Carter v. Fench was a case before the Louisiana Circuit Courts of Appeal in 1975 concerning the applicability of open records laws to private corporations.
This case established that entities which receive public funds are subject to the Louisiana Public Records Act. However, this case was later overturned by changes in the wording of the law and the courts ruling in State of Louisiana v. Nicholls College Foundation.
- The Student Government Association of Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College (University) in Baton Rouge is a student organized body composed of elected officers who enforce the decisions of a student elected senate. A portion of each students tuition and fees is allotted to SGA but retained by the University. The University issues payments at the request of the SGA. Copies of the SGA budget are retained by various University officials, including the Office of the President and the Office of Student Affairs.
- Frank S. Washington and Kenneth W. Carter, editors of the University's student newspaper, submitted a records request to Edward Fench, president of SGA for the 1974/1975 school year budget.
- Fench rejected the request arguing that SGA was not a public body and therefor not subject to the act. He also argued that the records were more appropriately accessed through the University officials as they kept copies of the budget on file and were subject to the act.
- The newspaper filed suit to obtain the records.
- Fench filed a counter-suit alleging that the newspaper "had harassed, humiliated and embarrassed him."
- The trial court ruled in favor of the newspapers, rejecting Fench's counter-suit.
- Fench appealed the decision.
Ruling of the court
The trial court ruled in favor of the newspaper, determining that the SGA was in fact a public body and Fench as the president of that public body, was obligated to comply with the records request. The court also rejected Fench's allegations of harrassment as immaterial to the matter at hand.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the trial court regarding SGA's status under the law but did not require that SGA submit the records and did not hold SGA accountable for its failure to release the records. The court first determined that SGA was in fact a public body, in that the SGA clearly receives public funds in the form of tuition moneys which are allotted to them. The court also rejected the SGA's contention that Fench as President was not the records keeper, but that the request should have been submitted to the Business Manager. However, the court felt that the newspaper had failed to comply with the act insofar as they requested personal copies of the document instead of requesting to examine the documents during regular business hours. Based on this, the court determined that the Editors' request was invalid and consequentially, no violation of the public records law occurred. This led the court to ultimately reject the newspaper's motion for damages in a frivolous appeal.