Civitas has filed a lawsuit against the Alamance Elections Board over a public records request.
RALEIGH – The Civitas Institute has filed suit in Alamance County Superior Court challenging the legality of the Alamance County Board of Election’s public records policy. In the 12-page complaint, Civitas asks the Court to clarify several areas of North Carolina public records law, including what actions by a state agency constitute a denial of a public records request, whether requestors of public records may be required to physically inspect records before receiving copies, and to what extent a records custodian may delegate away his or her statutory duty to provide the public with access to records.
In December, Civitas Institute policy analyst Angela Hight submitted a public records request to the Alamance County Board of Elections seeking information from the November 2014 elections. The Alamance County Attorney responded and said that Ms. Hight would be required to come to Alamance County to physically inspect records prior to any copies being furnished. He then insisted that this requirement did not constitute a denial of Ms. Hight’s public records request.
“It is unfortunate that on the heels of the Open Government Coalition’s 2015 Sunshine Week, North Carolinians still have to bring lawsuits in order to gain basic access to public records,” Civitas Institute President Francis De Luca said. “We hope this filing makes clear to agencies throughout North Carolina that we are ready and willing to take all actions necessary to ensure that our state government is as transparent and open as possible.”
The Civitas Institute is arguing, among other things, that state agencies do not have the authority to unilaterally decide whether they have denied a public records request.
“North Carolina law sets forth a clear policy that public records are the property of the people, and that the people should therefore have easy, inexpensive access to such records,” Civitas Institute attorney Elliot Engstrom said. “Unfortunately, this policy is far from reality in North Carolina.”
The lawsuit names the Alamance County Board of Elections, the Chair of the Alamance County Board of Elections, and the Alamance County Attorney as defendants in their official capacities.
“We hope that, at the very least, this suit will provide clarity to both requestors of public records and government officials as to their respective responsibilities under North Carolina law,” Engstrom said.
Established in 2005, the Civitas Institute is a Raleigh-based nonprofit corporation organized for the purpose of conducting research, sponsoring educational activities, and disseminating information to promote the general public’s understanding of the benefits of limited government and free market economies.
Press release on April 8th indicates the suit has been dropped.
Civitas Drops Lawsuit Following Fulfillment of Records Request
RALEIGH –The Civitas Institute today voluntarily dismissed its lawsuit against the Alamance County Board of Elections and Alamance County Attorney. The public records request at the center of the action has been fulfilled, and the Institute has thus chosen to pursue no further action.
Earlier this month, the Civitas Institute filed suit against the Alamance County Board of Elections and Alamance County Attorney, alleging violations of North Carolina public records laws. At issue were whether the defendants could require the Institute to physically visit and inspect records prior to sending copies and whether the County Attorney could legally obstruct access to records that were in the possession of the Board of Elections.
On April 7, the County Attorney mailed the disputed records to the Civitas Institute via certified mail, and the next morning the Institute dismissed the case.
“We opted to dismiss the case after, and only after, the Alamance County Attorney agreed to send us the disputed records with no strings attached,” Civitas Institute attorney Elliot Engstrom said. “Our decision to dismiss the case in no way vindicates the public records policies of the Alamance County Board of Elections or the Alamance County Attorney. Were there a pattern of allegedly illegal conduct, this would have been a different case. However, as this is the first time we have encountered this issue with any state agency, we opted to dismiss upon fulfillment of our request.”