Supreme Court holds that Government agencies have the discretion to produce most open records exempted documents

In the case of Campaign for Accountability v. Board of Regents, the Georgia Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision on June 18, 2018.  This was a case in which the sponsor of a professor’s academic research at Kennesaw University sued to prohibit disclosure of documents between the University researcher and the sponsor of the research that had to do with the effects of payday loans on the financial health of consumers.  The requester of the background records obviously wanted to see if the professor’s research was swayed because it was financed by the payday loan industry.

The Georgia Court of Appeals sided with the Consumer Credit Research Foundation that sponsored the professor’s research.  The Court of Appeals held that an agency could not release documents covered by an Open Records Act exemption.

However, the Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals’ interpretation was wrong.  The language that precedes the 50 enumerated exceptions under O.C.G.A. § 50-18-72(a) states as follows:  “Public disclosure shall not be required for records that are [listed below].”  The Supreme Court rightly held that a common sense understanding is that not “requiring” records to be released is entirely different from “prohibiting” records from being released.

The Court correctly noted that some Open Records Act exemptions specifically state that the documents in question cannot be disclosed.  But for the great majority of the exemptions, an agency is free to permit disclosure of the requested records should it choose to do so.

David Hudson

GPA Counsel

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