Mississippi Supreme Court reverses part of decision on public records case

By Sara McCleary | Nov 24, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) – In a decision filed Nov. 4, the Supreme Court of Mississippi has reversed in part a decision made by an appellate court on a Mississippi Public Records Act (MPRA) case.

Upon review of the facts, the Supreme Court found that Gulf Publishing Co.’s request was not exempt under the MPRA, and therefore the Harrison County Chancery Court did not err in its conclusion that the Department of Audit’s denial of GP’s request violated the MPRA. However, it did not agree with the Chancery Court’s conclusion that the Department of Marine Research also violated the MPRA, therefore the Department of Audit, but not the DMR, was responsible for GP’s expenses and attorney’s fees.

Gulf Publishing Co. (GP) sued the Department of Marine Research (DMR) in January 2013 when it allegedly failed to produce records about a federal investigation into DMR that GP had requested as per the MPRA. In August, that lawsuit was expanded to include the Department of Audit, which had taken possession of the records GP had requested, as per a subpoena.

The Harrison County Chancery Court held a hearing on Oct. 30 and 31, 2013, and found that the documents did not fall under the investigative-reports exemption, as DMR and the Department of Audit claimed. The court directed the Department of Audit to copy or return the documents to DMR so that it could comply with GP’s MPRA request.

The court also found that DMR and the Department of Audit were responsible for GP’s attorney’s fees, and fined several people involved in those departments $100 each for violations of the MPRA.

The defendants then took the case to an appellate court, which reversed much of the Chancery Court’s decision. The Supreme Court then granted GP’s petition for writ of certiorari.

The opinion was submitted by Justice Dawn H. Beam, with Justices William L. Waller Jr., Michael K. Randolph, Leslie D. King and Robert P. Chamberlin concurring. Justices James W. Kitchens, James D. Maxwell and David M. Ishee did not participate. 

Justice Josiah D. Coleman provided a dissenting opinion, arguing that the court of appeals was correct to determine that the records sought by GP were exempt under the MPRA.

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