San Gabriel Tribune v. Superior Court was a case before California's Second District Court of Appeal in 1983 concerning the release of the financial statements of a private company in contract with the city to perform a public service.
This case established that the federal evidence code and statute 6254(n) of the California Public Records Act could not be construed to exempt contracts the city takes out to perform public duties or the financial statements issued to the city by private corporations who are party to the contracts.
- The City of West Covina contracted with a private disposal company to collect trash and debris within the city. This contract had been around since 1961 and the current version of the contract at the time of the trial went from 1976 - 1985.
- On August 23, 1982, the city met in an open meeting to discuss a proposed rate increase for the contract. At the meeting the city council approved a rate increase that would cost citizens an extra 15% and businesses an extra 25%. The council's decision to approve the increase was based on a packet of information handed out to the council prior to the meeting which contained financial statements from the disposal company and a memorandum from the Assistant City Manager.
- Karen Zappe of the San Gabriel Tribune covered the meeting and immediately after the meeting submitted an open record request for the packets that the council had received. She also submitted an additional request on August 21, 1982.
- The city denied her request.
- In response, the newspaper made an official public records request for the memorandum and the disposal companies financial statements for the past two years on August 27, 1982.
- The city denied this request on 'September 3, 1981, arguing that the statements were a private companies information submitted in confidence to the city and thus exempt from record requests.
- On October 5, 1982, the newspaper filed a lawsuit in superior court, attempting to compel the city to release the documents. The court ruled in favor of the city on December 2, 1982 arguing that the documents were exempt under statute 6254(k), which exempts documents under federal evidence code and statute 6254(n) which protects statements of financial worth submitted for licensing agreements.
- The newspaper appealed the decision arguing that nothing in the evidence code protected the documents and that statute 6254(n) only applied to licensing procedures and not contracts. They further argued that the balancing test of Califoirnia's catch all exemption of statute 6255 weighed in favor of disclosure.
Ruling of the court
The trial court ruled in favor of the City, arguing that the documents were protected both under federal law and under the CPRA statute 6254(k) and (n).
The court of appeals ruled in favor of the newspaper, overturning the decision of the trial court.
The court first and foremost established that the documents in question were public records as they were held by the city and were critical for the performance of public duty. The court began its considerations of whether or not the documents are exempt by citing Black Panther Party v. Kehoe, which established that, "the exemptions [in section 6254] are designed to protect the privacy of persons whose data or documents come into governmental possession." The court goes on to rule that the documents are not exempt under statute 6254(k) because no significant harm would come to the disposal company from the release of the records and that the public interest in release clearly outweighed any public interest in withholding the records. Due to these two contentions, the court declared that the federal laws for exemption did not apply to the documents. The court also ruled, agreeing with the newspaper that statute 6254(n) did not apply because the statute protects licensing and not contracts, a matter which is much more in the public interest than licensing. Based on these determinations the court ruled in favor of the newspaper, ordering the documents disclosed and awarding attorney fees for the newspaper.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ruling of the Court