Cleveland Newspapers, Inc. v. Bradley County Memorial Hospital was a case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern District in 1981 concerning the application of public records laws to private corporations.
This case established that public hospitals do in fact fall within the definition of public bodies found within the Tennessee Open Records Act.
- Bradley County Memorial Hospital came about as a result of an act in 1947 that permitted Bradley County to issue a bond of $400,000 for the construction and equipping of a hospital near the city of Cleveland.
- The hospital was constructed and was fairly self-supporting, except for occasional bonds issued for support. Pursuant to a 1953 act, the Hospital is operated by a board of directors as a non-profit corporation. The board of directors is composed of 7 members, three appointed by the county, three by the city, and one by the local medical society. They are unpaid but the retain complete control over the day to day operations of the hospital. They are, however, required to submit annual budget audits to the county and to report twice a year on the operations of the hospital. The hospital is also required to send profits to the county to pay back bonds.
- The Cleveland Newspapers submitted a records request for the payroll records of the hospital.
- The Hospital rejected the request claiming that it was exempt from the records act because it was not a state, county or municipal body and was governed by a private board of directors.
- The trial court ruled in favor of the hospital and the newspapers appealed the decision.
Ruling of the court
The trial court ruled in favor of the hospital, determining that the records in question were exempt from the public records laws. The trial court relied on the exemption for confidential records in the public records act as well as the hospital's ability to deem records, including employee records exempt.
The Court of Appeals overturned the decision of the trial court and ordered the documents released. The court began by citing Nashville Memorial Hospital, Inc. v. Binkley, a non-public records case, which established that public, government operated hospitals were in fact public bodies. However, the court determined that it must consider the Hospital's current contentions as it had not addressed the applicability of the public records laws to these hospitals. The court went on to overturn the trial court's decision that individual agencies can declare records confidential, instead reading the exemption as the prerogative of the legislature. The court then went on to cite Moberly v. Herboldsheimer which held in a similar case in Maryland that the hospital was a public body. While the court acknowledged that the Maryland's statutes are broader than Tennessee's, it nonetheless felt that the cases were similar enough that the law applied in this instance as well. The court determined that the hospital performs a public function and has been held to be a public body in the past. Further, the Hospital claims many benefits of being a public body, including exemptions from tort liability. Based on these factors, the court determined that public hospitals are in fact public bodies subject to the public records act.