Tenn. athletic association is subject to open-records law

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Chancery Court judge has ruled that the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association is subject to the Tennessee Open Records Act.

Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ruled in favor of The City Paper in a summary judgment delivered in oral remarks on Dec. 7. The judge agreed that the association was the functional equivalent of a government agency.

The Nashville newspaper filed a lawsuit after the athletic association refused to provide records pertaining to Montgomery Bell Academy and those pertaining to violations of financial aid rules.

John Williams, the attorney representing the newspaper, said Bonnyman’s decision was based on a 2002 opinion by the Tennessee Supreme Court that set a functional equivalency test for private entities that were providing public functions.

The newspaper further argued that the U.S. Supreme Court already determined that the TSSAA’s regulatory role could be treated as a state action in another lawsuit between the association and a private high school.

Williams said the ruling set a precedent in the state that could allow more access to the association’s records.

“Anytime an agency or entity is found to be subject to the Open Records Act, then any citizen is entitled to request records,” he said.

But Rick Colbert, the attorney for TSSAA, said the ruling doesn’t mean that every single TSSAA record is subject to public disclosure. He said both sides would have to meet again to argue what can be released in response to the newspaper’s request.

“Now that she has answered the threshold question, we have to figure out what it means in regards to the particular request,” he said.

He said TSSAA can’t appeal until there is a final ruling in the case, but both he and TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress said the association likely would challenge the chancellor’s ruling.

TSSAA is involved with a lot of sensitive information surrounding children, financial issues and schools that should not be made public, Colbert said.

“We feel like it’s not in the interest of the kids that we are trying to help to have this ruling there,” he said.

Tags: , ,