Supreme Court declines to rule on legislative emails case

April 19, 2016

The Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday affirmed dismissal of a case where the Energy and Policy Institute requested copies of correspondences from state Rep. Eric Koch under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act. The court said while APRA can be applied to the General Assembly, the specific issue of whether Koch’s emails are exempt from disclosure in this case under the work product exemption is non-justiciable.

The institute requested the information, including emails, scheduling records and text messages, three times from Koch, and was denied each time. The institute sought correspondences with utility company officials over solar power legislation Koch sponsored. Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt issued two opinions in the case, both of which said the Legislature did not have to disclose the documents. The institute, along with the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana and Common Cause of Indiana, then filed a complaint in Marion Superior Court. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of justiciability, which was granted by the trial court. The decision was appealed to the Supreme Court under Indiana Appellate Rule 56(A).

In the opinion written by Justice Steven David, the court said it was wrong that the trial court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, because the question is not if the court can exercise its jurisdiction, but should the court exercise its jurisdiction. David said the Supreme Court can exercise its jurisdiction in this case because it has jurisdiction over all cases it grants transfer to, but it has chosen not to rule on the matter.

David said separation of the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government is very important, and the court will not tread on another’s turf. In deciding this case, the Supreme Court would have to define what a work product is in the Indiana General Assembly in order to rule on this case under APRA, and the court will not define that for the General Assembly.

“The General Assembly itself carries out those powers delegated to the legislative branch under Article 4, Section 16. Consequently, only the General Assembly can properly define what work product may be produced while engaging in its constitutionally provided duties,” David wrote. “Thus, defining work product falls squarely within a ‘core legislative function.’”

Justice Robert Rucker concurred that the APRA is fully applicable to the Legislature but said the court should remand the case to the trial court because the record is incomplete.

“In essence my colleagues have offered an advisory opinion and made a pre-emptive strike on a matter that deserves further record development,” Rucker wrote.

Rucker said the court should have addressed the merits of the work product exemption, and the defendants themselves never claimed the work product exemption.

“Absent evidence the legislature has deemed the specific documents Plaintiffs request, it is plain to me Plaintiffs’ complaint survives Defendants’ 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss,” Rucker wrote. “The majority’s ruling is not only premature, but it unfortunately weighs in on a significant separation of powers issue without an adequate record.”

The case is Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana Energy and Policy Institute and Common Cause of Indiana v. Eric Koch and Indiana House Republican Caucus, 49S00-1510-PL-00607.



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