Blankenship v. Brazos Higher Education Authority was a case before the Texas Court of Appeals in 1998 concerning the applicability of open records laws to non-profits.
This case established that if a public body is in control of a private corporation with regard to the approval of actions and the appointment of board members, then it does have a right to view all of the documents of the private corporation, thus rendering those documents public records under the Texas Public Information Act.
- On July 29, 1975, the city of Waco passed a resolution to back the creation of a private non-profit whose stated goal was to issue bonds for the purchase of student loans for local secondary students. On October 12, 1978, the corporation was renamed to be the Brazos Higher Education Authority. Brazos powers are authorized by the city and its board of directors is appointed and removed by the city council.
- Brazos Higher Education Authority (Brazos) is a private non-profit that issues revenue bonds for the purchase of student loans and later services those loans.
- On November 14, 1996, Blankenship submitted a records request to Brazos under the Texas Public Information Act for documents relating to any moneys paid to Murray Watson, Jr., and Ralph T. Strother over the past ten years.
- On November 22 Brazos filed suit, seeking a judgement that it was not subject to the public records law. On November 25, Brazos formally rejected the request.
- Blankenship filed a number of subsequent requests, including:
- A request to the city of Waco for the documents, which they denied having possession.
- A request to brazos for all other loan information, which it denied.
- An additional request to Brazos for minutes of their board meetings over the last ten years at which the bonds in question were discussed. This request was also denied.
- A final request to the city for all records of notices of Brazos meetings as well as minutes of city council meetings at which Brazos loans and bonds were approved. The city complied with this request fully.
- On December 16, Blankenship filed a counter suit seeking to compel Brazos to release the documents. They also filed, seeking to compel the city to release more specific documentation about the bonds issued.
- On January 27 the court ruled in favor of the city and on February 7 the court ruled in favor of Brazos determining that they were not a public body, subject to the law.
- Blankenship appealed the decision arguing that Brazos is a public body because it is a deliberative body and also that it receives or dispenses public funds.
Ruling of the court
The trial court ruled in favor of Brazos and the city, determining that Brazos was not in fact a public body and thus not subject to the law, and consequentially, the city met all of the records requests for which they were responsible.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the trial court with regard to Brazos. The court first discussed the question of public funding, determining that Brazos was not publicly funded, accepting the testimony of one of the board members of Brazos. The court established that the funding Brazos received came from private individuals and corporations, and even though the bonds were approved by the city, they were sufficiently separated the be considered private funding. The court went on to reject Blankenship's contention that Brazo's is a deliberative body merely because it has the power to change its own rules and bylaws, instead establishing that all corporations possess those same powers. The court also rejected the notion that Brazos was a quasi-judicial corporation, instead determining that its hearings were not judicial in nature. Finally, the court rejected Blankship's accusation that Brazos was a public body because it asked for an attorney general opinion, citing the fact that numerous citizens ask for opinions on behalf of their own requests.
However, the court went on to overturn the trial courts decision with regard to the city of Waco. The court determined that because the city of Waco controlled Brazos and granted them power, then it did in fact possess the right to review all of Brazos documents. If it had the right to review the documents and the documents relate to a public function, then the documents in question may be public records in the possession of the city. Based on this determination, the court remanded this portion of the decision to trial court for further proceedings regarding whether or not the city is obligated to obtain the documents in question and release them to Blankenship.