Michigan Case Law Update: ESPN v Michigan State University


ESPN v. Michigan State University

Court of Appeals Docket No. 326773 (August 18, 2015)

In September of 2014, ESPN submitted a request under FOIA to the University asking it to provide ESPN with incident reports involving a list of student-athletes over a specified period of time. The University produced two sets of records but redacted the names and identifying information of the suspects, victims and witnesses. The University cited the privacy exemptions set forth in the FOIA statute. In February of 2015, ESPN sued the University to disclose the names of the suspects if they were one of the 301 student-athletes identified by ESPN. After a hearing, the trial court ordered the University to disclose the names of the suspects if they were one of the 301 student-athletes identified in the ESPN request. The Court agreed that the privacy exemption applied to the names of the victims and witnesses, even if victims and witnesses were identified as one of the student-athletes identified in the request. The University appealed to the Court of Appeals.

On August 18, 2015, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued an unpublished decision affirming the decision of the trial court to release the names of the student-athletes at issue. The Court found that releasing the names of the suspect student-athletes serves the public’s understanding of the operation of the University’s Police Department. The Court further noted that ESPN sought the information to learn whether policing standards are consistent and uniform at a public institution of higher learning and that the disclosure of the names is necessary for that purpose. The University appealed this finding to the Michigan Supreme Court. On October 16, 2015, the Supreme Court stayed the release of the names of the 301 students identified by ESPN and indicated that the University’s application for Leave to Appeal remains pending.

Patrick R. Sturdy is a partner in our Livonia office where he concentrates his practice on intellectual property, business law, education law, and employment and labor law. He may be reached at (734) 261-2400 or psturdy@cmda-law.com.