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Judges’ ruling in email records case defers to public access counselor

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A request for the email records of public officials that simply asks for emails to or from officials over a certain period of time doesn’t satisfy the Access to Public Records Act, a panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

The issue of first impression presented in Seth Anderson v. Huntington County Board of Commissioners, 35A04-1207-MI-357, is what makes a request for records “reasonably particular” as required by I.C. 5-14-3.

Anderson received the emails he sought to and from four Huntington County officials, but only after suing when his initial request for documents was denied as not reasonably particular. Before the Court of Appeals, Anderson’s attorney argued there were larger issues involved.

But the COA ruling makes clear that even though Huntington County officials provided Anderson the documents he requested, they didn’t have to. Before filing suit, Anderson had received an opinion from Public Access Counselor Joe Hoage stating that his request had not been made with reasonable particularity. Hoage suggested possible modifications Anderson could make to his request to meet the statutory requirement, such as asking for emails from a particular person to another during a specified period.

“Although the Commissioners ultimately spent the time and expense compiling and reviewing 9500 emails, they did not necessarily have a legal obligation to do so,” Judge John Baker wrote for the unanimous panel. “The Public Access Counselor’s opinions state the opposite. To be sure, the fact that the Commissioners provided the information exactly as Anderson requested it does not define the APRA. Indeed, we agree with the Public Access Counselor’s opinion that Anderson’s requests were not reasonably particular under the APRA.”

The court also declined to award costs and attorney fees to Anderson.


 

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