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High school athletics governing association not a public body

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    News Media Update         MICHIGAN         Freedom of Information    

High school athletics governing association not a public body

  • The Supreme Court of Michigan ruled that the Michigan High School Athletics Association, which governs interscholastic athletic events, is not a public body subject to the state Freedom of Information Act.

Aug. 12, 2004 — The Michigan High School Athletics Association, which organizes and supervises interscholastic athletic events, is not a public body subject to the state Freedom of Information Act, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled July 29. Membership in the association is voluntary, albeit necessary for schools to compete in post-season tournaments.

The lawsuit was brought by Martin and Kathryn Breighner, the parents of Jordan Breighner, a high school student prohibited in 2001 from participating in an association-sponsored ski meet because he had competed in more unsanctioned events than permitted by association rules. The Breighners filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the association for information concerning the prohibition. That request was denied, as the association claimed it was not a public body subject to the act. The Breighners sued.

The MHSAA was created in 1924 as a part of the Michigan Department of Education. In 1972, the state legislature transferred control of interscholastic athletic events from the department to the individual school boards, but directed them to join an association to promote and regulate competition. The MHSAA, which became a nonprofit corporation, was designated as the official athletic association of the state.

In 1995, the association’s “official” status was dropped and membership by individual school boards became voluntary, although the vast majority of high schools in Michigan remain members. Almost all of the association’s funding comes from football and basketball post-season tournament ticket sales, according to court documents.

The trial court held that the association was a public body subject to the act because its funding through ticket sales constituted indirect public funding. The association appealed, and on March 6, 2003, the Court of Appeals of Michigan reversed, 2-1.

The Breighners then appealed to the state Supreme Court, which affirmed the judgment of the appellate court, 5-2. The Michigan Press Association filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the Breighners.

“The MHSAA is not the recipient of any governmental grant or subsidy,” Justice Robert P. Young wrote for the court. “Without the MHSAA’s leadership and organizational effort, no revenue from tournament games would be generated for any entity, including MHSAA member schools.”

The court also held that because the association was now a private, voluntary organization — no longer “created by state or local authority” or an agent of its member schools — it is not subject to the act.

A 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Ass’n , held that a similar association in Tennessee was a “state actor” subject to federal constitutional limits on government action. The Michigan high court held that this ruling did not dictate how the Michigan legislature could define “public body” in its open records act.

Justices Elizabeth A. Weaver and Marilyn Kelly dissented, arguing that the association should be subject to the act because it is created by the state and funded by the public school districts through ticket sales.

(Breighner v. Michigan High School Athletic Association; Amicus Media Counsel: Dawn Phillips Hertz, Butzel Long, Ann Arbor) GP

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