Arkansas Gazette Co. v. Southern State College was a case before the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1981 concerning the application of open records laws to private corporations, specifically intercollegiate athletic organizations.
This case established a number of important precedents:
1.) It affirmed the decision that intercollegiate athletic conferences which receive funding from public institutions are in fact public bodies subject to records requests.
2.) The financial records of athletic conferences do not fall within the states exemption for scholastic records and do not fall within the federal education records exemption.
- Arkansas Intercollegiate Athletic Conference is an athletic league composed of 10 Arkansas schools, 5 public and 5 private. The schools are required to pay annual dues to the league and to submit a report each year highlighting the amount of money spent on student athletes.
- The Arkansas Gazette submitted a public records request to the Arkansas Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for financial records, specifically records of money dispersed to students.
- The conference denied the request claiming that because the records were "educational," the information was exempt under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act and the Federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.
- The trial court ruled in favor of the Conference and permitted the records to stay sealed.
- The decision was appealed.
Ruling of the court
The trial court held that the records in question were in fact educational records and were thus exempt from requests.
The Supreme Court overturned the decision of the trial court and ordered the records in question released. First, citing North Central Association of Colleges & Schools v. Troutt Brothers, Inc. the court established that the conference was in fact a public body as it received a portion of its funding from a state source. The court went on to rule that the reports in question, which only list the amount of money granted to students do not fall under the exemption for scholastic records, nor does their release constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy. The court stated in its opinion, "No one has a reasonable expectation of privacy concerning the amount of public funds dispersed to him unless that person clearly comes within one of the exceptions which by law are required to be closed to the public." Finally, the court determined that the conference is not an educational institution and is thus not subject to the federal act. Based on these determinations, the court overruled the trial court and ordered the documents released.ref name="ruling" />