was an “established skater with many years of experience” and said Davidovich was a “junior skater with every little capability.”
     Davidovich, a New Jersey resident, filed a complaint in September 2014 seeking a formal release from the Israeli federation. A year later a New Jersey trial court ruled in her favor, ordering the federation to release her to skate for the United States.
     On appeal, the state’s appellate division initially asked her to seek other remedies to break free under the rules of the Switzerland-based International Skating Union. The case went back to trial court.
     During trial, the federation alleged it had taken reasonable steps to reunite Davidovich and Krasnopoloski but that Davidovich’s parents had scuttled those plans. The federation also claimed it had invested significant resources into training Davidovich.
     Finally, last April, the trial court again ruled in Davidovich’s favor, claiming that the lawsuit had harmed her ability to find a partner and could lead to “a deprivation of any genuine prospect that she may skate in the future.”
     Davidovich has not skated internationally since the 2014 Olympics.
     But earlier this month the skating union revised its eligibility rules for skaters to allow a 12-month waiting period before any skater could be released to skate for whichever country he or she wished. The United States filed a formal request with the Israeli skating federation seeking Davidovich’s release in time to meet the July 1 deadline for the 2016-2017 skating season.
     At the International Skating Union’s biannual meeting in June, the case again pivoted as the union’s rules changed, allowing skaters to compete for any member (the Israeli federation and its U.S. counterpart both are members of the union). The new rules imposed a one-year waiting period before switching members.
     In Thursday’s decision, the Appellate Division noted Davidovich has only a week to sign up for the 2016-2017 international ice skating season under ICU rules, but found that “the posture of this case changed dramatically in several respects” as a result of the new skater’s union rules.
     “This case is not a routine matter involving a simple membership decision within a private association,” Judge Jack Sabatino wrote, noting Davidovich’s future livelihood as a skater was at risk. “Because the career span of such a skater is relatively short, time can be of the essence.”
     The appeals court — yielding to the “doctrine of exhaustion” — again ruled against Davidovich, stating that courts should stay out of sporting disputes until all internal procedures have been exhausted.
     The trial court should have deferred to the skaters’ union to resolve the conflict, Sabatino wrote, especially since the union has the power to release the plaintiff if a request comes from one of its member federations (as it did in Davidovich’s case, since the United States Figure Skating Association sought her release).
     “We will not presume that the ISU will dawdle over the USFSA’s request, particularly with rosters to be fixed imminently for the upcoming skating season,” Sabatino wrote, noting that if the skaters’ union refused to rule in Davidovich’s favor the case could be litigated in a jury trial.
     Davidovich’s attorney, Christopher Dalton of Buchanan Ingersoll Rooney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
     Stuart Slotnick, another of the attorneys representing Davidovich, said “we are hopeful, now that the Appellate Court has indicated it would like the ISU to make a decision, that the ISU will permit Ms. Davidovich to skate for and represent the USA.”

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