Thursday, November 14, 2013

Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Assn. case brief

Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Assn. case brief summary
531 U.S. 288 (2001)

Petitioner secondary school sued respondent athletic association under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, alleging that respondent unconstitutionally imposed sanctions against petitioner. The district court held that respondent was a state actor subject to suit under the statute. Upon writ of certiorari, petitioner appealed the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which reversed the district court's finding.

Respondent was a not-for-profit corporation organized to regulate interscholastic sport among public and private high schools in the state. Respondent imposed sanctions on petitioner's athletic activities based upon alleged recruiting violations. Petitioner alleged that the sanctions were unconstitutional, and respondent argued that it was not a state actor subject to constitutional limitations.


  • The court held that respondent's activity constituted state action in view of the pervasive entwinement of state school officials in the structure of the ostensibly private respondent, and there was no substantial reason to claim unfairness in applying constitutional standards to respondent. 
  • Respondent consisted of schools, primarily public schools, represented by school officials acting within the scope of their official duties during official school hours. 
  • Also, the state education board acknowledged respondent's authority and was represented in respondent's committees. 
  • Neither the unproven threat of expanded civil rights litigation nor the fact that respondent's member schools were undeniably state actors precluded the imposition of constitutional restraints.


Judgment that respondent was not a state actor was reversed. The substantial entwinement of state actors in respondent's regulation of state interscholastic sport permitted petitioner's civil rights action. Respondent's functions were accomplished by school officials, primarily from public schools, and the state education board acknowledged respondent's regulatory authority over school athletics.

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