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Robertson v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

July 25, 2019

MELANIE ROBERTSON ET AL.
v.
TENNESSEE SECONDARY SCHOOL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION

          June 20, 2019 Session

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Shelby County No. CH-18-1312 Jim Kyle, Chancellor

         Based on its bylaws, Appellant Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association denied three students, Appellees herein, permission to play football at a local high school. Appellees filed a petition for restraining order and for temporary and permanent injunctions asking the trial court to prohibit the Association from denying the Students permission to play football. The trial court immediately granted temporary injunctions; later, the trial court granted permanent injunctions. Appellant appeals. Based on the allegations contained in Appellees' petition, the trial court did not have authority to interfere in the internal affairs of TSSAA concerning the Students' eligibility to play football for the 2018-2019 school year. Therefore, we reverse and remand the case with instructions to the trial court to dismiss the case and collect the costs.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Reversed and Remanded

          Richard L. Colbert, John J. Griffin, Jr., Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association.

          Kenny Armstrong, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Arnold B. Goldin, J., joined.

          OPINION

          KENNY ARMSTRONG, JUDGE

         I. Background

         Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association ("TSSAA" or "Appellant") is a not-for-profit voluntary association of 430 private and public Tennessee schools. "Its purpose is to stimulate and regulate interscholastic athletic competition between its member schools in accordance with the standards those schools establish in the TSSAA

         Bylaws . . . ." The member schools elect representatives to the TSSAA Legislative Council; these representatives write the Association bylaws. The TSSAA Director, Mr. Bernard Childress, enforces the bylaws, and his decisions are subject to review by the TSSAA Board of Control. Schools in Tennessee are not required to join TSSAA, and membership is by annual contract.

         Melanie Robertson, Cedric Lynn, and Darlene Shinault are the parents of Cailon McGhee, Justin Lynn, and Tarique Barnes (together, the "Students" or "Appellees"), respectively. The Students were high school seniors when the original petition was filed. The Students played football at East High School ("East") for Coach Marcus Wimberly in the fall of 2017. In January 2018, Cordova High School ("Cordova") announced that Coach Wimberly would be its football coach for the 2018-2019 school year. During January and February 2018, after the above announcement, all three Students withdrew from East and enrolled at Cordova. On August 3, 2018, Cordova submitted transfer eligibility requests to TSSAA for determinations on the football eligibility of all three Students for the 2018-2019 school year.

         Based on the information submitted by Cordova, TSSAA determined that all three Students were ineligible to play football at Cordova under Article II, Section 13(e) of TSSAA's bylaws, which states, in pertinent part:

If a student with an athletic record transfers to a new school where an "athletic coaching link" existed in the past 12 months, that student is ineligible for 12 months past their first date of enrollment at the new school at all levels in the specific sports where a linkage was present. Links may include (1) attendance at an individual camp (and then transferring); (2) playing on non-school (independent) teams (and then transferring to that coach's school); (3) transferring into a school where a former coach has been hired; ...

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