In a majority opinion, the Supreme Court of Alabama has reinforced the legal standard that the court system should not interfere with the eligibility decision of an association, in this case the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA), unless the “acts of an association are the result of fraud, lack of jurisdiction, collusion, or arbitrariness.”
The impetus for the opinion was a decision made by the AHSAA, which left a student ineligible to participate on the Washington County High School football team during its participation in the state playoffs. The association also required the squad to forfeit the first-round playoff game, a game it won 42-12, since the student had participated in the game.
Immediately after the association’s decision, the student asked a Washington Circuit Court to intervene and restore his eligibility. The student was successful. However, the team that advanced because of the Washington County’s forfeit then successfully lobbied the Geneva Circuit Court to intervene and stick with the original decision.
On Nov. 10, 2016, the AHSAA and its executive director, Steven P. Savarese, filed petitions for a writ of mandamus challenging the “conflicting orders issued by the Geneva Circuit Court and the Washington Circuit Court.” Four days later, the Supreme Court of Alabama issued an order granting the petitions and issuing the writs. In that order, this court upheld a decision of the Association and declared the orders of the two circuit courts to be void. Further, it promised that an opinion would be forthcoming.
In Scott v. Kilpatrick, 286 Ala. 129, 132-33, 237 So. 2d 652, 655 (1970), this Court stated:
“If officials of a school desire to associate with other schools and prescribe conditions of eligibility for students who are to become members of the school’s athletic teams, and the member schools vest final enforcement of the association’s rules in boards of control, then a court should not interfere in such internal operation of the affairs of the association. …
“Of course, if the acts of an association are the result of fraud, lack of jurisdiction, collusion, or arbitrariness, the courts will intervene to protect an injured part[y’s] rights.”
In Alabama High School Athletic Ass’n v. Rose, 446 So. 2d 1, 5 (Ala. 1984), this Court further stated:
“[A]s Kilpatrick and Kubiszyn [v. Alabama High School Athletic Ass’n, 374 So. 2d 256 (Ala. 1979),] indicate, the burden on the challenger to overcome the presumption favoring the Association’s absolute authority in the conduct of its own affairs is a heavy one. We reaffirm the Kilpatrick test to the effect that the Court’s jurisdiction in such matters is invoked when, and only when, the averments of fraud, collusion, or arbitrariness are supported by clear and convincing evidence; and the trial court’s acceptance of jurisdiction will be affirmed only where its order makes an unequivocal factual finding of one or more of those narrow, restrictive grounds, founded upon clear and convincing evidence.”
Turning back to the instant opinion, the court noted that “the requirements needed for the Geneva Circuit Court and the Washington Circuit Court to properly exercise jurisdiction simply were not present.”
Ex parte Alabama High School Athletic Association and Steven P. Savarese, its executive director; (In re: Geneva County Board of Education and Elba City Board of Education v. Alabama High School Athletic Association); Ex parte Alabama High School Athletic Association and Steven P. Savarese, its executive director; (In re: Erica L. Pogue, individually and as mother and next friend of A.J.K., et al. v. Alabama High School Athletic Association and Steven P. Savarese); S.Ct. Ala.; 1160121, 1160125, 2017 Ala. LEXIS 16; 2/24/17