This time around, Lance Armstrong’s big battle is not against other cyclists in a road race; it’s with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). In June, the USADA opened an investigation into allegations that Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs during his record-breaking seven straight Tour de France victories. The USADA formally charged the national hero, who famously overcame cancer before his legendary run as a cyclist, for allegedly doping or using performance-enhancing drugs to improve his athletic performance between 1999 and 2005. It is no surprise that Armstrong has vigorously denied the allegations, going so far as filing a suit in federal court to block the case from going forward.
In his filing, Armstrong complains that the USADA does not have jurisdiction to bring charges against him because his contracts to compete in cycling were with the International Cycling Union (UCI). UCI claims responsibility for doping matters at its events and with its cyclists, the complaint states.
Armstrong’s complaint also argues that the USADA, a quasi-government agency, is effectively a state actor since it participated in a two-year federal criminal probe into doping claims against Armstrong. The investigation officially closed in February with no charges being brought. That designation means the USADA owes Armstrong certain constitutional protections that the arbitration system denies him.
Armstrong also asserts that the USADA’s rules and arbitration are designed to find athletes guilty. The USADA does not allow athletes to subpoena documents or compel witnesses to testify in a hearing. The USADA has so far withheld the names of most of the witnesses against Armstrong, saying it protects the witnesses from potential intimidation. Armstrong argues these measures are unconstitutional in his complaint.
The complaint also claims that USADA broke its own rules in charging Armstrong, making deals with witnesses that go against the World Anti-Doping Agency code and ignoring its eight-year statute of limitations to bring doping claims.
Court Tosses Out Complaint
While Armstrong’s legal team was made up of top attorneys from Williams & Connolly LLP and Patton Boggs LLP in Washington and Howry Breen & Herman LLP in Austin, after reading Armstrong's complaint, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks for the Western Division of Texas tossed out the lawsuit. The dismissal was not because of the merits of the case, but on procedural grounds; the complaint was simply too long. Under the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), a complaint must contain "short and plain" statements of both the basis of the court's jurisdiction, and the plaintiff's legal claim for relief. Likewise, Rule 8(d)(1) states, "Each allegation must be simple, concise, and direct." Judge Sparks noted that:
"Armstrong's complaint is far from short, spanning eighty pages and containing 261 numbered paragraphs, many of which have multiple subparts. Worse, the bulk of these paragraphs contain 'allegations' that are wholly irrelevant to Armstrong's claims and which, the Court must presume, were included solely to increase media coverage of this case, and to incite public opinion against Defendants."
As no ruling on the merits of the contentions were made, Armstrong’s band of lawyers was provided time to re-file the complaint. No surprise, Armstrong’s lawyers immediately filed a narrowly tailored complaint. A day after Armstrong’s team filed the revised complaint, the USADA agreed to give Armstrong 30 more days to answer to the charges that he used drugs and blood transfusions to improve his performance during his Tour de France victories.
Armstrong had previously faced a July 14 deadline to either reject or accept the USADA’s sanctions, but the USADA granted an extension of up to 30 days to allow Judge Sparks to sort out any issues in the federal lawsuit.
Armstrong’s Decision: Fight or Concede
If Armstrong were to decline to fight the USADA’s allegations, the USADA could immediately strip Armstrong of his cycling titles and ban him for life from competition – not only from cycling, but also his current passion: the Ironman triathlon. But if he chooses to dispute the allegations, both sides will proceed to arbitration before a three-person panel, with each side nominating one arbitrator and both parties agreeing upon the third.
If Armstrong puts up a fight, which he has already been inclined to do, the USADA has stated its plans to put at least 10 former teammates, including his coach, under oath to testify on detailed allegations that Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs and strongly encouraged others on his team to do the same.
USADA v. Lance Armstrong, in what may be the final chapter in the Armstrong doping allegation saga, is about to unfold before the public eye. Stay tuned, because the wheels are turning fast on Armstrong’s latest performance.
Danila I. Toscano Summer Associate