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LA Supreme Court Strikes Down Statutes Targeting Athletic Association

LA Supreme Court Strikes Down Statutes Targeting Athletic Association

In Louisiana High School Athletics Association, Inc. v. State, 12-1471 (La. 01/29/13), 107 So.3d 583, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that Title 17 statutes modifying the private athletic association’s corporate bylaws were unconstitutional special laws. The court further found that the association was not a public body subject to the Open Meetings Law. Finally, the court struck down the state statute requiring the athletic association to submit to financial auditing by the state as a violation of equal protection.

Louisiana High School Athletics Association

The Louisiana High School Athletics Association (LHSAA) is a private corporation that facilitates athletic competitions and games between its member schools. The association’s membership consists of public and private, religious and nonreligious, high schools within Louisiana who apply and are accepted for membership. Member schools must comply with the association’s articles of incorporation, constitution, and bylaws to maintain membership.

Prohibition Against Local and Special Laws 

Article III, Section 12 of the Louisiana Constitution prohibits the legislature from passing local or special laws that amend, renew, extend, or explain the charter of a private corporation. A local law operates only in a particular locality or geographic area without the possibility of extending its coverage to other areas; local laws do not affect the State as a whole, but are much more targeted to a specific locale. The court ruled that the statute in question was not a local law because it applies in every parish of the state where a LHSAA member school is located.

A special law confers special privileges or imposes peculiar disabilities or burdensome conditions on a distinct class of persons. It affects only a certain number of persons within a class and not all persons possessing the characteristics of the class. The court held that the statutes in question were special laws because they “do not apply uniformly to all athletic associations or student-athletes in Louisiana. Because the statutes do not apply to other athletic associations in the state that perform the same function of regulating interscholastic athletic competitions between Louisiana high schools, the statute is a special law and “the Legislature effectively denied the LHSAA, a Louisiana corporation, the privilege of creating its own internal rules and regulations while preserving the rights of other athletic associations to do so.”

LHSAA Deemed a Private Entity

The court next analyzed whether the special law concerned a prohibited subject matter listed in the Louisiana Constitution Article III, Section 12. The court relied on its four-factor test in State v. Smith, 357 So. 2d 505, 507-08 (La. 1978), to rule that LHSAA was a private entity. With regard to the first factor, LHSAA was not created by the legislature but by a group of high school principals. Secondly, its powers are not defined by the legislature but by its own rules and regulations, including its corporate bylaws and articles of incorporation. The court stopped its analysis after two of the required four factors were clearly not met and concluded that LHSAA is a private entity.

Law Improperly Amended Corporate Charter

Next, the court looked at whether the Title 17 statutes amended, renewed, extended or explained LHSAA’s private corporate charter. The court unequivocally found that the Title 17 statutes act to amend LHSAA’s bylaws because they specifically amend certain eligibility rules. La. R.S. 17:176(G) amends the “Bona Fide Change of Residence” rule, Rule 1.15 in the LHSAA Official Handbook, because it defines the word “family” as used in the handbook. La. R.S. 17:176(F) amends the bylaws because it creates an exception to the LHSAA’s residence and transfer rules. Finally, La. R.S. 17:236.3 amends the bylaws because it changes the LHSAA’s eligibility rule pertaining to home school students. Thus, the court found that the Title 17 statutes were unconstitutional under Louisiana Constitution Article III, Section 12(A)(7).

Open Meetings Law Does Not Apply

The court next analyzed the applicability of La. R.S. 24:513(A)(1)(b)(v), defining quasi-public agencies subject to financial audits by the state, as “any organization, either not-for-profit or for profit, which is subject to the open meetings law and derives a portion of its income from payments received from any public agency or body.” The court held that LHSAA was not a quasi-public agency, overruling its prior decision of Spain v. Louisiana High School Athletic Association, 398 So. 2d 1386 (La. 1981), in which it previously ruled that LHSAA was a quasi-public entity. Following the Spain decision, LHSAA separated itself from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and the parish school boards by incorporating into a private entity and operating entirely separately to dispel any notion that it was a committee or subcommittee of a school board. Justice Weimer, in his concurrence, did not believe that the court needed to overrule Spain because LHSAA had since transformed into an entirely private organization.

Violation of Equal Protection

Finally, the court struck down La. R.S. 24:513(J)(4)(a)-(b) as unconstitutional under equal protection. The statute singles out LHSAA and makes it subject to additional government inference based on BESE’s decision to adopt the organization’s scholastic rules as its minimum scholastic requirements. The court found the “statute arbitrary on its face because it allows BESE, a state agency, to decide what organization will be subject to [the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s] authority by picking an organization whose scholastic rules will form the minimum basis for all of the schools governed by BESE.” Because the statute treats LHSAA differently from all similar organizations in the state that establish scholastic rules for their members, the statute is unconstitutional as a violation of equal protection.

Additionally, the statute fails under rational basis review in that the statute does not further a legitimate state interest. The court wrote, “The State has no real, legitimate interest in looking at and publishing the LHSAA’s financial information because it has no power to control the LHSAA’s revenue collection or spending…Although the statute arguably concerns a legitimate state interest regarding how the LHSAA spends its revenue, since a portion of it comes from public high schools…this statute does not further that interest…” Because La. R.S. 24:513(J)(4)(b) cannot stand alone, it was also ruled unconstitutional and struck down along with La. R.S. 24:513(J)(4)(a).

Dissenting View

Justice Victory dissented, instead finding that LHSAA is a quasi-public body for the limited purpose of the open meetings law because it receives some funding from public high schools and the state has an interest in ensuring the proper use of those funds. Justice Victory additionally did not think there were any similar organizations in the state because no other intra-scholastic athletic associations include public schools as members.

Allen & Gooch is providing this legal update for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion as to any specific facts or circumstances. You should consult your own attorney concerning your particular situation and any specific legal questions you may have.