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Colleges & Universities

Athletic Ministry Seeks Appeal in Dispute over Camp Property with Bryan College

The nearly two-year long legal fight between Bryan College and the National Association of Christian Athletes (NACA) continues.

NACA claims Bryan College wrongfully wrestled control of the $6-million Ft. Bluff Camp from it in 2016.  Bryan College refutes the claim.  Both parties have sued.

Two weeks ago, a judge dismissed NACA’s claim.  However, NACA claims the outcome of the litigation would determine its survival, and it asked a Tennessee judge last week if it could appeal his decision the decision to dismiss its countersuit.

“Presently, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, NACA continues to operate its Camp and pursue its Christian ministry. … [It] is confident that, if afforded its day in court, NACA will prove the wrongful and conspiratorial actions taken by Bryan and demonstrate its entitlement to the lawful relief it seeks,” wrote NACA’s attorney John Konvalinka.

The legal dispute began in January 2019, but the events that produced it go back years.

The camp, which NACA created in the 1980s, was its most valuable asset and is the foundation of its operations. It’s where it hosts thousands of youths – some traveling out of state — who participate in tournaments and other events on the property. In order to operate, NACA relies on tournament fees.

NACA says officers of Bryan joined NACA’s board after the smaller nonprofit fell on hard times starting in 2009 in the fallout following the arrest and conviction of its founder for sexual battery. Bryan’s then-President Stephen Livesay (who retired in July) and its then-Board of Directors Glenn Stophel were some of the Bryan-affiliated individuals that joined and made up the majority of NACA’s board, according to the organization.

This, NACA says, created a conflict of interest.

Instead of acting in the best interest of the organization, it says, “NACA’s Bryan-dominated Board of Directors” voted in 2016 to transfer the camp to the Christian college.

NACA says during the transfer Bryan said NACA would not pay rent on the camp if the college “ended its fiscal year in the black” but then the lease agreement was fraudulently changed so that NACA was paying the college $10,000 a month.

“Taking what NACA alleges as true, Bryan, through its agents and representatives, made specific, affirmative, false statements to NACA for the purpose of inducing NACA to transfer the Fort Bluff Camp to Bryan and that NACA relied on such statements,” Konvalinka wrote. (emphasis in the original)

As a result, Livesay personally financially benefited as did the college, NACA said, and the college has used the camp as collateral for a multi-million-dollar loan.

NACA stopped paying rent, and in January 2019, Bryan filed a lawsuit seeking to remove NACA from the property.

In April 2019, a general sessions judge awarded possession of the camp to the college. NACA appealed, and as part of the proceedings, NACA filed a counter complaint against Bryan.

But a few weeks ago, Circuit Court Judge Justin Angel sided with Bryan, dismissing NACA’s counter complaint. NACA had waited too long to bring its lawsuit, the judge said.

Furthermore, “The Defendant failed to sue the correct party,” Angel wrote on July 9. “The Defendant’s allegations consist of claims against its own officers, directors and board members. Those individuals should have been parties to this suit.”

NACA wants the Tennessee Court of Appeals to determine if it its prevented from bringing its counterclaims of conspiracy, fraud in the inducement, conversion and aiding and abetting because it waited more than a year to bring them. It also wants the appeals court to review whether NACA needed to sue its own officers or it could take the college to court.

In Konvalinka’s memorandum, he said NACA has a good chance the Tennessee Court of Appeals would side with them and overturn Angel’s dismissal order.

As he argued that NACA’s complaints are not time-barred, Konvalinka wrote, “What the Court of Appeals recognized is that there is a public interest in ensuring that a nonprofit is not gutted of its assets so that it can continue to serve its public beneficiaries. This is exactly what NACA is trying to achieve through its counterclaims.”

NACA also argued Bryan had an obligation to tell it that the lease agreement had been changed.

“Under binding Tennessee precedent, Bryan is liable for the misrepresentation of its agent, Livesay,” Konvalinka wrote.

Bryan College, meanwhile, asked Angel to end the lawsuit and make a summary judgment ruling.

In a memorandum filed last week, Bryan’s attorney Anthony “Bud” Jackson said the facts are simple.

“With this Court having granted Bryan College’s Motion to Dismiss NACA’s Counter-Complaint, this case present a straight forward unlawful detainer case in which a tenant has failed to pay rent for more than 28 months and remains in possession of Bryan College’s property,” Jackson wrote.

Daniel Jackson

Daniel Jackson is a freelance journalist based in Chattanooga, Tennessee.