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Justices dismiss ESPN suit, find Notre Dame police not public agency

November 16, 2016

Notre Dame Police are not a public agency, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, turning back a lawsuit from ESPN that sought records of the university police’s interactions with student athletes. The ruling means Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act does not apply to university police at private institutions.

Justices affirmed St. Joseph Superior Judge Steven L. Hostetler, who dismissed ESPN’s case, but whose order was reversed by the Court of Appeals. “We too find that a private university police department is not a ‘public agency’ for the purposes of APRA, and affirm the trial court,” Justice Mark Massa wrote for the unanimous court.

The court also held that Notre Dame’s police department is not a “law enforcement agency” as defined under I.C. § 5-14-3-2(n)(6). Justices rejected ESPN’s argument that because NDPD exercised a function of government, the court should rule as other states have that their reports be accessible as public records.

“There is no evidence that our General Assembly intended a functional equivalency analysis, like that of Ohio’s, and we decline to read this language into the statute on the legislature’s behalf,” Massa wrote.

“We are extremely disappointed by the ruling and what it represents for public transparency,” David R. Scott, senior director of ESPN Communications, said in a statement.

At oral arguments, lawyers for ESPN argued Notre Dame sought to keep records secret, while attorneys for the NDPD said the statute exempts such entities because by the plain language of the statute, they are not government agencies.

“Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act ‘is intended to ensure Hoosiers have broad access to most government records,’” Massa wrote, citing Evansville Courier & Press v. Vanderburgh Cty. Health Dept., 17 N.E.3d at 928. “Because we find the Department is not a ‘public agency’ subject to APRA, we affirm the trial court.”

The case is ESPN and Paula Lavigne v. University of Notre Dame Police Department, 71S05-1606-MI-359.   

 
 

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