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Legal Update: High School Athletic Associations and Public Records Laws [High-School Sports Best Practices Alert (Second Quarter 2014)]

Author: Michael L. Buckner, Esquire (Shareholder)

In an April 30, 2014, decision, the Tennessee Court of Appeals held the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) was the functional equivalent of a government agency, and, as a result, was subject to the Tennessee Public Records Act. Specifically, in City Press Communications, LLC v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, No. M2013-01429-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App., April 30, 2014), the Court of Appeals addressed “whether an association that governs and coordinates interscholastic athletic competition of substantially all public and private secondary schools in Tennessee is the functional equivalent of a government agency for purposes of the Tennessee Public Records Act.” The case originated when “two reporters and their newspaper filed this action pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-505 to obtain records from the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association regarding the enforcement of its bylaws on member schools.” The trial court held the TSSAA “was the functional equivalent of a government agency; therefore, it was subject to the Tennessee Public Records Act, codified at Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503 et seq.” The trial court also ordered the TSSAA “to produce the records at issue, subject to the redaction of students’ names.” The TSSAA appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of the trial court and held:

  • The “TSSAA serves as the functional equivalent of a governmental agency, the Tennessee State Board of Education, by directing and managing the extracurricular sporting activities of almost every high school in the state of Tennessee.”
  • Since the Tennessee Public Records Act defines “public record or records” in Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(1)(A) as “all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, microfilms, electronic data processing files and output, films, sound recordings or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any governmental agency”, then “records made or received by the TSSAA in connection with the transaction of the public’s business is subject to public access pursuant to the terms of the Tennessee Public Records Act.”

Contact Michael L. Buckner (954-941-1844; mbuckner@bucknersportslaw.com) for information on court decisions impacting high schools and state high school athletic associations.