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Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association

Citation. 531 U.S. 288, 121 S.Ct. 924, 148 L.Ed.2d 807 (2001).

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff sued after being penalized for athletic recruitment violations, arguing the penalties were unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A private organization can be considered a state actor if there is sufficient entanglement between the state and the organization.

Facts.

Plaintiff violated the Defendant’s “undue influence” rule regarding athlete recruitment. Plaintiff was put on probation for four years, its football and basketball teams were declared ineligible for playoffs for two years, and fined $3,000. Members of the Defendant’s legislative council were all public school administrators. Plaintiffs sued, claiming enforcement of the rule constituted state action in violation of the First and 14th Amendments.

Issue.

Whether a state athletic association regulating competitions between public and private high schools constitutes state action.

Held.

Yes. A state athletic association regulating competitions between public and private high schools constitutes state action.

Dissent.

Justice Thomas

We have never found state action based upon mere “entwinement” until now. Common sense dictates Defendant’s actions do not constitute state action. This is not a state agency, but an independent board exercising control. I would affirm.

Discussion.

Past cases demonstrate examples of public entwinement in the management and control of ostensibly separate trusts or corporations. Here too, the nominally private character of the Defendant is overborne by the pervasive entwinement of public institutions and public officials in its composition and works. Specifically, 84 percent of its membership consists of public school representatives. Separation between the Defendant and the public schools is indistinguishable. Judgement reversed.


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