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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides Indiana House email case, finding for the House

In Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, Energy Policy Institute, and Common Cause of Indiana v. Eric Koch, and Indiana House Republican Caucus, a 13-page, 4-1 opinion, Justice David writes:

The case before us involves the delicate balance that must be maintained between the three branches of government. This Court has been called upon to determine whether it should exercise its jurisdiction to resolve a dispute, or decline to do so in order to faithfully uphold Indiana’s express constitutional separation of powers. Because the issue before the Court would require invasion into a core function of the legislative branch, this Court declines to exercise its jurisdiction. Whether the work product exception within the Indiana Access to Public Records Act applies to the Indiana General Assembly presents a non-justiciable question. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s order of dismissal. * * *

We now hold that the Indiana Supreme Court does have subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case, which is distinguishable from a determination of whether a case is justiciable. As to the general applicability of APRA to the legislature, we hold that this issue is justiciable and conclude that APRA does apply to the Indiana General Assembly, necessarily including the members and groups that make up the General Assembly. However, under our controlling precedent in State ex rel. Masariu v. Marion Superior Court No. 1, 621 N.E.2d 1097 (Ind. 1993) and Berry v. Crawford, 990 N.E.2d 410 (Ind. 2013), we hold that the specific question of whether the APRA requests at issue in this case are exempt from disclosure as legislative “work product” is non-justiciable. * * *

Under Article 4, Section 16 of the Indiana Constitution, “[e]ach House shall have all powers, necessary for a branch of the Legislative department of a free and independent State.” The General Assembly itself carries out those powers delegated to the legislative branch under Article 4, Section 16. Consequently, only the General Assembly can properly define what work product may be produced while engaging in its constitutionally provided duties. Thus, defining work product falls squarely within a “core legislative function.” * * *

We hold that determining whether the documents requested by Plaintiffs are excepted under APRA as legislative work product presents a non-justiciable question.

Conclusion. The general question of whether APRA applies to the Indiana General Assembly and its members is justiciable, and we hold that APRA does apply. However, we find non-justiciable the question of whether the documents requested in this case are exempt from disclosure under APRA’s work product exception, Indiana Code section 5-14-3-4(b)(14). Accordingly, under Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6), we affirm the trial court’s dismissal.

Rush, C.J., Dickson and Massa, J.J., concur.
Rucker, J., concurs in part, dissents in part with separate opinion. [that begins at p.14] I agree with the majority that the Access to Public Records Act (APRA) is fully applicable to the legislature. As the majority correctly points out: “Because the General Assembly contemplated APRA’s application to itself and its members, we see no prudential reason why this question should be avoided on grounds of justiciability.” Slip op. at 7; accord Maclver Inst. for Pub. Policy, Inc., v. Erpenbach, 848 N.W.2d 862, 875 (Wis. Ct. App. 2014) (Reilly, J., concurring in opinion compelling state senator to disclose certain policy-related emails) (“If legislators do not like the law they created they can repeal it—but until then they must abide by it.”). Thus I agree the trial court erred in granting Defendants’ Rule 12(B)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. But the majority takes a wrong turn in granting relief based on Rule 12(B)(6). In essence my colleagues have offered an advisory opinion and made a pre-emptive strike on a matter that deserves further record development. On this issue I respectfully dissent. * * *

There is no question APRA exempts from disclosure “[t]he work product of individual members and the partisan staffs of the general assembly.” Ind. Code § 5-14-3-4(b)(14). The glaring problem here however is that neither before the trial court, nor indeed even before this Court, did the parties address the merits of this work product exemption. And importantly, in responding to Plaintiffs’ complaint Defendants never alleged a work product exemption or asserted “emails, draft records, notes, minutes, scheduling records, text messages, and all other correspondence or records” fall within the exemption umbrella. It is worth recalling that the question before us is whether Plaintiffs have “state[ed] a claim upon which relief can be granted . . . .” Ind. Trial Rule 12(B)(6). Absent evidence the legislature has deemed exempt the specific documents Plaintiffs request, it is plain to me Plaintiffs’ complaint survives Defendants’ 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss. The majority’s ruling is not only premature, but it unfortunately weighs in on a significant separation of powers issue without an adequate record. I would refrain from so doing and instead remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings.

ILB's Initial Impressions. Rather than distinguishing Masariu and Berry, the majority has elected to broaden their application. J. Rucker points out in dissent: "The majority’s ruling is not only premature, but it unfortunately weighs in on a significant separation of powers issue without an adequate record." That parallels what the Court did in Masariu in 1993; a decision that has now expanded into an unmoveable precedent.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 19, 2016 12:57 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions