Lee v. Minner is a federal lawsuit in Delaware in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that challenged the constitutionality of a clause in Delaware's Freedom of Information Act that specified only citizens of the state could make public record requests there.
This case prohibited the denial of FOIA requests based on state citizenship, and instead required the state to open up documents to all citizens of the United States.
The court also permanently enjoined the state of Delaware from refusing to provide public documents to non-residents, directing the Attorney General to "process and evaluate FOIA requests from nonresidents or noncitizens in the same manner in which FOIA requests from citizens of Delaware are processed and evaluated."
On January 12, 2003, Lee requested records from Delaware's Attorney General regarding Delaware's decision to join a nationwide settlement with Household International, Inc. The request was made pursuant to Delaware's FOIA. State Solicitor Malcolm Cobin sent Lee a letter denying his request. Cobin's denial said "Your address indicates that you are not a citizen and therefore would not be entitled to inspect and copy public records under FOIA."
On November 24, 2003, Lee filed his lawsuit with the federal district court, asserting that this provision in Delaware's FOIA law violated the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the United States Constitution.
May 13, 2004, the federal district court agreed with Lee and ordered Delaware to provide the documents.
Ruling of the court
The case was first tried in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. This court ruled in 2004 in favor of the plaintiff, Matthew Lee, a resident of New York who at the time of these events served as the Executive Director of Inner City Press/Community on the Move, a community/consumer organization based in New York.
The state of Delaware appealed the lower court's ruling to the Third Circuit. This federal appeals court upheld the lower court's decision in 2006, again ruling against Delaware.
In its opinion, the Delaware federal district court said that Delaware's citizen-only provision violated Lee's fundamental right to "practice his common calling as a journalist and consumer activist on the same terms and conditions" as Delaware citizens who share his profession and to "engage in the political process with regard to matters of both national political and economic importance."
The state of Delaware maintained that it had a compelling state interest in "defin[ing] the political community and strengthen[ing] the bond between citizens and their government officials." The Court concluded that the state may very well have such an interest, but that the interest was not served in any appreciable way by failing to allow non-residents "access to the same public information available to the State's citizens impedes or thwarts those interests", writing:
- "If, as Defendants contend, one of the goals of the FOIA is to strengthen the bond between citizens and their government by ensuring transparency and accountability in government, then nonresidents are no more a threat to this goal than residents. Indeed, consumer advocates and journalists like [Lee] are particularly suited to advancing the goals of transparency and accountability, whether they are Delaware citizens or not, and it is difficult to understand how such external scrutiny might undermine the bond between citizens and their government."