Inmate entitled to hearing on damages following public records request

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A Marion County court should have considered a Department of Correction inmate’s claims for civil penalties and court costs against the DOC instead of dismissing the case after the DOC produced the public records the inmate sought, the Court of Appeals ruled.

Robert Holleman, who is serving a life sentence for murder in the Pendleton Correctional Facility, submitted a public records request to the DOC in January 2014. It did not respond, so he filed a complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor, who determined that if the DOC possessed the records Holleman sought, then it was violating the Access to Public Records Act by not acknowledging his request. The court record does not specify what records Holleman sought.

Holleman then filed his lawsuit, Robert L. Holleman v. Ind. Dept. of Correction, Bruce Lemmon, as Commissioner of the Ind. Dept. of Correction, and Bob Bugher, as Chief Counsel for the Ind. Dept. of Correction, 49A04-1409-PL-443, in May 2014, seeking the records, civil penalties of $100 against each defendant, and court costs. The DOC then responded to Holleman’s request, provided some documents and sought dismissal of his complaint. The trial court granted the DOC’s request.

Holleman argued that the case isn’t moot because he had also sought civil penalties and court costs.

The DOC conceded that the trial court did not address Holleman’s claims raised on appeal and also conceded that those claims did not become moot when Holleman was provided with the records. Because Holleman has stated a cognizable claim for relief on those claims, the COA reversed and remanded the case. It expressed no opinion on the merits of the claim.

But the judges did affirm dismissal regarding the production of the documents because Holleman never claimed that this public records request remained live after the state produced the documents. He failed to place the trial court on notice that he intended to litigate the sufficiency of the DOC’s response to his public records request, thus waiving that claim for appellate review.


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